Friday, May 25, 2012

TimTam Slamming With the World Health Organization

Well, I'm obviously not posting as much as I was originally planning to. I need to be much much better than that.

Saturday was a day of surprises! We took a boat out on a day trip to one of the islands off the coast of Fiji for some snorkeling and sun. We had been out on the water for about 20 minutes when we realized that the dark clouds overhead weren't going anywhere and we probably wouldn't be getting any sun... it's a good thing no one checked the weather forecast before we booked the trip! Also, I must have some sort of curse because at one point on the boat ride I turned to the left, and right in my face was the butt of one of the New Zealander's on the trip. Just a face full of tush, with a pretty excessive amount of crackage hanging out the top, too. Yum. After about 30 minutes on the island, it started to rain pretty heavily which was a little sad, but it's hard to care about the rain when you're snorkeling and enjoying the water so that's what we did to pass the time! The tour docked on the island for about 3 hours (even though the brochure promised 5), and then headed back to the main island. On the way back it poured for the second half of the boat ride, and I was cold for the first time since landing in Fiji! It was great.

On Sunday we went to church and relaxed at home for the afternoon, there isn't too much to say about that. I've been trying to track down Talen Tremea, who is serving his mission here. I asked the ward missionaries about him and they said if he was on this side of the island they would meet him that night--- I'm really excited to hear about it on Sunday and see what they know! I have to find him.

In other news, we did a training with the World Health Organization this week! Tuesday and Wednesday were spent on another part of the island called RakiRaki, which supposedly has some of the best snorkeling on the island. We had the opportunity to work with the different principals and teachers in the area to address specific problems that they are having and find ways to improve them. It was a pretty eye opening experience. Hilary and I were with three men and we were supposed to discuss the topic of alcohol abuse. Although the legal age for buying alcohol is 18 here, they were telling us that literally anyone can go into the store and buy it if they say it's for their parents or friends or whoever they want! They have issues with children aged 13 drinking.. unbelievable. And on top of that, the black market is a huge thing here! Apparently every single taxi driver knows where there are black market stations so that you can buy alcohol all the time. I realized how grateful I am to live in a place where although there are issues, there are usually people working hard to ensure the safety of the nation, especially the youth. It's heartbreaking to see these kids struggle with issues that they should still be ignorant of.

Wednesday night we decided to take advantage of being in RakiRaki and stayed at the VoliVoli Beach Resort. They had some backpacker rooms that were only $15 USD a night and fit 8 people in a room, so it was perfect! Wednesday was also Tacy's birthday so we had dinner at the resort and then had the staff make a cake by stacking TimTams. Obviously we sang happy birthday to her on loop while one of the waiters danced with her.... everyone was so casual about it so I'm guessing that Fijian birthday protocol. A few of the leaders from the World Health Organization were at dinner with us, so they joined in on the TimTam slamming for dessert, which was hilarious. I feel like very few people can say they did TimTam Slams with the Fiji Leaders of the WHO. After dinner we walked out to the ocean to enjoy the rest of the evening. I have never seen so many stars in my entire life. I had a few minutes to myself and it was amazing to look out at the stars and the ocean and the incredible deep purples of the sunset and realize how happy I am, and not just a fleeting happiness, but a deep, to my core happiness. On Thursday we passed the time lounging by a gorgeous beach and pool and relaxing til our bus ride home. It was sooooooooooo nice.

Today we spent a lot more time working on project proposals and preparing for next week so that we can start getting involved with our specific projects. I'm anxious because one of my projects is helping improve the literacy at a local special education schools, but I feel very underprepared. I don't know how to teach kids to read, let alone those who require more attention than others. Hopefully I'll be able to find out more about it and follow the learning curve to figure things out! This might be a crazy week.

I am so grateful for the chance I have to be here. I was worried that it was going to be a long hard adjustment, but after the first week things are starting to be comfortable. We're always so proud of ourselves when we know where we are and where we're supposed to walk. Simple joys, right? I really have the feeling that I will be able to do something honestly life changing while I am here.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Rotahomes, Lice, and Reggae: The Fijian Adventure Begins!

Bula from Fiji! I know this post is a little late, so I'll try to sum up everything we've been doing without being too long winded. I put the pictures up on Facebook, but I'll try to put them on here too in a few days.

Day 1:
On the first day we landed at 5:30 in the morning, so the whole day is kind of a blur for everyone. We moved into our house, went to the atm and walked around the market to get shampoo and other essentials, and then hung around the house. It was more or less the eternal day because we were so tired and it went on forever! Our house is really great. There are 3 rooms with 4 girls each in them, and then the only guy on the trip sleeps out on a bed in the living room so that we all have privacy. He handles being the only guy quite well. So we fit into the house perfectly right now, but in about a month we're supposed to have a total of 27 people living in the house!!! That's right, 27. We can't really figure out how that's going to work... but it'll be an adventure! We live in Lautoka, which has turned out to be a great location. We're in pretty close proximity to most of our partners that we'll be working with and the bus drives right by our house.

Days 2 and 3:
 For those days, we helped to build a house in a neighborhood called Koroipita, which is build in connection with the Rotahomes project. It was pretty slow moving because they only use  nails and hammers to build. The only legitimate power tool they had was a saw for cutting all of the wood. It was eye opening to see exactly how much labor goes into each and every one of the homes.

This concept is seriously so amazing. This man named Peter Drysdale started this concept of building homes that would be resistant to the cyclones that come through Fiji and ruin all of the homes. They started to build them on a much larger scale, which eventually yielded to figuring out the social issues associated with this kind of neighborhood. For $1 a day, these people live in the cyclone resistant homes and also have electricity, water, classes, and school included. It's targeted for low income families, and the waiting list to live there is over 400 families! We went to a dinner with Peter and a few other Fijian big wigs and he told us all about the different social issues he's had, and how they've been able to keep this a very controlled society. It was incredible. For one of my projects I'll be going with a few other volunteers to teach computer classes and fitness classes to the people who live in Koroipita. I'm excited to be there more!

We had a few silly experiences while we were building the houses. But I'd say my absolute favorite is about one of the main builders, Sateen. In his time with the Rotahomes project he has built over 720 houses by hand! So Sateen is an Indo-Fijian, meaning he's of Indian descent. I'm not sure what the exact statistic is, but I'd say it's pretty close to a 50-50 split on the island between Fijians and Indo-Fijians. Sateen didn't really have much interest in helping us girls work on the house, so a lot of times we were assigned pretty basic tasks while he and his workers did the harder things. There I was just painting away on one of the frames when I look to my left and see Sateen's buns right in my face! He was bending over installing something and I was definitely in his way. But wait! As I'm looking at it, he lowers further and further until he is literally sitting on my shoulder. I was laughing so hard I was shaking. He continued to perch on my shoulder until he was done doing what he needed to do, and then he stood up and walked away. No recognition, no apology, no anything. We were laughing so hard.

The Rest of the Days:
On Sunday we went to church at the local ward building. The meetings were a total of just over 4 hours long, followed by a full on meal in honor of ward conference. They really run on Fiji time in church, but it was one of the best meetings I have ever been to. The people are so sweet and kind, everyone wants to know where we are from, why we are here, how long we're staying, and where we are living. Those are probably the 4 most common questions we are asked on a daily basis. During sacrament meeting the kids were all over us! They all wanted to sit and draw and talk. There was a little girl on the seat next to me that moved over to Annie's seat next to me and was sitting on her lap during the beginning of the meeting. We looked at her at first glance and were pretty sure she had dandruff, but after a closer examination we noticed that they were moving, and she definitely had lice! We were relieved when she walked to go sit by her mom and we were able to sanitize. Luckily no one ended up with lice.. but it was a close call for sure.

On Monday and Tuesday we spent the days visiting with different partners trying to determine what the need is for us as volunteers, and where we could fit into their programs and be helpful. There are so many different options as to where we can work and what they'd like us to do! It's almost a little overwhelming to think about all of the different people who need our help.

On Wednesday morning we met with the Sunshine Special School, which is where I found my second project... a literacy campaign of sorts to help the students there improve their reading abilities. I'm really excited to get started on that! We've taken it from more of a smaller scale program in just helping those kids to possibly starting a new way to gauge reading skills and then implement better teaching strategies into the classrooms. More information to come on that one.

On Wednesday afternoon, our country directors Candice and Katherine surprised us and took us to a resort for the day! It was gorgeous. We all had a great time getting out of the house and relaxing by the pool while we had our meetings to discuss our possible projects and the directions we could take with them. We found the best caravan driver that took us to and from the hotel.. his name is Matt and he has hair that definitely belongs in some weird Bob Marley mashup with the 70's. It's a giant fro! And he plays the best music we've heard yet... he's probs going to be our chauffeur for most of what we do here. haha. The music here is absolutely hilarious. It's all the normal top 40 songs from home, but mixed with a super heavy reggae beat involving a ridiculous amount of bass. The other day on the bus they started to play a mix of The Lion King with Beyonce that I will stoked about, but the driver changed it. I'm still trying to find it and download it so I can hear the whole thing. We're also on the hunt for a CD version of the music that they play so we can bring it home with us because it's pretty awesome.

For the last couple of days we've been hanging around the house preparing our project proposals and getting ready to start working next week! We're going to go to RakiRaki to do a training with the World Health Organization that everyone is reeeeeally excited about. It'll be a fun few days!

I'm looking forward to this summer. The first few days were rough and I thought 12 weeks was going to drag by, but looking back it's already been more than a week here. I think things will really pick up once we're working every day on our projects and there's lots to get done.