Life on this side of the world, on my small remote island, has been interesting and full of strange surprises. In this short post, I am going to attempt fill you in on these interesting stories and adventures. The first school term has come to an end, and after a one week break, we are back to the grind with term two. Although that may sound routine, the recently passed time has been anything but “normal.”
Firstly, it is important to note that the repairs since Cyclone Winston have been slow and many aspects around Ratu Naivalu Memorial School have yet to return to their “post-Winston” state. My six boys, grades 1-6, who were staying with me due to hostel destruction have recently moved back into the dorm where they are sharing beds with cousins, brothers, or uncles- yes, everyone is related on the island! However, the same cannot be said for all the teachers as several are still sharing their personal space with boarding students. The ruins of a classroom building and half of a dorm remain untouched as we still await government assistance. As a result, one class is occupying the library, and two of the upper classes are sharing a single classroom.
Food access is always a struggle, but post Winston, due to serious crop damage, we are all eating a lot of processed foods. A large quantity of food rations including rice, sugar, flour, cooking oil, lentils and tin fish were delivered by a government barge to the village and to the school. As the youth farm, which was selling tomatoes, cucumber, eggplant, pumpkin and lettuce, has been destroyed, all my vegetables must be acquired from the mainland- which is not a regular or easy feat. Needless to say, I am relying heavily on vitamin supplements and protein powder mailed from Beulah, MI to maintain my health. Thanks, mom and dad!
Now, for part one of the Waya Island Soap, it is necessary to first provide some background information. So, Fiji’s Ministry of Education recently pulled corporal punishment out of schools, which in my opinion is a good thing; however, they didn’t provide any training for teachers, parents, or school management about alternative methods of punishment. That being said, we are struggling greatly to control the students. When being brought up in the village, children are only ever punished by “kwita,” or hitting, so, in school, they continue to act out until the line is drawn by physical punishment. During my mom’s visit she facilitated a professional development session for teachers focusing on behavior management, and I have continued to discuss this topic, but we are still struggling to create an effective/consistent system. In a culture that expects instant results (which I am still trying to understand given the nature of Fiji time), anything that takes time and consistency is extremely difficult to implement, so given that hitting still occurs, it is not surprising that a teacher at my school was recently involved in a corporal punishment case. This case involved a police visit to the island, which will be the talk of the island for several years, and a ministry investigation. The teacher has been suspended meaning he isn’t currently at school, but we are still waiting to the outcome of the case. Fiji time.
Now, for Waya Island Soap part two. During rough seas, we had two Indo-Fijian fisherman boat anchor in Yalobi Bay to seek shelter from the weather. They were granted permission by the school manager to sleep in the school dorms as the students were at their perspective homes for the weekend. At the end of the weekend, they discovered about $1000 dollars’ worth of fish had been stolen from their boats. This stolen fish scandal resulted in another police case. When a boat captain learned he was being incorrectly blamed for taking the fish to the mainland earlier that morning to sell at the wharf, he was outraged. Upon returning to the island, he assaulted a fisherman and the Indo-Fijian teacher. His grounds were racist and very alarming.
It turns out several of the boys drank too much on Saturday night and helped themselves to the fish in hopes of a delicious Sunday lunch. So after church, stolen fish served as the main course. Upon seeing the fish in the village, the headman reported to the police and four suspects into the mainland for questioning and court hearing. One boy is currently behind bars and the rest have been released.
In adventure news, during the school break my cousin brother got married in the village. The boy’s family is responsible for planning the wedding and feeding all the guests, which is a huge job considering the nature of an outer island wedding and the fact that the guests stay for multiple days. So, in order to provide enough food, in addition to fishing, we went cow hunting on the other side of the island. Traditionally, as a female, I would not be allowed to partake in this dangerous activity, but I begged my “vava” or father to take me. After some consideration, I was granted permission to climb up the mountain and rest safely on the rock while the village boys chased a herd of cows around the mountain. From my excellent vantage point, I was able to direct the boys and help them herd the cows into a rope trap. After a grueling six hours, they were finally able to catch one.
The cow was brought down the mountain alive where it would soon meet a cane knife or a large machete. The cow was tied to a tree and killed with a metal rod (used to pound the kava root) and a cane knife. After hitting it across the head with the metal rod, the villagers slowly started to hack away at the neck with the knife. Listening to the cow being killed by this long, painful death was maybe one of the most terrifying things I have ever heard! I wanted to watch because I knew it was a once in a lifetime experience; however, it was incredibly hard to see the cow suffer so much.
This brutal killing occurred next to the sea, so slowly, the sea began to turn into a deep red color. It looked as if someone had spilt a large can of paint in the water. As the blood continued to seep into the water and the scary red spot grew, I began to fear my short journey through the water to board the boat to return back to Yalobi. The village boys were hauling huge pieces of dead cow through the red water with shirts covered in dried blood. At this point, I had no choice but to close my eyes and wade to the bloody water- I am not sure if Fijian cows carry any diseases, but I didn’t want to find out! When I finally climbed into the boat, I realized the comedy of sharing a small rickety village boat with a giant dead cow.
Once we returned to the village, the real work began! We spent hours and hours chopping up the cow, a pig, and a variety of vegetables. I tried fire roasted pig’s ear for the first time- it tasted like bacon! I slept for several hours, but many of the more dedicated villagers stayed up chopping, cooking and drinking kava all night. It is so much fun during large events to be such a part of the community. Everyone knows their job and is willing to participate. I am surly going to miss this community when I leave!
Finally, for a work update. I have yet to finish my USAID water project. Fiji time will be the death of me. The village came together for multiple work days to change the rusty roofs, install gutters, and build cement stands for the tanks, so all the work has been completed on our end. Now, we are waiting for the arrival of a barge to transport the water tanks to the island. This has been a long and frustrating wait, but finally, today I received confirmation from a local resort owner that he’s willing help me! He told me his company will transport the tanks to the island on their next barge trip. Unfortunately, he was unable to give me a date, but at least I have options now. I will put these tanks on the first barge whether it be the government or the resort barge. So, it sounds like there will be clean drinking water in the near future for the children and the teachers at Ratu Naivalu Memorial School.
Thanks for continuing to follow my blog! Cheers!