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.

1 comment:

  1. Yes, I am playing catch up. But it is so worth it! You have had some amazing experiences and even more impressive insights, and I feel so blessed to get to read them. I spent a lot of time with Fijians while in Hawaii, and I love roti :) I absolutely love the work you are doing there right now, and I hope to do more similar projects in the future.
    I completely agree with you on the whole money issue. I had very similar thoughts while in the Dominican Republic. In many cases the development had actually ruined the natural beauty of the area. And in my opinion, all excessive amounts of money has ever done for American society is make people more selfish and materialistic. So much money is wasted on ridiculous buildings and collections of stuff! I am perfectly happy with enough to live and travel with the bare essentials, nothing more.

    Thanks again chica. Can't wait for the potluck upon your return - even if it's just the two of us :)