Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Last Fiji Blog ...

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I couldn't get a decent picture of this moonshine, so here is a video of it. It was amazing.

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Adorable little Lewa tells us what she ate for dinner.

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Adorable little Lewa gives me some kisi's. I'm going to miss her for sure!

I have just about 2.5 weeks until I finish Peace Corps and leave the country, so perhaps it is time for what will most likely be my final blog. I have to admit that lately I have gone through ups and downs. Earlier in the week I was having frustrations with the people in my community and my living conditions. I was very easily angered and I felt guilty about that which only made me feel worse. On top of that, I leave the country soon and am still not sure about my next step.

However, things can turn around just as quickly as they dip down. It seems that the rollercoaster ride of Peace Corps goes all the way to the very end. But, lucky for me, I had about a one week period with all ups and no downs. I had a couple of visitors at my house that I got to entertain and cook for which was fun – I miss that part of America. It’s something you probably wouldn’t realize that you could miss at all in fact. But having people over to your space and sharing your home with them is a lot more important to me than I realized. The times I have had visitors have been really satisfying for me and I’m glad I got to have a couple more before finishing. I went snorkeling for the first time in a while as well and took some more walks on the beach. I forget sometimes how important it is for me to be outside. When it’s either raining too much or way too hot from the sun, you always want to stay inside! The other day I had the lucky happenstance to find myself out under the shade of a breadfruit tree scaling fish with some of the women in my village. And it was great! I didn’t say much. I just sat there with my hands wrist deep in a basin of water/fish/scales and listened to them gossiping. Scaling fish is mindless fun. If my back didn’t start to hurt, I would have enjoyed doing it longer.

So … 1.5 weeks left in the village and then 1 week in Suva finishing up Peace Corps paperwork and waiting for my flight to the US of A. While on Monday it seemed like 2 weeks was a lifetime, today, it is scarily close. Don’t get me wrong – I look forward to rejoining the real world, but I will miss this one. The world where the waves are crashing mere feet from my window (I can hear them now). Where my doors are open all day to friendly “Bula Tuli!”s and the ocean breeze. Where I can pop a papaya off a tree and have it for breakfast. Of course, those are just a few of my happy memories. The bad ones are there too, but if you have ever watched I may be experiencing a phenomenon known as “graduation goggles” where when you look back – all was good and nothing was bad. Of course, they fall off now and again leading me to want to stand under a coconut tree and wait for that tell-tale “CRACK” sound. But I have a few things to look forward to in the coming weeks as well. A friend is supposed to take me out fishing on the bamboo rafts called bilibilis for the first time – long time coming!!! I’m also expecting a friend to teach me to properly mix the kava so when I bring some home for people to try I don’t kill anyone. I am also supposed to do an itatau with the community – it is the opposite of a welcome ceremony (an isevusevu) where I say goodbye to the community and present the kava. There may also be a dinner with my final taste of Fijian fare.

Of course, in recent days my mood has plummeted again. Fiji has shown some ugly colors to me lately in the way of finally seeing some progress on the marine protected area in my village to be kick started with a workshop in AUGUST!! Oh Fiji thou art a cruel mistress. I would have loved to be a part of that workshop and the people involved are just “oh – why don’t you stay?” NOOOOO! And during the meeting I felt kind of like an ass because I didn’t have more to say that was accomplished in these last two years. I should look at the silver lining and say that at least something seems to be starting. Additionally, I got another Fijian kick in the you-know-what when one of the computers in town gave my hard drive a virus, wiping all of my documents and photos from the past 6 years of my life. I have only myself to blame for plugging my life into what was surely to be a virus-ridden Fijian box of terror.

Some final fun Fiji observations to close out my service:

- I saw a woman shaving her chin on the truck the other day. A couple of things shocked me about this besides the obvious. One being how she didn’t cut off half her face with the conditions of the roads around here being what they are. Another being the fact that she was actually doing something about her chin hair! Most women here seem to be oblivious to it.

- The sun moves a lot. It started off rising at a point further east and now it seems to be rising in more of a northeasterly location. My friend tried to explain this via diagrams in a letter, but I think I need a face to face explanation. My astronomy is weak.

- I have a bump on my head I can’t see but it hurts and I didn’t hit anything with my head. So that begs the questions – wtf?! My first fear is BOIL! I can’t see it though, but it’s kind of pointy, less squishy so I can probably rule that out. Second is that I got bitten by a centipede in my sleep again because it does feel bruise like. I also feel bruise like on my neck, but there is no bump there and again – I didn’t hit anything with my neck.

- I am slowly getting rid of things in my house to get ready to go home, but it’s hard. What goes? What stays? It will come down to what smells too much like urine/dust/mold – and if the answer involves any of those three smells then it stays.

- People in the village have been scouting out my things for a while now. They want to call dibs on whatever they can before others do.

- There will be 3 new volunteers on Ovalau after I am gone, but none of them will be coming to my village to replace me.

- The davui just sounded outside. The davui is the large shell from a triton snail and they have been overharvested in Fiji. It is usually blown to call people to meetings in the hall or to start some village work. I am hoping they just blew this one to have the men go check out why I have not had water for over 24 hours.

- I played BINGO in my house with a bunch of kids to give away a lot of the kiddie yayas I’ve found while packing. I was nearly suffocated trying to give away the last of the crazy bands. I feel that if I had enough crazy bands I could overthrow Prime Minister Bainimarama in a non-violent coup while blindfolded and eating curry.

- A young man came over to my house last night to watch a movie, but it was late and I told him to return later. He walked into my house uninvited anyway and refused to leave for 15 minutes, just sitting on the floor saying “please tuli please tuli” over and over. It was with persistence and a swift kick to the head that he finally left. Without the kick in the head. Where were my guard dogs when I needed them?

- Finally, if any potential future employers are reading this – I am very enthusiastic about starting a new career!! Please don’t hesitate to contact me about available positions – I promise to work as hard as I can for you. J

Wednesday, May 4, 2011










Me on the shark dive ... see my shark friend behind me!?










The kids I taught at the math and science camp at the Sunshine Special School. Showing off their periscopes.










Another picture from New Zealand - Sean and I in a kayak on Milford Sound.












Group shot in NZ after the worst part of the Tongariro Alpine Crossing.











The pineapple upside down cake I made for tea and a movie for ladies night. Doesn't it look so good! Made on a stove! Yes, be impressed. It was quite moist and delicious.

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Video from the shark dive I did on my friend's birthday - the morning after the tsunami in Japan.


Dear Loyal Followers, I am so very sorry that I have not updated this blog in some time. I have no excuse. Ok, that’s a lie – I have some excuses BUT they really don’t work because I ALWAYS have free time in which I could have been writing a blog.

OK, so with the apology out of the way, let’s get down to business. The last time I wrote, I mentioned an amazing trip to New Zealand. It was pretty wonderful. When I think back on it now, though, it feels more like a dream. Since my return from NZ, the end of my service has seemed imminent. Add to that one Jewish mother (you know who you are) and you have someone who is just a bit FREAKED OUT about the job market back home. SO – I have been applying to jobs. I have had 2 job interviews, 1 which has resulted in a standard “no thank you” email and the other is pending. To give myself a bit of credit, the “no thank you” email interview did go quite well, it was merely a timing issue. If anyone out there has any connections to an aquarium which may be interested in a marine biologist and returned Peace Corps volunteer – please … hook a girl up.

Meanwhile, work wise I actually feel like things are moving forward! Well, not the marine protected area which I came here to do … please. I have been promised progress on that for 2 years. I am no longer gullible. BUT – I did host another volunteer at my school in March for a weeklong literacy training and that went really well. And before that I assisted at a math(s) and science camp at a special school in Lautoka – a “city” on the other side of Viti Levu. That was incredibly fun and I am currently helping to make a manual out of the activities for future volunteers to be able to use. AND the world map at the school is finally in the next to last stage of completion. The map part has been complete for some time now, but it was waiting for a Peace Corps and Delana School logo and the handprints and names of all the kids who worked on it. DONE. Now it just awaits a coat of varnish to preserve all the hard work that went into it. And currently the kids are on a school break and I am trying to entertain them at the house with more than just games of go-fish and episodes of Glee. We are doing an arts and crafts activity each day which involves reusing old potential trash materials. Day 1 of break we made plastic bottle dolls using old soda bottles, pieces of cloth, and toilet paper rolls. Day 2 we made bracelets with old fishing line (aka, fishing line I bought 2 years ago when I foolishly thought I could catch my dinner on a regular basis!). Future activities include making piƱatas with old newspaper and coloring pictures of marine scenes (no recycling here – just coloring fishies!). I also plan to make them watch some BBC ocean episodes instead of Glee or other equally annoying high school style movies which they always request. So, the movies are not ALWAYS annoying, but they are because they have watched them about a million times.

Oh right – the fun stuff. COS CONFERENCE JUST HAPPENED! COS = Close of Service. It is both a noun and a verb in my little PC community. As a noun, it is the conference I just attended at the end of April where the process of leaving Fiji and the Peace Corps is gone over and my official end of Peace Corps service date is chosen – JULY 14th! (FYI: Post PC plans for travel are still being determined – requests may be made to my gmail account. J) I also learned about resume building and all the resources available to me as a former volunteer. As a verb, it is the process of leaving … as in “I will COS on July 14th” or “When do you COS?” The conference was held at a swanky hotel on the coral coast of Viti Levu. And as my brother pointed out, my definition of swanky has changed over the course of the past 2 years, but this time swanky means swanky – they put us up at the Pearl and it was glorious. After the conference most of the volunteers went up to an island off the northern coast of Viti and enjoyed what is likely our last time all together before we start to leave the country. After that, I went to the Yasawas with 2 other volunteers as the last place in Fiji I really wanted to visit. If you have the time, Google the Yasawas and you will see how BEAUTIFUL they are. I stayed at a place called Octopus and had a most relaxing 3 days reading, snorkeling, eating, and sleeping.

In conclusion, recently I have had lots of great moments and memories that make me realize how much I will miss Fiji and PC when July 14th rolls around. However, last night I had a moment when I realized how much sometimes I really just want to get the hell home. Why? Because a beetle the size of a football flew into my kitchen, knocking things off my counter willy nilly!! This is before crash landing on it’s back and flailing around like an upturned turtle. I used that opportunity to make a beeline for the door (I had been in my bed with the protective mosquito net around me while watching a movie) to try and find my neighbor – a big burly Fijian man with the world’s most bushy mustache. He wasn’t home! I couldn’t run around the village because alas I was wearing pj pants and would NOT go back to the house to get a sulu or skirt. I did grab my shoes though and creep around the house to see if I could see anyone in the distance. And to my luck, it was women’s night for church and so I saw my friend Radini and waved her out and she valiantly came to my assistance and squashed the still flailing monster. Is that all? NO! I also encountered a giant moth, giant spider, 2 frogs, and another beetle clinging to the outside of my mosquito net. I shut myself inside the net, put my headphones on, and tried to rock myself to sleep so that I could wake up in the daytime.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

The New Zealand Blog - or the ZLOG

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Look around the glacier.

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More glacier!


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Courtney intros the luge!

*More videos to come ... this uploading in Fiji thing just takes forever!

New Zealand. Is. Awesome. Just in case you didn’t know. I was there for 14 days, 15 nights, with 3 friends, drove 1 car, ate 15 delicious dinners, kayaked in 1 fjord in a 2 person kayak, saw 1 penguin and many sea lions, baa-ed at an undetermined number of sheep, walked 18 km through a national park, saw 0 hobbits, ate sushi 3 times, visited 1 museum, drove around infinite numbers of wiggle and waggles in the road, rode 1 gondola, had 5 rides on a luge, ate at 3 burger joints (veggie options each time), avoided 1 earthquake by 2 days, and had 1 million tons of fun. Ok, that last one was over the line – but the rest was true! Some true highlights from the trip:
1) The Tongariro Alpine Crossing – it was one of those highlights that you also think about with flashbacks of fear. The 17-18km, 7 hour hike started off fine. Mist shrouded the tops of the surrounding mountains and the walk was easy. As we got closer to the (and already passed 2 of the 3 bathroom stops along the way) the terrain got steeper and more precarious. After climbing many many MANY stairs we thought we were at the top – we were, after all, in the clouds and getting very wet – but we were wrong. The climb got steeper and more difficult. The maintained wooden walkway disappeared and became lava SAND at a steep incline. SAND AT AN INCLINE! Oh – and did I mention there were 50 mph gusts of wind literally blowing the plastic raincoats off of people’s bodies? At the other side of this intense summit, the wind died off and the clouds cleared away to beautiful emerald lakes and mountain scenery. We also could see Lake Toupo in the distance. The last 4 hours were beautiful. We had lunch by the shore of an emerald lake and devoured a plate of nachos each when we got back to the hostel.
2) Franz Josef Glacier – we walked on a glacier with spikey shoes! It was so cool! My first time wearing cramp-ons. The ice was blue and muddy but so very cool to be standing on. Our guide (who incidentally knew another Peace Corps volunteer in Fiji – weird!) even let us play with his giant axe for photos when we reached the highest point of our hike. Not as scary or difficult as the Alipine Crossing, but it was certainly one of those “I’ll likely never do this again” kind of moments.
3) Kayaking in Milford Sound – When we pulled through to the other side of the tunnel marking the last 10 minutes of our drive to the sound, we saw fog rolling in through the mountains. Not a bad way to start the morning. We had woken at 4 am to drive 2 hours to kayak for 2 more hours through the sound. We saw a seal and a penguin and paddled right up to the base of Lady Bowen Falls – the waterfall that powers Milford Sound’s town and also provides their freshwater drinking supply. Pretty cool! Made me want to buy a sea kayak, a feeling I have had before and didn’t follow up on. Who knows where I will move after PC but perhaps a sea kayak is on the list of things to buy when I get there.
4) The food! It was so great to eat good food again. Now – don’t get me wrong, I cherish the times I get to eat Fijian food. In a certain way. As in – I don’t eat it regularly so I enjoy it the few times I do eat it. But westernized food – wow. Sushi, pizza (with cream cheese and smoked salmon on it!!! Best pizza ever!), bagels, string cheese, spanakopita, crepes … it all just made me so happy. I was sure to avoid Chinese and Indian foods at all costs.
5) Driving – how fun is driving!? Granted it was on the left side of the road in the right side of the car, but it was power. It was control. It was great! Coming back to Fiji and having to put myself at the mercy of 5 hour bus rides and 1 hour ferry trips was kind of a bummer, but I am still enjoying the lorry truck rides a little bit.
6) The weather! I know that when I am cold I am usually a bit cranky, but this was great! I mean, as I write this blog in my house I am wearing nothing but a scrap of fabric wrapped around me like a towel and I am dripping sweat everywhere. It feels disgusting. But ahhh New Zealand. Cool, crisp New Zealand. Thank you for the reminder that there are places out there that are cooler than 80 degrees at night.

So yeah – New Zealand was pretty great. It was really sad to hear what happened to Christchurch only 2 days after we left. We realize how lucky we are to have left when we did and our thoughts are with those people in Christchurch. I’m glad we got to see it before the Cathedral collapsed. It really is the heard of the city.

Now that I am back in Fiji, though, I have to admit that I was not thrilled to return. But there were a few things that helped jolt me out of the “I don’t want to be back here” state of mind.
1) Several people called me to check on me from my village after the earthquake to make sure I was back in Fiji. My neighbor and my vakatawa (preacher). That they thought of me and wanted to check in just made me smile.
2) My neighbor called to tell me he was cleaning my house for me! And when I returned he really had done a great job. He even pulled things out from under my bed I hadn’t seen in 2 years. And there were flowers by the door and my mosquito net had been washed! Plus he was weeding my back yard when I arrived. Makes such a huge difference to not have to clean house after a day of travelling before you can relax.
3) The kids say I look slimmer!
4) Fiji really is beautiful.As I was riding that lorry into town, looking out the back of it I kept thinking that I will never have such a lush tropical environment as my backyard and I intend to appreciate it now.
5) It’s my home. For now. And after travelling, it always feels good to be home. (a sappy ending - come on, you shed a tear didn't you?)

Friday, January 14, 2011

Na Talanoa ni Kalavo (The Story of the Rat)

As we enter the New Year, I have found myself an interesting house guest. To catch everyone up, I have had rat issues for some time now. I think that since Simba died, they have found my house to be most … hospitable. Though I doubt Simba did much to rid the house of rats in an active sense, he may have scared them away simply by being there. The rats in Fiji have a delicate taste palate, eating only the finest of foods including, but not limited to: fly swatters, tank tops, soap of all varieties, ziplock bags, clay face mask (including the tube in which it is housed), triple antibiotic ointment (again, including the tube), brand new tampons, plastic of ANY KIND, carrots, toothbrush handles, popcorn, beans, couscous, papaya, mango, peanut butter. They also like to eat away at my sanity. The most recent battles of WWIII – aka, Na I Valu ni Kalavo (The War of the Rat) – get a bit more personal.

On the morning of Christmas Eve I woke at 3am to catch the ferry that takes me off this island (see previous blog for travel details). What is the first thing all of us do in the mornings? Use the facilities. I went to my (thankfully indoor) facility and saw something … inside. My first thought is “FROG” because they are so ubiquitous in my home (I just chased one under the bed, FYI). Then my first instinct is “FLUSH!” I do, and as I watch the “frog” spin round and round I realize – this is not a frog! No no … it is a kalavo!!! A rat!!! IN MY TOILET! What is the first thing I did after realizing there was a RAT IN MY TOILET? I called my mommy of course! It was 3 am Fiji time … who else would be awake, so no judgments please. And what does she say? “Did you try flushing it?” YES MOM! What else would I do!? The slippery little bastard, still being alive, was able to remain un-flushed. I tried again. No luck. Mom’s next suggestion? “Do you have any poison around?” Really? Raise your hands if you have spare poison lying around your house? Wow … that many of you … hmmm. Well I don’t, so I just poured blue toilet cleaner on it, then added a spritz of Febreez (hoping to suffocate it, not make it smell nice). Oh, and this was AFTER I tried to beat it into submission with a large stick, but then freaked out thinking it could get purchase and crawl up the stick to get revenge for trying to flush it … twice. Might I remind everyone that this is all happening at 3 AM! How lucid are most of you at that hour? My next dilemma (btw, at this point I probably only have 15 more minutes before I need to be by the road awaiting my transport) is … where in G-d’s name do I pee. I have a 20 min truck ride and then a 1 hour bus ride before I have access to one of the world’s most smelly toilets. I’d like to pee first. So … I go in my yard. Outside under the stars. Now, I know that since I am in Peace Corps most of you think me a big outdoorsy hippy. I like outdoors, yes … but I very much prefer to not use the bathroom there. Especially if I have a toilet so easily accessible. But I cannot pee on top of a rat. What if it gets a giant burst of energy and leaps up while I am sitting?! What if it bites me … there?! NOOOOOO! So I do what anyone would … pop a squat in my yard. How classy. I got dressed, finished last minute packing, and then caught my truck on time, leaving the rat behind. I left the spare key above the door and called my neighbor on Christmas day, asking for one of the biggest kerekeres (favors) I may ever ask for.

Do you think this story ends here? No no, my friends. It’s not over. I was away from the village for the holidays for about 2 weeks (It was great fun, and probably worth a blog …). I returned to a house run amuck by critters of all sorts. The frogs had left several piles of dried feces on the floor for me … one of which was less dry than I would have liked. Then there is the kalavo. He left a rather interesting gift I never would have expected. First, this monster rat (as it must be at this point) managed to cart my bottle of oil from the shelf on the wall over to the sink, where it kept company with an old wine bottle that I am not sure why I am still holding on to. Then the rat proceeded to chew the cap off the oil. Yum. When I saw the bottle, I approached slowly because there seemed to be something OTHER than oil inside. My first thought was maggots, but that didn’t seem right – this is oil, not decaying matter. As I got closer, I saw that it was hermit crabs! Yes, the kasikasi as they are called here in Fiji like to crawl towards food. I have seen them clamor towards the spot on the ground where I have just poured old used oil or food scraps. These guys did indeed clamor towards the oil, not realizing once they did … there was no way out. So I return to my home for the first time in 2011 to find a bottle filled with canola oil and hermit crab carcasses. And piles of frog poop. Who is jealous of me now for living in Fiji? Anyone? Beuller?

On the other hand … I am still shocked that this is indeed the year in which I will have to return to the real world. I’m scared and excited all at the same time. The simple act of opening a can will trigger me to think “what will it be like to open a can in America again?” I also look out my door and see the lone coconut tree on a hill that always makes me smile because for some reason, I think of it as MY coconut tree. And then I wonder what sort of thing I will see out my backdoor in America. And at night when I get frustrated with all the noises I hear (moths beating at my mosquito net, kasikasi scraping their legs against my tin walls, rats bustling about, dogs barking in the night), I wonder if sleeping in America will be too quiet and what kind of artificial noises I may have to create in order to fall asleep. I also am scared I will not fit in when I return. How many people will get sick of hearing stories of mine that start “oh yeah … when I was in Peace Corps ….” Or “back when I lived in Fiji … blah blah blah.” And will I be overwhelmed the first time I walk into a grocery store with more than 2 aisles and choices beyond tinned fish and piles of potatoes and onions? And will I yearn for the days of cold showers and afternoon swims? I do know that I am looking forward to home, but also do not look forward to leaving this home. But I must ask, even 6 months in advance of my return, that everyone please bear with me and know that although there will be so much joy to return to my loved ones and the luxuries I have missed these 2+ years I’ve been away, there will be intense sadness for the loss of Fiji and the close knit family I have created here of volunteers, Peace Corps staff, and kai viti (Fijians).

Just another fun photo - the candles on my menorah melted when I didn't light them because I left for a couple of nights and I came back to find them like this ... isa.




Well, after it rains here the water kicks up quite a bit of shmoo. The Peace Corps has outfitted us with some filters and this is what mine look like when attempting to filter the water after the rains. They are looking rough.




And this picture is especially for my wicked stepmother. She sent me lots of books and the kids absolutely love the magic treehouse series. They were all reading together in my house one night and it was one of the happiest moments in my 2 years here. Thank you Natalie!!