Kingdom Of Comfort

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To say that things went downhill after the previous post would be an understatement. Don’t be misled by my photographs – pictures tend to reflect the highlights! It would have been pretty unusual for me to have been ill, homeless and hungry and then whacking out a camera to take a photo of the patch of street.

The volunteer organisation I was with in Fiji are essentially a scam. The Brit I’d been sharing a room with rightfully complained about the bed bugs which were steadily chomping into our skin each night. As a result we were moved out of our home. I was very sad to leave the lovely family we had been staying with – they were pretty much the only positive aspect of life in Suva. The family were quite torn up about the episode too, deciding not to host volunteers in the future as they’d had the house fumigated previously but it was too difficult to get rid of the pesky bed bugs.

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'Bimbo' the family cat. I tried to tastefully explain the concept of what bimbo means in England which they all found very amusing.

‘Bimbo’ the family cat. I tried to tastefully explain the concept of what bimbo means in England which they all found very amusing.

My roommate and I were moved to a small double bed in a hostel which seemed more like a mental institution, aptly fitting my current state of mind at the time. We were then told by the organisers that they would be wondering around the village to try and find us somewhere to stay… needless to say – we were both horrified at the idea of setting up camp with a random Fijian family that had never hosted foreigners before etc etc. Meanwhile other volunteers were having money regularly stolen from them in their homestays…

I by no means had it the worst – my roommate had paid (a significant chunk of money) to do sports coaching. On arrival into Fiji she was told that it was school holidays so she’d be handing out fliers at the museum. Another girl was supposed to be helping disabled children in a school. Instead she was put into the leprosy ward to help bathe the patients and was asked to stitch up open wounds! Far from having a place to wind down after the challenging working days we all have ‘accommodation’ that pushes the word ‘basic’ to its limits.

My work at the Fiji Times started out extremely shakily – but I decided not to put up with sitting around being told I just needed to wait around all day. I ended up getting out to report on a few stories but to be honest they were boring as sin – making their way into the business section of the paper. Although I’ve had five articles published – the style of the paper is pretty shoddy in my view so I’m not particularly proud of them. My writing is by no means of a high quality but it was edited to have sentences beginning with ‘and’ and ‘because’…I thought that was frowned upon?!

The experience helped me to fairly firmly establish that I’m not interested in working in a news room. Horrific events and deaths are ‘stories’ to be probed into and dissected. If a girl is raped or killed the reaction is ‘great – let’s get someone round to the family, someone to the police and someone round to the hospital to try get something out of her’. The writing itself requires absolutely no creativity – being stripped of anything other than raw facts in their simplest form.

In my semi-homeless state after being moved out, I arrived at the magazine where I’d transferred my internship to. I jumped upon the offer to ship me out to Tonga for a series of articles – partly because I relished the opportunity to do some serious travel writing but also partly because I desperately needed an escape clause to get out of the situation I was in. The organisation had my passport in the process of getting a working VISA, so for one horrible moment I thought they were simply going to not let me leave the country…eventually we managed to sort it out though.

However – out of the frying pan…

I arrived into Tonga to end up wondering around for several hours with my luggage as every hotel seemed to be fully booked. It’s scary enough arriving into a new place (especially in a developing country) with no knowledge of where you are, how to get around, what the people are like etc. I eventually managed to sort a place to stay for the night but by this stage I had a horrible stomach bug and was feeling very sorry for myself.

I collapsed for a while but had to pick myself up the next day to head out around the island in order to get material for the articles. It was a truly beautiful place – perhaps I can post a draft version of my article once I get it sorted but for now I’ll let the photos talk for themselves. I’m now in a different part of Tonga but more on that later!

Natural land bridge on the south coast

Natural land bridge on the south coast

Kids waiting outside the church in their 'ta‘ovala' - short mat tried around the waist - traditional church-wear!

Kids waiting outside the church in their ‘ta‘ovala’ – short mat tried around the waist – traditional church-wear!

The ta‘ovala for women are longer.

The ta‘ovala for women are longer.

Lots of red and white houses dotted about the villages to match the flag! There's also been a recent coronation so there are bunting-esque decorations all over the place

Lots of red and white houses dotted about the villages to match the flag! There’s also been a recent coronation so there are bunting-esque decorations all over the place

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My Tongan taxi-driver!

My Tongan taxi-driver!

The most spectacular part of the island, in my view, were the miles of blowholes stretching down the south west coast!

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More of the same idyllic beaches!

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Slow Poison

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Kava is an unavoidable part of Fijian life. It is used to welcome visitors, on special occasions, and just generally for social drinking – so potentially every night! For the traditional ceremony, you sit cross-legged on the mat floor in a sort of semi-circle. The chief sits at the head and next to him someone mixes the kava and a sever waits to hand it out to people. After the initial spiel, when it is your turn to drink the kava, you clap once and have the bowl handed to you. You say ‘Bula’ to everybody, meaning hello, or good health, or pretty much anything you want it to, then drink. It’s important that you drink the entire bowl of kava in one go. This is difficult for a number of reasons: partly because you’re drinking out of half a coconut shell with uneven edges, leading to embarrassing spillage onto your lap, but mostly because it is one of the most foul tasting drinks I’ve ever encountered.

Kava is a root of a particular plant that is grown here. It’s pounded into a powder and mixed with water. It then acts as a sedative. It tastes like very dirty water with a large amount of grit in.

After you’ve downed this flavour sensation, you clap three times to say thank-you. Once everybody has drunk you have a round of ‘story-telling’ or general chatter. This goes on until somebody calls ‘taka’ (or something along those lines – no idea about Fijian spelling). This always sends waves of dread through me as signals a call for another round of drinking. Just two coconut shells were enough to make me headachey and drowsy.

'Grog' is the local nickname for kava - quite apt, I think.

‘Grog’ is the local nickname for kava – quite apt, I think.

Fruit and Veg market in town. Grog's upstairs!

Fruit and Veg market in town. Grog’s upstairs!

First day at work today – no idea what I’m supposed to be doing – just been sat at a desk and not given anything to do…hopefully things will improve as not a happy bunny at the moment.

P.B. The internet is pretty much a no-goer. Have snuck into a hotel in town to post quickly in my lunch break….I’m afraid spectacular scenic photographs etc are going to be scarce until i find a way to get out of the city for a bit!

Rules Don’t Stop

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Unfortunately these pictures are not, in any way, reflecting my current situation. These are where I thought I would be now…instead I have traded the tropical paradise of Vanuatu for the humid mess of Suva city. Suva is not just the largest town in Fiji, but the largest town in the whole of the South Pacific! It’s a bustling chaos of early development – a strange clash of old with new. The markets, food stalls and dirty streets ring true to the Melanesian style I’ve become accustomed to but dotted in between are large westernised shopping malls, clubs and even a cinema! Much to my disappointment, there is very little to actually do here. The nearest snorkelling spots are a good hour away, at least, and no beaches on this side of the island at all, really! What’s more, the forecast is one of the worst I’ve seen for a while! It’s been raining solidly for the last two weeks and is set to continue for the duration of my month’s stay.

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After the 40 minute drive from the nearest airport, I arrived late on Sunday evening to my homestay. I will be living with a local family around 45 minutes from the city for the duration of my stay. This was all organised by the volunteer coordinator that set up my internship with the Fiji Times. I have very quickly come to the conclusion that doing such ‘organised volunteering’ is an infuriating waste of money. With next to no information about what to expect, I arrived into this traditional Fijian home and was shown to my bed: the floor on a woven mat. At this stage, I hadn’t been contacted by anybody so had absolutely no information about where I was, how to get food, or even what I was to be doing! The only information I had was a comment from the taxi driver that this was a dangerous area and I shouldn’t go out by myself. Ideal.

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The family, headed by Jono and consisting of his wife, three children, extended relatives and the odd passer-by, all seem very friendly and welcoming, particularly the children who range from 13-18. They are incredibly devote Christians. Every evening at 8 we have ‘devotion’ in which we sit on the floor to recite bible verses, pray, listen to a sermon and sing hymns – meanwhile I’m getting such bad pins and needles that I’m having to wiggle awkwardly or bash my totally numb foot to try and regain feeling.

It’s challenging trying to keep up with the various cultural rules held by the family. Certain doors are only to be used by Jono, the man of the house, so are strictly off limits. No shoes, sarongs to be worn at all time, no noise, no alcohol, no eating before Jono, no leaving the table before Jono has finished and you’ve said ‘Vinaka naka kana’ (thank-you for the food)…these are all reasonably easy to abide by. The main one I keep forgetting is that whenever you pass somebody or reach over them in any way you have to say ‘tillo’ (pronounced chillo) to excuse yourself as you’re invading that person’s sacred space or something…

I eventually managed to get into town for a look around so am now feeling a little more orientated. Am infuriated to discover that I’ll apparently be needing to taxi in and out of town for work every day as buses are not reliable enough. NOT great for a serious budget!

This picture of the 'hibiscus festival' going on in town delightfully encapsulates the state of the weather...

This picture of the ‘hibiscus festival’ going on in town delightfully encapsulates the state of the weather…

The Little Clownfish From The Reef

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Yesterday, I decided to spend my only full day here in Nadi by heading out to one of the little islands off the coast. I booked a trip through the hostel then eventually headed on an incredibly bumpy little motor boat, arriving absolutely drenched 45 minutes later. Nearly all of the little islands have each been claimed by a ‘resort’ or hotel. This one was ‘Beachcomber’ Island.

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The people were hilariously friendly. In fact the welcoming through guitar playing and singing seems to happen everywhere: walking into the airport to a small group made me giggle but watching them serenade the boat as we approached the island was even more entertaining. The three of us that were visiting for the day got a further 5 minute session of ‘goodbye song’ before we left, through which we were told to sit about a metre away from them and were not really sure where to look! A few other cultural things were put on such as a kava ceremony.  This is something which I’m sure I’ll become more familiar with when I return so I’ll leave a description until then…As you can see, despite the wind and clouds, the islands are very Maldives-esque. In fact, it’s probably a good thing that it was overcast so I didn’t get fried whilst spending so much time in the water!

The island lived up to it’s name: within the first few yards I’d already found four sea beans and a couple of cowries. I counted 17 of these lovely little things after the day was done! The tide sank pretty low after lunch so I headed out for a couple more laps of the island – I was delighted to find a little black and blue nudibranch swimming about in one of the little pools! So beautiful.

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This was a funny little flightless bird wandering about the place

This was a funny little flightless bird wandering about the place

The island provided the opportunity for me to test out the relatively cheap underwater case I bought for my small camera. It worked perfectly well so fingers crossed that continues! Although the visibility was poor due to the wind, and recent bad weather, it was lovely to be out with a few old favourites: parrot, trigger, angel fish etc. There’s a reason why a chose a song from the ‘Finding Nemo’ soundtrack for the title of this post: All of the clown fish seem to current have eggs or young. They all, consequently, posed beautifully for me above their anemone nests. My underwater accuracy wasn’t adequate enough to get the adorably tiny little nemo specks in the pictures but here’s a compilation of some protective parents!

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Back on land, they had a turtle nursery on the island where they help the little ones to survive the initial stages of life so that they can then be released back into the ocean. So cute!

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I also enjoyed stalking this beautiful little heron about the place as it looked for goodies in the low tide line.

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Overall, a day well spent, I think!

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Around the World/ Let it Rain

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What a crazy journey. Have finally arrived, miraculously with all my luggage, at Nadi. That was potentially the longest single journey I’ve ever done: Night in Newark; Long stopover and surreal brief few hours wandering around LA; a fair stint in Auckland then finally touch down into rainy Fiji.

My first impression is being instantly reminded of Papua New Guinea, with the cloud topped mountains, yet the ‘wilderness’ has been toned down a few notches here. I was able to take a taxi from the airport, for one.

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There appears to have been some kind of mix up. I booked a ‘single’ room so wouldn’t have to force myself to socialise in the wake of the lengthy series of flights… what I have here is a total of two rooms, one bathroom, three double beds and a bunk bed. I appear to be renting out the entire hostel. As I’m only here for two nights and pretty exhausted I decided just to leave the situation – the price isn’t higher than advertised so in that respect it’s fine. It was not their fault about the loss of the extra night so nothing I could do about that. The only issue is that the people running this place must think I have a very high opinion of myself, with a separate bed to rotate between each half-a-day. It took me a good while to stop chuckling to myself about the ridiculousness of the situation.

I, of course, ventured straight out to have a look around. The rain was immaterial given the heat so I simply put my camera in a boat bag (water tight) and walked down to the beach. All the other tourists were huddled in the bar, which I suppose should not come as a surprise by now, which resulted in me having the vast expanse of volcanic beach to myself. Well, there was one exception in the form of a suitably obese local waving at me as he paddled about in the water and tried to entice me to join him.

I walked a fair distance up the beach collecting anything of interest, which mostly consisted of a variety of pretty olive shells and some quirky pods…I didn’t particularly enjoy the slow-motion driving and leering of a few men along the sandy beach-side road – they probably were utterly harmless but I can’t help but be a little on edge as a, fairly vulnerable, lone female! But apart from that it was fantastic to get out into the light rain after the long flights. It started to clear up a little as I walked home.

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Early night for me tonight. Have no idea what body clock I’ve got going on currently, but all that I do know is that it was the 31st of July and it’s now the 2nd August and I’ve had no sleep, so 8pm seems an entirely reasonable bedtime right now!

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