These are the things I’ve learned in my first week as a country coordinator with Help International in Fiji:
1st- people in the islands really are as nice as you hear. I have never had so many people give me food as when I landed in the Nadi airport, and was sitting for a while waiting for the bus. We were so hungry, but didn’t have any currency yet nor know where to go, and we didn’t want to miss our bus! Who knew when it would really come! Multiple people walking by just sat with us and shared whatever food they had. I had my first yummy island orange, and I learned what Roti is. My dad was right – when you’re on a mission to do a good thing, you are taken care of.
2nd- the people are happy!! And if they don’t look happy, all you have to do is say “Bula!” And you’ll get a smile and a happy “bula bula!” in response. Also, stop and talk to them. Chances are they want to get to know you, and will probably invite you to do something awesome.
3rd- I’m not sure my feet will ever be clean again. Sweat + dust + sandals = equals (almost) permanently dirty feet. It’s a battle. Chacos help.
4th- If you think you got all the glass out of your foot that you stepped on, put it in the ocean. If it suddenly hurts terrible and you can’t walk on it, chances are you didn’t get all the glass out! If you’re too much of a baby or you can’t see it to get it out yourself, ask one of the nice people around, like the nurse living downstairs to help you. And all will be well. Life lesson- don’t walk barefoot here, even in the house maybe. Also, always be humble enough to ask for help.
5th- Be open to new culture. I had my first traditional meal with an Indian family who invited us over. I met the sweetest people. I sat on a mat and chatted with the women while Ryan drank Kava with the men. What incredible women. They grew up in such completely different environments than myself, several even having arranged marriages. I could tell how kind they were, even when there wasn’t English spoken. They laid this feast on the mat before us of different curry dishes, and insisted we eat first. That was also after hours of preparing while we were waiting, and trying to help. Have you seen The Office? When Michael and Jan invite people over for a dinner party, Jan mentions that it takes three hours to cook. Pam looks at her and in a sort of panic says, “three hours from when you put it in like two and a half hours ago, or three hours from now?” “Oh Pam,” Jan replies, really not explaining anything. I’m here to tell you, it’s the ‘three hours from now’ option. Luckily though for us, our dinner was much friendlier and less awkward than Michael’s dinner party, and no one broke any dundies or the 27” plasma screen that collapses back next to the wall. J
6th- the stars here are different. I knew that because of being in the southern hemisphere for the first time, but it’s actually sort of disorientating at night still when I look up and don’t see Orion, the seven sisters, Cassiopeia, the Big Dipper or the North Star. I looked for a star map at the library, but apparently there are none. Hopefully my phone will work better soon and I can use my Star Chart. I can’t wait to learn these constellations.
7th- If you go to Fiji, bring an inordinate amount of bug spray. Don’t buy some here. It’s lame, expensive, and just smells like some sort of weird hairspray. Plus the mosquitoes are like invisible little ninjas, and their bites sting as well as itch.
8th- Embrace the unexpected. When you’re in a new place, it’s okay to feel off balance. I haven’t really been okay with that before, but am learning it really is okay. Especially when you are going to be working in that new place, and so much is asked of you. You must learn many new things very quickly. “Going with the flow” takes on a whole new meaning. If in that state of feeling off balance, you begin to be sad, or want to judge yourself for not being up to the task at hand, just take a deep breath instead and release that. Do not let any thoughts of negative self-judgment enter your mind. Embrace the things that are yours- as Cesare Pavese put, “the essential things – air, sleep, dreams, the sea, the sky- all things tending towards the eternal or what we imagine of it.”
More to come, but eight is my lucky number, so I’ll stop there for now. :)
P.S. Love that Fiji gave us a big thumbs up!