Tuesday, July 26, 2011

A New Home for Wit

So, Sally and I now officially on the run—not from cops or anything, just from Fiji.  I had planned on keeping up this log but since Sally and I each had a blog and we now have more limited internet time, we have decided to join forces into one travel blog.  And in the name of obfuscation, that blog is neither of our blogs from Fiji.  It is a new entirely and can be found at:


You should go there, not here, for your future Brian’s writing needs as that is where I will go for my future writing.  Check it out.  Then someone should remind my parents how to bookmark it (I’m talking to you Rick and Danielle.)

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Farewell Photos

Well, we have done it—we have left the village and are now in Suva.  But I wanted to get some photos up here of our farewell from the village because it was a pretty special couple of days.  The whole thing started with our itautau on Friday.  That is our official good-bye ceremony where we present the yaqona (kava) to the chief and the village presents us with some gifts.

Here we are at the beginning of it, getting our isalusalu put on.  These are what one would call a lei in Hawaii but these are also woven plant fibers mixed in with the flowers.  Oh, and the other white lady there is our replacement Carol who also arrived that day.  It is pretty weird to think of someone else’s service just starting in my village just as we are leaving.  Good luck Carol.

Here I am presenting the isevusevu, which is sitting there in front of me.  I cheated and read it but I was still nervous as hell.  Even reading it, I had to get the tone right and know where the stresses and swoops of the speech go.  I am told that I did a passable job.

Accepting the isevusevu and also presenting our gifts to us was a spokesperson for the chief, although the chief also spoke to/about us to the community.  It was pretty cool.  Anyway, this is Noah and he is our neighbor so I like that he presented the gifts to us.  The village gave us the woven mat that we are sitting on and a bunch of woven wall hangings that are made from reeds.  Pretty cool stuff.


Then there was the food.  Fijians are known for eating and eating a lot, but the food that we had for our party was ridiculous: fish, prawns, chicken, different curries, dalo, cassava, and dalo leaf, all cooked in coconut milk, and most of it prepared in the lovo, or earth-oven.  Mmmmm.  Unfortunately, I knew that I would be drinking grog later so that eating too much would just make the rest of the night more uncomfortable.

Then comes the grog.  Always the grog.  I sat up front by the chief since it was my night.  Unfortunately, that often means sitting and staring into one’s lap as sitting up front carries a certain responsibility towards dignity.  If you sit up front, it is all business.  Sitting down low means you get to make a scene.  That is where the guitar hangs out and I was occasionally called there to play some songs.



Like any good tradition, the dignity up front isn’t hard and fast and sometimes the guitar would come to me if I refused to go play it down below.



Sally gets to have all of the fun with the ladies.  They never have to be dignified.  We asked to break the taboo on dancing for the evening, but were denied.  It turns out there is a link between dancing a little and crime…or so we were told.  No dancing allowed.

Sunday at church the chief gave us another farewell speech that was amazing in that was in English!  That was about the third or fourth time that he had spoken in English since I have been there—once being when Andy and Mary (in-laws) came and visited.  Anyway, his English is not great so it was really sweet that he humbled himself to speak to us in our language.  Then it was Sally’s turn as she humbled herself speaking in Fijian.  She did a great job although the tears were no help!


After another two nights of drinking grog, we got on the bus and headed out.  Just like that, Peace Corps life in the village was over.  A lot of the village came out that morning to see us off which was really sweet as well.  They sang us the farewell song, there was lots of hugging and tears and we were off!  So there it is.  Peace Corps.

We are in Suva now, just doing our final close-out things and getting our life a bit organized before heading off on the next leg of the journey.  We are also dealing with some medical issues.  I had a lovely growth on my ear that was getting bigger by the week.  I had it checked out and it was decided that it needed to be removed and checked to make sure it wasn’t a tumor.  It wasn’t—just a cyst.  But I got to have it cut out of my ear which was amazingly painless.  Local anesthetic really is cool.

Anyway, we are all set to go now.  I will try to keep this updated when I have chance on the road.  First stop, Indonesia!

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

T-Some Number of Hours

It is our last day in the village today which is really weird thing to say. And before you go judging me for sitting in front of the computer on my last day in the village, keep in mind that we have been constantly celebrating/mourning our departure for 4 days and tonight will be no exception. Also, it is pouring rain and there isn’t much else that I could be doing right now that isn’t drinking yaqona (Key: yaqona = grog = kava).

So tomorrow morning, Sally and I will be getting on the bus from the village for the last time and heading to Savusavu for a more familiar farewell from the 10-15 Peace Corps Volunteers in the area that will involve making merry and drinking too much (beer, that is). We are staying one night there before flying to Suva in the morning. In Suva, we have a few things going on. The first is to get the thing that is growing on my ear checked out and removed (the thing, not the ear). It is unclear what it is so a biopsy is being done but no one thinks that is of any concern. But to be safe and since Uncle Sam is paying for my medical care for another week, I thought it best to get it dealt with. The next thing to do is all of our close out paperwork, final reports, turn in equipment, etc. that needs to happen before Peace Corps will let us leave. Then we leave.

I am way ahead of myself. The last month has been pretty cool. We were really dreading this last homestretch envisioning not having much to do except to sit and wait to leave, filling the time drinking grog and eating an endless stream of farewell meals. The grog-drinking and the farewell meals have happened, but they have actually been a lot of fun. And we have been pretty busy: Sally with getting her school library and literacy project to a place where it can be handed off to the next volunteer and me with the seaweed farm to a place where it can be handed off to the community and my farm and backyard garden to the next volunteer. Neither of us could say with any certainty that those are projects are ready to be handed off, but handed off they are. I have been hoping to get into the water one last day to see the seaweed before I go but the weather has been especially nasty the last few weeks.

Then all of a sudden, it was the last week. We had our official farewell ceremony, called the itautau, on Friday. That is where I present the community with some yaqona and give a fairly scripted speech, thanking them for welcoming us and taking care of us and begging pardon for anything that we have done to offend them. As the man, that fell to me and I think that I did a pretty good job. Then the chief gave a speech to us, thanking us for all of our work, asking pardon as well, and giving us our veitalatala, our sending. Then the gifts. We got some pretty nice things from the community; among them is a mat that goes on the floor made of pandanus leaves, some wall hangings made of reeds, and some other odds and ends. Beautiful things.

Then the food. Whoa. We haven’t eaten some good food here, but rarely are all of the best food on one table. They were there that night and right in front of me. The problem was that there wasn’t enough room and that I knew I had to spend the next number of hours drinking grog and food and grog don’t mix. Or to be clearer, they mixed very well when they came back up at about midnight.

Sunday was more farewells, this time in the church. There were plenty of speeches thanking us in the service, once of which was by the chief in English. That was really sweet and humbling for him as his English is not very good. In fact, much of it was indecipherable, but it was such a nice gesture for him to do that. Then it was Sally’s turn to speak which she did very well, turning on the waterworks. We leave Tuesday morning which means that Sunday night and Monday night are long nights of drinking grog as that is the expected way of leaving. I got through Monday night and my plan is to just drink grog until I can’t tonight and then ditch.

So, that is it in a nutshell. I am afraid that I am not yet able to reflect deeply on this experience to provide some unique view into the human condition after all I have seen and done here in Fiji these past 2 and a half years—it is still just the reality of life. Or maybe that is it. Normal life just seems to follow you, despite how ‘abnormal’ one’s conditions may appear. It is interesting to me just how ‘normal’ our life here has become.

I’ll get some photos up here from the events when I have some time to edit them.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

One Month Left

One month. That is how much time we have left in the village. Approximately. We leave the village on something like the 15th of July. Then we have about a week in Suva while we close up Peace Corps business en route to our July 21st flight to Bali via Darwin via Brisbane. That will be one long day of travel. For now, we are actually really enjoying the village. This was supposed to be a painful time lame-duck session of waiting until we leave. But quite the contrary, Sally and I are both good and busy and having a pretty good time in the village. Part of it for me is the realization that our days of near limitless free time are coming to a close. I am not sure that I would rather have regular water and electricity than free time like this. I’ll take seeing my family and friends over them both and that is why we are ready to head out.

It has been a pretty fun couple of months. We were on the road for almost all of April and May. In the beginning of April, we did some new site development with some of the Peace Corps staff on Vanua Levu so got to travel around our island a bit more. Good to see the island but pretty long days and lots of village meetings. Soon after that, we headed to our Close of Service conference where we learned about how to be Americans again by staying in a really nice hotel, eating nice food, and talking about how depressed we are going to be FRE 7 T-shirt Pic 2upon return due to “culture shock.” (Seriously, I guess that last part is a pretty big deal. Sort of like when soldiers come back from war, only replacing the grisly images of death and destruction with beaches and coconuts.)

Anyway, after the conference, what’s left of our group all went to a little island for Easter where we could make lots of noise and stay for a song. IMG_4617It was a good time. From there we headed back to Nadi to pick our good friend Gina for a little visit. We took her straight up to our village and had a lovely couple of days there before hitting the road again. We fly back to Nadi where we stayed with our dear friends (and fellow PCVs) Chris and Nan for Nan’s birthday at a hotel called Tokatoka. They have the best slide this side of the International Date Line. In the morning we picked up a few more friends: Brian and Heather Coffman and a little miniature version of themselves that tags along with them now. They call her Juliet.

IMG_0561So the whole gang of us (Brian, Heather, Gina, Heather, Sally, myself and mini-Heather/Brian) all got on a boat and headed out the Yasawas—specifically to Waya Island where we stayed at Octopus Resort. It is a pretty sweet place and we had a great time although after almost two weeks, we may have worn out our welcome. Mostly Brian and I dove. The girls lay in the sun and chased the baby. Sometimes Brian and I took over the baby-chasing. There was also some Frisbee and volleyball and hking, but we tried to keep the exertion to a minimum. The diving was good/great but not incredible, which after three trips is now what I believe the diving to be in the Yasawas. Pretty good.





Octpous Diving_40





IMG_0571Gina left after a couple of days and then Sally and I left the Coffman clan after a few more days. They stayed behind refusing to leave but Sally and I had a meeting in Suva to prepare for the incoming group of new volunteers. That’s right another group, which means that I have officially been here for two years. Yikes. Anyway, we had our two-day meeting and then Sally and I just never left since we were doing some trainings with them right after they got here—Sally on health maintenance and me on farming as well as generally helping out at their 3-day orientation. Finally, in the last week of May, we went home. Here. And I am glad to be here. The weather has finally made the full transition to the “cool/dry” season which is neither cool nor dry but it is both cooler and dryer than the “hot/wet” season. It does mean that we get these nice ocean breezes again which are absent during the hot season.

So now the homestretch. As I said, we are actually pretty busy. Sally is on her final push to get the literacy program/library at the school able to be left. She developed a curriculum that all teachers are going to be trained in this year where the kids are tested and then leveled for reading. All of the books in the library are also leveled so that in the rare case that a child reads, they are reading at their level. Sally is also working with the community to get the parents reading to their kids at home and with the teachers to make better use of the library. There is a lot of buzz about that right now. Nice work Sally.

IMG_0030I am working on a project that I thought was doomed to fail: a seaweed farm. Weirdly it is going really well. Evidently the Chinese pay a lot of money for seaweed for a number of pharmaceutical and industrial uses, only they can’t grow it as fast as we can in tropical waters. So, it gets a good price. The trick is that there is quite a bit of work thatIMG_0038 goes into getting it set up before the money starts rolling in. That is usually the death knell for a project in Fiji. If it doesn’t produce results immediately and easily it usually falls apart. But for some reason, I have a committed couple of guys who are really into it. Right now we have our nursery going for our planting material and sometime in the next few weeks IMG_0041we will be ready to plant our first crop. After 6 weeks they will harvest that and then sell it. So, we are well on our way. Even the chief has started going out with us to clean and check the seaweed since it is good exercise. He has trouble with his knees but moving in the water is much easier for him.

That’s it for now!

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Leaving Fiji

JULY 20!!  JULY 20!! It is official.  Sally and I will be on a plane out of Fiji on July 20th.  We don’t quite know where that plane will land, but WE WILL BE ON IT!  We are currently at our Close of Service Workshop talking about how to back out of our villages in the least destructive way.  We are also learning how to be American again—like how to write a resume and stop at stoplights. 

Right now I am staying at the Pearl, a really nice hotel in Pacific Harbor where Andrea use to live and I spent some part of a month back in 2003.  It brings back funny memories although it is such a different place after living in a Fijian village for 2 years.  Namely. it is much, much nicer than I remember it.  Then again, it is still in Fiji which means that they are out of coffee and that the shower leaks all over the rest of the bathroom.  Evidently water is different in Fiji because I have never seen a shower where the water did not leak all of the rest of the bathroom.

Anyway, I just wanted to get the word out: July 20th.  That means that if you are planning on meeting us in Indonesia, you can plan accordingly.  I’m thinking of you Andrea.  See you there.

Monday, April 4, 2011

"Using your knife on the land is where you should use it as that is its proper use."

--Another Fijian proverb written on the same bus stop, only written in Fijian and translated by me.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Quote of the Day

“Revenge is a dish that taste good when it is cold.”

--Fijian Proverb as written on a bus shelter, in English