Welcome to Vuci (Vu The)! It is impossible to express in a few short words what I have been experiencing this past week, but I will try to do my best:
Since arriving in Fiji, I can easily count the number of times on one hand that I’ve had to hurry to be somewhere at a certain time. The heat, the humidity, and the relaxed mentality all suggest that life should be lived at a simple and leisurely pace. In fact, “seganaleqa” (senga nah lengah), a phrase meaning no worries, is the first phrase I mastered in Fijian! From the lack of digicel service, to the cold bucket showers,to hand washing my laundry, to the mat weaving, life is lived simply here in Vuci. It is relaxing, yet at the same time, it can be challenging. It has taken me a little bit of adjusting to be able to slow down and take everything in without worrying about the time, where I’m supposed to be next, or even what I’m supposed to be doing. However, I am starting to truly appreciate “Fiji time” but am nervous of the affects this laid back mentality may have on my future projects.
It is so gratifying to hear the local people’s love for their country. Everyone I’ve talked to loves Fiji and enjoys speaking about every aspect of it. This makes it very easy to learn about Fiji, the local customs, the gender roles, but almost a little challenging to learn the language. For example, last night I was sitting around a kava circle at another vale (house) within the village, and all five of the men I was sitting with were so excited to teach me Fijian words and phrases that they all spoke at once, each offering variations for the pronunciation of words and alternative phrases to get the same point across. As I struggled to repeat phrases, they all just laughed and laughed while continuing to throw new words at me. Needless to say I am struggling a little with Fijian!
Another very interesting aspect of life here in Fiji is the assumed gender roles. Men are treated like kings. They are the ones who make family decisions, sit at the head of the table, mix the kava, attend the community meetings, and say the prayers before every meal. In a nutshell, the society here is extremely patriarchal. In fact, the men here are required to retire by the age of 55, but it seems that the women are never able to retire from their housework and role as a mother. My host Na (mom) cares for her grandchildren, cooks, cleans, washes the dishes, weavings, and does laundry all day. I have yet to carry out many of these feminine roles due to my busy Peace Corps Training schedule. When I have free time this Saturday, I am going to learn how the women hand wash clothes and linens, and how to cook using a lavo (a hole in the ground).
“Eat like a Fijian” is a line I have heard countless times at the dinner table as my host family shoves heaping bowl after heaping bowl of food in my direction. It is incredible how much food is consumed here in Fiji. Food is such a part of every gathering and nearly every interaction. When you walk into a neighbor’s house, the first thing you are offered is food and the next is tea. Due to the hot weather and the Fiji mentality I mentioned above, people don’t move more then they absolutely have to. It is a very sedentary culture. Between the raw sugar added to one’s tea, the quantity of salt used while cooking, the consumption of processed bread, the level of inactivity, and the ENORMOUS portions, it clearwhy we are here as health promotion volunteers. However, the task that we face is going to be even more challenging than I anticipated due to the way Fijian eating habits and lifestyle choices are deeply ingrained in the culture here. This is reason why the Country Director is tweaking our project in an effort to make differing angle. He approached the Ministry of Education in order to form a partnership enabling us to work within schools in order to target children. With the focus primarily switched to children,we are hoping that our work to promote healthier lifestyle choices will be more effective. After swearing into the Peace Corps in November, we will all be registered teachers in Fiji. Our focus will still concentrate on the health sector honoring requests from the Ministry of Health,which were triggered by the non-communicable disease crisis in the South Pacific, but it will aim to address younger individuals who hopefully haven’t established the same level of unhealthy behaviors and habits.
Disclaimer: In all of this it is important to remember that, in the USA, we have similar rates of non-communicable diseases and have health issues of our own.