My reflection of service thus far…
At the two year mark, I feel I have accomplished a lot of what I aimed to do here in Waya. Of course, there is always more work to do, and I often get the feeling that I haven’t done enough…. But, I have always been hard on myself, so I am going to take a minute and reflect on my service thus far.
Over the past 2 years, there are several things I am proud of. I am proud of the completion of my USAID water project, of my giant world map, of my students improved reading levels, and of number of outreaches I have done with the local nurse. However, I think I am most proud of my level of integration into the local community. Through this integration, patience, and being present, I have made life-long friends. I feel I have built healthy relationships in a place where those are difficult to form. And last but not least, I now officially have two namesakes here in Fiji.
My Fijian mother, Salote, recently gave birth to a beautiful baby girl. Upon visiting Salote in the hospital mere hours after giving birth, Maravu asked me to name the baby. She has been named Janet after my American mother. It is such a great honor that they kept me and my family from home in mind when naming their newest addition. Needless to say, my mom (big Janet) is also extremely excited and honored and has shown her appreciation though several care packages (which are greatly appreciated on the receiving end!). Baby Janet will be a lasting connection and is reason number 99 to return to Yalobi someday, hopefully in the near future.
In addition, I know I will be in contact with the friends I have made in the village for the rest of my life. I know I will be back here to visit them, because they have made such an impact on my life. They have taught me how to survive on a remote island in the South Pacific, been patient with me as I learned their language, and feed me countless meals! I simple cannot thank the community enough for welcoming me and making me feel at home. Overall, thus far, the friends I have made and the relationships I have formed will be the most memorable part of being here and serving the people of Yalobi.
Thoughts about leaving Yalobi…
As you can feel from my writing above, I am not ready to leave the life I have made here. I will always cherish this unique experience of living on a remote island in the South Pacific. It truly feels like home here. As you know, I have made amazing friends, have an incredible family, have learned local culture, customs and language, and have not just learned to survive in this context but feel I thrive in it. Leaving Yalobi and my community here on Waya Island will probably be the hardest thing I will ever have to do.
This being said, I have dabbled with the thought of extending for a third year but know no matter how long I stay, I will never feel ready to leave. In fact, the longer I stay, I think the more challenging it will be to leave. As my mom pointed out, I am 25 and could use more stimulation, opportunities, excitement, and independence in my life. Also, as much as I love it here, it is NOT easy. Can I handle it for another year?? I know if I committed to a third year, I would complete it with a smile on my face, but would have hardships along the way and would definitely get restless from staying on the island. So, I am trying to start thinking about leaving my family here, moving on to the next step and adjust to western life again.
Goals for the remaining 3 months…
As I wrap up my last few months, I aim to be as present as possible in the community. That will mean drinking tea in the village, weaving mats with the women, and drinking lot of kava. I also want to spend as much time with my new namesake or yaca as possible. In terms of work, I am going to work with the nurse and ministry of health as much as I can. I want focus on STI education and organize a youth volleyball tournament with an NCD focus.
Perceived challenges for the rest of service…
In these next few months, I know I will face my usual challenges of food access, isolation, gender role issues, and Fiji time but these hurdles I have learned to take in stride. Additional challenges will be my friends leaving for an apple picking contract in New Zealand. Of course, I am beyond supportive and excited for them but will miss them very much in my last month of service- goodbyes always come too soon! I am also starting to worry about the next step…Where will I work? Where will I live? How will I pay back my student loans? etc.. However, as I currently have no computer and essentially no way to look up future opportunities, I am forced to be present with my community and worry about my future steps at a later date.
How has this opportunity changed me?
To be honest, I believe I won’t truly understand the impact of this experience until I am in a different context. When I am back at home, its’ impact will be much more visible; however, within the village context on the small island I call home, I have already noticed some changes. For example, I am much less attached to my electronics. My computer is dead, my iphone (for photos and music) is hardly ever charged, my camera bit the dust, and my nook (which I could never really use due to lack of electricity) drowned in Cyclone Winston flooding.
Overall, I am much more patient than I ever thought to be possible. I have become much surer of myself in uncomfortable situations and have learned to sit in silence and observe. I have also learned how valuable relationships can be even if we never share words, just time together. In a nutshell, I have come to realize how beautiful and simple life can be.