My view, the beach I live on, and my country of service are very deceiving of my daily life. Yes, I serve in Fiji. Yes, I eat lots of fresh fish. Yes, I live on the beach. Yes, I can snorkel out of my front door. BUT these wonderful things all come with a cost- the cost of food access, the cost of cold drinks, the cost of running water, and the cost of privacy. Let’s just say I can’t slip on my bikini and lounge in a chair on the beach while sipping a cold cocktail- duh, I am in the Peace Corps; however, it is impossible to get through an hour out of my day without being reminded that I am not living the life style Americans think of when they picture Fiji. Between the cold bucket showers in my spider ridden shower room, my morning kitchen clean up to dispose of the evidence rats left behind the night before, the inability to charge my computer when the sun isn’t out, having to hand wash my clothes, my usual lunch of canned tuna and rice, drinking warm rainwater infested with mosquitos, and picking ants out of my sugar, I am reminded that I am not living the life many would imagine in Fiji. A lifestyle lacking the small comforts from home has become normal to me. I no longer look for the light switch when I walk into my dark house at night, miss cold drinks or ice cream too much, or scream when a large spider runs across my foot. I am adapting to my new life and living very happily without all the small amenities (such as chipotle burritos…) I once took for granted.
All this being said, I still face challenges… My two biggest challenges are the gender roles and the lack of stimulating conversations. These are two things that I am still struggling with… It is so interesting being a European female because I can eat first with the men, sit at the top of the table, and sit in front of the kava bowl, but as I integrate, these options are offered less, which overall I appreciate; however, it is tough at times begin treated like a servant to the men. The women here are used to that role and don’t seem to question it, which can be very frustrating at times. I often find myself in a bind caught between wanting to help the women and integrate into the culture yet wanting to participate in the more fun activities (such as kava drinking or eating first- yes, these are the excitements in my life!) with the men. This is something that I will continue to struggle with for the next 17 months.
As English isn’t the first language here, many times I find myself sitting quietly around a kava bowl having conversations in my head. Even though I always prided myself as being “well-rounded” and having common sense and street smarts, I am finding that my intelligence is more geared toward book smarts than I ever realized. The skills my villagers are capable of are incredible. They can spear fish by hand 10m underwater while holding their breath, can build huts out of reeds and mud that withstand cyclones, can climb coconut trees with grace, can cook gourmet meals for 40+ people over a fire, and can catch wild pigs. Needless to say, we don’t talk about politics, discrimination, outer space, or religion around the kava bowl, but rather what everyone had for dinner, where people were going that particular day and which teachers are in the mainland for shopping leave. Another piece of this is when I do find myself getting frustrated, I have nobody to vent to because I am completely isolated in an I-Taukei community on an island. And due to the lack of critical thinking, I have to be very careful not to criticize things out loud because comments would be taken very offensively due to lack of cross-cultural understanding.
All this being said, I wouldn’t change a thing! I am willing to pay for my million-dollar view through the loss of amenities and privacy and am doing what I can to empower women and increase critical thinking to enhance casual conversations. Overall, the life I am living here is exactly what I dreamed of for my Peace Corps experience. I love living from meal to meal, eating fish right out of the sea, crowding around a flash light with my neighbors at 7pm just to read a book, not being able to charge my computer daily, and making a game out of water conservation.
DISCLAIMER: I wrote this blog post to remind myself that when times get tough, I am merely experiencing the challenges that I wanted to face when I joined the Peace Corps and to paint a realistic picture of my life in Fiji. Needless to say, I am adjusting to this lifestyle and am able to appreciate my million-dollar view in the company of rats and spiders while sitting at the bottom of the table without a cold drink in my hand or a full stomach.