Sunday, June 24, 2012

Don't Stop Believin'

The dust has settled, and things are looking up.  All in all, we had 9 members of our team go home.  Most were in reaction to some rather inflamed and perhaps unfounded fears spread by other members, some didn't have a choice in the matter, and some felt they would just be better off going home.  A few of the second wave of volunteers also decided not to come and ended up switching countries last minute.  So in total, we now have 15 instead of the expected 27.

That might seem discouraging, but honestly, it's probably for the better.  15 is a much more manageable number (especially when it comes to food, housing, and project purposes).  Also, everybody here knows they really want to be here, so there's plenty of oomph and enthusiasm to go around.  The first few days after the second wave arrived, we spent time covering and planning out different projects.  It was a good time and it gave me a chance to get to know all of the new girls coming in.  It's an incredibly different group, and though I'm a bit sad I don't get to see group 1 interact with group 2, it's also probably saving myself and others a lot of drama, so I can't be too sad.

One major difference is our new country director.  His name is Arturo, and though he's not Candice, I can tell he's a competent man and will do the job well.  He also seems to get along with Katherine much better, which means their communication much more clear and effective.  This in turn makes project planning and scheduling much more fluid.  Long story short, the Help team has become kind of a well-oiled machine.  From the day the new team arrived, everyone has been able to use their time well and get right to work.

Another difference is our house. Because of the landlord situation, we had a hard time finding a new house. He definitely blacklisted us in Lautoka (told all the other major landlords we were kicked out for noise complaints), but luckily, we did find a woman willing to rent out the top part of her house to us. It's a very different set-up in a very different area of town, but there seems to be more space, and that's a big plus. This is a view from our porch. I definitely can't complain.

Because there was only 3 of us that stayed from first wave, and because I was the resident food woman, I decided to help out our directors and pretty much took over all of their domestic duties. I made up the chore chart, got things organized and stocked, and educated everyone on how food, meals, and cleanups worked.  This, combined with my age (still the oldest volunteer), bossiness, and overseas experience has dubbed me "Momma Cherie."  The funny thing is, I don't really mind it.

Lets face it, amongst all these greenies, I feel pretty maternal.  It's hard to describe just how maternal I've become though.  After my week with Annie, I definitely stepped things up in terms of my leadership role.  During the first wave, I just kept looking for someone to lead me.  Someone to show me how to do what they wanted me to do.  Candice did help me out in that department, but she had 12 other people to worry about, so I wasted a lot of time waiting and complaining about the lack of leadership and direction.  After that awful week, I just decided I was done waiting, and with Candice leaving, I felt a void in leadership that basically sucked me into a leadership position.  I felt comfortable enough with the culture and the projects to kind of take my own lead, but what I didn't anticipate was how many people would look for me to lead them.  I've basically become a volunteer country director, and have been trying to fill in those gaps in leadership I previously perceived.  Most of those gaps seem to center around just taking care of the volunteers - both emotionally and physically, and helping them to function more smoothly and efficiently with one another.  I've done this to such a degree, that one of the girls who arrived late actually thought I was a country director for almost a week before finding out I'm just another volunteer.

And I'm not saying Katherine and Arturo are bad directors by any means. Arturo really is a great director and a lot of fun to work with.  I'm just seeing areas that I can help out with, and rather than complain about the directors not doing it, I just try to take care of it.  The nice thing is, I think I've proved myself to Katherine after the incident with Annie, so for the most part, she has stopped talking down to me and just lets me do my thing.  I think it's a big part of why things are going so much smoother this wave.  My mom has often told me she found the best way to get the best out of me is to just get out of my way.  I'm not sure what kind of person that makes me, but I can definitely see the truth in it.  In the last couple weeks, I've felt my understanding, my vision, and my capabilities expand exponentially.  Perhaps it's in part because of the time I was able to spend in the temple last week.  Either way,  I feel like I kind of 'get' Fiji now, and how to do what I want to do, both in house and in the villages.  I think that's another reason people keep calling me "Momma Cherie."  Because besides trying to take care of their basic needs around the house, I've also somehow become the problem listener, the planner, the advice giver, and the negotiator.  Haha it's kind of exhausting.

Crazy thing is though, I think I'm enjoying it.  I feel incredibly grateful for what God is allowing me to do here and how much He has enabled me to do it.  In fact, it kind of pumps me up for when I get to be Momma Cherie for real.  I'm excited to 'play house' with my OWN house and spend my time teaching and helping my children figure out how to live happy and fulfilling lives.  Obviously, I've got a few major steps to take before that's possible, but I'm excited for when the time is right.  Spending time in the villages, where family really is the focus of every one's life, helps too, and is a great example to me of what my goals should be when my family does come to fruition.

My time with Annie has helped me focus my perspective too.  She's just such a wonderful person.  When I talked to her, my perspective just became more clarified and hopeful.  I feel pretty safe saying I've added another sister to my lot.  I am one incredibly blessed person to find such wonderful souls everywhere I go.  I don't know what I did to be blessed in such a way, but there's no way I can express all the gratitude I feel for it.

On a less sappy note, here's the update on my projects.  So I've been visiting the villages around Tavua this week to give nutrition lectures and schedule meal appointments for the next time I come around.  Tuesday, I met with the women of Balata and then had dinner with Irene (president of the Gold Foundation) and her husband while she shared her knowledge of Fijian and Indo-Fijian culture.  She also gave me her background and how she got to be the director of one of the most successful women's empowerment groups in Fiji.  She truly is a fascinating person, and I can tell she has a lot of faith in me.  Again, I think I have Annie to thank for that, because Irene saw my ability to keep a cool head in a very high stress situation.  I'm pretty sure that's what made her warm up to me, because before that she seemed somewhat skeptical.  Either way, it's been great to work with the Gold Foundation.  Besides giving me the chance to give my lectures to the women of these rural villages, they are also taking my lecture and broadcasting it over the radio this weekend.  They have been so helpful in getting the word out about non-communicable diseases, not to mention all the other work they do for the women of Tavua.

While visiting one of the villages, Arieta (the Fijian woman at left) was gracious enough to spend hours explaining different Fijian customs and cultural quirks.  It was great to get such an insiders perspective to go along with my collection of observations. The people of Fiji are truly amazing. Fijians have such a strong commitment to family and family responsibility, and it's beautiful to see how those commitments have bolstered up society. For example, in Fijian culture, children born out of wedlock or to parents that don't want them, just go to another family member.

The laws here make that a pretty easy thing to do because it's so commonly done.  I stayed with a woman a few weeks ago who had 4 children, most of whom was born to her husbands niece.  I've heard many stories of children going to grandparents, aunts, uncles, and/or cousins in situations where the parents were not living up to their responsibilities.  What this does is make the foster care system pretty much non-existent.  There's one orphanage in all of Fiji.  It's well run, and well funded, (probably because it's the only one), so those who really don't have any other options are still being well taken care of.  It's kind of neat to see how that all works together.

So besides bugging Arieta about her country and culture, I also spent a few evenings with Irene and her family.  We actually ended up doing kind of an Indian cooking class with Irene and she taught us how to make potato curry, pumpkin curry, tomato chutney, and roti.  Roti is the Fijian (originally Indian) version of a tortilla, but made very differently from the Mexican tortilla.  Hopefully I'll be able to master it so I can show you all what I mean when I get home.

Side note: I've thought about doing an international dinner (maybe potluck?) when I get back - or maybe another mocktail party. If anybody has any preference they should let me know.

Anyway, after dinner with Irene, I had a fascinating conversation with Romaine (her husband). Romaine (we call him Papa) is a diabetic, or at least was diagnosed with diabetes several years ago. But after talking with him about his glucometer readings, I started wondering if Romaine might have been misdiagnosed. The more he described his condition, the more it sounded like hypoglycemia to me. The scary part is he's telling me sometimes his blood sugar dips down to 30-40, and that's just dangerous. So I told him next time he meets with his doctor, to tell him what he told me, and to avoid taking the medication prescribed to him unless his sugar went higher than 110. Considering it's rarely ever that high, I'm curious to see if he was just hastily misdiagnosed as a diabetic because he had high blood sugar right before going into surgery 5 years earlier. It would also be useful to know if docs are over-diagnosing diabetes and inflating the statistics (the ministry of health reports 40% of Fijians are diabetic so it wouldn't surprise me if they are).

That might also become part of the book I'm writing on diabetes if it is, though I think the information I've already written would probably help someone determine if they've been diagnosed correctly.  I've written the book as kind of a comic.  The hope is that it'll be fun and dramatic enough to stick in people's minds. Amputations are rampant here because so many people leave their diabetes undiagnosed or untreated.  It's tragic because Fiji is not handicap friendly.  Someone without a foot can be severely limited in their mobility and productivity, and that usually just leads to further diabetic complications.  My hope for the book is to get the word out and reduce the amounts of these problems.  I'm heading to Suva to meet with the World Health Organization to pitch the book and see if they want to publish it.  We also have some meetings with an illustrators group and the Fiji Diabetic Foundation.  Hopefully, we'll get their approval and get things published asap.

Oh, and this weekend I'll start taking my nutrition lectures into the urban areas of Fiji.  I'm going to meet with a few Relief Society presidents to see if they would let me come to an activity to teach basic nutrition.  I actually have one of those lectures scheduled this weekend in Lautoka, but I'd like to expand the base to Suva as well because nutritional habits tend to get worse in more urban areas.  It's going to be a busy week.

Not to worry though, I'm still finding time for a little bit of play here and there.  Thursday night, we checked out the Lautoka cinema scene, Friday night there was a fundraising dance for the youth of the ward, and that pretty much included anyone from age 2+.  It was a lot of fun, though they did play one particular song 6 times in the 2.5 hours I was there.  The crazy thing is, everybody got excited about that song every time it was played.  By the 6th time I decided I was done simply because I couldn't stand to hear that song one more time.  Haha after I left, they played it 3 more times.  I'm glad I left when I did.

The morning after the dance, we all headed to Natadola beach for a day of sun and salt water.  The Intercontinental Resort on Natadola actually leaves itself open to locals as long as those using the facilities buy a meal, so we set up shop there.  It was a pretty amazing day.  We started out just playing in the huge waves and trying to avoid getting hammered into the coral below.  Later that afternoon, Stephanie (another volunteer) and I went for horseback ride on the beach. It was supposed to be just a 15 min ride, but with a little confusion and a lot of flirting, we got them to take us out for a hour.  I haven't ridden a horse in over 10 years, and riding barefoot in a swimsuit isn't exactly easy, but it was a great ride.

The rest of the afternoon and evening, we made use of the pools and awesome lounge chairs within the resort (which as you can see, is about 10 ft away from the beach).  As I enjoyed these incredibly nice facilities, my mind kept wandering around the subject of money.  I watched the obviously very wealthy guests of the resort. I studied the work put into keeping the resort nice.  And at the end of the day, I think I've decided that while I can appreciate and enjoy what people can do with money, I think I care less for what money does to people.  In a strange way, it makes me grateful that I get to use those facilities and not have to deal with the stress of living a life that makes those facilities requisite.  Natadola is probably one of the most beautiful beaches in Fiji, and is a free to anyone and everyone who wishes to enjoy it.  It was another reminder to me that while humans can create incredibly appealing things, some of the most magnificent beauty we will ever perceive are far outside man's creative capacities and will forever be completely free.  Like, for instance, this sunset.

All in all, the Intercontinental is a great resort, and I do hope to go back there for future days off, but it's nice to know I can be just as happy in a village hut with no running water as I can lounging next to an infinity pool overlooking one of the most gorgeous beaches in Fiji.  It may not be as comfortable, but I've definitely come to understand that comfort does not necessitate happiness.  In fact, I rather wonder if it just distracts us from figuring out what happiness is.  Thank you Fiji for teaching me the difference, and giving me the security of knowing I can always be happy, whatever my surroundings may be.  Thanks to my friends and family who have helped me learn what happiness is.  And thanks to God for giving me the opportunity to figure that out.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Where Can I Turn For Peace?

For the first time on my trip, I don't want to write this post.  In fact, I've been dreading it now for about 3 days.  I didn't know how to explain what has happened here in the last week.  I don't know if I understand it much myself.  In fact, if it weren't for a series of sensationalized and oddly inaccurate stories being put out by ABC4 news, I would probably have avoided addressing the topic all together.  It's not my story to tell, and I feel very hesitant to offer my own version, but since a few people seem more concerned with blame and fault than accuracy and truth, I almost feel a need to offer some sort of objective information to my concerned friends and family.

So here goes....

Last week, my directors met with our landlord to discuss getting our deposit back after decided to move to a bigger house.  The one we were in wouldn't hold 27 people, so it was necessary to move, but the landlord was incredibly upset by our decision to move out.  Legally, we could move whenever we wanted, there was no contract, but I think he was mostly upset by the fact that he had managed to extract a large amount of rent out of us for that house, and knew he probably wouldn't be getting that kind of price out of anybody else.  That's guess #1.

Anyway, Katherine and Candice went to meet with him and the real estate agent.  Candice had a bad feeling about going, and didn't want to get in the car with the man because he was upset.  Katherine told her she could meet them there, but that she didn't feel endangered and was going to go with him to make sure he showed up to the meeting.  Candice decided to get in the car, and that was her choice, but was very upset about it.  And again, she felt threatened even then.

What happened at this meeting is the first of the he-said-she-said problems that arose.  Candice got into a verbal altercation with the landlord.  There was a lot of yelling between Candice, the landlord, and the real-estate agent.  It's another guess, but I'm betting Katherine was overwhelmed by all of it, and in an effort to kind of check-out, she started trying to speak with one of the real estate agents, kind of tuning out the argument between Candice and the landlord.

And here is where things get sticky.  Candice says she was threatened directly by the landlord.  That he made threats to harm her.  Katherine did not hear those threats.  Candice left the meeting, trying to get Katherine to come with her.  Katherine did not understand why she was so upset, and decided to try and resolve the rental situation at hand.  I'm guessing Candice assumed Katherine heard the threat, and was disregarding her safety and the volatility of the situation.  Considering how much those two have struggled to have accurate communication in the past, it wouldn't surprise me if that's what it was - a total breakdown in communication.

Either way, Candice came home crying and incredibly upset about what happened.  Understandably so.  She felt threatened by a very intimidating man, disregarded and disrespected by her co-director, and probably frustrated with herself and the situation for things getting so out of hand.  Now, here again, is the he-said-she-said.  Candice called Help and told them she was having problems with Katherine and about the situation at the real-estate office.  Help told her to not make it public with the rest of the team.  Whether they were saying not to make the threat public or to make the fracture in Katherine and Candice's relationship public, is kind of the current debate.  Communication breakdown #2.  Either way, nobody addressed the argument with us, but Candice did tell me what happened with the landlord.  I wish I would have gotten a direct quote out of her now because I think it would help me better understand what happened, but it's a little late for that, and probably futile in the grand scheme of things.

So that evening, we all sat down to dinner.  Hilary, the same girl I expressed concern about earlier, was absent.  Kylie informed us that she was at the internet cafe just down the road and had 40 minutes or so left on her time, so Kylie left her there and came back by herself.  One more problem that shouldn't have happened.  In the Help handbook it specifically tells us that we should not be going places alone, but rather keep it to groups of 2-3 or more.  In daylight, many of us had disregarded that guideline.  A few of us would go on runs by ourselves, I'd go get bread from the hot-bread shop down the road by myself, and a few others would go to the internet cafe alone or come back alone as well.  Granted, the internet cafe was pretty sketch after dark, and most people didn't like going there alone.  But it's not far from our house, and I'm guessing Hilary didn't feel it would be a problem to walk back by herself that night.

Unfortunately, it was a problem.  A very very big problem.  After dinner, Hilary had still not returned, and Candice and I went to look for her.  We stopped by the internet cafe, but they said she had left almost an hour before.  Trying not to panic, and hoping she was just walking around talking to her mom or boyfriend on the phone (something she has done before), we walked back to the house to see if she was wandering around there.  When we still didn't see her, we decided to walk to the other side of the lot and see if she was over there.  She had taken us on a walk that way one evening, so it seemed quite possible.  This also happened to be in the direction of the police station, so when we didn't see her in the first half of that loop, we decided to head there.  The idea was at least we could get a patrol car and more efficiently try to track her down.

When we were just a few hundred meters away from the station, we got a call from home that Hilary was home, and had been attacked.  Candice and I started booking it to the police station, reported the attack, though we had no idea to the extent, and at the same time, Candice decided to file a report about the landlord in case they were related.  The police took us back to the house, talked to Hilary and Candice, and I called the US Consulate to report the attack.  The next morning, Hilary and Candice headed to Suva to meet with the consulate security.  The consulate sent the FBI into Lautoka to investigate, and advised the team to get out of Lautoka for the day while the investigation was going on.

It took about a week to get the story on what happened to Hilary.  The details of the situation still seem a bit convoluted, but essentially, 3 men grabbed her on her way home, she's pretty sure by knife-point, took her to a dark and rather deserted area of the lot, beat her up, molested her, and attempted to rape her.  Somehow she got away, and ran back to the house.  It's amazing to me that she wasn't killed, and miraculous that she wasn't raped.  But she fought them, fought them the whole time, and I'm so happy that she did.  Not only because it probably saved her life, but because I know she's going to have a rough road trying to recover from this, I hope he feels empowered and strong because of it.

As for the investigation, it sounds like the FBI thinks we're safe in Lautoka.  I'm currently in Suva, but I'll get to that story in a bit.  While there is currently no evidence linking the landlord to the attack, many people, including some of the officers, believe that they might be related.  If they are, then certain legal issues arise.  Should the team have been informed about the threat?  Who should have informed them?  Is it Help's fault that Hilary wasn't informed of the threat before going to the cafe?  Is it Hilary's fault she disregarded the Help handbook and walked home alone?  Either way, I don't really like it, and it feels like some people are channeling their anger about the situation into how Help should be held accountable for it.  I just don't trust anger - in any direction or form.  I don't think it's going to help Hilary heal, and I don't think it's going to help the people of Fiji and various other countries where Help is invested.

If Hilary does feel like she needs to take action against Help, that's definitely her prerogative, but based on what little experience I have with those who have been victimized and abused, I doubt it's going to help her cope with everything.  Putting the guys who attacked her behind bars might, but I'm not sure this blame game with Help is going to make Hilary's healing any easier.  It won't serve the people of Fiji, nor will it bring peace to any members of the team, worried about their own safety and potential problems in the future.  Perhaps I just don't understand the objective of making Help responsible for the team not being informed, but it feels like some people are just swinging punches, hoping to make contact with somebody they think deserves it.  And the drama that has arisen from it is palpable...thanks especially to ABC4 news and their awful sense of journalistic integrity.

For those of you who saw the story, I'm sorry you had to find out about things that way.  As awful as the story is in reality, the report isn't exactly accurate.  I could name 4-5 major discrepancies between the report and reality, which make me think ABC4 is more concerned with sensationalizing and pointing fingers at Help than providing an objective account of what happened and whether or not parents should be worried about their children's safety.  Like I said, the FBI says we are safe to stay, so I'm not worried about it myself.  My plan is to keep working on my projects and not going anywhere by myself anymore.

Anyway, after arriving in Suva and meeting with the consulate, Hilary and Candice flew back to the states.  The pretense under which they flew back seems to now be perpetuating drama.  Help gave a couple of different accounts, which makes them look like they're trying to hide something, but I'm not really sure as to what.  Maybe they are trying to legally cover their tracks, maybe they are trying to keep info on a need to know basis for other reasons, or maybe they're just confused themselves by all of the different accounts and stories going on right now.  Criminalizing Help doesn't do me any favors, and I've decided I have enough on my plate right now that that part of the drama is probably not worth worrying about.

You see, as if Hilary's attack was not enough, one of our other girls had a potentially fatal accident about 36 hours later.  Anne and Annie were paired up as a team to go and teach music education in one of the villages near Tavua.  After waking up early, they went for a walk, and happened upon what apparently was a very cool tree, and decided to climb it.  Anne was about 20 ft up when she called down to Annie to join her up there because there was a break in the branches that made for a beautiful view.  Annie moved up to join her, and on the way a branch she was pulling herself up with broke.  Gravity did what gravity does, and on the way down she was knocked unconscious by one of the branches.  In hindsight, this probably helped her immensely because, besides slowing her fall down, it also made her body go limp, which may have saved her from more complicated injuries.

Either way, she was out for about 5 mins, pretty bloodied from the branches and the fall, and I'm sure Anne was absolutely terrified.  She did come-to, had some minor amnesia that subsided as the became more coherent, and was taken to the local hospital in Tavua immediately.  In case I didn't have enough appreciation for western medicine and modern healthcare before this incident, I do now.  Tavua is a small town surrounded by several small villages.  Tavua hospital is really nothing more than a building with several small, rather grimy rooms and one doctor.

When I arrived at the hospital, I was terrified for this girls life.  If she had any brain hemorrhaging or internal bleeding, there was nothing we could do, and no way we could know about it until it was too late.  I called a helicopter service to see if we could move her to the private hospital in Suva (the only hospital on the island that even begins to meet western standards), but before booking it, wanted to check with the doctor to get her assessment.  She felt like Annie was stable and that the best move would be to send her to Lautoka hospital for X-rays and CT scans.  I was satisfied with that, especially since moving her to Lautoka would only take an hour and moving her to Suva would take 3.  We had hear rumors about the sketchiness of Lautoka hospital, but they had CT's and X-rays, and sketchy as it may be, the machines might be her best ticket.

So we moved her to Lautoka, got the X-rays done and her chin stitched up, and found out that the CT scan was down.  Ugh...yeah apparently that's not uncommon, but it sure was frustrating.  The doc checked her for a concussion a few times, but due to her coherent nature and normal pupil activity, decided it was only mild.  The X-rays showed that she had 3 pelvic fractures, one of which they couldn't tell how serious it was, and since the main orthopedic doctor wasn't there, they decided to admit her for the night.  The next morning, the orthopedic doc came in, said the same thing, that he couldn't tell how serious the pelvic fracture was, and when we asked him to do a CT, they THEN informed us that it would be down for the whole week and it wasn't possible.

Well, Annie needed more information than that.  She needed to know how urgent it was for her to get home, and with no CT scan, we had no way of knowing if she had a break that should be surgically treated in the states, or if rest and relaxation was the only prescription and a flight home could wait until she would be able to endure it more comfortably.  After hitting one dead end after another, we finally got her to Suva to get the scans done.  And I'm so glad we did.  We got the CT scan of her head and pelvis.  Her head is fine (big phew), and the main fracture in her pelvis wasn't involved in her joint and was actually quite stable (another big phew).  A few of her wounds had become infected because Lautoka didn't feel they merited stitches, so the doc in Suva gave us some better bandages and antibiotics.  Thank goodness too, because Annie had been puking up the other antibiotics.

That was Friday, and since she got the all clear, Annie and I got to go to the temple on Saturday.  That was definitely the highlight of my week.  The session I was able to attend was full, and I felt so strongly of the faith of those in the room with me.  I then got to spend some good time reflecting on the events of the week, assess what my next move should be, and found some much desired peace about whether or not I should be staying in Fiji.  I also got to participate in a sealing, and it was a really neat experience.  It was me, a few Tongans, and some Fijians.  Despite how different everybody looked and even the different languages spoken, it was nice to be reminded that we are literally, all part of one big family.

After getting out of the temple, I got home and was immediately hit by the dramatic aftermath of Hilary's attack.  With Annie being my focus for the last few days, I somehow managed to miss most of it, but it did catch up to me.  Without wanting to get in too deep, I decided to make my trip into town and pick up my phone.  Oh yeah, also forgot to mention I dropped my phone after Annie got her CT.  Luckily, or should I say thank God because I'm pretty sure he's the only reason I got it back, the woman who took my phone home had a change of heart and wanted to return it to me.  She said after she took it home she felt a strange need to make sure I got it back.  I'm incredibly glad she did because it had all the numbers of doctors and contacts I had made.  And I guess it was another good reminder to me that as crazy as things get, God still has influence over his children and can inspire them to do the right thing.  I definitely needed that.

So the current situation is this.  I'm still in Suva with Annie and will be until Wednesday.  That puts us in Suva longer than we initially planned, but I'm not complaining by any means.  It has been a wonderful experience to take care of Annie and get to know her better.  She is truly a wonderful woman and I've been truly blessed by her attitude and perspective.  In many ways, she's a lot like Olya, but also has many things in common with Ani (more than just their name), which if anybody knows me, knows how partial to her that makes me.  Either way, I think we'll be able to enjoy ourselves the next few days.  We both want to catch another session at the temple, get some stuff at the distribution center, and get some souvenier shopping done before Annie flies back home..  We'll be headed back to Lautoka on Wednesday, Annie hopes to train the second wave on her project Thursday, and then take the weekend to say goodbye to everybody before she flies home.  I'm going to miss her dearly, but I'm glad I've had the time we've had together.  It's been uplifting and inspiring at a time I really needed some uplifting inspiration.

As for myself, I've got lots of planning and prep to start working on again.  I now have a better idea of what to cover with the women around Tavua, but I'm also going to look at expanding the reach of that project to include the women in Lautoka and other areas.  I feel pretty good about what I'm going to be doing, and that's what has helped me decide I need to stay here until August.  Despite the rough start, I think things are going to go very well with this project.  It's been made very apparent to me that I've got a powerful ally, and for that I'm grateful.  If any of you are wondering what you can do, or feel a desire to support me, you can click that link up in the corner that says "Help Cherie help Fiji."  Just remember to put my name in the designation box.  Otherwise, your love and prayers would be greatly appreciated.  I love you all, and hopefully I'll have much less to report on next week.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

What dreams may come...and stay.

Good news!  I still like food.

So this week I've been planning out my nutrition lessons for the different villages.  I've spent most of my days reading the latest studies on metabolic disease, diabetes, obesity, and of course, nutrition.  I've been hunting down healthy recipes, trying out a few here and there, and assessing what kind of healthy options are available here on the island.  I've been making handouts, meeting with partners, and trying to figure out a schedule that works with Kylie (one of the other volunteers) and her project on exercise.  Tomorrow morning, I head into the villages to officially get started.  Wish me luck.

Amongst all the prep work though, I received a very comforting confirmation.  I really like this stuff.  I love reading about the cellular biology behind metabolic disease.  I love researching the nutrient content of foods I've never heard of.  I even got a kick out of planning out the logistics of my project proposal.  I love food, and I love the human body.  Learning and understanding more about how those two things relate to one another is fascinating if not completely enthralling to me.  Doing all this work here in Fiji is totally psyching me up for grad school.  Huzzah!

Not to worry though, I did take a break from my nerdy indulgences and went for a hike on Saturday.  Hiking in Fiji is amazing, but kind of a beast.  It involved hopping in the back of a truck to travel to a village at the base of the 'trail.'  You pay the village to hike on their land and if you want, pay for a guide to take you.  With 10 of us and no GPS, we opted for the guide.  His name was Joe, and he had the feet of Bigfoot himself.  We hiked to two waterfalls in the area and then back to the village.  This was the mountain we climbed. 

It was about 4-5 miles total, over VERY rough terrain.  I got a few cuts and scrapes on my legs and feet, as did most of our party.  Joe did it barefoot and came out without a scratch.  He also managed to scale a mandarin tree like it was an escalator, just so we could have some fresh mandarins with our lunch.  I'm telling you, this guy was amazing.

Trekking in the jungle of Fiji is definitely beautiful and definitely isolated.  When I asked our guide what the main income of the village was (because there's no way it looked as nice as it did just from the occasional hiker), I was informed that kava and marijuana are easily grown in the area and both sell for a very high price (fyi, weed is illegal here too).  The variety and wildness of the terrain was quite curious, and it doesn't surprise me that they could hide any crop they needed to.  It's the first time I've seen palm trees growing next to pine trees, and there were several trees that looked like they belonged in the Amazon.  The views were spectacular, but the best part of the whole experience was playing in the 200-250 foot waterfalls.  Just an amazing experience. 

The rocks were a kind of lava stone, perfect for boulder climbing stacked like loose legos.  We spent a couple hours just exploring the area, scrabbling over the rocks, enjoying the pressure and taste of the waterfall.  The water was refreshingly chilly and formed a nice pool at the base, perfect for cannonballs and other tomfoolery.  After 4 hours of hiking in jungle humidity, it was a perfect ending to a fantastic day.

In case I haven't said it yet, I'll say it again: I love Fiji.