On an average day, I spend about 14 hours with my co-workers, and on the weekends, when we stay up late drinking kava, the hours add up to be far more. Given the fact that we all live on a small compound of our boarding school located on an island, we see a lot of each other. More than just colleagues, we are family. I have met and spent time with relatives of my fellow teachers, their spouses, and even relatives of their spouses.
Given the small space that we all share, everything is everyone else’s business. We know when our coworker’s septic tank is full, when they have visitors, what they ate for dinner, and how they spend every minute of their time after work. Due to my inherent value of privacy and distinction between work life and personal life, this has been one of my largest challenges over the past two years. That being said, I feel very fortunate that, for me, this type of living situation is temporary, and that I have the neighbors and coworkers I do. It has been completely new and interesting for me to spend such a large quantity of time with my coworkers and to know them on such a personal level. All of my coworkers and their spouses have helped, some in larger ways than others, to shape my experience here at Ratu Naivalu, and for that, I am grateful. Below, I am going to introduce all 9 of my fellow coworkers and share a bit about our relationship. In Fiji, relationships are ever so important and determine the way you interact (or even if you can interact) with others. This is why I feel it is important to take the time to illustrate my relationships and paint a picture of my life here on Waya Island.
She is recently married… Perhaps you have read my blog post about her wedding that took place this past November? But, her husband is staying in the mainland, so here, she is a single girl! Mrs. Ili and I are living together as of about 6 months ago. I switched quarters because I had a lot of space compared to other teachers, so I agreed to share a house with the one spoken condition of having my own room. Inside, I had an additional condition because I giving up my precious space, which I must admit made me a bit nervous. This condition being that I wanted to live with Mrs. Ili! I wanted to live with her because I can completely trust her and knew she would respect my privacy and personal space. She is honest, caring, and a wonderful friend. We are both hoping she’ll be able to visit Michigan one day. She wants nothing more than to swim in Crystal Lake! After she has shared her Fijian life with me for two years, I would love the opportunity to show her my life in America. I hope it happens one day!!
She is a young, single teacher who knows how to have a good time. As she was brought up in the mainland, I think the conservative and more traditional ways of remote island life can be really difficult for her. She is constantly trying to find ways to make a statement or challenge the traditional mindset present amongst the elders. Miss Lupe is always up for an adventure from picking mangoes, to hiking, to going for a picnic, to dancing in the nightclubs, we have had a lot of fun together. She is an incredibly sweet and thoughtful girl and has invited me home to her family house in Lautoka on multiple occasions. She has promised me before I go back home, we will enjoy a night out in the mainland! When I leave, I will really miss her!
Mrs. Iloi is married with three young boys. Her curiosity and interest in my life from home helps to lessen and even eliminate my homesickness. It truly helps to have someone who is so understanding and genuinely curious in me and my culture. From reading, she has a sense of creativity and imagination and is constantly asking stimulating questions about politics, authors, and the history of America. We have had wonderful conversations about a variety of things from traditional Thanksgiving dinners to condom use to Fijian ideas surrounding gender roles to racial issue in 1960’s America. Mrs. Iloi is one of my favorite kava drinking partners, not only because she thinks of my weak immune system when selecting the water source, but also because we have great conversations! Over the past two years, I have greatly appreciated our talanoa sessions!
Mrs. Takala is new to our family as of this year, but she has been a lot of fun to work with because of her enthusiasm! She can always be counted on to drink kava and have a good time. She has been so kind to me by always inviting me to her family functions in the mainland and to come over and eat! She has been fun to get to know and a great addition to our Ratu Naivalu family!
She is a young, single teacher who shares quarters with Miss Lupe. Miss Romera is newer to our family as she just joined this year. The thing I appreciate the most about her is that she sees and even acknowledges some of the challenges that I face with island life. When I was struggling to start a fire to cook my food, she offered a hand, when I had a hard time making roti (an Indian type bread) she jumped right in when it was clear I didn’t know what I was doing. I like that she jumps in to help without making comments! She also is extremely supportive of my programs and project which I am appreciative for.
Master Lui, our head teacher, is married with two boys. He and I have much more of a professional relationship, even outside of school. This is not only because he is the head teacher, but also because he is a male and my elder. For me, he has been a wonderful boss. I appreciate the freedom he has given me in my work and even on the occasion when I violate some of the school compound rules (like running in shorts, or having friends over past the 6pm curfew). Without this leeway, I must admit, I may have gone a bit crazy at times being stuck on an island! For example, when I need a break from working in school, I disappear to the village to work with our local staff nurse or hangout in the kindergarten. In addition, he is supportive of all my ideas and projects which keeps me busy at work!
Master Navo stays here is school alone as his family is in the mainland, but he is always surrounded by a group of class 7 and 8 boys. He is from the island but grew up in the mainland, so he calls nephew, tavale or even brother to some of the primary school students. I taught master’s Healthy Living class which is essential a reproductive and life skills class for the past two years. He is my counterpart for Yararo House, and I have greatly enjoyed working with him. We enjoy the competition and are very invested in sports which helps to build a good comradery.
He is our assistant head teacher and lives here on the island with his wife and 3 year old daughter, Salote. Master Jekope has more of a traditional mindset, and in return, has a good relationship with the elders in the village. I appreciate Master Jekope, because whenever I come up with a program or an event, he proves himself interested. During my walking program, he joined all of us females for a hike up the mountain, which according to Fijian culture might be an action to poke fun at… Also, he was very helpful for my water project. On days Maravu and I were working alone to install gutters, he would come join us after school.
Master Aisea is an extremely hard working and dedicated teacher. Recently, I have started helping his class 6 with some English lessons, which I have thoroughly enjoyed, because his class is so well disciplined. I respect the way he strives to teacher beyond the textbook laden curriculum the ministry supplies. I see a genuine effort in him to inspire an interest in learning amongst his students.