Choose Your Own Adventure

Back at our last training a Gr90 volunteer, Jamie, put together an activity for us based on the “Choose Your Own Adventure” story concept.  Remember those books?  You reach a cliffhanger in the story where you can choose what the character will do and flip to the appropriate page.  Jamie likened our daily Peace Corps experience to these books.  Each day we have the option to say yes or no to a variety of things: a new project, a fishing outing, an invitation to tea… each day here is truly full of possibilities.  The thing is though, that sometimes we want to say no to things that we might not feel we have the time for, things that seem less important.  For instance, the invitation to have grog when you’d been waiting all day for a time to write a letter home.  Or your neighbor’s request for help with homework when you are in the middle of your own work planning.

Priorities are in constant competition in Peace Corps life.  Lately though, I’ve been challenging myself to say yes more often knowing that this gives me the opportunity to have new experiences here and discover exciting opportunities.  If I want an adventure, I have to choose to have one!

My last 48 hours is a wonderful example of what my life has been like lately in my village, and what choosing yes more leads to!  So let’s go back a few days…

It’s late Thursday afternoon. I’ve had a busy day following a busy week in Nabasovi, and I’ve finally found time to finish my VRF (PC report) that coincides with access to a charged laptop.  My report is due tomorrow, and I’m ready to be done with it already: comfy clothes on, tea made, go time!  Just as I pull up my document I hear a knock at the door.  “Miss Keresi, kerekere veivuke? Iko sa lala tiko?”, one of the class 7 girls needs help writing an essay on pressure, and wants to know if I am free. Am I? Well, I am in the middle of my own homework… But what a great chance to get a young woman thinking critically about such an important topic!  Just say yes, I hear the little voice of reason say.

An hour later my living room floor is strewn with empty bilos of tea, and class 7 children giggling at my animated style of teaching.  “I know you know what negative peer pressure is”, I tell my young friends, arms up in the air, “I want to know why it’s bad! Is it bad if you can’t tell me why?!”  I spend the final hours of sunlight challenging the students to consider, na cava na vuna? what is the reason? “Because your peers are thinking for you…” begins Dinai, “so you aren’t thinking for yourself!” Rusi proudly finishes her thought.  And that one answer was all I needed to feel content with choosing that afternoon adventure 🙂

The sun has set and my student friends have all head home, outlines in hand, to have dinner and finish their homework.  I’m finally ready to finish this report when my text tone goes off.  It’s the headmasters wife; she wants to know if next Wednesday’s Zumba class with the Girl Guides could be moved to an all-school class tomorrow afternoon.  The entire school? Tomorrow?!  I have yet to choose songs to use for the class, never mind make dances.  Plus, tomorrow I’m supposed to spend the day in Kade Village, teaching on healthy lifestyles with Luigi and assisting with the day’s outreach program.  Did I mention Lui and I were just asked that day to present to at Kade Primary on Friday? How could I possibly have time to finish my report, prepare a school presentation, and create a Zumba class?!  Well only one way to find out…

I finish my report late that night, waking up at 5 am the next morning to prepare for one busy day.  I spend the morning bopping through my house to the likes of Shakira and Ke$ha (dodging my ferocious cat), in between sips of extra-strong coffee and jotting of notes for our health talk.  With all I had to do it’s a good thing I had saved dinner left overs to have for breakfast (this is another PC challenge I’ve risen too- braving questionable food)!

At 8:45am I hop on my bike to meet the nurse and head over to Kade.  I would have to take the hour-long dirt-road bike-ride back if I wanted to make both the outreach and Zumba class.  As I strap on my back pack, full of snacks and costume changes, over walks my neighbor Tulia on her return from the Nursing Station.  Lui and the doc are awaiting my arrival at the Nursing Station, but Mareta has sent along the message that I can take the day off if I don’t feel like going.  Well well, another curve ball.  Do I bite the bait and release a bit of the days burden? Or do I hunker along Peace Corps style and ride todays wave?  “Vinaka Tulia, au sa via lako i Kade!”  I thank Tulia for relaying the message and zip off to meet the health center truck before it could leave me in the dust.  No time to ride all the way to Kade and back today!

By 11 o’clock I’m on the road, back to Nabasovi.  I knew our outreach had been successful when I left Kade, belly fully of drauni moli and roti, the sound of children singing the hand-washing song echoing from the seaside school house.  I peddle briskly back to my village, arriving in Nabasovi in little over an hour thanks to a few talanoa stops.  Did I really think I could ride straight through 4 villages without having to stop and explain where I was going, where I was coming from or why I couldn’t come in for tea?  I say yes to every chance to stop and chat though, and now I have a few more friends to visit in the coming weeks!

I’m climbing my front steps just as the afternoon rain begins to pour and with just enough time to run through my five song Zumba routine.  As Zumba time approaches though, the rain is only falling harder, and I feel the nagging desire to call off the class.  As far as I know we’ll be dancing outside, and that worn-out devil on my shoulder sees the rain as the perfect excuse to post-pone.  That is not the little voice I’m tuned into today–off to NDS I go!

I arrive to find all 121 primary school kids packed into the largest room.  They’ve moved the tables chairs and partitions; the show must go on!  I’m excited but nervous.  I’ve never enjoyed presenting or being the center of attention, and here I am about to dance and sweat my brains out in front of at least 150 people.  I take a deep breath as Taylor Swift starts to pour out of the speakers, this is why I joined the Peace Corps, I remind myself, to be scared witless at least weekly.  Nearly 45 minutes later I’m pouring sweat, not sure if my abs hurt more from laughing at the kids crazy awesome dance moves or from the work out.  The “last song” turns out to be three songs, because just won’t take “sa oti” (we’re done!) for an answer.  My outright ridiculous improv dance moves were somehow still a hit, and I’m still amazed that I, of all people, said yes to making up 2 more dance routines… especially after the windows of the classroom had become populated with an adult audience by the last few songs.  Had someone asked me three years ago if I would ever instruct a planned Zumba class, never mind an extended last minute one, I’d say, If only I were capable of having such guts! YEAH RIGHT!  Yet here I am with a room full of smiling children, begging me to come back next week for another class… or am I begging them to let me return?  Wait, who had more fun here?!

But the adventure continues!  As I’m leaving Zumba class to enjoy a much needed shower, rest and cup of tea, the headmaster invites me to the Koro Teachers Association meeting… that afternoon.  Before that sleepy old part of my self can tell me how tired I am, I’ve said yes of course! I jog back home (which is only right across the dirt road) to take a quick shower and toss on my favorite green sulu jaba. Thirty minutes later I’m back at school, waiting for the 3pm lorry back to Kade.

Only in Fiji does the 3pm ride show up at 5, and only does an afternoon meeting turn out to be an all-evening affair.  The Koro Teacher’s Association meeting commences a solid four hours later, after plenty of time to talanoa, drink grog and have tea.  In all of that time sitting around, time when I could have been drinking my own yummy tea, relaxing in the peace and privacy of my own home, I actually experience what choosing adventure really means.  I become friends with a teacher in Nasua who invites me to come visit for their upcoming celebration and a hike to the local waterfall.  I connect with the leader of the Girl Guides for all of Koro and learn of the upcoming camp, as well as a training on another island in August that I am more than welcome to join.  I’m acknowledged by a provincial education officer at the meeting for my dedication to integrating into the Koro school community.

But my favorite part of the day?  Having an 11pm picnic on the dusty floor of the lorry as I ride back to Nabasovi, with my new friend Joana, the NDS kindi teacher.  As we swap rourou balls for chicken curry and pick bones from our fried fish, I answer her questions about healthy eating and exercise.  Chunks of dalo bounce from our plates as we hit pot holes and swerve around horses, rain streaming in through the tarp covering.  Our greasy midnight meal might not be the best testament to healthy lifestyles, but it was a testament to the Peace Corps spirit; in the words of our Country Director, our service is as much about building relationships as it is about doing “work”.  Hence choosing a hectic day that is full from 5 am to midnight over a tidy “work” schedule!

Choosing adventure over comfort does not always come naturally… sometimes I’m ignoring every bone in my body that screams, Say no! They should have asked in advance! They know that your busy! You have a life too ya know!  But if I wanted predictability, I’d be in an office in America.  And I don’t need to be perfect at everything I say yes too.  Sure I forgot the moves in my Zumba class, improvised words in the hand washing song, and didn’t have much to contribute in the teacher’s meeting… but the point is I showed up.  That’s not just what the Peace Corps is about, it’s what life is about.

As the recent Peace Corps campaign dares,  “Life is calling.  How far will you go?”  Well, I’ll go at least as far as my bike and my wits will carry me, and it seems a touch of madness and a dash of humor will carry me the rest of the way 🙂

Kade Primary School children
Kade Primary School children

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