Notes and FAQs to FRE8s!!


Would a smallish tape recorder be very helpful?

Matt has used his to record a meetings and then to record the singing at church.

Do you ever wear socks?  How many pairs should I pack?

I only wear socks when running or hiking. There are lots of hiking trails, so if you are into that bring 'em. Probably 2-3 pairs.

Does everyone have a converter and surge protector?  

We bought a surge protector here at a store called Dick Smith Electronics in Suva. It was about US$50 and totally worth it if you are on a generator.

Should I bring  2 pair or one-(lt.wt.)tennis shoes?

I'd just bring one. You can buy shoes in Suva if needed.

Did any of you go over the 80 lbs…and pay the additional amount?

We had to pay for the domestic flight, DFW to LAX but the flight to Auckland/Fiji won't let you pay an overage charge you just have to chunk stuff. So I would keep it under. 

I have about 9 lbs. of books … are there plenty of books to read there?

The volunteers are great about sharing books. There are a ton at the PC office in Suva and then consolidation point houses in Suva, Savusavu, Labasa, etc. We read about 5 books a week and have yet to run out. Also, you might look into a Kindle. We got one shipped to us and it is awesome. Load it up before you leave (all the classics are free) and then you can also download books once you are here.

Are Macs still a problem and is it something I might be able to address with a genius bar visit here before I leave?
Nah, we both have Mac Book Pros and got the internet to work with EasyTel and MACS work in all the internet cafes. There is some quirks and we will be happy to show you how to connect when you get here. We do have a version of Windows for MAC and then bootcamp … I would do that rather than bring 2 laptops.

Skype – Do you guys use it?

YES. It can be slow when we are at site, but the audio without picture works fine. And it works great in the towns.
Fins for snorkeling – necessary?
We brought ours and use them every time. Some didn't and are happy without. Guess it depends on how good a swimmer you are. ;o) Also, if you are environment – pack at least your snorkel/mask in your training bag, we got to snorkel twice during PST.
I love to take photos – should I invest in an underwater camera?
Lots of people have the canon D10s and we have an underwater case for our camera. The water is so clear and if you plan on snorkeling/diving, I would. ;o)
Scuba – should I get certified here?
There are some great package prices here. Cheaper than what we paid in Texas. And much better diving!! so I would save your money and do it here.
I am unfortunately addicted to cappuccinos.  Should I bother to bring a cheap krups machine?  Is milk easily available?

We are super remote with only generator electricity a couple hours a day. So we don't have a fridge and have to use powdered milk. But lots of others have fridges and constant electricity…. so your call. But definitely bring a french press and about a months worth of coffee. You will only get instant with your homestay family and you can only buy real coffee at Cost U Less in Suva.
Beard – I often will go several days without shaving.  Is that going to offend and if so, should I bring lots of razors?
Matt brought a years worth and was happy he did, they are expensive here. But he often shaves just 1-2 times a week. You will not offend anyone it is just hot as (@#$*@(#$* here.
Vitamins – Should I bring 2 years worth?
Nope, PC will provide you with all the vitamins you can think of!!!
How difficult is it to get to a store or town to buy supplies?
In Fiji each site placement can be very different from the next. We are very remote and PC assists us in restocking supplies every 8 weeks. Most volunteers go to town every 2 weeks and those on Viti Levu can get to Suva regularly to buy almost anything your heart desires!!
The PC Manual states that Peace Corps limits luggage to certain dimensions and weights that are smaller than the airlines' standards (referring to US airline companies). Should I go by the airlines' standards, or by what Peace Corps published?

The PC will not reimburse you for luggage charges if your bags are overweight. But some domestic airlines will have just a regular baggage charge … for us to get to LAX from DFW the airline charged $25 per bag and PC took care of that. But if you are over the weight limit they will not pay. But PC never weighed or measured our bags.
Do you have any other luggage advice?
I brought way too many clothes and books. PCVs have collected a decent library and we have a great exchange program. Also, you might look into a kindle. We love ours. You will have to turn in one bag at the airport when you arrive. You won't see it for 7-9 weeks so put your books, household stuff, extra clothes, etc. in there – unless you need coffee!! Then pack coffee and a french press in your PST bag, your homestay family will not even know there is coffee besides instant. eww. Also, we went snorkeling twice during PST so if you want to take advantage of that pack your snorkel/mask!
Are spices readily available?
Yes, all Indian spices are in every store. Other spices (oregano, basil, etc) are available at Cost U Less in Suva.
Are there any cooking products or kitchen related items that I should bring?
I brought and still love my french press for coffee, garlic press, can opener and a wickedly good knife.
Are batteries available and are they super expensive?
You can get really crappy batteries everywhere. and most villages will have electricity even we have a generator that comes on periodically. We brought a solar charger and have never had to use it but we break it out every once in a while for fun.
If I bring my computer, how will I charge it and other devices that require charging? What about molding or corrosion?

You will probably have electricity or a generator for 3-5 hours a day. Molding is a huge problem. We have pelican cases with silica packs and I have only had to deal with corrosion on one of my lenses.
Will my VISA debit card work there? Is there a better option for having access to my personal funds?

We have a visa debit / atm card and can use it in all the towns.
Is it worth bringing light-weight hiking boots, or will tevas and sneakers do the trick?
Definitely bring boots, there are lots of hiking opportunities, but I would avoid leather ones – they will mold.

Do PCV's in Fiji usually live by themselves after training? I read that sometimes a PCV will continue to live with their host family even after training ends…

Unfortunately, some do but PC says the village has to provide a home within 2-3 months.
Are any other hard-to-come-by items that I should bring?
If you like coffee – french press & coffee can really only be bought in Suva. I would also bring exercise bands, jump rope, etc. if you want to exercise. And any electronics are expensive. And deoderant can be hard to find … Fijians use body spray. ;o(

Do you have any suggestions about water bottles, besides the aluminum or stainless ones? I was considering a small hikers/travel pump filter or maybe those filter straws, is something like this worth it or necessary?

Peace Corps gives all the volunteers a really good ceramic 6 litre water filter when they arrive.  We have a Seri Pen U.V. filter but have only used it a few times.  You may want something for travel to other countries or within Fiji.  Usually if we don't have our filter we just boil the water.  In a country so hot it is funny how there is almost always a kettle nearby!
Is it really difficult to get access to the internet?
After six months of maneuvering through the Fijian internet services labyrinth we finally got connected.  However, it is about 10kb/sec on a good day, which is less than dial up back home.  Let us know if you have a MAC and we can walk you through it but if you have a PC it is relatively easy to get connected. Regardless, it is pretty amazing when you think that a lot of islanders here have a mobile phone, laptop, and internet, but no walls on their house! In towns you can go to a relatively fast internet cafe and pay $3-4/hour.
T-shirts, they keep emphasizing how tank tops are not appropriate but I keep seeing pictures w/ppl in them…whats the deal?

As long as the strap is wide (2-3") the villagers are typically o.k. with it.  A lot of it depends on the village, though.  About 50% of the villages are very conservative and they can't be worn.  T-shirts are typically fine everywhere, as long as it doesn't say "Show me your boobies."  Seriously, I found one of these in a used clothing store!  Kelly wouldn't let me buy it.  In the urban areas pretty much anything goes.  During training we were in a very conservative village but Kelly wore sleeveless shirts with thick straps while running and it was o.k.  She couldn't wear them just for walking around, though. The village we are in now is not conservative at all so Kelly can wear them, especially while hiking, working, etc. but not to church and the office.
Is it truly a bad idea to bring/wear contacts?  
I wear contact lenses about 50% of the time and it is no big deal.  I would wear them all the time if I could afford too.  If you can wear them, get the Focus Dailies.  If not, just maintain good hygiene.  Most of the problems come from simply not observing simple hygiene practices.  We've experienced no infections, boils, etc., while other volunteers constantly battle these.  Mainly it is the guys who don't take showers.  I recommend bringing a lot of microfiber eyeglass cleaning cloths as the dust and dirt keeps them pretty dirty.  In Fiji, you are pretty much living outside the entire time, unless in a urban setting, which makes keeping eyeglasses clean very hard.  

What was your first day like? Who picks you up, can you get a shower & some food & rest or is it straight to work?? 

Peace Corps enjoys recreating the wheel a lot so there is no telling if your first day will be like ours.  For us, our training manager met us at the gate and ushered us through immigration.  After immigration we gathered our bags, make sure you grab a bag cart quick as there aren't very many of them, and then walked to a charter bus.  At this point you immediately give one bag to the local PC staff and they take it via truck to the PC office in Suva for storage until training is over.  You don't have time to open it or re-arrange stuff in the storage bag and if you ask to it will just delay everything and people will not like you.   It is very hot and most just want to get going.  They gave us some water and fruit and we made our way down the coral coast.  By the way, if you go to the duty free shop do it in LA or NZ.  There isn't much time after landing in Fiji.  
Half way to Suva, about 2 hours, we ate lunch with four current volunteers.  They weren't very communicative, though, and probably just came for the free lunch.  Then we continued on to Suva and then to Nadave.  Enjoy the ocean views on the bus trip as you won't see it again for 7 weeks!  Nadave was like summer camp.  The facilities are clean but basic.  Make sure you bring a towel, soap, and toiletries as these are hit or miss.  Also, ask for vegetarian at the food counter if your constitution is somewhat shaky.  The cabins have two rooms with a central 'living room' in the middle.  Four volunteers sleep on each side, two on each if married.  Sheets, pillows, and mosquito nets are provided as well as an open clothes cabinet to put your stuff.  If you room doesn't have a kettle, ask for one.  This comes in handy with boiling water for drinking as sometimes the staff forgets to bring boiled water to the meetings.  Bring bag locks as it is hard to keep the room locked with eight people in and out of them.  Always keep your cash on you as this is the thing most often stolen by the cleaning staff.  Nadave was pretty safe and nobody got anything stolen but you can't be too careful, especially when living on peanuts.  
After we arrived in Nadave we ate dinner and went to bed.  From that point forward training involves gathering in a conference room and going through meeting after meeting about policies and procedures, safety and security, language, community development, etc.  The food is o.k. and there are teas at mid morning and mid afternoon.  This is a good time to get to know your fellow volunteers and eat tiny sandwiches and cookies.  The coffee is horrible, though, so bring along some instant coffee if you like it as they will have hot water.  I would bring one or two good aluminum water bottle at least one litre in size as it can be hot and you sweat a lot until your body gets used to the climate.    
It is all pretty boring and we complained so much that hopefully this year your group will have a much better experience.  It tends to get better each year until the US government mandates a staff change and then the process starts all over again.  Your group is coming at the end of the cycle and so they've had a lot of time to refine it.  
Should I bring my bicycle?  
None of the FRE7s brought bikes but several have bought them and just handed them down to the next PCV.
Is it advisable to invest in one of those metal mesh travel safes that will anchor to a post for the computer and camera?  
I brought a huge lockable Pelican case for humidity and security to put all my equipment in and have NO regrets, so do whatever will make you comfortable. PC will also give you a huge lockable tin box to store items in your house.
Phone?  Keep the one I've got and do international service, or deal with it when I get there?

I think 2 FRE7s brought unlockable phones and then do pre-pay VODAFONE. We looked into the AT&T international service and it was wickedly expensive. With Vodafone and Quickdial there are always specials to call home. Also, texts to the US cost the same as texts to other Fijian phones on Vodafone.
Also, we posted the below comments on our blog….
We have been meaning to write up some pointers for volunteers planning
their trip next May so here goes at some lessons learned our 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
two.
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
stock.
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.


Another option is find a friend with a DVR and fill it. Bring an external HDD as the current volunteers have already collected quite a few AVI movies and TV shows to share.



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
family.
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
snorkels.
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
happened.
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
leave.
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.

One comment on “Notes and FAQs to FRE8s!!

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