As part of PST (Pre-Service Training), most Peace Corps programs will have trainees (like myself) go on an HVV (host volunteer visit), to see what life is like for PCVs currently serving in-country. I was sent to Namawati village on the northern island of Vanua Levu, to visit Tyler Fuller (visit his excellent blog here), whom serves at Kubulao Nursing Station.
Though we left Monday afternoon and returned Thursday evening, I only spent Tuesday evening and Wednesday at his site – travel took up at least half of the trip, as he is one of the most remote volunteers. To start off, myself and the other trainees doing HVVs in the north took two half-hour buses to get from our villages to the capital, Suva – I missed the bus and got a free ride for the first half from a man I briefly practiced my Fijian with in the village. After meeting up with the other trainees in Suva, we ate at Tappoo City, the city’s newest mall, a strange place for PCVs to be. Expecting a 6 o’clock departure, we boarded the ferry around 4 pm, which turned to be a refurbished Canadian ferry.
We didn’t leave the port until after 8 pm. As I learned from a ferry crew worker later, the small trucks, which needed to be loaded first to keep the boat balanced, arrived at the port fairly late, delaying the entire boarding process for vehicles. We seven trainees consumed some fried rice and veggies (a nice break from the cassava in the villages), and slept like eucalyptus-stoned koalas.
Arriving three hours late in the northern port town of Savusavu, we met up with our host volunteers and had a lunchtime beer, our first in a month (no alcohol during PST – but our Country Director suspended that rule for the HVV). Tyler and I went shopping in the market, picking up some cheap and fresh fruits and veggies, and got on the bus at 1:30. It was a four-hour bus, not to tiresome.
Shortly after we arrived, we presented the yaqona package (i sevusevu). Their grog sessions were far more informal than ours in Nabitu – at times, no one was behind the tanoa (serving bowl), the tanoa bowl was not aligned with the walls, and no one called taki to start the round of drinking. We then had dinner, some delicious dhal and locally baked bread.
On Wednesday, we had omelets with tomato, onion and green pepper (called capsicum here for some reason) – my first non-oil-soaked egg since arrival in Fiji, was delish. We then sauntered over to the local primary school library and helped sort new books donated from Canada. Amongst the various titles, there was Slaughterhouse 5, How to Make Your Own Wand (without the wand), Magic School Bus and a few French-English dictionaries. Oh, international donations.
Tyler’s been waiting on grant money to come through for a large water project he has going on in the village (revamping the system to deepen the reservoir, change the rain catchment and more), so we spent the afternoon chatting with a baker, one of his Fijian friends. She spoke to us about ethnic violence in the 1987 coup. She claimed that the media greatly exaggerated the rate of violence, but seemed quite saddened by the rock-throwing she witnessed at “our Indian brothers and sisters” as iTaukei (indigenous Fijians) so often refer to Indo-Fijians.
We left the village at 4:30 am Thursday morning – there is only one bus a day to and from his village. We arrived in Labasa, the northern town, around 9:30, and met up with Sandy, a group 89 volunteer who is COS’ing (finishing her term) in the next two weeks. After being fed quite well, we said goodbye to Tyler, and went to the HIV/AIDS clinic in town, because I wanted to find out what the situation was in Fiji – turns out HIV/AIDS is quite rare here. Wouldn’t be much for me to do on that regard, but at least I know now.
We flew back from Labasa to Nausori and were given a ride back to our villages. In Nabitu, our host village chief kindly hosted the returned trainees for a delicious feast at his house. Feeling refreshed for the next month of training and assured that no matter where I am placed, I will be able to find work that I want to do that the community needs.