Well, I've made it to my destination and home for the next month. Some of you know, some of you don't...I quite my job, moved out of my apt in Ft Lauderdale and have embarked on an adventure. Part one of the adventure has me in Fiji. More specifically, I'm in the town of Nausori. I signed up for a volunteer program through a group called Projects Abroad and am living with a host family and working in a school for the next month.
I left the US on Thursday, February 3. I'm not going to lie, I was super excited as I walked into the Miami airport. I was practically bursting at the seems. AS I stood in line to check in, I started speaking with the girl standing in front of me. She spoke of an interesting volunteer experience she had in Kenya where she stayed for 10 months. It was an inspiring story and made me even more excited to depart! My flight to LA was uneventful. About 10 mins before landing in LA it finally set in...in 4 hours, I will be leaving the US for the next 11 weeks. For the first time, some nerves set in. I've never left the country for this long and although I am excited to go, a few nerves also started to get the best of me. My layover in LA was long and I got quite tired. I flew Air Pacific, the official Fijian airline and according to them, the happiest of airlines, to Nadi. The flight was great. Jam packed with people and I sat next to a very nice couple. Hi Ann! The food was good, I got to watch a movie and then, I fell asleep. I woke up when the lights came on and they were making announcements that breakfast would be served shortly. One thing I wake up for is food!
Arriving at the Nadi airport was awesome! It has a large runway which was built during WWII (I think by the British and US). The inside of the airport was well organized and they had a traditional Fijian band playing. This was 5:15 in the morning! I hope the band was getting overtime! The music was great and it made for a very warm welcome. Nadi is the gateway for travelers coming from abroad and the departure point for those traveling to the outer islands that you see advertised with the incredible water views and villas. Think celebrity vacation spots...this is it. I met up with a PA (Projects Abroad from here on out) person, Kathryn, and she coordinated my bus ticket to Suva. The bus left at 7:30 am so we sat and chatted for a few hours. She's Australian so I asked her lots of questions for part 2 of my journey and then she gave me some great information about Fiji as well.
At 7:15, the bus pulled up and on I went. Now, I was envisioning a bus that could possible have no windows...think Romancing the Stone (if you haven't seen the movie, rent it, it's hilarious!). But this bus was pretty nice. It had air conditioning and cushioned seats. It was worn and had definitely seen better days, but the was sturdy and I definitely felt confident that it would make it half way around the island to Suva. So, off we went and I was on my way! The country side was of course amazing. Everything is green. EVERYTHING! There was sweeping rolling hills and in the distance you could see the Pacific. It was a clear sunny morning so the sites along the way were awesome. As we drove through Nadi (downtown) it reminded me a lot of other tropical places I've been. Main street downtown with shops and stores. Nothing too outstanding and pretty basic overall. Before I got on the bus I was told the road was paved the entire way to Suva. I was happy to hear this. But, I quickly found out that paved did not equal smooth. I put on my motion sickness bracelets just to ensure that I would not taste my breakfast for a second time.
We quickly moved out of Nadi, the town is very small, and were out on the open road. The green rolling hills continued with some trees here and there but mostly it was small bush type things and grassy areas. Every now and again I'd see a tree blooming with bright orange flowers. It was quite impressive up against the green backdrop. The road was very narrow and at times, I was not sure the bus would make it with cars passing. Periodically, the driver would honk. I could not figure this out. Its not as if there was traffic. After a couple of hours, I realized he would honk at passing cars when he knew the driver. Too funny! The road we took is one of two main highways on Fiji's largest island Viti Levu. The road took us through several small villages. These consisted of a few buildings that looked like homes and then one or two buildings that housed the local market. Then, that was it. Some had 7 or 8 buildings total. Some had maybe 20. It was quit a sight! Through some of the villages we would see people walking with their livestock, we even had to move over for a cow and at one point, the bus driver had to slow down for a pig and her piglets crossing the street. Too funny! It was about half way through the ride, or 2 1/2 hours in, that the bus got really hot. The driver and bus employee started talking back and forth. I quickly realized that the AC had broken. Phone calls were made and at the time, the solution was...to open the door. That's right. Now we're riding along the highway and moving at a pretty good pace with the door wide open! I was quit happy about this since I was in the third row and the breeze felt great! We pulled into a large town called Pacific Harbor and were given a 10 min break. This was the first time we had stopped since we left and I welcomed the stretch. About 20 min goes by and we're finally told that a new bus with AC is on its way! Within hours of landing in Fiji, I'm experiencing Fijian time...I love it! As we get close to Suva, the landscape changes and we are in more of the mountains. Its great! I'm loving the views!
The new bus arrives and its a mini bus. I wait to grab my luggage off of the large bus but am told it won't fit and that the large bus will follow the mini bus into Suva. Locals, that looked like they have been through this before, simple shrugged and turned and went to get on the next bus. What's a girl to do...I shrugged and internally crossed my fingers...let me bags get there! It would suck to loose all my stuff the first day! LOL About 1 1/2 hours later, we arrived in Suva. This is the capital city in Fiji and quit an exciting place. There is a mix of old and new buildings, a port, a large flea market and all sorts of things! I'm excited to be on this side of the island! I get off the bus at the Holiday Inn per my given instructions and sure enough, the large bus pulls up and our bags have arrived safe as can be! I am meeting my contact here but she's not yet arrived. I stretch my legs and take in the surroundings. Although Suva is on the coast, there is no beach. In fact, I quickly learn that most of Viti Levu is rocky around the perimeter and that beaches are typically only found on the outer islands. But, this main island has many other fun activities to offer! Once my contact arrives, Chinn, I'm greeted with a very warm Fijian hello and we're off. She takes me to the bowling club for lunch and orientation. I could have stayed at the bowling club all day. Since it was Saturday, games were going on. Turns out, Fiji had some of the best (ranked in the top 10) lawn bowlers in the world! I could have been watching them play!!! I have no idea what lawn bowling is exactly, but it looks similar to bocce ball. Lunch is a great mix of chicken and cashews...almost like a chinese dish, but with a curry twist. Chinn is giving me the run down of things to expect while I'm in the country. At this point, the time change is catching up with me and I'm not comprehending all of the information. But, I do my best. We take a quit tour around Suva. She shows me where I can pick up the buses from in order to get around the area. Then we pack into her car and head out on the road to Nausori!
Nausori is a suburban town about 30 mins outside of Suva. This is my home for the next month. Its a nice town, one of the largest on the island, with lots of amenities! We take a quick tour of the town and again, Chinn shows me the buses that I can take to get around the area. There is one specific bus station in Nausori and in Suva. I should be all set!
Nausori is a beautiful area that is located in the Rewa Delta. A large river flows through the area and makes for some awesome landscape! This time of year is summer in Fiji for the days are long on sunlight, very hot, even more humid and heavy rain comes each day. Even living in the FL summers for the last 5 years has not prepared me for this! My new home is off of one of the main roads in town and is close to the river. I am quite excited to be meeting my new family! Upon arriving, the father, Pradeep quickly comes outside to say hello! He's a very warm and welcoming man and quickly makes me feel at home. I then meet his mother, she's 85, and find out that his wife had to leave Fiji for New Zealand the day before. As it turns out, their daughter is about to have a baby and I may not have a chance to meet her. Pradeep says not to worry through...he's going to do his best to cook well for me :-) They have a son that lives with him, but he was at work when I arrived. I am shown to my room. Its very nice with a full size bed, desk and some closet space. I decided to unpack and relax a bit as I settled into my new home. Pradeep bought me a nice fan to use in the room as well. No AC at the house...but he quickly adds, we have hot shower. The family likes to watch sports and the 7 nations rugby match was taking place in New Zealand. So I settled in on the couch and watched along with them. Ah-gee (ok, so I have no idea how to spell this, but the name for grandmother in Hindi is pronounced ah-gee, therefore, when you see this, I'm refering to her) was really into the games. She would predict each winner before the end of the first half. I was impressed. Perhaps I should bring her home with me and take her to the horse track! While watching the games, we are also talking and learning about each others' families. The Kumar's are of Indian decent and part of the Indo-Fijian culture. They have been in Fiji for many generations and speak Hindu, Fijian and English. I'm super impressed. Ah-gee tells me that one of her brothers moved to the US many years ago and lived in FL and that one of her other brothers moved to Sacramento. And as always when I travel, I find the world to be such a small place. I brought a gift for the family and present it to them. Its a picture book of FL. Pradeep really enjoyed this. We talked about all the different things in FL and how some things look similar to Fiji. It was great! Ah-gee liked it too! When their son arrives home, he is happy to see the book as well and had a few questions. He's 26 and works in a pharmacy in Suva. I think he's the equivalent to a pharmacy tech, but I'm not entirely sure.
My first meal in the home is roasted chicken and lambs neck. I tried a little bit of everything and now know that I don't like lamb's neck. The chicken was really good though! Pradeep asks about what I like to eat and I let him know that I can't have dairy and that I'm not too good with spicy. He's a little stumped on the spice part and said that to start, he'll hold off on the red chili peppers. Living with and Indian family, I'm going to be exposed to so many new foods! This will be fun!! I lost my ability to stay awake by about 8:30 pm. I took a shower, which was not really hot or cold...more like just refreshing in the hot and sticky of Nausori! And then went to bed. I woke up several times in the night...1) some sort of dog/cat/random animal fight...I have no idea what it was, but the barking/scretching/yelping was so loud that I was afraid to look outside...2) the storms...I have never in my life heard rain come down as hard as it did! What an experience! 3) the neighbors next door have roasters. Oh the joy! And their pen is about 10 ft from my window. The one sounds like he's going through puberty. He gets going with a good one and then his voice cracks. Its quit funny actually! I'm hoping that I learn to sleep through his AM vocal session. LOL
I slept about 12 hours and had a very leisure day on Sunday. Breakfast was eggs and bread and then it rained most of the day. I spent the entire day at the house and watched a few movies, Mr Bean, with the family. I did some reading, I met some of their friends that would come and go throughout the day and took a nap. Lunch was a really good greens and eggplant curry with rice. It also had some sort of yellow/orange sauce that I added on top. I could have just eaten the sauce! Good stuff. In the evening, many friends came over. I tried Bitter, Fijian beer with the son and some of his friends, met Christine from California who is here with the Peace Corps and has been living in Nausori for 18 months. I met some of the neighbors and extended family members. It was fun but a bit difficult too. They speak in Hindu most of the time and so I'm quite lost at this point. But I'm going to do my best to pick up words. Christine is fluent and says she'll help me out :-) I had another good dinner of canned mutton (I didn't ask what this was) and curry. Whatever it was, I liked it! I ended up in bed quite early again...wanted to be wide awake for the first day at school!
Again, the dogs are fighting in the middle of the night. And its so hot, closing the windows is not an option! Then the rooster...some sorry cackle. He starts around 4 am. I might have to have a talk with him and see if he can hold off till 6 am. I'm out of bed around 7 and have a nice breakfast and then Pradeep packs my lunch. Its the cutest thing. As part of the program, I am to eat meals with the family and they need to provide me with a packed lunch every day. I loaded up my lunch in my bag, grabbed the umbrella that Pradeep had for me and he and I set out for school. To get to school, I have to take either a running taxi or a bus into town. I quickly find out that the running taxi is a taxi on its way to town that already had a few people in it. Oh, this is going to be fun! So we hop in one of those and we're off. Once in town, I walk a few blocks to the bridge. The bridge is the old road that crossed the river. How two cars ever passed on this thing, I'll never understand. It was built in the 1930s and the new road bridge opened about 4 yrs ago. Now, this is the pedestrian bridge. Pradeep sends me on my way and says he'll see me later in the afternoon at the house. The walk is short and as I pass others walking I'm greeted each time with a Bula. The people here are so friendly! The school I'm working in is a Methodist kindergarten. There is a morning session and afternoon session and the children are 3 to 6 yrs old. I meet the head teacher, Ester and after a brief orientation, I'm introduced to the children. There are about 60 of them and they are all very intrigued. As I'm introduced, they comment on my light skin color and that there is one girl in the class that looks like me. Turns out her parents are from England. The classes are all run in English, Fijian and Hindu. So, teach Sara starts off in English, then speaks in Fijian and then teach Shilaj in Hindu. This is going to be so interesting! For the first couple of days, I'm going to learn the routines and help as I can. The children had some questions and we talked about where I came from and my long plane ride and they were all pretty excited to hear about it. The longer I'm at the school, the more I'll be able to do. They don't teach reading or letters or writing. Its all based on playing games and songs to help the children learn. So, if anyone has any suggestions on what I can do to contribute, please let me know! Other than the Hookie Pookie, I'm at a loss! The teachers I'm working with are really nice and already are talking about including me in activities at their homes. I'm the first volunteer they've ever had, so this will be a learning experience for us all! I'm really looking forward to it!
Now, I'm off to find my bus and head back to the house. I'm sure another good dinner awaits!
PS - I forgot my camera cord so I'll upload photos tomorrow...
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