Life, It’s Not All Hammocks and Cocktails.

As you may know, I’m spending this year living in Suva, Fiji volunteering at an NGO. The transition from my home town of Sydney to my new home in Suva has been quite smooth. The limit of my displacement has felt more like moving interstate than moving countries. Suva is the largest city in the south pacific, and in day-to-day life I have a lot less comforts than home, but I could fool myself into thinking I have moved to Townsville (This is easier because I’ve only been as far north as Gladstone).

Fiji is a country that is doing pretty well in a few of the really important MDGs (Millenium Development Goals), Suva especially so. Most people have access to food and shelter, as well as some level of education. There isn’t any malaria and a few of the things to do with HIV and kids etc. are better than some other places people go to help out. Fiji is not Australia though. Life here can be difficult for volunteers and especially the people that live here. The work people are doing in Fiji is based around water and sanitation, gender equality, Non-communicable diseases and Infrastructure. This is a simplistic summary of why people come to Fiji to volunteer.

The volunteer experience in Fiji is varied depending on who you are and your role. I am lucky because my personality fits in well with the Fijian culture and values. They appreciate my laid back style and my focus on relationships, and I’m always up for a bowl of kava, or at least to sit around the bowl while everyone else drinks. Many people working here who are wonderful motivated people can get stuck in the wrong role and find that people are actively working against the stuff they are trying to do to help Fiji. If I was in a place where my natural tendencies were contrary to the culture of the workplace I think it would be very draining to try to operate. This is something many volunteers have to face every day. I feel fortunate to be in a place where I mesh well with my boss and colleagues, and try to support people who are struggling with these issues as it can be hard to deal with day after day.

Socially, Suva provides a bit of a haven from anyone suffering from professional struggles. Volunteers leave behind their social support structures and come to an unknown place with strangers, but socially Suva has quite a big expat population so the fall is cushioned, and personally I have some great friends here. The psychology of this is cyclical for most people. There are weeks when home is really all you are thinking about, and that can get very depressing and demotivating. This happens about once every three months. Then there are times when you are walking down the street with some wonderful friends from about seven different countries and it feels like a nice dream. Regular reality is somewhere in between the two, and different people have different experiences. Some people get so well integrated they stay longer, and others find it very difficult to integrate. It’s a similar social change to say… starting high school.

In the city we experience only a few developing world problems. The water goes off sometimes for a few days, usually just after you have exercised yourself into a sweaty mess, and we all seem to get sick more often than back home. There are random outbreaks of diseases like typhoid and one person even got parasitic brain worms. The city is fairly sheltered though. When you go to rural areas for work, the conditions change drastically. The villagers go to a lot of effort to try to give you every comfort you would have in the city but even for the drastically naive it is easy to see there are needs that need to be met. Most people in Fiji wear second hand clothes from Australia, and the condition of these clothes in rural areas is low. Some villages you have to walk for a couple of kilometers to collect fresh water, and many places don’t have power except for a few hours by generator. Cyclones and flooding are common and hit hard because the houses aren’t always built to be disaster proof. The standard of living varies village to village but healthcare, education and facilities are sporadic. These are also some of the most beautiful places in Fiji, absolute pockets of natural beauty and wonderful people. Suva city actually has the worst weather in Fiji. It’s a peninsula and catches all the rain. It rains in Suva most days, whereas almost everywhere else there is a beautiful mix of rain and sunshine.

There are many wonderful things about my life in Fiji, the people and I get on well, everywhere is close to the ocean, there are some cheap and beautiful backpacker places to go for a weekend away when Suva becomes a bit too crazy or rainy and it’s always warm. This year has still been challenging for me though, it would definitely have been safer and easier to stay in Sydney. Fijians have taught me well about Fiji, and how it is both a beautiful, amazing place and a developing country in need of love, prayers and support. I hope I have conveyed those lessons accurately to you in this blog, and as I get closer to finishing up my assignment here, thanks for the support you have shown Connie and I while we have been away. It has been important to us especially when life is in a difficult period devoid of hammocks and cocktails.

Loloma!

On a personal note…

I’ve been commentating a lot so I thought I would strip it back a little and just give you an update as to what has been going on. Connie and I have been continuing in our assignments working on various tasks. Probably the coolest news from my assignment is that I might be helping start a prawn farm 😀 and Connie’s top news was that she was on the news, walking in the background of a village.

Our house is going amazing, we live with 3 other very nice people. Glen has got me addicted to football manager and I’m happy to report watford won the champions league and premier league double this season. Nikki has got me addicted to pacific splits which are like splits and splices back home, except they only cost 55c so we are in big trouble for our diets. Grace is our other housemate and we enjoy having verbal banter which usually involves me chasing her around the house whipping at her legs with a tea towel. So far I haven’t drawn blood (I’m sorry Coggo and Nath, I have failed you both).

Suva city is in the middle of hot season. If you check a 2 week forecast it is the same every day – 30 during the day, 24 at night, storm in the afternoon, mosquito plague invasions at night. It’s like clockwork. We had a 29 degree day last week and even the expats had themselves convinced it was a cold snap; people were wearing jackets and beanies in the streets.

We managed to get away again a couple of weekends ago to the yasawa island group, which is touristy Fiji. It was nice but now that I’ve been to some of the quiet out of the way places, I can’t hack the people or the prices of the tourist brochure Fiji anymore. There are so many nice people and places in Fiji.

I booked flights to come back to Australia, so stay tuned and hopefully I’ll have a night in the city where we can all hang out. I’m more of a small groups kind of guy, but I think with the time I have it is the only way to see all the people I love, and be around for things I really want to go to like church and birthdays.

I’ve muscled my way into a couple of sports teams over here. Tuesdays Is the day of DOOOOOM because I play a 45 minute half of full field soccer, and then play a basketball game in vodafone arena afterwards (which I might add is like an oven). I also play soccer Fridays, usually only a half game again. Both our teams are undefeated, but I’m not contributing much in basketball. I’ve scored one point in three games :\

Unfortunately the films coming out over the last couple of weeks have been a bit trash so I don’t have any reviews for you, but I did see a NZ film called boy that was very good, and I’m quite excited about suckerpunch. I’ve also been watching season 3 of the wire and playing guitar scales a lot.

Anyways, that’s all the news for now – take care people! Hit me up with your news if I forget to ask ok?!

Work work.

As mentioned, I am here in Fiji to work for a year in the service of a Suva NGO called The Good Neighbour International. I work in a small office with a few people, and it really feels like a family.

This is where I work

This is where I work. All the people I live with are jealous of this setup, especially of my super plush and very business-like chair. A man could conquer nations from such a chair. Other items of note are my sweet laptop you might be able to see there in the foreground and the annoying but nice looking lamp. The lamp’s power cord falls out whenever I rejigger anything in the back of my computer so sometimes it can look like a rave party in our offices f I have to plug in a USB stick or change a network cable.

One of the first things I did when I started work was get internet working for myself and the other people in the office… I found out they have a 5 gig monthly limit and that if they go over that they have to pay, but I only found that out after a few days of pretty heavy use, so hopefully I haven’t gone over the transfer limit by much, or else I’ll be paying by the megabyte… which means eating tinned dog food for the rest of the month so I can pay off the bill.

The observant blog reader will notice the Fiji water bottle. Yes, they do sell a lot of Fiji water here, but it is up to 100% more expensive than other brands and we only buy it when it’s the only brand for sale.

Heavy casualties

The door in my office is always open, so every day I have a few unwanted guests visiting. The mosquitoes are sometimes pretty thick. This photo is how many I managed to kill the other day in the first hour of trade, however I was having a bit of a bad day at whacking them, I think I missed another 6-8. The first two days were the thickest, so I think I’m either getting on top of them or word has gotten out amongst the mosquito community to stay away. Either way I win.

My boss is an Indo-Fijian AOG pastor, and he is really nice, we call him either Pastor Paul or The Rev. There are two more people who work in the office doing various tasks, and also a lot of people who work in more practical stuff. I’m still meeting a lot of the staff, and it’s really hard to remember Fijian names at times, especially when you don’t speak Fijian.

Missi

This is Missi, he works just next to me. He likes to keep a pen in his hair which is surprisingly common apparently. He is a really nice guy. One thing Missi loves to do is make me tea. I drink about 2-3 cups of tea a day in the office, and it would be a lot more if I didn’t protest. Sometimes Missi tries to give me tea when I already have a full cup. He also laughs at all my jokes so we get on well.

I will be doing heaps of different tasks while I am here, from website content to database design, and video production. The role is really diverse so I’m pretty excited about it all. Especially since I get to sit in an office that is heaps nicer than many Australian offices I have worked in. Even if I do have to eat nothing but tinned tuna and toast every now and then… i mean I can’t NOT stream the ashes live can I?