Tuesday, July 13, 2010

The End in Pictures

I can't believe it is the end. Here are the pictures from our last few months in Ra. The pictures are ordered from most recent to oldest.
Washing clothes in our shower/toilet for the last time!!!

Receiving my farewell gift from the Business Incubation Center.

The Namuaimada village clean-up crew.

Children helping at the beach clean-up.

Dirty child cleaning up the dirty, Namuaimada beach.

The parade to celebrate Rakiraki becoming a town on July 1, 2010.

Candles made in Namuaimada village.

Taking out the first candle. Me and Sai.

Showing the women how to thread the wicks through the candle molds.

The first angel from the Nagoro training.

The training group in Nagoro posing with the days work.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Sa oti!

Leslie and I just moved out of the village for good. It was an emotional time for all involved, with people giving gifts, women crying, and endless speeches. We received several small pandanus mats from various people in the village as well as a few quirky souviners. A few days before we were scheduled to leave the village a group of Australians arrived in the village. They were a group of gap-year students who were doing some sort of church program and were spending one month in Fiji. This annoyed us a bit at first since we felt that this would take away from our last week in the village in some way. The aussies ended up being really friendly and were eager to learn everything they could about our experience in the village. As part of their project they distributed bibles and conducted bible studies with the kids. Now, if you ask me, conducting bible classes in Fiji is a bit like importing coconuts to the country. Fijian villagers spend probably around 20hrs a week doing something church related. It seemed, however, that the visitors were promoting a more liberal and peaceful interpretation of the bible than that provided by the local pastor so I encouraged them.

Two weeks before our departure, we had another visitor to the village- a Fiji One news reporter. Fiji One, the major network in Fiji, decided to do a 30 minute special on the Peace Corps. They attended a training with the FRE 8 volunteers in Nausori, and visited our village as well as another one across the bay. Ruth, our Country Director, called us up a few days before the visit to see if the reporters could come to our village. Leslie ended up rescheduling a candle-making training so that it would coincide with the visit. The special turned out nicely in my opinion. They showed some good footage of the candle making process and interviewed Leslie and me for about 5 minutes each. My only criticism was that they didn't interview any villagers to see what their opinion of the Peace Corps was. The special was aired on July 4 at 6:30 pm local time. I doubt it's available online but we will try to secure a DVD of the program for the people back home.

July 4, by the way, was quite a fun day for all us volunteers in Ra. John and Judy had a barbecue for all the volunteers in the area. I went on my last snorkeling trip in Fiji in the morning that day. The weather was cold and very windy, so it definitely wasn't the best snorkeling trip I've ever been on. The food was excellent though, and the booze...well... plentiful.

I apologize for this stream-of-consciousness post, but my mention of my last snorkeling trip reminds me of another noteworthy event. About a month ago Leslie and I went out on John and Judy's new boat. They had just bought a beautiful 19ft, 40hp aluminum boat and wanted to test it out on the local waters. We went to one of the small reefs east of Nananu i Ra island for some snorkeling and fishing. I brought along John Caldeira's spear, which was a hawaiin-sling type, to do some spear fishing. I speared three small parrotfish and was in the process of putting a stringer through their gills in order to hold on to them when I noticed two white tip reef sharks circling me. Now, I'm used to swimming with sharks and being near them in the water usually doesn't faze me, but because of the speared parrotfish there was quite a bit of blood in the water. It was clear that the sharks were not just swimming around randomly but were interested in the fish I had. A few times they swam to within a few feet of me and I had to chase them off with my spear. I made a point of holding the stringer of fish as far away from my body as possible. I didn't think they would attack me, but I didn't want the fish to drift against my leg where it might get included in the meal along with the fish. I started swimming towards the boat. The current was behind me, pushing the stringer of fish out in front of me so I could see it. One of the sharks swam beneath me by about 10 feet, disappeared into the blue water in front of me. It then turned around and made a beeline for me. It bit onto one of the parrotfish (about 3 feet in front of my face), ripped it off with a vigorous head shake, and swallowed it in a few gulps. It circled around to get another, but this time my predatory instincts took over. These were MY fish damnit! I shook the spear in the sharks face and scared it away. I quickly swam towards the boat, threw the fish on board and jumped into the boat myself.

On that note I think Leslie and I will end this blog. We are now in Suva doing our COS (Close of service) paperwork, and will be flying to Hong Kong on the 17th. I don't think we will be updating this blog while we are travelling since Leslie frequently posts pictures and stories to Facebook, and almost everyone we know seems to be on that now. Leslie may have something else to say, but now it's time for me to say Moce Mada.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

A Month to Go

John and I are wrapping up our work here on the rock. As of today we have one month left in our village. Even with such a short amount of time left we are finding plenty of work to keep us busy.

The Ministry of Fisheries is coming to the village to do a Marine Protected Area workshop. This workshop will educate villagers on Marine Monitoring and discuss the rights and responsibilities of the village in regards the "tabu" they placed last month. John has been working to organize this training for months now.

I have completed my first candle making training with the PCPP purchased, beekeeping equipment I ordered from the States. The training was last weekend as was held in Rakiraki town. The majority of the participants were Indo-Fijian women, the same individuals I worked with in the very beginning of my service. It was wonderful to see all of them again. The women loved the angel mold and everyone got to take one home. The next candle making training is TBD but will be held in my village in conjunction with a small business workshop.

I am continuing with aerobics classes in the village. We now hold the classes outside on the "rara" or community green area. All of the kids in the village join us which is usually okay, although sometimes they drive me crazy and I have to chase them away. It is fun to have everyone together to dance for an hour, especially since dancing is usually "tabu" in our village. In addition to dance classes I am also running every morning (it has finally cooled down!) to get ready for SE Asia. I am trying to get into the habit so John and I can stay in shape while traveling for four months. This week we started an 8 km route.

The first of many farewell dinners took place last week. It was at my old counterpart's house in town. I started my work in Fiji with her and her women's group. When John and I moved to the village I made a point to try to work with them as much as possible. Their group is the only successful beekeeping women's group in Ra. They are doing great! I will have a farewell lunch with the whole women's group at the end of June which I am really looking forward to. I have another farewell lunch this Saturday at one of the communities I wrote a Rotary water grant for. They project was funded and completed this year. Our village farewell is on the 10th of July. They have already made it clear that they will not let us sleep, that we must drink grog with them all night. We'll see if that actually happens....I am going to fight it. After two years I still hate grog!

Busy, busy, busy.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Advanced Open Water in Leleluvia

So Leslie's brother, Matt, and his girlfriend, Kristen, are in Fiji right now. They arrived May 1. We had been looking forward to their visit for a while since they are the last visitors we anticipate having before leaving the country. Matt, Kristen and I just returned from a trip to Leleluvia island for a PADI Advanced Open Water Course. Leslie was planning on coming as well but she was stricken by a horrible illness, the details of which I probably shouldn't post on this blog. So Leslie was stuck in Suva while the three of us were enjoying fantastic diving off Leleluvia. The Advanced Open Water course was, in my opinion, a bit of a joke since we really didn't learn any new skills, but the dives were a lot of fun. The best dive, by far, was a site known as "The Market". We saw at least 6 or 7 white tipped reef sharks, a grey reef shark, a hawksbill sea turtle, and a group of about 5 massive bumphead parrotfish. This was the first time I had seen bumphead parrotfish as they are highly endangered. Matt an Kristen seemed to really enjoy the dives.
I am hoping to take Matt out on the Dadakulaci (my boat) but the wind has picked up considerably in the past week so we may not be able to.
I don't know if Leslie mentioned this in her last post, but we have a definite date for Close of Service (July 14) and have already bought our tickets to Southeast Asia. The plan is to travel for about 4 months to Hong Kong, Thailand, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Malaysia, and Indonesia before heading back home. We are going to visit Phoenix, Portland, and Dallas when we return to the U.S. so we should be able to visit most of our friends and family.
Here are a few fish pictures I took during the dives:

Freckled Hawkfish

Regal Anglefish

White spotted Grouper

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Close of service and things to come

April is quickly coming to a close. It is amazing how fast time is flying! My bro will be here in one week!!!

Early in the month I started my dance classes with the women in the village. I originally planned to run one session a week, thinking that would be what the women would want, but it turns out they want to dance every day. So, as a compromise, because I have other commitments in town, we train three days a week. The average turn out for the dance classes is about 12 women (plus way too many children). The average age of the women who participate is 35 (we have a few teenagers and a few grandmas who really skew the average). It is great to see the young women and the older, distinguished, maramas come together and have such a good time. It is hard to hear the music above all of the laughing. The men in the village thank me on a regular basis, saying that their wives and mothers are feeling better. I cannot take credit for the success of this project. The women in my village asked me to start a class because Lydia (a volunteer across the bay) had started a class in her village. She started a trend in Ra. Natalie (aka Nuper) is starting a training class in her village on Monday. Also, the two villages that neighbor ours want me to come and give classes with them. Lydia should be super proud of herself and her village for setting such a positive example!

Yoga to help stretch before dancing.

Tae Bo kicks.

John and I recently spent a week in Pacific Harbor for our COS training. The training focused on preparing volunteers for life back in the States. We fine-tuned our resumes, received our exit dates, gave organizational feedback, and talked about dealing with reverse culture shock. The conference was full of very useful information. The most exhausting session was the feedback session. Our group has been very unhappy with the office for a while now so there was a lot of feedback and requests for clarifications and policy changes. The session was handled professionally but it took two hours. When we were not in session we enjoyed the luxury of The Pearl Resort. We swam in the pool, did beach-side yoga, dressed as pirates at a bonfire and used the media room as our own private Rubrics Cube party location. It was a bittersweet week: hanging out as a group again was wonderful but saying goodbye (for good in many situations) was very difficult. I did not realise what great friends John and I would make in these two years.

Peace Corps Fiji 2008 -2010

The day after arriving back from Pacific Harbor I started the final round of beekeeping and small business sessions for my service. The trainings are two days long with a mix of technical beekeeping skills, personal finance, business finance and basic concepts in small business. The first two trainings went really well, in fact we had over 40 participants at the Namara training....our biggest group yet! The first training was in Narewa village, on the Western side of Ra. The training came at the perfect time as our beekeeping equipment, purchased with the PCPP funds, arrived from America on Monday! The potential beekeepers of Narewa village were the first to use the bee suits on Monday afternoon. The handing over ceremony for the equipment is this next Monday, April, 26th.

Me teaching personal finance in Namara village in the interior of Ra.
Finally, John and I have confirmed our schedule for our travels after we complete our Peace Corps service. We are going to spend four months in South East Asia: Hong Kong, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, Singapore, Malaysian Borneo, and Bali. We plan to return to Oregon on November 12, 2010. From there we will visit John's family in Phoenix for Christmas and our Dallas friends for New Years. Mark your calendars.....the 2010 holidays are going to ROCK!

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Booty Shakin' Good Time

So this post is a long time coming. There was not much to report after returning from New Zealand. Other than cyclone Thomas that spared most of Fiji and my mysterious sickness. The first half of March was pretty uneventful.

Update on the sickness: I am pretty sure my respiratory issues were caused by a food allergy. I have now been on a restricted diet for two weeks (of six total). I cannot eat wheat, dairy, meat, sugar or salt. I have been devouring beans, nuts, fruits and veggies. Thank goodness it is avocado season! The diet is not as restrictive as it sounds and the best part is that I feel much better. I have a family history of wheat allergies so I am pretty sure that wheat is the culprit.

Now onto more interesting news. At the end of March John and I traveled to Leleuvia Island off the Eastern coast of Viti Levu. Since our last trip to Leleuvia management has let things go a bit. The food was not as good as I remembered (could have been the diet) and the dorms seemed run down. The weather did not want to cooperate either, it rained every day. We still had a great time though. Four of the Suva volunteers joined us on Saturday. Mid-morning on Saturday we went for a SWEET dive and saw 12 sharks, 3 turtles, a Napoleon Wrasse, and beautiful Gargonian Fans. It was one of my favorite dives in Fiji. The dive totally made up for what the resort lacked. The snorkeling is also great just off the beach. John saw a bunch of Eagle Rays and some huge fish while snorkeling. We are planning to return to Leleuvia in May to complete our Advanced Diver Certification.

I have started a Dance/Jazzercise/Tae Bo/Yoga fusion class with the women in the village. Last night was the first class and it was a big hit. There were about 15 - 20 women and girls in attendance (even my Bubu came!). By the end of class everyone was sweaty and happy...yay for endorphins! I used my American Heart Association donated pedometers so the women could count their steps and figure out how many calories then spent (roughly). Before each class I present five foods and their nutritional content so that the women can also see how many calories they consume.

Yesterday was a busy day. In addition to dance fusion, I also went to Lautoka with my counterpart from the Business Incubation Center to pick up our beekeeping training equipment from customs. To our disappointment we were not able to pick up the equipment. Turns out there is a TON of paperwork you have to fill out in order to clear $4,000 FJD in goods from customs. Peace Corps is currently helping me process that paperwork so I don't have to pay import duties. We should receive the equipment by next week. This is perfect timing as we start the final round of beekeeping trainings on April 19th.

Finally, our village has an "official" marine tabu (MPA). It took a year-and-a-half to get to this point but it finally happened. We had a bose va koro (village meeting) on Tuesday and the tabu was voted in unanimously. John is excited to bring out FLEMA and the Ministry of Fisheries to train the village. Hopefully the UNDP grant will also come through to help with the tabu. John is crossing his fingers on that one.

Next week is our Close of Service Conference (COS) in Pacific Harbor. All of the FRE 6 volunteers will be there. I am really looking forward to seeing everyone. We are planning some fun, after session activities including the Rubrics Cube game and Pirate dress up.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

New Zealand in Picutres

On the ferry to Waiheke Island.
Crazy dancing skeleton at SPLORE.

Dancing at the mainstage.
Craters of the Moon.

Cliffs near Napier.

Excited to Luge in Queenstown.

Miter Peak in Milfor Sound.

Snow and rocks.

Looking up at the mountains.

The valley crated by the Fiordland glaciers.