This will likely be an earnest, though potentially infrequently updated, account of my adventures, tribulations,
and everyday experiences as I spend two years working as an environmental Peace Corps volunteer in Fiji

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Meke ni Veli Pictures!

Looking intense ... or confused? Prior to our epic meke.

Lined up and doing the cobo (clapping  part that happens first). So far so good.

Kim and Brian mid dance. I can't tell if they're on the right step or not.

The tall ones in the group have just jumped into the ceiling.

And we lose it...Clearly, I have no idea what's going on. I'm doing one verse while Jon and Milli are looking to Rupeni for guidance on what the hell verse we're supposed to be on.

White powder slapped across the face and candy in the mouth. You try dancing while someone does this and not chip a tooth.

Jon, Milli, and Rupeni... apparently not doing anything but at least they're in agreement about it.

The cobo following the meke. The look of confusion explains a lot.

This was our audience!

 I hope those pictures can convey at least some of the feel of our meke. It was a really fun day and I think that even though we may have completely butchered the dance that everyone was entertained and our village appreciative of our efforts.

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So, this is a completely different day but I just had to post these pictures! A few weeks ago, I discovered that my host brother, much like every other Fijian, has never heard of smores or roasting marshmallows. In an effort to remedy this, my mom and dad lovingly and amazingly sent me two packs of jiffypuff marshmallows. And though it took over a month to reach me, they did arrive and they were intact and wonderfully fluffy. I then proceeded to instruct my brother on proper marshmallow roasting etiquette (just lats night!) and introduce him to the glory of smores (or rather make shift smores being that there are no graham crackers here; we used plain breakfast crackers and it more or less got the message across).

I may have created an addict...I think he had at least 6 of those delicious little sandwiches!

So after getting all hocked up on marshmallowy sugar, we decided to joke around. My brother was wearing a hoody because it was cold out (roughly 65F) and aside from me relentlessly picking on him for it he thought he looked like a regular 'hoodlum' ... so naturally this picture was taken as a result :).

Home-Stay Family Appreciation Day and Our Attempt at a Meke

Sorry no pictures again...The computer doesn't want to cooperate. Separate post I hope.



This past Saturday we celebrated Home-Stay Family Appreciation Day in my village. All of the trainees living in nearby villages brought their host families to our site for a day of food, music, and dancing; and by dancing I of course mean meke’s. A meke (meh kay) is a traditional Fijian dance that usually tells a story through song and acting out the moves. Some are designed to be funny while others are impressive and intimidating.

Our meke was about a dwarf named Veli; he had a long beard, white hair, and was apparently impossible to catch. Sounds intimidating to me but comedic seemed to be the theme that day. The other trainee groups also performed mekes that they had learned in their village. The difference was that we had seen all of theirs before, whereas no one had yet seen ours. Consequently, our meke ni veli turned out to be quite the hilarious catastrophe.

Firstly, because our village meeting hall is directly below our church and because there can be no dancing in the same building as the church, our village constructed an outdoor shed type thing to host the event. Corrugated tin sheets were held up by wooden posts across the lawn and it was open on all sides. This turned out to be an awesome forum for our celebration. Mats were put down over the grass as a floor and everyone was able to crowd in and find a seat.

The height of the roof was reasonably designed to accommodate anyone that was under roughly 6’ 6” but it was definitely not designed for people already over 6’ to be abruptly jumping upwards with all of their might, as we did during the first few moves in our meke. I, naturally, had no problem but the same cannot be said for others in my group…

We had lined up in front of the impressive crowd and looked fully awesome in our bula sulus, leaf skirts, and black war paint. We were stoked and ready to perform; the singers began beating the lali (a sort of drum) and singing the meke ni veli song. In the zone, we all started bobbing with our hands on our hips (the first move), casting around side to side to the quick beat trying to look like a tough little dwarf; then quickly, as if frightened, we all made a forceful jump straight up … and half my group cracked their heads into the tin roof making it warp and clang violently, causing some dazed dancers and some uproarious laughter from the crowd that temporarily drowned out the singers. It was all down hill from there.

Apparently, our normal group of singers that we had been rehearsing with (for two weeks prior) had decided that the time was opportune to leave for the day and go into town. Unfortunately, the group that replaced them didn’t really know what they were doing…or maybe they did and just wanted to mess with us…

After the first verse finished and the roof stopped shaking, they moved into the next verse. Instead of being the second verse of the song, what they sang was actually the third verse, but being that none of us are yet fluent in Fijian, half of our group was intently dancing out the moves to the second verse anyway while the other half confusedly took their lead from our meke teacher and did the third verse instead. Then the singers sang the real second verse, which would have been fine but (for whatever dumb reason) I assumed that they would have just played the third verse again (because it was technically time for the third verse I guess) and so I switched to dancing that one instead. Meanwhile everyone else (I think) had actually figured out what was going on by then and was performing the second verse.

To add to the confusion, the singers repeated some verses here and there, making me increasingly suspicious that they were messing up the meke on purpose. So by this point I was so damned lost all I could do was laugh and continue moving my limbs around hoping that I might occasionally get the configuration right. It didn’t help that people were coming up slapping baby powder on our faces and shoving candy in our mouths (as is tradition) while all of this was happening, just to add to the chaos.

When all was said and done, however, it turned out to be quite hilarious; and though we didn’t perform the most well organized meke out of the group we definitely made people laugh! The rest of the day people from our village kept coming up to us and thanking us for the wonderful meke we performed. I’m still not sure if they were being sarcastic or if they were just pleased that we tried (and, more likely, entertained by our fail).

We did perform a second meke after all of the other groups got a chance to run through theirs (and show us up in our own village). This one was called manipusi (translates into mongoose), and though we were definitely more coordinated it still turned out being just about as hilarious as the first one. Perhaps it was because we did it roughly seven times getting faster and faster with each turn.

The rest of the day was really nice. The Peace Corps gave a few thank you speeches and gave certificates to the host families to show their appreciation. We helped serve the monstrous lunch that the women (mostly) of our families prepared. I was actually blown away by how readily they took to the task of preparing the feast for about 75-100 people. All of the fish, cassava, and dalo (taro) were cooked in the lovo (underground oven), and there were huge pots full of chopsuey and chicken curry among many other things. By huge, I definitely mean you could fit a small child inside. No one here ever seems to complain about doing things like this; granted my language skills are limited, but you can definitely tell by body language if a person does not want to do something and I just haven’t seen it. People are happy to share and happy to host. What goes around comes around.

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These are my last few days of training. We swear in as official Peace Corps Volunteers on Monday July 4th (and celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the Peace Corps too!). After a brief conference to meet our village contact person, we ship off to our different destinations and finally begin life as a PCV! Wish me luck as the transition nears, that I’m able to pass my language exam, find and buy everything I need for my site (including a mattress?!…traveling could be interesting), pack, and manage a tearful goodbye to a community of people that I’ve grown to love!

Suva, Fishing, Iron Chef, and a New Embassy!

The view of Suva harbor.

The view from my hotel balcony where they had me stay during my time as a sick exile.

Downtown Suva

Kim and Brian prepping our food for the Iron Chef competition. We won with our pumpkin risotto...I'm still not sure how that happened.

The spread at Iron Chef! There were so many delicious dishes - various curries, coconut chutney, mini pizzas, roti, salads, make shift tacos and lentil burgers. There was much more but I can't remember.
Hacking up some thick mud in search of some nice big, juicy earth worms.

My Na walking us down the path to the creek. She's carrying the fishing poles that we would be using. Basically, a rod just consists of a long piece of wood with fishing line tied to one end, a piece of foam tied to the string a few feet from the tip and a hook tied to the other end. The string is just long enough that the hook can snag onto the bottom end of the pole for storage. They work pretty well!

Just look at our delicious catch! All fried up and ready to eat. There were a few different types of fish that we caught but I can't remember their names. The only one I recognized was Tilapia - that would be the big one. They did taste surprisingly good but the bones were a serious pain. Meat and fish are never de-boned here.

The new U.S. Embassy - this was at the official opening ceremony.

The U.S. Ambassador to Fiji (and other South Pacific islands) - Steven McGann

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Village cont

Our living room is gecko central at night :)
Scraping cassava root to put in cassava coconut pie.
My brother teaching me how to peel the tough skin off cassava root.
Front of my house. If you look closely you can see the weight lifting bench.
My living room.
Our yard and cooking stove.
Our kitchen.

The communal under ground oven used for cooking called a lovo.

My Village at Last!

I won't post the name of my village or the names of my family on the blog but feel free to privately message me with questions. I can say that I am on Viti Levu not far from Suva and I love it to death! It's hard to capture this love in my pictures but hopefully you'll have some idea of where I'm at.


 
The river across the street from our village. Lots of freshwater mussels!

Walk way along the street.

In language class in the vale ni sogo  (village meeting hall). That's my teacher, Viri.

View of the village from our group garden across the creek.

Making our teitei! (garden)

See what a machete can do? I should mention that these beds are actually on a steep slope that was extremely muddy and was constantly threatening to send us cascading down the hill into the creek below. Extreme gardening anyone?
Kids in our village playing with a frisbee, something they've never done before.

The local elementary school! This is my favorite picture yet. I erased part of the name on the sign for obvious reasons.

The fishery right next door. One of only two aquaculture research stations in Fiji.

Drying clothes.

My room!

Your average four inch spider. If you look closely you can see that it has its leg in its mouth. That's because its hungry I wouldn't let it bite me. Shortly after I took this picture, my brother made fun of me and tried to pick it up to bring it outside. It proceeded to run up his arm and launch itself off his shoulder into the middle of the room. I may or may not have screamed as it hurtled (as spiders do) in my general direction (a solid 10 feet away no less). It landed and took off for some corner crevice. He's still around somewhere no doubt.

Scraping the inside of a coconut. Mmm you can make some delicious scones with this.

When in Suva...

So it seems that I'm attempting to get as many ailments as possible right off the bat in some effort to get it all over with quickly. Consequently, I'm currently spending some time near Peace Corps HQ whilst I ummm get better. The upside is that I have access to some internet caffes AND I went to a movie!

Attempt two at pictures! Go! These are some of the shots that I took at our training site prior to moving into the home stay villages.

Nausori town where our technical training is held.

The view from my window (this was at the training site before moving into our home stays).

My tin box of goodies! Books, pillow, and water purifier.

Mosquito nets save lives.

The burres (huts) that we were staying prior to home stay.

The view!

Some of the guys hanging out and looking natural outside their burre.

Joel teaching Sam how to box.

A purple sky?? Well we are in the South Pacific.

The river next to our training site.