My #fiji inspired morning. #coconut #sulu #sunshine (Taken with Instagram)
I was asked to write a paper to reflect my experience in Fiji over the last semester for a course I am taking. I decided that this paper would be a great way to end my blog about my semester abroad. I changed it a little bit to fit my blog style, but I hope you enjoy it!
Before I left for Fiji I, as well as my mother, tried to comprehend just about everything that I would incur on my trip. I remember even looking at the USP campus on Google Maps and being mostly disappointed because where the noted portion was, was covered with a massive cloud. I did very little research before coming here, and I’m glad for that. No reading, cautiousness, or anything would have prepared me for my 138-day journey being in Fiji. I expected that Fiji was a magical place full of palm trees, sunshine, and ocean, exactly what I was looking for in bleak Minnesota February weather. I had ample amounts of sunscreen, bug spray, and aloe vera gel, thankfully provided by my mom and aunt. I had enough toiletries and medicine for a zombie apocalypse. I had a few goals coming here: to pass school, to explore the island, to meet new people, and to discover something on my own. Four suitcases were packed; I had my passport, a little bit of cash, and my camera in tow for the long journey across the United States and the Pacific Ocean.
I got off of the plane in Nadi, Fiji with tears in my eyes, as well as a faint thought of how hot and humid it was in my sweatshirt and pants. Fresh faced, I had arrived with hope in my completely broken heart; nothing like traveling for a whole day to make me miss my mama’s hugs. When we walked out of the airport it was raining, which didn’t help my mood. That was quickly forgotten as I got into my coordinator Kyle’s truck and I had been shown the first evidence of being in a new country, his steering wheel was on the other side of the car. That day I climbed a mountain, made some great friends, learned about some of the agriculture in Fiji, picked up my first coconut, and did some swimming in the hotel pool.
Fast forward 130 some days and I couldn’t imagine I would be the person I have become. I have fallen in love with the island, the people, the lifestyle, and myself. Coming with that has grown a little bit of irritation towards my home country. People of the South Pacific have so much pride toward their countries of residence, which I have been more than blessed to see in many different ways (through dance, song, and even language). One of the first things that I love about Fiji is the importance of family, of which more than blood can be a part of. If you walk into someone’s house in Fiji and they don’t offer you anything, a seat, some tea, food, or even a bed, then no one lives in that house. I have been fortunate to have such an accepting family, so the concept wasn’t very foreign to me. The first time it really hit me was the morning that we climbed the mountain. It was pouring rain as we climbed up the muddy side of this mountain. All of our clothes were dirty and drenched and most of our shoes were garbage. When we got to the highest house on the top, the man who lived there invited our dripping wet selves inside, got out enough chairs, and made us all tea without even flinching. This hospitality never stopped my entire trip, which was amazing to witness. My last week in Fiji, I sat next to a lady on the bus during a crazy rainstorm, who squished close to the rainy window so that I could sit on the seat AND offered me some of her small bag of peanuts. This even came about in a way that was really negative to me at first, but I eventually learned to accept. Sharing is caring could be the motto I’m least familiar with. If I bought it, and I didn’t offer it to you, then it’s mine. I would be more than happy to share, but if you take it, I will probably wish horrible things upon you. That feeling would be my Western mind coming through. There were plenty of times when people used my things or ate my food in my hall and I got so angry, but after a while I just let it go. It’s not really a rude concept for people from these islands because they’re not doing it to be harmful and they’ll definitely repay you in some way. The next thing that I love is the use of the land. The people in Fiji are so fortunate, even if it’s an early-Saturday-morning-drug-out-of-bed-for-your-mom experience, to have such a lush food market. Not only that, but most everyone in Fiji knows how to plant, and keep up with, some kind of crop. It makes me feel like I’m in a simpler time, before everything was so commercially driven. In this sense, I love that the eggs in Fiji are all brown, even from Ram Sami, the main supplier of eggs. Brown eggs are NATURAL eggs, not white eggs. I was very weary of having eggs here because I’m not used to eggs looking like that. They also aren’t refrigerated, which was also strange to me. They also can, and probably do, have bird poop and feathers on them. I came here with so much ignorance and I had, and sincerely, adapted to survive. My surroundings have allowed me to change my views. Instead of being a stubborn American and needing to have things go the way that I was so very used to (I know plenty of people here who never let that go), I got onto the Fiji time level and began to feel at peace.
I connected with people that could potentially help my future studies with Marine Biology, people that were great to have fun with, people that would give me their bed to sleep in if I needed it, people that I will be in contact with for the rest of my life, and just passing people that left little imprints on my heart.
I have learned so many things about myself. Spiritually I feel a closer connection to my creator. There was definitely a reason I was here when I was. I had applied for this study abroad experience for February 2011 and for some reason it didn’t work out. I pulled out within the last few weeks before the application was supposed to be completely in. I’m so glad that I can’t explain why it worked in this way because I couldn’t imagine my experience any other way. I have always had a strong connection with the water and have felt that it was my sanctuary, where I feel the closest to God, and being completely surrounded by water really helped develop that. The lushness that I’m surrounded by matches the warmth and beauty of the South Pacific people. Emotionally I have worked on being calmer. I was a very high-strung person who planned everything before coming to Fiji. I carried a lot on my shoulders and in my mind. I tried to make everything work for my life without thinking that it might not be MY plans that my future will hold. I had figured out my life for the next few years and knew that I had full control over it. I planned on graduating college, moving, getting a job, getting married, and starting a family, now that has all changed. I have hopes to go to graduate school, hopes to travel, and hopes to keep developing. Hope is the key word here. My plans have left the building. I let go of my control over my life and let God take care of it. There were several times while I was in Fiji where I felt overwhelmed with my lack of control in my future situations, like classes, housing, and with relationships, but the second I let it all go and allowed it to work out in the way it was supposed to it worked out the way it was meant to (or at least that’s what I believe). Socially I have learned that even in difficult situations I can still make some really great connections. I had opened myself up to multiple different cultures and ended up gaining some amazing relationships. Some people who attend USP seem to have a negative connotation with International students and I can completely understand why. There are a lot of people from the international program who came here to focus on partying and relaxing. There’s nothing wrong with that view, but it’s just not mine. I came here to learn about something that I’m not used to. With all of the amazing relationships I made here, there are two people who were really my best friends. One person grew up just about 20 miles away from my home, about a couple lakes away, and she has been an amazing support system for me. We both are leaving Fiji with a sense of peace and sadness because we know how much of an impact this trip has made on our life. The next person grew up about 6000 miles away from my home, over an entire continent and ocean away, speaks an entirely different language, and he has also been an amazing support system. He taught me about the importance of family, pride in your country, how to flip French toast in just the pan, and how to tie a sulu properly. They both not only taught me about myself, but about whom I needed to surround myself with in my life. They both accepted me for who I was and were shoulders to cry on, people to laugh with, and amazing dance partners ;). I developed socially by not sticking to people in my comfort zone. I accepted those people for who they were and tried my hardest not to judge. I had to learn to understand that this wasn’t my culture and things are going to be different. I learned that I could still make a pretty decent dinner with just a few staple ingredients. I learned how to make about 10 meals with potatoes, carrots, and chicken, all being completely different meals with different things to offer. I hope to take that insight home with me, because I’m pretty sure I’ll save so much money on groceries. I learned that I have a lot of greed, and I let a lot of that go. I would go into a store and spend at least 50 dollars on groceries every week. Being in Fiji, I spent about 30 dollars on groceries every week, in FJD, which turns out to be about 15 USD. I bought food for the week, not for what I could eat within the next month maybe. This made me learn that I could change my eating habits substantially if the situation called for it. I had never eaten Indian food before coming to Fiji and now I absolutely love it! I also used to pick things out of my food, like tomatoes and onions, but I hadn’t done that one time in Fiji. Whatever I got, I ate, no questions asked.
My reflections have seemed to bud into a future me. I’m excited as I embark upon my new journey after leaving Fiji. I am open to whatever path that I might end up on. Hopefully I’ll be able to keep this feeling of peace. I feel very amazing about who I’ve become, so I hope that when I go home, I don’t lose this individual. I hope that I can further develop my recent love of traveling, keep the relationships I’ve made, and feel this excited about my life for the rest of it. I had crazy infections, hundreds of lice and their babies in my hair, a fever that knocked me out for 15 hours, tearful nights and mornings, hundreds of mosquito bites, and I wouldn’t trade my experience for anything.
I will leave this country the same way I came, tearful, heartbroken, and hopeful. Hopeful for my future developments and to return to the South Pacific.
How lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard.
Thank you so much for reading – if you made it through the entire thing. I hope that I could have inspired some spark in you to grow into a flame that could be doing something you’ve always wanted to do. If you’d like to connect with me more about my experience, I’d love to share it with you!
Over the last 20 weeks in Fiji I have:
Spent a maximum of 19 hours on a boat
Had 18 jugs of Bourbon and Cola
Ate 17 whole papayas
Added 16 new favorite foods to my list (ask me, and I’ll name them all).
15 times walking along the seawall
Added 14 sulus to my wardrobe
Met people from 13 different cultures
Had 12 serves of passion fruit ice cream
Killed 11 cockroaches
Spent an average of 10 dollars at the market
Took a 9 hour plane ride
Visited 8 islands
Had 7 lice treatments
Lived 6 days of village life
Tried fish 5 times
Had 4 amazing scuba dives
Took 3 courses at USP, and had that many finals
Learned 2 languages
Had 1 life changing journey
Vinaka vaka levu and fakafetai to Fiji, the South Pacific, everyone I’ve met here, and to everything that allowed me to take this amazing trip.
I got back from a weekend away on Wednesday, so I’ve been spending the last few days being lazy, cleaning, and preparing for exams. My title for this week’s blog is Volcano because I’ve spent the majority of the last week on a relatively dormant one. To give you a little background on Taveuni, it was the most recent erupting volcano in the Fiji islands. It last erupted in the 1500s so the soil is just grand there. That being said, I have NEVER seen plants in my life as huge as this island had them. The papayas were, at times, as big as basketballs. Made your mouth water. They also had a ton of plants that are only found on that island, and if taken out and attempted to be planted anywhere else, would not grow. It’s really amazing how that all works.
This weekend I went to Taveuni, an island off of Vanua Levu, with my original “sexy six” clan (Brendan, Kelly, Johana, Josh, and Clay). We left on Friday night on a 19-hour ferry ride to our destination. When we first got on the boat it was a little weird. I had never been on a boat that big before so I just explored it. I watched the boat leave Suva harbor then headed down to the room we were staying in. Our fabulous economy section get up was a large room with cushion chairs, a big screen TV, and thankfully, air conditioning. Kyle told us the key to our long ride was to find a spot on the floor and get comfortable. We started off our journey just fine, the boat was rocking a little bit, but when we decided to go up to the cafeteria and get dinner, that all changed. Just walking up the stairs and down the hallway we were thrown against walls and back and forth on the boat. Standing and waiting for our food after we ordered was when I got sick. I watched the lit horizon from the windows in the cafeteria and could see them hit the top of the window then hit the bottom. In my mind I felt like the boat was rocking pretty close to the water and that totally freaked me out. Then I ran outside and saw what was really occurring. The boat was hardly moving against the horizon line, but it was rocking heavily. After I scarfed down my dinner I went downstairs, watched part of the movie that was playing and passed out before 9 o’clock. I only woke up a couple times during the night, but mostly because I was freezing (thank God for sulus, towels, and Dramamine).
After waking up we had arrived in Taveuni. We got off the boat, then packed our stuff in a minibus with our fearless driver Sikele and headed to a farm up on the hill. We learned about this farm called Tu-tu that is mainly focused on helping young men who are aimless and don’t want to go to college. It’s a program that teaches them to use their land and plant yagona (kava) and other plants to help them develop skills to help support their family in the future. It also has a program that does the same for young married couples. In that program, the woman are taught how to cook healthy meals coming using food from the land, and make jewelry, clothes, and household things, like rugs, out of old fabric, coconut shells, and leaves from the coconut tree. It’s kind of like a miniature technical school and totally reminded me of Tech Ed and Home Ec class. Regardless, it taught them how to use the land, and budget their money, and seems to be a very worthwhile program for their future. It was extremely beneficial to see this program and know how they are trying to support these young people and their potential. After we left Tu-Tu, we went to a rock water slide up in the mountains. I was super nervous to go down the rapids on the rockslide, but I did it, twice ;). The first time I went down, I anticipated a lot of the turns, except for one, which rocked my arm right into my shoulder blade. It hurt pretty bad and deterred me from going again for a while, and then I tandem rode with Brendan, Josh, and Johana, which was just a good cap to our time out on the rock slide. Finally we got to our resort just in time to watch the sunset and it was spectacular. We then washed up and headed to dinner at a pizza place about a 45-minute walk from the resort. After we got back to the resort we all headed to bed in preparation for our next unknown adventure on Sunday.
Sunday we packed lunches then headed to Lavena coastal walk and waterfalls, one of the three Bouma National Heritage Park excursions we went on over the next few days. It’s a 4.5-kilometer hike along the coast and through the mountain to get to two waterfalls. It was a really beautiful and lush hike. We saw some really awesome boulders that were on the beach, but supported up in the air with coral. It was really amazing. We also saw some of the hugest waves I’ve seen in Fiji, just bouncing off the reef wall from the shore. Really amazing. I also got to collect probably my favorite bottle of sand from the island- black volcanic sand ;). When we left the waterfall our coordinator, Kyle, bet us dinner if we could catch the trout in the river from the waterfall. We all got our traps set and I probably sat there for a good half an hour with my potato chip net and pieces of cracker bait trying to catch a fish! After we got back from that walk, which took us nearly all day, we headed back to the resort and had dinner there. We had an amazing feast put on by the resort manager. There was dhal soup, papaya salad, papaya curry, baked eggplant, palusami, chicken chow mein, daro, roti, and rice. It was so delicious!
The next morning we went to Tavoro waterfalls, and hiked for a couple hours to see the three waterfalls there. The walk was pretty intense, up and down the mountain, through mud beds, through river rapid crossings; it definitely pushed my adventure limits, but it was worthwhile. We even saw some musk parrots and heard the call of the rare orange dove. After that we headed to Waitabu (why-tam-boo) Marine Park and snorkeled there. While we were in Taveuni, we had a full moon, which was beautiful to see, but not so great for the water. The tides go with the moon cycle, so the moon being full means that the tide will be at it’s highest during high tide and lowest during low tide. Because of this it creates larger waves and crazy strong currents. I made it about 20 minutes through our snorkel before I was back in the boat. I saw tons of parrotfish, triggerfish, giant clams, and some amazing coral, so all wasn’t lost ;). After that we had a grog session with our driver Sikele, and toured the village the MPA was attached to. The role of Bouma is to support the villages and keep their environment intact. There was a decision given to the chief of Matei that was to sell the trees and make money from logging, or to preserve the land and make money through tourism and promotion. The chef chose promotion, which is why we were able to discover a relatively untouched land and sea area.
On Tuesday, Kelly and I headed on a little dive boat to Northern Vanua Levu, to take the Hibiscus Highway to Savusavu. The boat ride to Vanua Levu was smooth until the engine died on us. With crew members bolting all around us, and a good 30 minutes of wave rocking, they realized that they had run out of gas, filled the tank, and we went on with the rest of our journey. When we got to our landing, we got onto a minibus and headed down the construction filled highway to Savusavu. Once we arrived we checked into our resort, the Savusavu sunset lodge, and explored town. We probably went into most every store, shopped, sat and had lunch, looked at the market, and got ice cream, until we found ourselves on the other edge of town only an hour and a half after we began. The ferry that we were taking home left at 10 pm the next night, Wednesday, and we had experienced all of Savusavu by 3pm Tuesday. We weren’t sure what to do so we went to the ticket office for one of the ships heading back. The manager said there was a boat leaving at 9pm that night, so we decided to head back on that one. So we spent the rest of our evening relaxing, watching the sunset, and making PB&Js for our 10-hour trip back to Viti Levu. The ferry ride back was relatively smooth, which was nice, even though I was knocked out about 20 minutes into the ride. All in all the weekend was filled with so many belly laughs, great stories, and amazing memories. I’m really glad the six of us could be together again.
We safely made it back to Suva, just in time to get some studies in. My first final is on the 15th, so I’ve been SLOWLY getting into study mode. It should be illegal to study here. With that being said, I know that this week will be very slow. Mostly just study time with a few breaks. The trip to Taveuni was my last big trip but I have a few small ones I think I’d like to get in before I leave. I know my mom has started the countdown until I’m home, but I’m not quite ready for that.
Vinaka for reading! I thought I’d include this quote, since it seemed appropriate for the long boat ride we took over the weekend: “One doesn’t discover new lands without consenting to lose sight of the shore for a very long time” –Andre Gide
This week is my last week of classes, so it has been filled with exam studying and paper writing. I finished my last paper of my USP career last night and it seems weird. The way the school system works here, we don’t get a lot of homework, but I have had two lab reports due a week and three papers throughout the semester in total. Plus we have tutorial questions for each class due every week. My title this week is “shark bait ooo haha” because you can never go wrong with a Finding Nemo reference and I spent some time hanging out with those massive creatures this past weekend.
Last Friday we headed to Pacific Harbor for the Aqua Trek shark dive. Before we boarded the boat we said our “last” goodbyes and took our “last” pictures and made oh so many “we’re going to be chum” jokes. When we got to the site it was a little choppy, but looking over the edge we could see Remora fish, which is a good indicator that there are sharks in the area. Remora fish spend a lot of their time stuck on surfaces, like sunken ships, and frequently ride on the belly of sharks, sea turtles, and stingrays. As we started to descend, I had some issues because of the pressure. I stayed near the surface till I could equalize with a dive master and ended up being the last one to the coral wall that the rest of the group was hanging out behind. When I say coral wall, I mean a one-foot block of hard coral near your feet for just that, protection of your feet ;). As we were approaching the wall, I felt a shadow come over me, I looked up and inches from my head was a shark as long as my body, heading to the feeding. During the first dive we watched some large bull sharks right in front of your face and lemon sharks hanging out overhead. That dive was about 25 minutes long and we were taken back up to the boat. Before we got there we got to check out a sunken ship in the water, which was covered with remoras! When we were ascending I felt my mask fill up with water, which was kind of freaky. I totally didn’t want to have to take off my mask in this situation, so I left in on till I got completely out of the water. When I got onto the boat, I took off my mask and found the source of the not-so-water in my mask. Turned out the pressure did some releasing of some blood vessels resulting in a bloody nose. During the next dive I freaked out – like I do before most dives – but eventually got into the water. If I had missed this last dive, I would have regretted it forever. This dive was the show of all shows. When we got to the site we saw about 5 bull sharks. If you don’t know how big bull sharks are, they can get larger than 10 feet, which was about the size that the ones we saw were, and were no less than five feet wide. It was crazy seeing these majestic monsters up close and personal. There were about 20 sharks in total on this dive just gaining their last chances to eat before we headed back to the boat. At one point a bull shark headed right for me and my friend Josh before darting the other way only two feet in front of us. We literally stared at each other in awe and thankfulness that we didn’t just become someone’s meal. While we were watching this parade of sharks, down in the coral wall were two moray eels, just feet from our hands. They were fighting with each other and slithering in and out of their coral caves. As the dive concluded we started to head back to the top and the dive instructor near me made me wait with him and we followed the chum filled garbage can up to the top. That was unreal because we were swimming arms length above some of the biggest sea creatures I’ve ever seen and the biggest sea creatures I’ve ever swam around. I got another bloody nose as we reached the surface, which definitely had me feeling a little queasy since I was so close to these animals with blood pouring out of my nose. When we got out we all were so excited from the awesomeness of the dive. Clearly, we all survived, and it was amazing! One of the best experiences I’ve ever had in my life. I have a few videos on the way, so hopefully I’ll get those so you can see them! Friday night, when we got back, Johana and I had to prepare for our halls activity. We had a get together and potluck with all the students in our hall and it was so great to see so many cultural groups represented, not just in person, but in the food as well. There was chicken curry, stir-fry, cassava balls, fish in coconut milk, and Indian sweets. We also got gifts from our RA, a certificate for being active members of our hall, a necklace with our initials on them, and a Fiji flag pencil. It was so thoughtful of her!
Saturday morning, Johana and I left for a little island called Leleuvia. It took us about 30 minutes by boat to get out there and the island was beautiful! It was just a small island surrounded by crystal clear blue water and coral heads. The minute we got off the boat, we checked in and decided to lie on the beach. A little later that afternoon, clouds came over and rain fell. Most people moved inside, but we waited it out. We then wandered across the low tide beach outside and found all kinds of amazing things! We first saw a Portuguese man-of-war, one of the most deadly jellyfish in the world. It was drifting around the coral near the beach expelling it’s tentacles looking for something. It was so crazy! We then saw two others washed up on shore. After walking around some more we found about fifty starfish buried in the sands and moving down to the waters edge. Then we found two long spined sea urchins, one collector urchin, some sea cucumbers, tons of brittle sea stars, and some huge bright orange hermit crabs. Later that night we had dinner and a beer with some shareholders of the island and learned that there was an old cannibal pit. We decided that in the morning we would definitely go to that. When we decided to go to bed we ended up running into one of the workers who asked us if we drank kava. We obviously answered yes to that and she invited us to come drink with some people. When we got there it was a room full of Fijian men who were doing construction on the island, and we were the only girls. We had a great time drinking with them, learning more Fijian, learning more about Fiji, and teaching them about America. By the end of the night, one of them had called the radio station to dedicate a song to us and when it was time to play it, we got told to be quiet and the radio announcer named everyone in the room, including Jo and I! It was so cool to hear a shout out on the radio in another country, in the middle of the ocean, on a tiny island ;). The next morning we were up with the sun, had breakfast, and headed to the beach. After hanging at the beach for a little bit we went and saw the cannibal pot. It was a pretty dense jungle walk to the pot, but we saw it. It was kind of creepy to know the past on the spot and then see it. Human sacrifices were prepared and cooked specifically on this island for high chiefs on Bau Island. As creepy as it was, it was really cool to be in such a historically important place. After that we were out in the water all day until our boat left. We even walked around part of the rock shore area before we saw a sea snake slithering around on the rocks. It was so cool! These black and white creatures are one of the most poisonous snakes, for which there is no antidote. Since snakes are my favorite animals I was in this one’s face just snapping photos, while Johana stood quietly behind me, trying to keep her composure. It was so graceful and beautiful, I just love snakes ;). Before we left I got to talk to a lady from Wales whose family lived on a sailboat. They travel from New Zealand to Fiji multiple times a year and it takes them 9 days. She helps run a program with exchange students in New Zealand and takes them to different places in New Zealand. Her husband is currently getting his PhD at USP and is doing research on using sailboats for shipping to cut down on fuel costs. It was pretty cool to meet them and learn about their life on the sea. Right before we were about to leave, one of the ladies who worked there told us that her sister, Tina, could give us a ride back to Suva once we got back to the landing. We were so grateful for that! While we were in the car with Tina she told us that she works with the mangroves here in Fiji. Mangroves are such an important ecosystem when it comes to islands, seagrass beds, and coral reefs. They help everything work harmoniously together and allow the fish, and most of the mammals, be in these areas. Needless to say, we had a really in depth conversation about mangroves and importance for the majority of the ride which was great! I’m so passionate about stuff that affects the ocean and that conversation – about some trees- really solidified that. Just the fact that I can do so many things with my passion that has something to being in or around the ocean is so awesome. I am so grateful to have so many options, and to have met the connections that I have here, it’s just such a blessing!
Tonight our original group is heading to Taveuni off of Vanua Levu, Fiji’s second largest island. It will be good to be back with all of them traveling again! It takes 19 hours by ferry to get there, so that will be interesting and I’m not sure how long I’ll be gone (good old Fiji time). We officially start study break on Monday for a week, so it sounds like a good time for a vacation :). After that it’s the start of exams, but mine don’t start until the 15th of June.
Vinakavaka levu for reading!! Especially if you still are ;). I miss and love you all! Hope life is great on whatever island you’re one ;).
Think diving with the sharks would be scary? Just think of this quote, jump on the next plane, and we’ll do the dive together- “What is man without the beasts? If all the beasts were gone man would die from great loneliness of spirit. For whatever happens to the beasts, also happens to man. All things are connected.”
This week has, again, been uneventfully going by, pretty much just like home ;). I have a paper due Friday, and since returning from Rakiraki I’ve been pretty sick, just a cold, but it’s been keeping me sleepy. I have entered into my last five weeks here and that is so crazy! Just fourteen short weeks ago I entered this beautiful island teary eyed and down right scared, probably the same way I’ll leave. I’m assuming that the blogs following this one will sound similar to that. Oh reminiscing… My blog is title handiwork for a number of reasons that I will share in the next few paragraphs, sorry it’s not in a cool island language, but my translators are slacking ;).
This weekend I took off north to Rakiraki. We got there at about 9pm on Friday night, browsed around the hotel, gazed at the oh-so-clear starry sky, then headed to bed. In the morning I got up at 7 with Johana and our friend Shawn to do my first Pacific Ocean dive! I was pretty anxious to go, but also excited. As we got onto the boat, I was feeling more and more anxious, almost too anxious. As we approached the dive spot, there were some pretty crazy waves. Our boat was definitely rocking hard, making it very difficult to stand along and get your gear together. Our dive instructor, Bob, gave us a briefing that reminded me a lot like Squirt’s directions to Marlin and Dory as they were getting off the EAC (East Australian Current). Yes I did just make a Finding Nemo reference. He told us that what we were diving was called the maze, a group of about five large coral heads that you can swim around like a maze. When we were about to get in the water, I was at my height of panicking. I was in tears, and hyperventilating – Does he see these waves? I’m not going to be able to jump off the boat into that! What if I lose my mask? What if my regulator gets knocked out? Bob helped me through that just perfectly. He told me to take it easy and just relax, there’s no rush, and if I want to sit it out, I can. I walked, with my 50lbs of gear on my back, to the edge of the boat and I hear “You ready?” from Bob in the water. I shook my head no, but then it turned to a slight yes. “Grab your regulator and your mask in one hand, then take a big leap! I’m right here, I’ll grab your hand once you’re in!” With one big leap, and another instructor counting me down, I propelled off the side and landed in the water. My first breath was terrifying, but just like Bob said, my hand was in his hand and he was making sure I was okay. As we began our descent, I was still pretty terrified, but within seconds we were near a fabulous, and massive, coral head, at least 20 meters long. The colors were just radiant and we descended with a school of silvery fish. When we got to the bottom, the water had started to come to life. We swam near a pulsating head of coral that looked like daisy, but flowering and receding faster than every second, feeding on the plankton floating through the current. Next was a bright purple head of hard coral, which turned bright white when Bob touched it. We swam through numerous meters of hard and soft coral and eventually saw a baby nudibranch that was so colorful! The last thing we saw before our decent was a sea cucumber as big as my thigh. Bob picked it up, causing it to release it’s defense mechanism, strings made of stinging cells. It was almost like a performance. He wrapped the strings around a broken stick of coral and paraded it around like he was waving a magic wand. It really was an amazing dive. As we started to ascend, I could see the boat rocking back and forth with the waves – totally starting to panic again. I think that Bob could sense that because he grabbed my hand and kept me with him near the top of the coral head, about 3 meters from the surface. We started our decent slowly till he brought me underneath the boat to show me his discovery- a jellyfish. This majestic creature swam less than a foot from my face, until he grabbed a hold of the top of it. He then turned its head to me and had me touch it. Then he put his hand on the tentacle side, grabbed my hand and brought it up to him, and let the jellyfish go into my palm. Safe to say, it was one of the most amazing experiences of my life. I can almost not explain what it felt like. It was gelatin-like, but also was extremely firm, kind of like a plastic coating. After that, with all my excitement, I made it to the surface and onto the boat for our one-hour rest. After our rest we headed back into the water for our second dive, this time at a site called wedding chapel. This dive I didn’t have Bob, but that was okay. I jumped into the water and began my descent, except that I couldn’t get done. I was less than a meter from the surface and with the strong waves; I was watching the boat inch closer and closer to me. I began to panic again and swam to the surface to tell the people on board that I wasn’t descending. Just after I finished my sentence I got rocked by a wave and took a bunch of water into my lungs. I grabbed my regulator and started coughing it out, but was so freaked out. My instructor on this dive pulled me under with him and checked to see if I was okay. I was fine, so we started the descent. As we got to the base of this coral head, I was observing my surroundings, when I saw the most gracefully swimming creature, it’s black and white bands slithered with the current, while it’s head looked back and forth trying to find something. This amazing creature is one of my favorites, a sea snake. It swam within grabbing distance of me until it found shelter in a nearby cave. This dive I saw a beautiful black and orange starfish, a angry looking moray eel, a giant clam, a huge pufferfish, and got to experience some swim-through’s which were pretty nerve-racking. All in all, the dives were great! I’m so glad I got to experience them, which brings me to the first explanation of my title. With all the unique things I saw down there, it made it hard to notice the regular reef fish. But when I did, they all looked so different. I don’t think I found two that looked even similar. One of my favorite fish in the ocean, so far, is the parrotfish. It’s colors are so strikingly beautiful I could stare at them for hours, but there are black parrotfish, and they aren’t really black, but have a red tint and are almost just as striking. This was my first example of stopping to think about handiwork while in Rakiraki, which in this case was God’s. After our dive, we went back to the resort. The whole time we were on the water it was cloudy, and as we were coming back it was raining. That was a pretty big bummer, so some people went into town and Jo, Mika, and I just headed to the beach anyway. I walked down to the water after the rain had fallen and the flowers were littered with drops of rain. It was so beautiful that I had to take pictures. The way these rain drops hung on to the petals just right and looked like perfect circles was amazing! Just that small thing made me think of one big thing, handiwork. While we were down at the beach hanging out, Mika left, and then came back with a palm tree leaf. I asked him what he was going to do with that and he replied with you’ll see. He ended up making a hat and saying that the men in Tokelau wear them when they go out fishing. It probably took him 10 minutes to braid the leaf into the hat, which good old American me didn’t see the glory in. Why would you make a hat every time you go fishing, when you could buy a five-dollar visor, and have that ready when you leave the house. Even though it was so cool that he made it out of a leaf, I almost didn’t notice the pure beauty in it. Handiwork – down right, take your time, cramp in your fingers, handiwork. My next question after seeing the hat was could you make a bag? – Yeah yeah yeah, the bag lady came out. Mika told me that the best branches to make bags out of are in the middle and he wasn’t sure if he should just rip the trees apart. Finally, he got up and went exploring and came back telling me I should help him get a branch down. As I walked with him, he told me, I already got one down, but I didn’t want the resort to see. I was so excited, and I sat and watched, and photographed, him braid, re-braid, rip things off with his teeth, and create the most amazing bag I had ever laid eyes on. He even asked me if I wanted to try, and I replied with something like “I wouldn’t even know where to… you’re making it so bea… I would just ru… No. Just no.” Over the weekend he made another hat and another bag, for Jo. My bag held my things all the way back home, and it will be coming home to America with me. Handiwork.
The next day we decided to leave home earlier because the weather wasn’t clearing up. I went down to the beach to get my last moments in and walked along the waters edge. As I was looking in the water I saw a washed up jellyfish and as I was taking pictures of it I looked around my viewfinder and found a sand dollar! I have used many hours walking along beaches trying to find a sand dollar and I finally had found one! Mika came down to touch the jellyfish, as I was staring at my new sand dollar, and he exclaimed to me that he found another sand dollar. That’s when we started our search. We each found about 15 of them, which was awesome! As I started to pick up the last two I found, I realized that they didn’t mean as much to me anymore. As awesome as it was to find one plus some, by the end it had lost it’s value. When I brought them up to the beach to take a picture of all of them, I noticed something. Each and every sand dollar was one hundred percent different. They each had their own size, color, markings, and grooves. They were each made differently and beautifully. They each were the skeletons to one different sand dollar. There, in the clouded light of the morning, I had my next reflection. Handiwork. As I kept looking for shells through the rocks, I had come across numerous shells that were stunning! Every single one that caught my eye had a little hermit crab resident. These shells were awesome, so bright, colorful, and unbroken. Clearly, I wasn’t the only one who thought so. These hermit crabs literally picked the best shells to make their home. They were making a statement of beauty wearing these shells around, all for some reason. These crabs know that these shells are better, how I’m not sure, but they do, and they were made in that way, to get the most beautiful shell. How can a hermit crab and a human think the same thought? It’s so much deeper than that. Handiwork. After that, we took off on our four-hour bumpy bus ride back to Suva. The best way I can describe that ride is to ride a horse. For four hours. Sitting next to people. It was pretty brutal, but we made it back.
Monday night was the salsa-off and it proved successfully. We had “official” judges come and try to anonymous salsas (made by Jo and Mika) and vote for their favorite. It probably took each judge five minutes to decide because both were so good and brought so much to the table. It was tied all the way until the end, when Johana took the prize, but it was definitely a difficult contest for a winner!
This week has, like I said before, been uneventful. It’s just about study week, which means people are gearing up to study, hanging onto every word in lecture, or just not attending, turning in assignments to get extra points, or not caring completely. I’m not sure which category I’m in, but I’m pretty sure it’s not a positive one.
Friday I leave for a day trip to Pacific Harbour where I will be testing my dive skills once again – this time on the shark dive! Prayers are GREATLY appreciated.
Well vinaka and fakafetai for reading! I hope you take a little time to enjoy some handiwork today! Miss you! Loloma levu!
This week was relaxing and stressful! I’m in the last three weeks of classes so trying to plan trips, and essays, and exams, and study times all before study week has been kind of ridiculous. This is my 13th blog entry, and it’s mostly all over the place with no central theme, which makes my title in Tokelauan, laki hefulu-tolu (lucky hey-hulu-toe-loo), or lucky 13!
On Friday of last week it was Kelly’s birthday. We went to a restaurant on the sea wall, or should I say IN the sea wall, called Tiko’s. They had amazing food, but were definitely on the expensive side. If you didn’t get my “in the sea wall” joke, it’s a boat, but it’s a stationary boat, as in doesn’t go out to sea, not as in doesn’t sway with the moving currents, which was enough to make me hurl everywhere. BUT that was okay because it was a really nice place, with nice company. Johana and I had gotten Kelly a cake at a store nearby and brought it in expecting they wouldn’t let us eat it there. To my surprise they brought it in the back till we were done with dinner, announced it was her birthday, started singing to her, and brought out the lighted cake! SO nice!
On Saturday I went on a field trip with my Animal Physiology class. If you’ve been paying any attention to my previous blogs, this trip was nothing short of the labs I’ve experienced here. Our first stop on the trip was Ram Sami poultry farm. If you buy your eggs anywhere other then the market in Fiji, then they came from Ram Sami poultry farm, since they are the sole commercial supplier of eggs in Fiji. As we approached the farm the smell was overwhelming. I think that one of the worst smelling animals are multiple birds, so you can imagine coming up to a farm where there’s probably thousands. We got down to the area that we were observing – one of the egg sorting sheds- and were told that we could take no pictures because their operation was confidential. That pretty much blew my buzz, so since I can’t show you, I’ll try to describe it to you. As we walked into the shed there were people standing waiting for eggs to come down a conveyor belt, clearly we were at the end of the sorting line. We walked all the way inside the building and to the back and that’s where we saw all the magic occurring! Eight rows by eight columns of chickens going as far back as your eye could see, the most number of chickens I’d ever seen in my life. Below each row was a conveyor belt moving eggs down the line to another conveyor belt that went perpendicular to that belt, bringing the eggs to the sorters. As the egg passes through all that, it goes to a room (I’m using the word room lightly, it’s actually a curtained area) with a person standing above a lighted table and across from a mirror. With these items they can look and see if any of the eggs coming through are cracked, and discard them. After that, the eggs are brought to another sorter, this time mechanical, which picks them up and places them onto a carton; it totally reminded me of placing bowling pins down. Then the eggs are ready for shipping! One of the things I like about Fiji is that their eggs, no matter where you get them, look like farm eggs. I’ve been buying Ram Sami eggs this whole time and going through the motions of having farm eggs – no refrigeration and having to wash off feathers or poop before cracking them. I think it’s really awesome, actually. ANYWAYS, we learned from the farm manager that each of their ten sheds could hold 57000 birds, no exaggeration. NOW think about the smell. After that short trip, we headed to Kula Eco Park for the fun part of our field trip. Kula Eco Park is a nonprofit wildlife preserve in Sigatoka. They have the most Fijian crested iguanas in Fiji and have been working on rehabilitation of the species- they currently have over thirty. They have come to be known as the bird park, which I was pretty confused about before going there, but found out not very long after arriving. They have many different species of birds, from barn owls to peacocks, even some pretty huge cockatoos! They also have a bunch of Kula birds, the national bird of Fiji! There, I got to hold an iguana, who decided he liked my head better, talk to a pretty funny parrot, see some beautiful sea turtles, and meet my new favorite bird – the golden dove. After hours exploring there, finding new creatures hiding in every corner of this lush preserve, we headed back to the real world. That night, when I got back, I decided it was prime time for a change. Plus it’s been really rainy so I was feeling the no sun blues. That let to my most recent decision – bring the sun to me! With that I decided to become a blonde! It’s totally different for me, and I’m shocked almost every time I see it, but I like it (and my hair didn’t get THAT damaged :D)!
On Sunday, I made my favorite Tokelauan, Mika, Tacos, fresh Pico de Gallo with avocados, and cilantro lime rice! He had never had Mexican food before, so I thought the time was right. He offered to help quite a bit, which was great, but has left him knowing my recipes – that only stinks because now I won’t get a “Mara! Come hang out! I want salsa!” call. Needless to say, he loved the food, which made me feel great! When I got back home, Johana expressed that she wanted salsa, so we went to the market for more ingredients, and then came back and I gave her the ingredients to make us some. This has now stemmed into a salsa-off between Jo and Mika to take place on Monday, judges and all. At least I’ll be able to tell which Pico I made tastes better ;).
This week has been completely slow compared to my weekend. I had an exam yesterday that I have been crazily studying for. I got to Skype with some amazing mothers (and some not moms) on their mother’s day (my Monday), which was so nice! Thursday night there was the USP Cultural Night that took place at the National Gym. It was SO awesome to see so many different cultures represented with songs, dances, and fashion! I love the pacific island culture! I think it’s so beautiful, so to have a night that showcased the majority of the ones here was so amazing! Jo and I decided that we need to learn some type of island dance before we leave. I thought they were all great – especially because the men were not only sulu-ed (or grass-skirt-ed) up, but oiled up and shirtless. Eye candy at it’s finest, let me tell you.
On a completely opposite note, I am leaving today to go North to Rakiraki. It will be my first diving experience in the Pacific, so wish me luck! I’m excited to head on a much needed beachside vacation and gets loads of sun to match my new gold hair :D.
Vinaka for reading! LOLOMA LEVU!! Sota tale :)