Check out the video…If US newsbroadcasters could master the art of eyebrow manipulation watching the news would be much more intriguing and informative. Don't underestimate the power of the brow!
The photo section has a ton of Kelly's amazing pics! She's amazing!
Fun Facts on Fiji: Over 2,267 Peace Corps Volunteers have served in Fiji since the program was established in 1968. Currently, 65 Volunteers are serving in Fiji. The program was briefly closed in 1998, re-opening in 2004. Volunteers in this Pacific nation work in the areas of health, business development, and environment. Volunteers are trained and work in Fijian and Hindi.
Two of Fiji’s resorts have made the top ten Bargain Hotels in the South Pacific, according to the Travelers' Choice Hotel Awards 2011.
These folks are first class. The owner toured me through his hydro/solar/wind systems and gave me tons of advice during my research for alternative energy systems on Kioa Island. The dive instructors are first class with top notch equipment and a professional, safety first, attitude.
I was attacked today by swarms of mosquitoes. As I swatted the little beasts my mind raced back to the yonder years of Fiji. It seems like decades since I was applying mosquito repellant three times a day and always keeping a sweat rag in my pocket to wipe excess moisture from my brow.
I did a quick browse of the blogs and found my internet connection not cooperating. This created a brief state of panic and I started worrying that the swirling ceiling fan overhead and light bulb where just a mirage, and I was indeed back in the land of skinny cows and plump dalo. Suddenly John and Leslie’s blog loaded and all was back to normal. As I perused their final farewell pics in Fiji I noticed one of a man in a chicken suit on top of a fire truck. This picture was taken during the celebration of Rakiraki becoming a town. We in American do have our fair share of useless celebrations, but I can’t recall the last time anyone had a parade for a village becoming a town. Regardless, there I saw the ‘fire chicken’ standing firm on top of the Rakiraki ‘Town’ fire truck and my mind raced back to the ‘crime free’ celebration in Savusavu a few months back.
I was in town gathering quotes for a Kioa project when Brian called and said he was there helping his village crime free committee support Fiji’s crime free day. The only problem was none of the villagers on his committee showed up. So he had to endure the crime free parade complete with, yes, you guessed it, Mr. Fire Chicken. It was about 85 degrees outside and the highlight of the ceremony was a man dancing in a chicken fire suite.
When I saw fire chicken on the Leslie and John’s blog I laughed so hard I almost cried. I then thought, this would make a great blog! But then I realized I hadn’t blogged in four months and I may have forgotten how to right in complete sentences. After all those thoughts were cleared and I created the entry you see now, I realized it really isn’t that funny of a story to an outsider. It is one of those, you have to know Fiji stories. In then end, I guess that is one of the things I really miss about Fiji; viewing very weird and funny things from the western perspective and sharing it with other westerners and then laughing about it later as we share a common bond of understanding of just how weird and funny it really was.
After twenty hours of traveling, 15 of which where in the air, we finally made it back to the United States of America. The trip on the whole was rather uneventful. The most excitement we had was when the Nadi Airport baggage handlers decided to save some time and load all the bags in the rear of the plane. The only problem was this makes the plane unbalanced. So we enjoyed an extra 45 minutes on the tarmac while the handlers balanced it out between front and rear. Despite the delay we made our connection to LA in Honolulu. From LA we ventured on to DFW. Our final leg of the journey was a detour to the nearest Mexican food restaurant for fajitas and cold beer. I was shocked when after placing our order a steaming plate of veggies and meat appeared no more than five minutes later. The server actually smiled and communicated with us via his mouth rather than eyebrows. Perhaps the most surreal moment was the schooner of ice cold Shiner sitting on my table. It looked so strange and foreign I almost couldn’t remember what this amber liquid was. It all came quickly back after the first gulp, though, and it was then I knew I was home. I was about to sing the Israelite Beer Song, but gathered my composure and celebrated privately. Yes, Beer is Biblical, look it up (Numbers 21:16).
Although it has only been a week since arriving back home it has felt like a year. It is puzzling how so much and little has changed over the last 15 months. I have also reflected many times on everything I took for granted before leaving to Fiji. Therefore it seems appropriate for future reflection to generate a list:
Things I Took For Granted Before Peace Corps:
1. Tap Water: This invention is amazing. Not only does it not give me parasites or running stomach for five days, but it has free fluoride in it and can be dispensed at a wide range of temperatures. I can find this scrumptious liquid anywhere I go and it’s available at all times of the day.
2. Queuing: The orderly nature of this simple activity makes my heart sing with quite joy. Like the natural instincts of a Canadian Snow Goose guiding its migratory flight with precision and efficiency the natural flow and harmony of queuing brings me great peace to waiting in line. No longer do I have to fear the Indo Fijian’s baggage trolly behind me severing my Achilles tendon while waiting for my Air Pacific Flight. Yes, I have shed blood in a Fijian line. The days of 3 inches of personal space at the Savusavu Post Office are over. Throwing elbows while wiggling through the 18” wide bus door need not ever happen again. And never again do I need to be concerned about the multiple sets of eyeballs suspiciously peering over my shoulder through the plastic ATM bubble at ANZ bank.
3. Refrigeration: Good-bye lukewarm Rewa powdered milk. I will not miss you. Nope, not even for a minute. I can also stop reading condiment labels for warnings.
4. Internet: When it worked, the speed in which our computers downloaded email clocked in at 2.3 to 2.5kbs. Now, it goes so fast I can hardly read the numbers. The last flash was in the neighborhood of +500kbs.
The enlightened observer might look upon the above list with suspicion quietly thinking to herself, “Well that man didn’t learn a thing in the third world and has gone back to all his Western habits.” Too her I say, “yup,” you are correct madam. Not only do I bask in A.C., take rides in gas guzzling SUVs, and sometimes let the water run when I brush my teeth, but I do so with a clear conscious. The founders of this nation had no more sophistication or intelligence than those in the developing world today. They simply made the decision to trust in a creator higher then himself, and join together in creating an environment where liberty is paramount, infrastructure works, innovation is rewarded, and hard work is a valued character trait. Today I am proud to enjoy the fruits of their labor and am unapologetic about joining in to make this nation even better.
Things I will miss:
• Never having a case of the ‘Mondays’
• Sound of the ocean as our backyard
• July weather
• Freedom from August in Texas
• Kioan Church Choir
• Isopo, the Pastor’s smile
• Ofati’s smile
• Sikiti’s singing
• Malaki’s laugh
• Volunteer’s invading restaurants
• Sally’s missing filter
• Brian’s advice
• Kara’s volcano of positivism
• Sean’s heroic patience
• Rose’s frankness
• Jonasa’s greetings
• Moss’s quiet strength
• Chris’s dry sense of humor
• Nan’s service
• Jaclyn’s purity
• Garrett’s wisdom
• Brett and Mike’s cigarettes
• Graham’s hair
• Christian’s wandering eye
• Monte’s humility
• Lydia’s free spirit
• Gloria’s heart
• Turani’s faith
• Courtney’s smile
• Goldman’s nose for deals
• Scott’s humor
• Niko’s niko-ness
• Sat’s sat-isms
• Todd’s instant assessment and solution in any situation
• Jules’s ability to verbalize awkward situations
• Throwing rocks at roosters
• My garden
• Watching the kindy student’s two hour commute to school
Things I will not miss:
• Mana birds having early morning tap dance parades on my roof
• Listening to amplified music rumble throughout the village all night
• Having to listen to an hours worth of speeches from old men at every ‘party’
• The Pastor’s yelling during church
• Maka’s wife beating Malosi, Sikiti, and Bale repeatedly with bamboo sticks
• Running stomach after every village meal
• Chainsaws at 6am
• Nofoaga’s cheeky behavior
• January weather
• Waiting an hour for a burger at Decked Out
• Applying insect repellent three times a day
• Mosquito net
• Getting bit by mosquito’s while inside a mosquito net
• Double beds
• Cold showers
• Hurricanes, cyclones, and tropical storms
• Fibre boat rides
• Fibre boat motors not working in the middle of a trip
• Fibre boat passengers sharing smokes while sitting on 20 litre gasoline tanks
• Australian tourists
We are on our last leg of the close of service process and nearing the final day in Fiji. The last few days have been a blur of goodbyes, celebrations, long talks, excitement, sadness, paper work, frustrations, travel, sickness, tears, laughter, and sentimental thoughts.
It started with the celebrations in Kioa prior to departing. Coming in was somewhat low key so I figured going out would be similar. How wrong was I! The first celebration was the Sunday before we left. It was also the Choir’s anniversary day so it technically wasn’t for us but the goodbye theme was still in the air. Unfortunately, I should say fortunately, the speech parade was cut short during the celebration on account of weather. Although we were in the community hall, the rain was coming in horizontally through the windows and pounding the tin roof so loudly nobody could hear himself think much less speak.
The next party was the office lunch with several councilors, Janice, and Mamao. It was similar to the community hall functions except for the buffet style serving and chairs. After that the choir held an evening feast for us. This was a more energetic affair with several fatele’s following the speeches. We both joined in with the dancers and the choir gave us sulus and a beautiful traditional Kioan mat with many bright colors. Next was the village going away party on Thursday. This was the grand finale and they pulled out all the stops. Another Peace Corps volunteer from Viti Levu, Lydia, was traveling with her parents on Taveuni and came over to see the traditional feasting and dancing. A random German couple staying near their resort asked to come along as well and were granted approval. (**Side note – To visit Kioa you have to ask approval first. You can email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 850.3976. Ask for Samalu, the council chairman. Also, Kioa now has a new private guesthouse for overnight visitors.)
So, Lydia, her dad Tom, and the Germans show up and we are ushered into the community hall to a spread of plates at the head of the hall. At first it was quite awkward to be in the honored guest seat but I’ve grown somewhat immune to awkward situations in Fiji and just went with it. In the end it was nice having four other people to absorb the spotlight of eating our meal in front of the entire community. After the meal, there was a short break so we all wandered off to stretch our legs. Tourists from Nutuvu Mission were coming to the island for the fatele at 2pm, so we thought the dancing would start when they arrived. Nope, the performance took their seats and dancers gussied up in their costumes and began the singing. Unfortunately the honored guests they were singing to were wandering around the rugby pitch. Atala caught me as I was heading over to join the group and advised me it would be a good idea if we quickly made our way back to the head of the hall. We scurried back into our seats and enjoyed several songs. Kelly and I were coaxed into performing with the dancers again and made jolly fools of ourselves. Towards the end the women performed a line dance at the head of the group and suddenly Filo broke through the girating ladies with a huge mat decorated with complex and colorful designs. Gifts then started seemingly appearing from nowhere as baskets, trays, and fans where laid on top of the mat placed before us. We later learned the mat’s ornate layout was a traditional Kioan design for mother’s expecting their first child. After the dancing Kelly and I gave brief speeches expressing our deep gratitude for everything the islander’s had taught and shared with us. It was a good moment. The tourists from Nutuvu showed up and the dancing continued for a few more songs. After the partying was over we said goodbye to our guests and crashed hard, spent from the emotions of the day.
The final party was Friday night with Samalu and his family. We had a traditional meal on his umu near the beach. It was a good time to reflect on the past year and a nice bookend to our service on Kioa. We started the service and ended the service on Samalu’s umu eating a meal with villagers. I can’t imagine leaving any other way. His family gave Kelly several shirts and then lots of baby girl traditionally woven clothes.
The next day Samalu helped me cart all of our luggage to the boat landing. I was proud of Samalu in his training pants and bright white tennis shoes. Exercise in Fiji is called training and he has been training every morning trying to get in shape. This is culturally awkward throughout Fiji, especially for men, and I know it takes a lot of humility for him to do this. I’m thankful he is leading by example. We loaded the boats and waved goodbye. Seeing Kioans waving from the bay was the hardest moment for me throughout all the goodbyes, speeches, and celebrations. Not to mention, I will definitely miss the rugged beauty of Kioa.
We all have things that stir our affection for God whether believer or not. For me, nature has always pointed my focus to him and the trip across the bay and over to Vanua Levu was no exception. Overcast skies and glassy waters created a harmonizing canvas for a family of sunbeams to break through the clouds in horizon piercing perfection completing the sea to sky connection.
Vesi picked us up in a lorrie and we made our way to Savusavu for a few days of saying goodbye to fellow volunteers. I was shocked at how many of our friends were able to make it to town to send us off. We were humbled by their well wishes and kind words and will continually cherish the deep friendships made over such a short period of time.
Unfortunately, the village feasting caught up to me the day after arriving in Savusavu and I spent the next three days tackling a mighty battle with running stomach. A head cold decided to join the party making life pretty much miserable until recently. We successfully made it to Suva with all our cargo and began the paperwork for closing our service. It takes almost as much paperwork leaving the Peace Corps as it does getting in. The only difference is you have to do it all in three days compared to 12 months. The staff has the system down, though, and we were leaving in concert with the FRE-6’s so the process has gone surprisingly smooth. We have one more day in Suva and then are off to Nadi for the flight out.
Kelly is pregnant! We found out Friday, June 25th. I’ve been thinking about how to describe my feelings the past few days and haven’t landed on anything solid. I guess I figured I would be more euphoric or ecstatic. But neither of those accurately define the complex set of emotions coursing through my brain right now. Mostly I feel a sense of deep calm. It is almost as if my soul knew this was coming and everything I have done in my life has prepared me for this moment in time.
The fact that we are in a 3rd world country may have added a layer of complexity that otherwise isn’t present in most first time fathers, but my sense is that layer of complexity was designed and is very intentional. It is the beginning of our biblical responsibility to raise children that want and love to seek Jesus. My prayer is that our child will seek God’s will through a regenerate love affair. I ask God to give him/her the grace gift of faith that he/she may walk in good works that are already prepared before hand. I pray His craftsmanship in our child may reflect His depth of wisdom and beauty that points back to Him as the author and creator of all things.
Today Kelly and I made our final day trip to Savusavu. I had to get quotes for a toilet and shower addition to the Kioa Women’s Guest House and a quote for finishing the water tank in the middle of the village. It takes a bit of patience to get quotes in Fiji, and it has taken me several tries to master this complex art form. Therefore as a guide to new volunteers I have standardized the process into five easy steps.
Step one is to take the material list to the hardware store counter and explain what you need. It is better if your material list is typed and has plenty of write in space. Otherwise the clerk will transpose all the material descriptions, quantities, and units to their own quote sheets wasting valuable time and opening the door for numerous transposing errors. The initial response from the clerks upon first scanning the material list is that it will take all day to fill out the quote. This is where step two comes into play, negotiating.
Everything in Fiji is negotiable. It seems strange that negotiating the timetable for filling out a material list would be important, but when you have only a few hours between incoming and outgoing busses every minute counts. I usually start the negotiations at half an hour. The clerk typically laughs this off as ludicrous and makes a valiant effort describing how busy he is. I act upset and say I will be back in 45 minutes to pick up the quote as I have a very important meeting with the District Officer in one hour.
Step three is repeating this initial contact with two other hardware stores. All projects funded by the government or NGOs typically require three quotes and fortunately there is a strange plethora of hardware stores in each Fijian town.
Step four is returning to check on the progress of the quote about an hour later. During this step I soften up a bit and ask if there are any questions with the material list. I may talk about the weather or the condition of the road to Buca Bay. Most of the time the clerk has at least begun working on the list and says he will be done with it in a half hour. I leave to check on the remaining quotes and then circle back to the first store.
The third and final trip to the hardware counter is step five. If the quote isn’t at least half way finished I begin eyebrow intimidation techniques. This involves standing very close to the counter looking over his progress making rapid movements with my eyebrows. Almost always this is very effective in speeding up the process. I could write complete essay on the theory behind eyebrow communication in Fiji, but in the spirit of brevity I will just say it is very important in all negotiations, especially with bus drivers.
Upon receiving the list I make sure the totals match up and thank the clerk for their assistance, and then leave to retrieve the remaining quotes. In total, the process typically takes about two hours and can be exhausting. Time must always be scheduled in at the conclusion of the process for a cold beer and hamburger to reflect on the day’s triumph and your mastery of quote procurement in Fiji.