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…

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Smooth Criminal

“In a closed society where everybody’s guilty, the only crime is getting caught. In a world of thieves, the only final sin is stupidity.”
Hunter S. Thompson

It’s always difficult starting from scratch with a large group of new people. Today I left the Art Hostel and headed over to meet the tour group in ‘Lapa’. A few of us headed straight out to Ipanema beach after checking in. Rosie, a bubbly British girl travelling with a school friend, had her camera stolen yesterday from a teenager who actually grabbed the phone out of her hand. We therefore headed to the tourism police where we proceeded to wait for four hours for the office to sign a form which would allow her to claim it on her travel insurance.

Whilst we were there we oversaw a few interesting cases. A large number of people had had their individual bags stolen from the beach. A French couple had been waiting for their form to be signed for four hours. Just as Rosie’s form got to the top of the waiting pile a fairly elderly Italian Lady and her son came bursting into the station in their swimwear. The poor lady, in floods of tears, garbled out a flow of Italian whilst her son tried to explain in English what had happened: They had just arrived and had headed straight to the beach. The son had gone into the sea and two men approached the mother to ‘help her put up her sun umbrella. Apparently one man lowered the umbrella to the floor for a moment whilst talking to the lady. Meanwhile his accomplice was taking all of their belongings behind the screen of the umbrella. They lost everything: passports, phones, clothes…It’s made me feel even more paranoid about keeping two eyes on my possessions  My tactic has been taking out as little as possible (locking my valuables in a locker) and using a plastic bag in an attempt to seem inconspicuous. Also if you twist the bag and hold the top it’s practically impossible for anybody to get a hand in!

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Here’s a glimpse of the largest favela in Rio, which I did a walking tour around yesterday. Hopefully I’ll get a chance to talk a little more about this as it was incredibly eye-opening. For example, 90% of the performers/directors/composers etc in the Sambadrome come from the favelas. As our guide described it, it is the four days in their life when they can “feel like kings”

P.S. Not sure how easy it’s going to be to post over the next month as will be camping – often in the middle of nowhere.

P.P.S. If you haven’t stumbled across Hunter S. Thompson yet I would thoroughly recommendatory him. His wacky, original writing style completely won me over! Try ‘Fear and Loathing In Las Vegas’ or ‘The Rum Diary’.