Nearly a month ago now I moved into Sabeto village in Western Viti Levu to begin my Peace Corps service in a primary school, and I’m digging it already. There’s an active, somewhat Westernized teacher (he used to teach in an international school) who is running a pretty successful kids club with the help of some cool youth my age. My headteacher and his wife have told me I’m welcome over for any meal (they actually suggested to Peace Corps that I live with them), and for the first week I ate essentially all my meals with them. The area is beautiful, green, lush and close to several hills shaped like resting men. But this is actually plan B.
For those I didn’t inform personally, I was originally destined to head to Kubulau Nursing Station in Vanua Levu. When my station was announced, I was somewhat disappointed. I had been assuming I would be part of the 15 (of a total 33 of us) that would be sent to schools in Western Viti Levu as part of an effort to press health in schools (and thus avert future diabetes). I had been looking forward to working with kids and making kids more interested in all aspects of language (oratory, reading, writing) as well as being simply disappointed that I would be on a different island from many of my new friends.
The PC Fiji program director, a wonderful lady by the name of Alumita Bera (goes by Mita), noticed my face at the informational event on Monday and had me come into her office the day before swearing-in, with the news that a school in the West had just completed Peace Corps paperwork and that she was willing to go to bat for me with Eddie (the PC Country Director). By that afternoon, Eddie was shaking my hand in his office, and I was told that the housing situation wasn’t quite there yet but that I would remain in Suva until they had it sorted out. I spent two weeks in the Capricorn (a hotel half a block from the PC office), and then moved here, into a cleared-out storage room in the kindergarten compound.
I’ve set myself up since then, scrubbing the floors and walls (still incomplete), getting a two-burner stove for my desk/dining table and having three shelve bits hammered into the wall, one in the corner for my clothes, one above my desk for stationary and food, and one above my sink for books, letters, plates and bowls.
I was requested by the headteacher of Sabeto District School, Setariki Rika, who was looking for someone to help with project proposals, amongst other things (I’ll refer to him as Mr. Rika, but I and everyone else actually call him Master, which is what Fijians call teachers. In turn, kids call me Master or Master Tomasi, so it’s a fair trade-off).
Sabeto District School serves the “village of Sabeto” – I put that in quotations because it is actually two villages, Narokorokoyawa (the closer one to the school) and Koroiyaca, consisting of around 500 inhabitants. Apart from being two villages and quite a bit larger, it’s actually different from my training village Nabitu in a number of ways.
Rather than having Nabitu’s three quietly feuding Ratus/chiefs (as I found out from PC staff from the area), Sabeto is home to the Tui Sabeto, a traditional authority figure above village chiefs. The village is in the Valley of the Sleeping Giants, fifteen minutes from Fiji’s international airport (but it’s Fiji, so not too many planes overhead) and half an hour from Lautoka and Nadi, Fiji’s second and fifth largest urban centers respectively. There are green hills half an hour walk to the north of us and a little farther to the east and south, and the sun sets over the nearby sea every day, gifting us with glorious sunsets nearly everyday.
To the rest of Fiji, Western Viti Levu is known as the ‘Burning West’. It’s hot, every day. The discussion of weather is pretty well limited to “e katakata na siga eh?” or “e katakata ni kua eh?” or just “katakata eh?”, meaning “the sun is hot eh?” or “today is hot eh?” or just “hot eh?”. You sweat, but so does everyone else, so it’s alright. We do have lots of water shortages, though, which will likely just get worse in the coming decades.
I’ve been hanging out with a real cool teacher (Master Jim, short for Timoci/Timothy), the youth club he runs and the (slightly older) youth that run it with him. I’ve also been chilling with a few new Aunties (Lu, Liti and a few whose names I’ve been too embarrassed to ask for again), kind women that have all opened their homes to me and fed me (in return, I’ve given them a few Khana Kakana cookbooks, really well-made books by the Ministry of Health focusing on diet and using local ingredients.) KaiSabeto (people from Sabeto) have repeatedly shamed me on the volleyball grounds but I still go out to watch and chat and laugh and occasionally flail my arms. Things are fairly well.