Last night I sat on the beach about 50 yards from my little wooden house to watch the sun slowly melt into the Pacific Ocean. The golden orb grew larger as it made its descent, painting the horizon in fiery shades of orange and magenta. Above, the sky faded into the steely gray-blue which ushers in the night, and a few eager stars began to pierce the dark curtain of sky with light.
I’ve sat in this place countless times, on this flat rock wedged between curling roots as if designed by nature for just this purpose. I remember the first few weeks in Nabasovi, when this view was still so new and each sunset marked the triumph of seeing another day through. I was still familiarizing myself with the sights and sounds of this new place–the shades of twilight and the patterns of the night sky, the periodic caw of parrots and the gentle lapping of the sea.
The sunset last night ushered in my first wave of understanding; I’m about to leave this place. After two years of work and learning, loss and growth, this chapter is about to close. From my beach perch I watched one village grandpa return from net-fishing. A wake of shimmering ripples trailed behind as he waded ankle-deep back to the village. The sun dipped below the horizon with a final wink of light.
Until that moment, my departure still felt like it was some future event… Ever since the New Year I’ve been hearing, “Isa Keresi, iko sa vakarau na lako!” (What a shame that you’re about to leave!) And I’d think to myself, “slow your roll my friend, I’ve still got ten months here!”
Well now it’s down to half of one; I’ve got under 3 weeks left. Three busy weeks to cap off a busy last two months. Given the turbulence of the last several months, this last stretch of my time here has been a welcomed reprieve of laid-back fun and fulfilling work.
During my last stint at home I committed to staying connected to my village. We’d been discussing a village chicken coop for a long time, and following TC Winston the need had never been greater. From America I worked on fundraising so that the project could hit the ground running as soon as I could get back; with the clock ticking towards close-of-service there was no time to waste. I’d been working with Austin Bowden-Kerby (local marine biologist and permaculture farmer) of Sustainable Livelihoods Farm in Siqatoka for months to put together a “Happy Chicken” project for Nabasovi: a project that would address food security, women’s empowerment and environmental health.
Fast-forward a month and a half, our chickens are happy and so is the women’s group. As a matter of fact, tomorrow we will hold our own workshop for two neighboring villages! One woman shared the project with her mother, another with her sister, and now we’re about to have three Women’s Group egg-laying chicken co-operatives running on the island. Talk about grassroots development!
Visioning Session at Sustainable Livelihoods Farm
Getting cozy with the chickens
The project hasn’t been simple or without roadblocks; we’ve had chicks die in inclement weather, days where the feeding schedule was hectic… but all in all, I’m happy with the progress and have enjoyed the process. Our workshop in Siqatoka alone was worth coming back for. It was such a joy to spend a week out of the village with five of my favorite women from the village. To see them free of familial obligations, exploring a new place independently, asking questions and engaging with the material–it was truly an honor to have a hand in creating that opportunity. To all at home who have donated to the Happy Chicken project so far: VINAKA VAKALEVU. Your generosity means more to the people of Koro than you know, and will have more of an impact than you could imagine. Even if it’s just a young girl seeing her mama empowered and leading a project; that has the potential to be transformative.
Welcome home baby chicks!
Putting up the Chicken Coop
Nabasovi Women’s Group
Seeing the Happy Chicken project through will be my main focus for the remaining 2 weeks and change. We’ve got a workshop to facilitate tomorrow, more chicks and feed arriving on Monday, and some follow up work to do with the Ministry of Agriculture and Sustainable Livelihoods Farm. It’s been quite the learning experience, and I only wish we had more time!
Other than working on getting the chicken coop established and running well, I’ll be working on a few side projects to make the time left as useful as possible! Following TC Winston, the government gave every family garden seeds. Now a village that I could not manage to convince of the benefits of home gardens has a plot beside every house! Never have I seen so many leafy greens consumed in Fiji 🙂 We’ve got cabbage, lettuce, cucumbers, tomatoes, and more pumpkins than the village could possibly eat. After all the pumpkin curry and pumpkin soup I’ve consumed in the last few weeks, I may come home with a slight orange tint to me… Since “backyard gardening” isn’t the traditional form of food security for an outer island like Koro, I’ll be facilitating a few workshops on topics like crop rotation, seed saving and composting. I’m hoping to collaborate with the local agricultural officer so that he will continue the workshops when I leave. I also worked with Habitat for Humanity to coordinate a district wide workshop and build to repair community halls in a storm proof manner, so that should be happening within the next week or so.
On top of all of that, I have visitors! This week I have a Watson Fellow visiting who is doing journalistic research on climate refugees in the South Pacific. He’s just come off of 2 months in Kiribati, and will be spending the week on Koro interviewing villagers. It’s a fun opportunity to facilitate cultural exchange (Peace Corps “goals” 2 & 3), and I look forward to sharing my favorite parts of village life and assist in some interview translating!
My guest has also been kind enough to lend me his laptop to update my blog… It’s been way too long since my last update, but my computer sadly kicked the bucket on the plane ride over from USA. Great timing, eh? I’ll try my best to get in another post before he heads out and takes this precious technology with him!
Next week I’ll have my second opportunity to host two current Peace Corps Trainees on their “Host Volunteer Visit”. Last years visit from Hannah and Kendall was so uplifting and fun, I can’t wait to connect with another set of fresh, excited fellow volunteers 🙂 It will be interesting timing too, having only weeks left in my service, and they having their entire service ahead of them… I can imagine it will be a nice time of reflection and help me move into the final stages of mentally closing my experience here in Fiji.
Well, I’d say that’s plenty for now. I’m off to muck around the village–the sun is shining and I’ve got places to go and people to see today. Until next time…