Saturday, December 31, 2011

New Year's Eve

What better way to begin a year abroad than to land in your new country on New Year's Eve?  I was so excited as we began our descent into Sydney; especially when the Sydney Harbor came into view...

This blog should really be called the Adventures of Annie and Her Tears, because again, I teared up a bit when I saw the Opera House.  We had done all this planning, and now it was really happening!

After settling in to our condo for a couple of hours, we went to a neighbor's house to watch the fireworks display.  We are two blocks from the beach, but they are just directly across from the fireworks, and it feels so good to be in a completely different place but have people as friends right away.  Everyone was so welcoming, and the all the kids hit it off right away.
Leave it to a shared iTouch to bring new friends together... 
We watched the Sydney fireworks on TV, and then a half hour later the Wollongong fireworks began.

I saw this...Jackson is clearly not wasting any time making new friends. :)

Kenyon tried his best, but this is what he was doing on the living room floor while the fireworks boomed...

We look forward to a quiet few days here getting to know our new home, and then we're planning on taking off for a bit of a road trip before the new school year begins at the end of January.

I hope all of you in the States are enjoying ringing in the new year--we miss everyone so much already!

Namatakula Village Homestay Travel Diary, Day Three

I'll tell you one thing, my white skin is not cut out for island living.  Fijians never put on sunscreen and never get burned.  I'm doing as much sun protection as possible and at this point am trying to keep my skin at a second-degree burn classification.

We wandered outside this morning to keep Kenyon occupied before breakfast.  The night before, we had been on our way back home from watching the kids play tag on the beach; Jackson and Alex joined in, and as we walked we heard shouts here and there of "Jackson!".  Jackson called to his friends to come by tomorrow; everyone is so welcoming.  As we passed a random village kid no more than 11 years old carrying a machete, we asked if he could open it.  He made quick work of it, expertly using the machete to rid the hard outer husk and opening a small circle at the top.

Sam wanted to open a coconut this morning, and Mikeli (who lives in Nadi but was in the village for a visit) was a willing teacher.  He grabbed the long bamboo pole kept handy just for this purpose and knocked a few down.  

 Every house has a metal post with a tapered top somewhere outside to use as a coconut opener.  Mikeli demonstrated his technique, jabbing it in at an angle and prying a section off.

Sam had a go at it; it takes much more finesse than it looks, as Sam’s first attempt prematurely punctured the inner section.  Jackson took a turn…
 And so did Kenyon.  Mikeli was so kind and patient, and would get Kenyon’s going so he could be at a place to make some progress on it.

The rain here comes fast and hard; here, after some coconut hunting, Sam and Mikeli chat out by the woodshed.  In this picture, you can also see the large green tank that collects the plentiful rainwater.
After breakfast, we headed to the beach for a few hours.

The water is a perfect temperature and shallow for quite a ways so there is plenty of room for the kids to play.  Sam and Jackson took masks, snorkel and fins (thanks, Summer!) out further to see some ocean life, and the village kids loved using the mask and goggles.

Fijians also seem to never drink good old-fashioned water.  At every meal, we are served Tang; I'm not sure if it's a special drink and we are guests or if that's just the drink of choice.  Rainwater is collected and put into a large barrel with a faucet; I was told by the expats we met at the Uprising Resort that the water in the village is likely fine, but to stay away from water in the cities.  Traveler's diarrhea and these bathroom conditions is something I would heartily like to avoid, so luckily the water seems to be just fine.

That afternoon, we went on a long walk out into the ocean during low tide for octopus hunting .  It's not the season, so we didn't find any, although other marine life was plentiful.
Alex discovering an amazingly bright blue starfish

Kenyon holding a sea cucumber
Although we didn't see any octopus, Sam did manage to spear a parrotfish, and Benja got one as well.

I was carrying Jackson piggyback back to the village--he had lost his shoes and was barefoot, which makes for a rough go on the coral, and I couldn't take the sun on my skin anymore.  As I walked, a tall, handsome young man far behind me said, "Bula!" and asked if he could carry my son for me.  He also offered to go back and look for Jackson's shoes.  I declined, but we walked together and learned that his name was Tocana and that he played rugby and worked at a resort.  He was from Namatakula but had traveled to Vancouver and Japan with his rugby team.  As we continued, he again asked if he could carry Jackson for me.  He put Jackson up on his shoulders, which made for a more pleasant walk.  He led me back to Simon and Judith's house, and from the young kids excitedly calling his name as he passed, you could tell he was very well-liked in the village.  This is the kind of warmth and friendliness that is the norm in the village; everyone cares for each other--even outsiders like us.

For our last dinner, they prepared a traditional lovo feast--a meal that is baked with hot stones underground, and is reserved for special occasions like weddings, birthdays and funerals.  Cassava and sweet potato are placed in a gorgeously-wrapped palm casing and placed in an underground fire to cook with hot stones under large taro leaves.
They also add other bundles of meats, and the taro and palm leaves along with the underground roasting add a wonderful smoky flavor.

peeling back the taro leaves to reveal the cooked food
opening the palm leaves to expose the cassava and sweet potato
Jacob and Sala bringing in the roasted cassava and sweet potato
Live crabs from yesterday's crab hunting were boiled with freshly shredded coconut.  Ili, Judith's daughter-in-law, painstakingly removes all the meat from the crabs, adds chopped onions, and then places the meat from a few crabs back into one shell.  This was by far the most delicious food I had during my stay (or for as long as I can remember, for that matter).  Rosa does most of the other cooking and we rarely saw her outside of the kitchen.
the wonderful chef, Rosa
In the morning, it was time to go.  We took some final pictures with everyone, and I shed a few tears as we left (surprise, surprise).

Such wonderful people and especially wonderful kids; I really love them.  I look forward to printing out pictures of them and sending some their way.

After leaving the village, it's one night in a hotel near the airport and on to Sydney!  I couldn't have imagined Fiji would have been as enriching as it was; it feels like we've been gone 6 months, not 5 days.  We're now ready to settle into our home for the next year!
goodbye Fiji...

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Namatakula Village Travel Diary, Day Two

Kenyon woke up complaining of hunger this morning; it’s a little difficult to be on someone else’s schedule for eating.  We had woken up earlier than everyone else in the home and when I saw Rosa, Iso's wife, in the kitchen beginning to prepare some sort of dough I knew it would be a while.  Luckily, he was happily distracted by cartoons.  It’s an odd juxtaposition that this home that would be considered utter and complete poverty in the U.S. has a nice flat screen TV with channels like Nickelodeon that we don’t get at home in Colorado.  I was thankful for it this morning after hushing Kenyon’s complaints for food.

Breakfast was fresh papaya and lady finger bananas, Weet-Bix with milk (it becomes a sort of porridge when you add cut-up fruit and a sprinkling of Fijian sugar), and fried delicious dough pockets—I forget their name but it’s Fiji’s answer to donuts.  Plain or cut open with some jam, they’re great.  Alex devoured the porridge (he’s an oatmeal kid at home), and Jackson eats a lifetime supply of fruit at each meal.  The rest of the family in the kitchen eats what we don't eat, so I always want to leave plenty of good things but it is difficult with Simon and Judith's urgings to eat more and smiles when the boys take another helping of something.

After breakfast we took a walking tour of the village of Namatakula, which means ‘orange snake’, named when the first inhabitants arrived and saw such snakes.
They have now all been eradicated by the mongoose, which was brought over by Indian indentured servants.  People in the village offer a friendly ‘Bula!’ as we pass by, and of course everyone thinks it’s cute when Kenyon replies with his own ‘Bula’.

We hiked with locals Benja, Sala, and Jacob to the waterfall.  Benja was a little vague on what the hike entailed, and I’m glad I didn’t know because if I was fully informed I wouldn’t have gone and would have missed something so lovely.  It was a fairly grueling hour-long hike each way, through deep muddy paths and 8 river crossings.

this thing is seriously massive

Sam with a GIANT stick insect on his face
Kenyon is used to hiking, but this hike wasn't meant for little kids and he made it partway before hitching a ride piggyback on me the rest of the way.  This worked great until I slipped on one of the river crossings and hit his head on a rock—I can assure everyone (i.e. my mom) that there was no wound other than a bump and he was totally fine, THANKFULLY, since we were an hour hike, a two-hour drive, and a four-hour flight to Sydney for access to any sort of real medical care.
The waterfall was well worth the long hike, despite the fact that most of us were barefoot and I’m paranoid thinking of all the bacteria that could get into small wounds as we slogged through the mud that is surely part horse poop that was piled here and there from tourists making the hike on horseback.  I kept telling myself that we’re only here for three days and we can take care of anything that might happen when we get to Australia.  My mantra--Mosquito bites/infections/sunburns can only get so bad in three days.

Then I had a whole other set of worries to balance when Sam followed Jacob and Sala up the cliff to jump into the waterfall.

He made it fine, but then Jackson wanted a turn.  Cue more breath-holding.

After his success, I thought I’d try but really when it comes to thrill-seeking things like that I’m a wimp and decided it wasn’t worth it considering the lack of access to medical care.  It doesn’t look that far up in the pictures, but when you’re over there climbing it feels very far.

It is exceptionally hot today, and we came home and feasted on delicious rotis (handmade naan-like bread) with curried potatoes.

Kenyon spotting a hermit crab

At meals, Judith gives us a lot of great insight into life here.  I'm particularly interested in what it means to be a wife and mother, and she shared stories about childbirth, loss, and burial.  She expressed frustration that Fijian doctors can't find what is wrong with you until after you are dead. We also talked about what the missionaries have done for Fiji--good and bad.  She said that although the missionaries ended cannibalism (a good thing), the white men create a lot of trash and she is a firm believer that life was better in Fiji before the missionaries came over. 
Alex with his hermit crab (before giving it to a  village woman who uses them for bait)

I’m truly surprised and pleased at how well the kids are doing.  We are hot, have mosquito bites, our clothes are continually damp, and we’re living in third-world conditions.  But we’re also exploring the ocean, hiking to waterfalls, making new friends, and learning about a completely different culture.  Most importantly, and what makes it so special to me, is that we’re doing it together as a family.