2009-08-30: The First 100 Days in Fiji

We’ve made it 100 days in


and have learned quite a few
things.  Kelly has finished compiling her
“100 Things I’ve Learned in


list in the spirit of all things Facebook. 
I don’t have the patience for Facebook on dial up internet so here’s a
quick or not so quick summary of a few lessons learned so far.


Lesson One:  Gardening
in 3rd world countries takes a lot of time and patience.  Today marks the one month anniversary of our
initial planting and production rate is hitting at about 50 percent.  So far broccoli and cucumber are the most
resilient while the carrot, red onion, and tomato pull up the rear.  Although I went to the largest agriculture
school in the world, Texas A&M, I know absolutely nothing about gardening
so the following lessons learned must be taken with a grain of salt.


Never take the power of the chicken for granted.  I assumed there were plenty of other gardens
to keep the chickens busy and mine was way back from the path surrounded by
high bush.  That doesn’t matter.  They will find your garden and root around at
even the smallest sprout.  My first
attempt of a stick fence failed miserably. 
I have since modified this with a harmonious combination of coconut palm
fronds, weeded vines from the initial garden clearing, longer sticks weaved
horizontally through the vertical sticks placed earlier, random pieces of wood
from below our house stacked like bricks, a broken folding metal chair, and a
piece of rusty tin from the pit toilet house. 
Of course it would have been a lot easier to buy wire mesh or chicken
wire but it wouldn’t have been very Fijian, or for that matter East Texan.  I did have to break out the bailing wire to
make it all hold together, though.  This
may be my undoing come the wet season as I’m sure it will rust apart in a
week.  But for the moment, the chickens
frustratingly peck away at the perimeter longing for a nice munch on my


Lesson Two:  Toilets
use a lot of water.  This of course is no
shocker to anyone until it impacts you personally.  Well, it hit us front and center as water is
a problem on our little island.  There is
plenty of it, it just drains to the other side. 
Solutions have been developed but the money hasn’t come yet.  So we are stuck at a crossroads between water
and sanitation. 


Most of the villagers use water seal toilets.  Naturally there is a movement towards flush
toilets as this is what most of the developed world has done and they are more
sanitary.  However when doing the math it
is astonishing how much water flush toilets use.  I had always heard this but never really
thought much about it in the land of the cheap and plentiful water.  So when the council said it is time to start
rolling out flush toilets during the dry season while our water was turned off
from 6 pm to 6 am every evening bells went off. 
Here is what I discovered:



Pretty crazy, huh? 
When I did the math I was shocked the villagers would drain 2.4 of their
21,000 litre tanks once a month just on going to the toilet.  When I described it to the council members
they where shocked as well.  So I
developed the simple illustration above to help the villagers understand why
flush toilets aren’t the greatest thing since sliced bread. 


So what’s the solution? 
The ever popular compost toilet! 
Yeah!  Horray for Mr. Poop
Compost!  I say that jokingly of course
as they are heavily promoted in


by the Peace Corps and many others.  They
sound good but I’ve never actually seen one in use in all the villages I’ve
visited.  It may be because when it comes
down to it you are still pooping in a pit and it cost about the same as a flush
toilet.  So when water is not an obvious
or painful obstacle they are a hard sell. 


In our case water is an obvious obstacle and unless the
money fairy comes and fixes the water supply issue it isn’t going away.  Therefore, we are rolling out a couple of
prototypes of the compost toilet for the villagers to use at the community
hall.  Here’s the sketch:



They are very simple in concept and even simpler to
build.  My concern is the up keep.  In order for the system to work the user must
place organic material in the toilet after each use.  I can see this not happening regularly.  Also, it takes about a year before the
compost is worth using as fertilizer and that is a long time to wait for
tangible results.  If we can help them
see the long term benefits I know it will avoid tragedy of 100 flush toilets
and no water.  That would take them to an
even more unsanitary position than where they are now. 


Lesson Three:  It is a
lot easier to live on less than I thought it would be.  We have no air conditioner, refrigerator, TV,
car, ATM, internet, radio (wait, we have one station,

New Zealand

news!) washer, water heater, dryer, or dishwasher.  Our power is from 6 to 11 pm and the water is
randomly turned off. 


Even without all the above, life is still good and things
move along.  I don’t feel any less
complete or satisfied without all those things and know I could even do with
less and still be a functioning contributor to society in a relatively good
mood.  This lesson is perhaps the most
profound I’ve learned during my short time here.  It is an obvious and simple one that most
people don’t have to move to the opposite corner of the world to discover.  And perhaps I had already learned bits of it
from our purging of the TV two years ago and the three year mad crazy debt pay
off life that left us little money for life’s fringe benefits.  But now it has sunk deep in the marrow for me
and claimed for itself a permanent perspective of the developed world.  It isn’t a perspective of animosity or greed
towards Western society, just a perspective different than I had before.  It is neither positive or negative, just
there.  Wide, clear, and focused like one
looking at the globe for the first time and realizing just how big


really is. 


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