2009-10-23: Tips for FRE-8s

I mustered up the energy to start the bamboo compost bin yesterday. I
am using the thinner type of bamboo that splits easier. I would
prefer to use the stronger type but Samalu’s son cut a ton of it for
my fence and I had better put it to use for something constructive.

The joints were easier to make than I expected. The trick is cutting
the bamboo with a saw instead of a cane knife so you don’t split the
ends. Once this happens it tends to crumble and create long seams
thus weakening the end of the bamboo.

The hardest part is figuring out a good way to tie the joints. At the
moment I am using wire, but this will soon rust. I cut some vines and
am letting them dry out to have a go at this method. Nails won’t
really work as this would spilt the bamboo even more and there isn’t
much meat to grab the nail like a block of wood.

I have been meaning to write up some pointers for volunteers planning
their trip next spring so here goes at some lessons learned my first
few months in Fiji:

1. Phone: Don’t purchase the Sagem phone from Vodafone stores.
Instead purchase a phone with a recognizable name like Nokia or
Motorola. The off-brand phones are crap and don’t have near the
features main line brands due.

You can also purchase an EasyTel phone that is cheaper to use. Calls
back home are $.30 cents a minute verses $.70 on Vodafone. ET service
is more reliable also. The only draw back is the phone is twice as
big. But if you got a lanyard and wore it around your neck it would
be a nice fashion statement: “I have a huge phone and don’t care.”

For married couples I recommend one getting Vodafone and the other
getting EasyTel. The EasyTel also connects to the internet, if you
have a PC (reference earlier blog for rant on this subject). Sorry
Macs, I guess there is a limitation to your superiority. We all need
to be humbled every once in a while.

The last tidbit on phones is be prepared to pay a lot to communicate.
Calling in Fiji is very expensive in relation to the allowance you
will be receiving.

2. Clothing: Unless you plan on hiring out your laundry duties to
somebody, don’t bring much cotton. Everything I read prior to coming
said bring sturdy cotton clothes. Cotton is a hollow fiber and traps
moisture and sweat creating odors. It dries slower than synthetic
fibers and stretches out. Cotton clothing is also much harder to wash
as it is very heavy wet and hard to wring out. Therefore go the
synthetic route in all articles.

The only exception is if you hire Fijians to do your laundry. In this
case cotton makes sense because when Fijians wash, they don’t mess
around. The clothes are scraped and scrubbed to within an inch of its
life and synthetics will simply not endure this torture for long.

3. Socks: I read a lot that said good socks are hard to find. I have
discovered that they are not worth finding because they aren’t needed.
Unless you run a lot, most of the time I wear flip-flops and don’t
need socks. I don’t know the quality, but on just about every street
there is a vendor selling socks in Suva. I brought ten pairs and need

4. White Clothing: Another misnomer communicated to volunteers
heading out to Fiji is don’t bring white. Fijians love white and
often you will be required to wear white to social functions,
especially church. Although it is hard to keep clean, it is even
harder to find a nice white shirt or blouse. The only thick white
t-shirt I could find at the used clothing stores without stains all
over it was one that said ‘Show Me Your Boobies’. The new shirts are
very thin material and expensive.

5. Ties: Men should bring a nice tie. I wear one twice a week and
it is a zip up tie. This it the only cheap tie I could find. Most of
the ties at used clothing stores have Santa Claus on them or look like
they were once used for cargo straps.

6. Clothes Pins: Bring wooden clothespins. The ubiquitous plastic
clothespins tear your clothes and break easily. We’ve only found
wooden ones at Cost-U-Less and it is hit or miss when they are in

7. Coffee: Bring a good stainless steel coffee press if you like
coffee. Very expensive ones are available in Suva but they are all
glass. Real coffee is only obtainable in Suva and not available in
the outer island super markets.

8. DVDs: Yes, everyone knows pirated DVDs are prevalent here and very
cheap. The problem is often they contain viruses and are either cheap
camcorder recordings of the movie from within the theater or a draft
version without the final special effects. As an example, I was
watching Wolverine at a friend’s house and the jets in the special
effects scenes where computer animated gray boxes. Often when the
characters started fighting they would magically convert to manikin
like figurines clad in monotone colors. And lastly it is illegal. I
know, I know, the movie industry makes a bajillion dollars and is
ruthless, but it is still illegal do buy pirated movies. Plus it
promotes dishonest business practices among locals and the spread of
malicious viruses. O.k., I will get off my moral soap box…

The bottom line is I wish I had raided the $5 movie section at
Blockbuster prior to coming over. Even bad movies are worth watching
(except the ‘Lords of Flatbush’, that movie is terrible) when it gets
dark at 6:00 and your only entertainment options are re-reading a book
for the fourth time, sharing dirt water in a communal cup with a group
of men who haven’t washed their hands in three days, or sleeping.

Here are some things I heard to do but didn’t do them and wished I did:

1. Pictures: I wish I had brought more hard copy photos. Photos are
expensive here and showing them digitally on your laptop isn’t a good
idea for several reasons… Fijians love pictures and seeing your

2. Bags: We did a lot of research on bags and the choices I made
weren’t that good. I brought a pelican lap top case (1090CC Hardback
Laptop Case) and although it is sturdy, the strap is uncomfortable and
the space is limited to only your laptop and nothing else. It is also
kinda flimsy and not so airtight. I recommend Timbuktu bags as they
give Peace Corps volunteers a 50% discount and most are somewhat water
resistant, a major feature needed on any bag brought over.

Things I am glad I brought prior to coming over:

1. Laptop: From work to pleasure, a laptop is essential gear. The
internet café computers are often slow and randomly lock up. Plus the
cafes are often very crowded and hot. If you are on an outer island
the cafes are very expensive. Although Macs don’t work with most
internet providers, hopefully this will change soon, they are still
more resilient to the beating computers receive from not only nature,
but viruses, here in Fiji. I don’t regret bringing mine.

2. Snorkel Gear: Although it is laborious bringing over the snorkel
equipment, it is well worth the effort. The gear available here is
expensive and low quality. There is nothing worse than trying to
enjoy some of the world’s most beautiful underwater scenery and
battling leaky face masks, broken straps, and poorly designed

3. Insurance: The policy offered by the Peace Corps third party
insurer is crap. There are way too many exclusions and requirements
to make filing a claim in a third world country worthwhile. If you
can get USAA insurance do it. It isn’t that expensive and the
limitations are reasonable.

As an example, our camera was damaged beyond repair and they covered
the loss within 10 days, and all we had to do is email them what had

4. Leather: I didn’t bring hardly anything made of leather and am
glad I did. Our leather luggage tag rotted in 60 days. My leather
checkbook holder rotted in 20 days. It is hard to avoid all leather
items, such as hiking boots (which are another much needed item), but
if you keep them well ventilated and brush the mold off regularly they
will last.

5. Sandals: We bit the bullet and bought good sandals and they have
paid off handsomely. Keen and Chaco offer 50% PC discounts and both
are great quality. But again, stay away from leather ones.

6. Ear Plugs: Sleep the first few weeks in Fiji will be very
difficult. From birds, to chickens, to patio bands, to you name it…
There is often some sort of noise keeping you up at night. After
awhile my brain adapted but it took a good 12 weeks. I brought ear
plugs but not good ones. If you can find custom ear plugs designed
for your ear and easily cleanable bring them. You will be glad you
did when that pesky rooster decides to sound off outside your window
every morning at 3:30am.

Here are Kelly’s notes:

Toiletries – deodorant, razors, individually wrapped hand-sanitizer wipes,
Electronics – USB drives, batteries, extra headphones
Kitchen – really good knife, garlic press, can opener, nalgene bottle,
or aluminum water bottle

PC provides – face soap, aloe, sunscreen, mosquito repellant,
vitamins, female products, dental floss and all the medical items you
can think of.

Bring your crappiest clothes and mostly shirts because you will wear
sulus everyday and will want to burn everything that is left when you

Workout equipment – bands, ball, DVDs, etc. Fijians don’t exercise and
they will make fun of you running.

Note to females from Kelly – the PC provides plenty of tampons and
pads, so you only need to pack enough for a week. Sports bras are more
comfortable than regular bras when you are sweating your brains out.
And yes it is unfortunately true – you have to wear a sulu or skirt
every stinking day in the village. I can only wear shorts/pants in the
cities and when hiking.

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