Opening for the WWII Monuments

More than a year ago, the Turaga ni Koro Samuela Naquto told me about the US soldiers that lived in Sabeto during WWII, leading me to ruins scattered all around the valley and mountainside and to Tai Vasu, who was six when the soldiers moved in. He pestered me for months to help him find the money to build memorials to the soldiers, and so I found a grant available on the US Embassy page, which looked rather underutilized.

They supported us in getting the grant – shoutout to Dmitri Tarakhovsky, especially. Though things were all months late, they got done. Come August 16th, 2016, we had three monuments built around Sabeto, two in the village and one at the hot springs. The fourth and final will be put up at Sabeto Christian Camp next week.

Embassy 1
Charge d’affairs Doug Sonnek and the village men in front of the memorial. Photo cred to the US Embassy/Dmitri Tarkhovsky.

 

We had the Deputy Chief of Mission, or Charge D’Affairs (beats me why we use a French title) Doug Sonnek, RPCV Niue, come out to the opening. We invited a number of members of the press, but we had only Fiji Sun show up. I might write a short piece on it and get it published in the Sun or the Times if I don’t see anything in the next few days. It’s always a slow news day in Fiji, so I don’t feel like I’m taking up any space in the newspaper, which is mostly rugby news anyway.

I also had two fellow PCVs come out from Lautoka, Nene and Sunny, so it was nice to have some PC support.

14067850_10154412508894556_5971961940306641910_o
They made a curtain with masi print drapes, which is pretty cool. Photo cred to the US Embassy/Dmitri Tarakhovsky

The ceremony started off in the chiefly bure, Erenavula. We had a qalovi and matakarawa, as they presented their yaqona to request entry to the village and we presented them with a tabua. Not even sure who provided that, but I’m very grateful.

In my welcome speech, I recounted the global history that led up to this moment, including the aggression of the Japanese army, the bombing of Pearl Harbor, American response. I also noted that this camp was only for the white servicemen; that the camp for the black soldiers was in Naisoso, and they were not allowed the same access to entertainment, quality of living conditions or benefits upon returning home.

We had Tai Vasu speak of what it was like at the time, how the village was transformed, and the tents they lived in in Natalau. The charge d’affairs touched on general Fiji-US history. We had two songs, including Wai Katakata, about the hot springs, which includes this verse;

Sotia ni Merika era yaco mai (American soldiers came here)

Wai katakata e viri na kena bai (And threw up the fence around the springs)

Tovolea mada mo mai sili kina (Try it, you should bathe in it)

Kena katakata e rui totoka dina (It’s heat is truly too pleasant)

Afterwards, we went to the hot springs and opened the one there. Folks there built another covering and we repeated the sevusevu welcoming and ribbon-cutting.

It was really nice to see all the women and men come out and put so much work into this, really made me feel grateful to be here. I helped the men build the shed and chain fencing around the engraving at the lawn, and the women decorated the shed, made the beautiful covering for the engravings, and made tea for the guests.

The charge d’affairs made off like a bandit, though, it must be said. He was given a tabua, two mats and two masi clothes. People had told me that if he couldn’t take them they would give them to me, so I was really hoping he would be flying back, but my luck ended there.

It was given a write-up in the Fiji Sun newspaper, but riddled with errors:/. Read it here.

fiji life updates

It’s halfway through August; and this is where I’m at.

The dictionary is in the final stage of editing. Master Meli, a headteacher that is also the son of well-respected ex-politician and chief of the Waruta clan Momo Avisai Tora is currently looking over the entries one last time before we go to press. The historical introduction is coming together as well.

Three out of four of the WWII monuments are finished, and we are having the official opening on Tuesday. I was getting a little stressed out last week worrying about planning as I was getting very vague answers from people who made me run around asking other people things, but people told me to stop worrying so I’m like fuck it, it’ll all work out. We have the Deputy Chief of Mission from the US Embassy as our Chief Guest, and have invited members of the media, both newsprint and TV.

Next month I’ll be going to Moala for a week with Alan to visit Tom and Carly. See that outer island lifestyle. Then I might host volunteers from the new group for a few days before I have David and Sam come in for two weeks in October. Early November will be the swearing-in for the new group, and with any luck, they’ll assign one here to Sabeto who I can show around before I COS and leave Fiji for San Francisco on December 1st.

garden update (and a love letter to tomatoes)

Six weeks ago I planted a little garden, with tomatoes, beans, marigolds and a couple loofas (vines from W. Africa whose seedpods encase shower loofas). How’s it doing?

Mixed results. The rows I made of beans and tomato plants were the biggest contrast. The beans, which had less shade, more clay-like soil and a strange tiny bug infestation, are almost all dead. There are about five left that have taken to the sticks. No big loss, I don’t really cook beans anyway.

The tomatoes, fortunately, are looking lovely. A few weeks ago we had a ceva – a southern wind that lasts for about eight days – and they were all rather sideways. On the advice of my yaca (namesake PCV who lives in the isolated Lau group of islands) I stuck in some sticks and tied them up, and they’ve boomed. A number have small yellow flowers, and I need to add to the trellis system asap.

I found an old desk frame and stuck it in the soil over my passion fruit vines and then threw a coconut leaf on top. Under it’s shade I added four bean plants of a different variety, a second loofa plant, two tomato plants and a pumpkin plant I grew from seeds harvested from dinner. Everything there is growing very well, and the passionfruit and loofa are climbing quickly. I will need to add more there to support the plants soon as well.

And the last bit of bad news: the marigold are almost all dead, only three left. I believe it was a combination of things: poor soil & excessive sun (most were planted near the beans) and also the kids who hang out around & occasionally crash into my garden, flattening the little flowers. Mostly I just ineffectively yell kua ni caqe tavaya so ke! Stop kicking bottles over there! And they kick the other direction until I’ve moved on.

Really hoping to eat these tomatoes before I go. They are both my favorite fruit and my favorite vegetable. Apart from the occasional pumpkin curry I have been going absolutely ham on tomatoes over the last month, as the prices of big, plump piles of tomatoes has crashed to $2 a pile, making lots of spaghetti sauce and chili. Tonight I paired it with rice, making a sauce with onions, garlic, Italian seasoning, fresh basil from Janet’s farm, tomatoes from Livai’s farm and chicken left over from an event at the school Thursday night.

Some things I may adapt to quickly when I leave Fiji, but I’m currently stumped on what I’ll eat without the market and climate. Can’t even imagine buying tomatoes at a supermarket, it just sounds unnatural.

making a little garden – tara e lia na vorau sewa

Recently, I’ve started a little garden. The only issue is I should’ve done it much earlier, but hopefully I’ll be eating my own tomatoes, beans and pumpkin on my way out the door in December.

20160711_114552
Tomatoes in the front, beans under the sticks, marigold to the right and back, passionfruit by the fence, pumpkin somewhere in the middle.

 

I bought seeds when I was in Suva about two months ago to see my yaca (namesake), who came in from the outer island of Moala for dental work. He had a pretty good garden out there until Cyclone Winston destroyed everything, so he had good advice on what to grow and whatnot. I bought seeds for beans, tomatoes, leafy greens (can’t recall which kind, but they are growing), marigold and carrots.

I planted them all in trays at Livai’s farm, using his steamed manure, an excellent fertilizer. I left them a bit long, more than a month, so when I got back from the US last month it was a top priority to bring back and transplant them. I started bringing back a tray at a time from the farm, and Chodhtu even insisted I take a few passionfruit vines.

First, I had to choose the spot. I elected to do it right outside the kindergarten, under a large tree recovering from the cyclone. To make the plots, I corralled a couple boys from the dorms and got their help in digging up and creating the rows. Then we planted the beans and the passionfruit. As the marigold are to protect the plants, I planted them on the far edge, closer to the fence, which I’ve since thought might have been a mistake, as their extra exposure to the sun means they look rather wilted most days.

After a week in which I found sticks for two of the four rows, I went back and picked up my tomatoes and leafy greens. I also planted a few loofa seeds in bottle pots, given to me by my brother Jim, PCV Senegal doing Agriculture. Two of the three seeds are booming (in their own cut bottles in the back).

20160711_114529
From left to right: marigolds, a leafy green, a different leafy green, two loofa vines in the back, some kind of bean and a few tomatoes. They’ve always called me a descriptive farmer.

 

The tomatoes were looking pretty poorly – tall, skinny, dying leaves, they had been left too long in the tray. So I quickly planted them and most look good. There is also an unknown bean type thing growing in the trays, which I’ve used to replace the other bean plants that have died. And to cap it all off, I was emptying my compost the other day and found two pumpkin seeds had sprouted. I transplanted them into other containers, and one of the two survived the transplant to the farm itself. And then did another line of marigolds, perpendicular to the first and slightly better shaded.

It’s quite rewarding, having a garden to tender. I’m afraid I need to build a fence around it though, because kids keep playing caqe tavaya – bottle-kicking – around it.

E Lia Na Vananumi

quickly-written poem on the US soldiers that stayed during WWII. we just started putting up the memorials, two done and just need painting, two to go.

 

E Lia na Vananumi

A Memorial/A Reminder

I

 

There were boots here, a whole division worth
For at least eighteen months.

White boys from Ohio lived in barracks under coconut trees
Waiting to land on beaches and run up hills against a storm of bullets.

Now there is only rock-filled concrete, decaying posts and twisted metal
Shoring up homes whose occupants know the old pine comes from Oregon
And the rocks from these rivers.

But seven decades ago there was eating, there was dancing, there were lovechildren, and there was war
Slowly building up in the hearts of men.

 

the best spaghetti sauce i’ve ever made

Ingredients

  • Canned tomatoes, quite modestly priced at <1 USD
  • Basil, picked yesterday from Janet and Semi’s overflowing garden
  • Cilantro, half a bundle from the market
  • Fresh tomatoes, a small pile priced in between “plentiful” and “cyclone”
  • Oregano, year-old and left over from the one and only care package from the folks
  • Green pepper, diced just the butt end
  • Onion, at first just three-quarters of one and then the whole
  • Garlic, diced about seven cloves because I’m unable to find a piece of a garlic crusher
  • Dashes, of salt and black pepper

Another Day in the Life

This was not a particularly exceptional or unique day, neither a real upper nor a downer, but it was pretty busy, and so it is perhaps a good example of a day to convey what kind of things I get up to on the regular.

Woke up this morning, planning on having French toast for breakfast, but my last two eggs had both gone off. So instead I made a grilled pb & j and a cup of coffee, breaking my fast as I caught up on news. Took a quick bucket bath, threw on my pocket sulu and button-down just in time for the Monday morning assembly. Get outside, we do the greetings – each teacher bellows out a morning greeting in their chosen language and the children synchronize a response – and we have the usual church songs and flag parade. Religion and nationalism, just what the doctor ordered.

Then I went to check up with a student of mine who I’m helping prepare for an oratory contest. She hadn’t brought it to school, no problem, try to find a kid in a younger class for a separate age-grouping of oratory contests. And the photocopy for the topic has gone missing, so there is the requisite asking of each teacher before finding a copy, and then I wrote out the speech for the class 6 kid. Typically, teachers write the speeches, so I compromised, having Vere of class eight write her own while I wrote the one for class six.

Next, into the village, to meet with the Turaga ni Koro[1] and Mata ni Tikina[2] about starting on the US history memorial project. We have all the materials and have had them for a good two weeks now, yet everyday they say “we’ll start tomorrow”. So I go and surprise surprise, they are going off to a meeting and we will be starting tomorrow.

So I go back to the school and catch up with Don, talk about how best to approach Master Meli, a trusted local expert on Sabeto, to help us edit and write a historical introduction to the dictionary. Send a text to M Meli, find a phone number for one of our elder editors who took a few copies, call him, he’ll be coming later.

Back to the school, I’ve got a half-hour til lunch, perfect for a computer class, so I grab the most bored-looking class (today, Class Seven) and do a quick computer class with them. This typically is Microsoft Word – knowing how to do basic things like underline, bold, select things, save etc. Then the kids that finish quick can do Mavis Beacon, an old school but good typing program.

Lunch mada. No onions, so I got into the village, buy some onions, get back, realize I have no eggs, so I just ate a cucumber and made a grilled cheese and tomato sandwich.[3] Kana,[4] read a bit, get the call from Peace Corps staff to meet them on the roadside on the way to a potential site up the road. Go out there, and as I’m waiting for the bus a young Indian woman starts talking to me.[5] She is not quite flirtatious, but she is married, so I’m quite surprised because there are other Indians around who would likely tell her husband about this encounter. It turns out she grew up in Lautoka and only married here, which makes sense. Not the first time an urban transplanted married woman has struck up eager conversation with me, likely seeing my whiteness/Westernness as a haven from her rural conservative surroundings.[6]

Staff come, we go to the site. Nothing interesting, the Principal says he wants a person, I think it’s a meh, alright situation. We go to the nearby village to find a place, but the TK isn’t around. So they take me home and we arrange to meet tomorrow. It’s already three, and I need to go the farm and get cabbage I promised people and also go shopping.

At my place there is Ilisoni Galala, my elder editor, waiting for me, and he goes over a few words I’ve missed, though he hasn’t actually edited what we’ve done. And he tells me he’s dropped off two and will drop off two more sheaths of translations. Set, thanks. Change quickly, water my newly planted beans and marigolds, move to the farm.

At the farm, Chodhtu gives me a plastic (bag) of cabbage from his own farm. Not what I came for, but welcome nonetheless. When I go to Janet and Semis place[7] I talk to Kula, and we check out the cabbage. It’s been sprayed this morning, no good, so I just grab some cucumbers. On the way back I water my tomato seedlings in Livai’s nursery, which aren’t looking great. Need to transplant those pronto.

Get back, drop things, grab wallet, head for the bridge. On the way I see my Yaca, the one dating Nita Lu, and give him the cabbage and cucumbers to take to their house. Then I see a kid throwing a rock for no good reason so I pick him up and threaten to throw him in the village. These are the rare moments of physical contact I have to sneak in to stave off psychopathy – picking up and kissing kids (everyone does it, you’re weird if you don’t) and pulling Don or Seru into the occasional hug. Get on the bus, lako sara I Namaka.[8]

In Namaka, go to the ATM, then the market because it’s getting a bit late (past five) and they start closing then. Get some tomatoes, lettuce, two little apples, cilantro and carrots. Go to the supermarket, get onions (85 cents for five, as compared to a dollar for two in the village – fucks going on), jam, cheap linguine. Finally, bread and a coke. Back on the bus.

Get here, Vere has her speech, I type it up. Plenty grammatical errors, which mostly confirms my perspective on English vs. Fijian, that the propositions are so fundamentally different they make Latin languages all look like the same language. She is one of the sharpest in the class, but she still makes basic mistakes like “we are so asleep for the safety of our environment” and “the other one has badly effect from the human activities”. There is no Fijian[9] translation of “for”, there is no common way in Fijian to say “effect”, nonetheless any distinction from “effected”. Tenses in Sabeto are mostly reflected in pronouns – muru (present) vs. miri (future), never really touching the verb.

And then I mix the coke with some duty-free rum and write this blog post.

Dinner time. Spaghetti ro,[10] thanks be to those farmers that replanted tomatoes after Cyclone Winston and whatever market forces are responsible for such cheap linguine in Rajendras supermarket in Namaka.[11]

[1] Village headman, but literally Man of the Village in Bauan (we would say Momo ni Rara but hey, colonialism and Bauanization).

[2] District Representative, also a carpenter

[3] Cheese I brought back from the US, tomatoes are finally getting cheap again in the market.

[4] eat

[5] This is noteworthy because in Fiji, especially in rural areas, young women very rarely approach young men they don’t know. And then I remember how much I miss Knox, and liberal America in general.

[6] Forgive my pontificating.

[7] Janet and Semi Lotawa, an American-Fijian couple that run Rise Beyond the Reef, a very cool couple.

[8] Go to Namaka.

[9] When I say Fijian I mean the national dialect Bauan and TatavaSabeto. I cannot account for the other 200+ dialects.

[10] “ro” is our equivalent of “mada”, meaning a soft command, or a thing I am about to do.

[11] A packet for 3.50 FJD, less than 2 USD