Kristina writes from her new placement – FIJI!
First Blog From Fiji – Kristina O’Connor:
Bula! It has been a month now that I have been in Fiji and boy it is amazing! Time has been flying by and I cannot believe what I have been able to accomplish in such a short amount of time.
My first week here was spent on orientation with 35 other volunteers from New Zealand, Australia, the United Kingdom, Canada and The Netherlands. During orientation we were crammed with as much information as possible to help us ease our way into life in a new country. This time was so valuable because we were able to learn and try new things in the company of relative familiarity before being alone at our placements.
The first 5 nights were spent in Nadi (Nandi). From there I visted the town of Lautoku and Nadi itself. In Nadi I bought my first Sulu and Chamba, traditional Fijian outfit, and a couple of casual sulu’s. I must say, getting used to always being in a skirt is taking time. For those of you who know me back home, I live in shorts or trackies. Nadi itself is a nice town and I definitely plan to go back there. Also while on orientation, as a group we all attended an Indo Fijian night. This was an evening spent at a local Indian Fijian family’s house where they cooked us dinner and showed us their way of living.
Before coming to Fiji I obviously did not do my research as I had no idea about the large Indian Fijian community! I think it is great though, it’s like two countries/cultures in one. For dinner we had traditional food that I cannot pronounce, let alone spell, but it was yum! Now I am a fussy eater and if I’m being truthful, if mum had served me it at home, I would have opted out. But being in the environment and atmosphere where you try everything, I did, and I enjoyed it. Oh, and the sitting cross legged on the floor eating with my hands was definitely a new experience! Later on in the night I was also encouraged to dance and although none of us really knew what we were doing, we had a ball.
While in Nadi we went to a village called Sabeto for church. This was such an amazing experience. Getting to hear the choir singing and playing peek-a-boo with the children in the next pew. Afterwards we were shown around the village and also a traditional welcoming kava ceremony. We had been briefed on what would happen but it was pretty surreal being a part of it. I also met a local – kiwi local! Mile. He was the spokesman of this village and as it turns out he had lived in Christchurch for a couple of years before moving to Geraldine to play rugby. He also worked at the freezing works (roughly 2002-2006), so if you know him, he says ‘hi’!
From Nadi it took 2 days travel via Suva and Levuka before I made it to my new home. I am now living in a village called Toki, 15 minutes drive North of Levuka on the island of Ovalau. And by drive I mean on the back of a ute on a bench seat with a kind of tent canopy over head – it is so fun! But the roads are a little questionable and the driving is, well the drivers take the best route, no matter where that might lead us.
Moving into village life has definitely been a complete cultural immersion into a welcoming and laid back way of life. I am living in the school compound with the head master and his family. For a start this is completely different to home. All of the teachers are supplied with housing in the school compound, alongside the village. And the head master is the principal at the same time as being a full time teacher. It all seems to work though and there is a real sense of community in all aspects of life here.
My host family has a mum, dad, brother aged 10 and a sister aged 13, and we live in a 2 bedroom house. I have landed on my feet house-wise as the European Union built it only a few years ago. But a big change I have had to get used to is the sleeping arrangements. It has never really been a worry to me as I come from a big family too but I have my room with a bed, and the kids sleep on the floor on thin foam mattresses. It’s almost quite comforting that they feel comfortable to share a room with me as if I am part of the family. And if I think about it, in general, there are not many beds. In my village most families tend to sleep on thin mattresses on the floor.
When I moved into Toki I was a part of an official welcoming, a Sevusevu, in the Chief’s house – yes, there are real villages with chiefs and everything, cool! This was an experience I will never forget, my first proper introduction to my village, sitting right up front while we had ‘grog’, kava. There is a lot of Kava consumed here but it is a part of the culture and it is a great way to get out and socialise.
Since the welcoming almost everyone in the village knows my name… And I am struggling to remember everyone else’s! But I will hopefully get there soon.
Now for the reason why I am here – volunteering. My placement is at Ratu Seru Memorial School. It is a primary school (same school years as NZ, years 1 – 8 with 120 students and a kindergarten of 30 children. My role officially with Latitude is a community placement as a Schools Assistant. But as of Monday I am a fully fledged teacher. For the first couple of weeks I was helping out around the school, assisting in class 5&6 and taking Phys Ed for all Years. This was great but I had observed in class 5&6 that the roll of 35 was too many and the children were not getting the most out of schooling – easily distracted, a lot of noise etc.
I also knew that yes I am capable at administration tasks and physical education, so could have easily stuck to what I knew. But I have come to Fiji to break comfort zones, to push boundaries in myself and get the most that I possibly can out of the short amount of time I have here. Taking this all into account I approached the staff and asked if it would be possible to have my own class. The offer was accepted and I now have my own classroom, a roll of 17 10 to 12 year olds and the opportunity to be a teacher!
Another thing I have found very evident in the Fijian education system is that even though corporal punishment was abolished about 7 years ago, there has not been any alternative classroom punishments taught. After seeing this I have been itching to trial the classroom etiquette and disciplinary actions that I have had growing up in NZ and hopefully once it works, then teach my colleges these strategies/techniques.
Events of the past few weeks in Toki have included a hike up through the bush to what I would describe as a small water hole, but it was nice that for the first time in Fiji I had been cool. I now appreciate swimming so much more and even just waking up during the night cold – such an amazing feeling!!
Also on Wednesday 6th February at 2:30pm there was an official Tsunami warning in place. I quickly ran home (40metres) and packed my emergency bag before heading back to the school. The staff had portable radios and while the head master and another few teachers closed up the school I organised the older children and matched them up with the wee ones and sent them on their way up the hill behind the school. Then once all staff and students were off I waited for some women and children coming from the village. In Fiji there seems to be a relatively relaxed approach to warnings so only a few families came up. I picked out the smallest child and held her hand and helped her up the hill – and I mean directly up a steep, muddy, un-tracked hill.
Once up at a safe height I noticed a young girl had a large gash in her knee so cleaned it up and covered it before giving the kids some paper and pens to draw what they could see – a distraction method from the impending boredom of sitting on a hill waiting for the warning to be called off.
When it was safe to return to sea level I opted for carrying the young girl down, to only then find out that she was 2! And she had managed to climb all that way in jandals!! The whole experience of the afternoon was definitely unforgettable and I think that even though it was a false alarm, we were able to show the children the process of evacuation in the case of a tsunami. I did have to smile when we realised a few boys had hidden their school books in the ceiling of their classroom – their education definitely means a lot to them!