It’s about time that I discuss the ways of survival on the remote island of Waya. When I go back home, in 2 months, everyday life will be one of the hardest things to describe to my American friends and family. Even for my fellow Peace Corps Volunteers living on the mainland of Fiji, it is hard to relate sometimes. Most of them don’t have to haul water every time they pee, or pick mosquito larvae out of their drinking water, or have to go to the sea for dinner rather than the supermarket. Life on the island is unique even to other parts of Fiji.
Just living here is a full time job and is incredibly exhausting, and it honestly took me about a year and a half to learn the simple things like where to get my water, what to do with my rubbish, how to pick seaweed, and how to open coconuts. Between hauling water for drinking, bathing, washing dishes and cooking, hand scrubbing my clothes, towels and sheets, preparing every meal due to the lack of refrigeration, gathering firewood, and searching for food in the garden, in the plantation, or in the sea, subsistence living and surviving on an outer island truly is a full time job! I rise with the sun and go to bed no later than 9 not only because it is dark, but because I am tried beyond belief! I have a tremendous amount of respect for the members of my community.
At home, I have always considered myself to be competent in camping, hiking, and nature, but here, I look like a prissy girl from the city when compared to my village friends! I wouldn’t stand a chance surviving here alone, and I am reminded of this everyday! I can climb the mango tree but have a hard time reaching the mangoes, I can hike up the plantation but can’t always pull the cassava, I can pull the dead fish but am hopeless when shooting a spear, I can open a coconut (if given ample time) but can’t climb a coconut tree to save my life, and I can find firewood but have a hard time cutting it with a cane knife. Almost everything I do requires the help of my community. It’s no wonder Fijians tend to have big families. One child must gather coconuts, another firewood, another do the cooking and washing, and another go fishing. Needless to say, the physical ability of the villagers here is unbelievable! I am constantly struggling to keep up.
A nearby island was closed for fishing for about a month due to the filming of an Australian Survivor Program. It was so funny trying to explain this show to my friends in the island. “It’s a bunch of white people running around a remote island trying to survive…” This is everyday life here in the village. They wake up to a new day and set out to the same routine of gathering food, hauling water, and cooking meals. Even without matches, I have seen my friends start fires, they know how to catch fish using just the tides and rocks, and know which fruits/leaves are edible. Simply surviving is their everyday job! I wish my friends and family at home could experience this life. It is unique, simple, and slow paced. I am definitely going to miss the simplicity of this life.
In the island, time doesn’t matter. We base our days on sunshine, rain, and the tides. We eat when we are hungry, drink when we are thirsty, and sleep when we are tired; but, we always prepare food before we are hungry because of the lengthy and demanding preparation required! And mostly importantly of all, we share everything. All things are communal, especially food!
The following example is the routine food preparation for one meal. On Sunday, my housemate, Mrs. Ili, and I wanted to eat buns with coconut cream (bani valolo). To satisfy our stomachs, we had to start collecting coconuts 2 weeks prior. We needed 3 and had to wait for them to fall because neither of us know how to climb the tree (it takes an incredible amount of strength). To make the coconut cream, first we had to husk the coconuts, then cut them open, and scratch the inside of the coconut. Next, we squeezed the coconut shavings to make a cream. All of this work excludes the mixing the dough and baking the buns! About two hours later, we ate, but due to lack of refrigeration, these buns could only be eaten for one day! It’s amazing how much work goes into one simple meal given that everything has to be gathered and then hand prepared!