A BREAK FROM SERVICE

I am fortunate to have just spent the last four weeks traveling the country of Fiji with my entire family-something none of us ever dreamed of a year ago. It was truly an amazing adventure… I got to explore new islands in Fiji, dive with sharks, lay on the beach of island resorts, drink beer with my family and eat more American food than I have in the past 8 months. The time I spent with my family gave me a fresh perspective on Fijian culture and made me realize I have changed more than I realized. Since their return to the states, adjusting back to being on my remote island in a Fijian village has been strange. It’s as if a piece of me returned back to America (at least my mindset) as I sit here on the side of a remote island in the South Pacific.

In being here for 8 months, I have adjusted to the food, the culture, and Fiji time. Of course this all took time, and so seeing my parents initial reaction to some of these things reminded me of when I was first learning the things that are now second nature to me like saying “tulo” when walking by someone who is sitting down, swimming fully clothed, or raising your eye brows to say yes rather than speaking. It gave me insight on my life here and made me step back to take an outside look at my community, a view I haven’t seen since arriving in September. This caused me to feel as though I was pulled a bit out of my community when my family was here because I began to notice these different quirks in culture. Instead of being one of the villagers I felt a bit of a divide, because it was easier for me to relate and converse with my family which reminded me that I am not really a kai viti (Fijian). Living a Fijian lifestyle on a remote island without electricity (or water at the moment) and never talking to other Europeans makes me feel very disconnected from the life I had back in America. I was recapped of home and what always seemed “normal” to me, such as a rat free kitchen, hot showers, a washing machine, the ability to go to the store on a daily basis, and paying for fresh lobster.

Upon returning home to my remote, primarily sustenance living village with no electricity, no jobs, and limited water, I am finding that grog circles in the dark where everyone speaks in Fijian-unless they are sleeping due to the kava, aren’t nearly as much fun as I remembered. The fun seems to be missing in many of the things I would look forward to all week. I can’t even imagine how fun it must be to go out on the town for a night in Ann Arbor (something I did at least once a week a year ago). I have found it interesting getting back into the swing of things and picking up where I left off a month ago. I should note that this may sound a bit dismal and that I am at a low in my service, which is not true. I am actually doing very well and know this is 100% where I am supposed to be right now. This was validated as I said goodbye to my parents. Of course, it was sad to see them go and know that it could be a year and a half before I next see them, but it felt like so natural and comfortable to head back home to my island. It felt like a very casual goodbye… “Thank you for coming. It was good to see you!”

What I have outlined on this page was very hard to express, so I hope I was able to somehow portray my experiences. How can I put my thoughts and feelings into words so that my friends and family who have never seen Fiji or my remote village understand what it’s like to be fully integrated into your community though a process of baby steps over the course of 8 months- time in Nadi with other Peace Corps Volunteers, time in a mainland village with other Peace Corps Volunteers, moving to the island already possessing some language skills and knowing the culture- and then be shocked back into the way things are done and the mindset of America just by seeing your family in this remote situation? Even after spending two weeks at my site, I don’t feel like my parents got a good vision of island life. There is still so much I am learning every day about unique traditions, customs, old wives tales, superstitions, and tips from forefathers, which shape the way Fijians live their lives. I am grateful that my family was able to see a snapshot of the two years I will spend here, but I fear that there is still so much they will never understand.

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