Monday, August 3, 2009

Still on an island far from you

I have been asked to be project lead over adobe stoves and women’s groups. The women’s groups have always been an interest to me because I find it very important to empower the women here. The Fijian and Indo-Fijian women have been somewhat emancipated from their traditional subordinate lifestyles, but many still suffer. For many women they have enjoyed taking a break from their daily rituals but some still find it hard to escape their many responsibilities. For those that come to listen, the lesson’s focus on all aspects of health (spiritual, mental, physical, emotional and intellectual). Last week I was excited teach one of our women’s group a lesson about physical activity and end it with aerobics. My American counterparts loved the workout but unfortunately only one Fijian was able to enjoy it too, which seemed arbitrary to the excitement the Fijians had the prior week. So, we are attempting the lesson again this week in hope it’s successful!

The stoves involve a lot of manual labor and we hope the Fijians are willing to work hard every time we come. The Fijians are in charge of getting clay from the river bed, sand, banana stock and rebar. We provide them a frame and a chimney for the smoke to escape. Both of those items can be made or paid for by the locals when we can’t provide it after we leave.

We have a lot of stoves to build, hopefully just oversee, before we leave in 2 ½ weeks. Our hope is to educate as many villagers about the process of making adobe stoves, which will one day lead to the abolishment of all open fires in Fiji. Okay, that probably won’t be happening any time soon or ever, but we are making improvements in at least some individuals or family’s lives. We had a reminder from our country director last night that we, as volunteers, can’t walk away frustrated because it is so difficult to see the change we are making. I may never see any result from the hard work we’ve done but hopefully we’ve planted a seed that will soon start to blossom.

This last weekend I planned a vacation trip with the new volunteers to whitewater river raft the Upper Navua River which has been nominated, as so our tour guide says, as one of the most beautiful river rafting trips in the world. I am not going to lie and I will probably have to just show you pictures, but the narrow canyon river was shrouded in lush rainforest fed by countless waterfalls. Supposedly, you can just watch the movie Anaconda to see what we experienced. And then you will also understand why we never wanted to fall out of the raft.

We spent the rest of our weekend in the capital Suva where we visited the Fijian museum (gotta love the fact that cannibalism only ended a little over 100 years ago, luckily only a few Fijians have asked, but not acted upon, about eating me). After being complimented a thousand times as a business tactic, we contributed to the Fijian economy by walking out of the local handicraft market with things we (or the people we give them to) will probably never use. We finished the evening by partying with Indians as we watched a real Bollywood movie. If you haven’t seen one of these movies, I highly recommend you see (a good) one. You, like me, might be lucky enough to pick up some new dance moves. Unlike me, the Indians were inhibited to be doing these moves as they walked out of the theatre. Remind me to show you when I get home : )

Sunday, July 12, 2009

I'm in Fiji kids!

I have been on the island Viti Levu, Fiji in the South Pacific for almost two weeks now. I live on the main island where the capital Suva is, but my team is doing work in a small town on the other side of the island. The town is called Tavua District. This town is made up of Indo-Fijian people and Fijians.

The Indians were brought here in the late 1800s as indentured servants. Fortunately that ended in the early 1900s. Wearing their customary Indian dress, they currently compose nearly half of the population, earn 70 percent of the income and pay 80 percent of the taxes. Even though these Indo-Fijians are primarily a driven group of people they still suffer in a few different ways. They are only allowed to lease lands from the Fijians and do not have the opportunity for any ownership. Also, the Indo-Fijian women are often subject to domestic violence.

The indigenous Fijians, who are the nicest group of people you will ever meet, make up the other half of the population. Their hut and tin like houses make up many villages that surround the town we live in. The different villages are composed of 50 to 400 people led by a hereditary chief. They grow most of their own food in village gardens. They hardly import much here! But when these people attempt to set up a business, they are often stifled by the demands of relatives and friends. Their Fijian customs of claiming favors or giving of what little they have, has made it difficult for them to compete with the many Indo-Fijian business owners.

A bit of the Fijian culture still resembles Great Britain because they were under their control until 1970. Queen Elizabeth is represented on the dollar bills and coins, they play net-ball and cricket in the schools, and their English is similar to Great Britain’s.

As I am new to Fiji and came in the middle of the summer, I am not a project lead yet. For example, last year in El Salvador I was project lead over English teaching, girl’s dance classes, and rural health classes. This last week I had the opportunity to teach six health lessons during the week because the project leads were out of town. I absolutely love teaching health but there are many girls out here who have interest in that field. We’ll have to see!
Our group is doing some great things out here though. We have built adobe stoves in many villages. We have taught them how to do it and they have started to build their own. These stoves are great because the women don’t have to cook over an open fire where the rising smoke destroys their eyes and lungs.

We are also teaching square foot gardening. This principle allows the Fijians to utilize a small area in their backyard that provides them healthy food at a cheap price.

We also tutor kids in the schools and help them improve their English. (English is the prevalent language spoke between the Fijians and Indo-Fijians, and is necessary for everything).

Anyway, that will be it for now! I can’t bore you too much especially because there are no visually stimulating photos. (But seriously not my fault! All the volunteers have had issues uploading pictures on these internet cafĂ© computers. Lots to look at when I get home…look forward to it.)

PS. I went skydiving my first weekend here. (We have Saturday and Sunday off). It was intense! I went tandem so I had a “professional/stranger” attached to my back, which he may or may not have been a little high. 12,000 feet high- 45 second fall towards the islands was one of the most exhilarating experiences ever. I tried to tell my instructor those feelings. He furthered to tell me that deciding to be a virgin till I was married was the worst decision I could ever make. I didn’t really try to convince him otherwise because we were having this conversation about 6,000 feet above the ocean.

PSS. My house is covered in ants and small, medium and giant size cockroaches…much worse then last year.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Mexican-Canadian Collision

This last weekend I planned with my foreign exchange roommates to drive up to Vancouver, Canada to visit some of Belen's "English speaking" Mexican friends. Not a problem right? We had all of their paperwork including: visas, foreign exchange documents, even a permission slip from Peggy Earl explaining they would be traveling with me.

We set out for our adventure Wednesday around noon; the Mexi (Belen) in the passenger seat, the Taiwanese (Tricia) chillin in the back. We arrived at the border in no time, it was great! 4.5 hours, record timing! Too good to be true. The Canadian security guard's hideous grimace could no doubt make anyone feel hostile. He interrogated our lives with many questions and slapped down the fact that we were not going to Canada that day because the Taiwanese didn't have a Canadian Visa. What the? No one else needed one, why her? And we were seriously a half hour from our destination: (

The rest of the evening we spent hours driving between cities trying to find internet to see if the Canadian Visa was attainable within the next 24 hours; sadly our answer was no. We play a thousand scenarios on what to do next, meanwhile with nowhere to go. Dave and Peggy are gracious enough to help us find a hotel. We spend the night and decide that we will drive 2 hours to Seattle the next morning. Tricia had graciously decided to hitch a ride/day trip with an Earl family friend to take her back home to Moses Lake.

Belen and I drive up North again for three hours for a second shot at getting through the border. We totally have this one under control, we are thinking. Bam! We get stuck with some security lady who looks like she hasn't smiled in years. Okay, seriously did someone write terrorist on our foreheads? Because she didn't believe the fact that all we wanted to do was see Canada! ( So we didn't really want them to know about the people we were seeing in Canada because we didn't want a thousand questions asked...not doing that again) But I think she thought I was kidnapping a Mexican and we were running away together to live illegally in Vancouver.

We were sent inside the official building again, just like the day before, and they questioned us together and separately for roughly 10 minutes each (it could have been shorter, but it felt like a mill years). Trying to match our stories up? Who knows? We finally made it through after they did a full inspection of my vehicle. Ha, but didn't catch the carrots I hid under my seat!

So that fiasco consumed the first 32 hours of the trip, how wonderful! What was the result? The beginning of my getaway vaca. landed me with wasted money on gas, miles, hotel and was finished with a weekend of hanging out with Mexicans! Belen and I saw a little bit of Vancouver. But I had a hard time remembering what country I was in! English was spoken sometimes, but rarely (and no I was not speaking Spanish all weekend. I was speaking broken Spanglish. Oh so fun!)

What sort of things did we do? Oh that's right we ate at Mexican restaurants, went clubbing...loved the idea of that until I realized we were going to a Latin club, and we just chilled a lot at their apartment listening to Spanish music.

Oh, how I love stories like this one! I enjoyed myself in the end and I really enjoy the Latin culture, so it worked out great. And of course, Belen and I were stopped at the border for 45 minutes for "random inspection" at the U.S. border to top it off!

Saturday, March 21, 2009

The first and hopefully not the last

Whitney is venturing into the blogging world. Why does she feel a need to write about herself? She is just a 22 year old girl who spends her days thinking about what color her hair will be next, what vacation is around the corner and what food she is anticipating to consume. Her thoughts are clearly confined to her own selfish life, but she wants to give more. Give more to her friends and family that are always giving to her. So here it goes, the first and hopefully not the last blog post.