Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Tattoos, Personal Bubbles, and Taxis

Hellllooo America (and the few other people around the world who also read this),
Per the usual, I will start off with my sincere apologies for the lack of blog… Isa. I guess I have just been caught up in life here…. Life… What life is that? You ask. Well… I have a few different projects going on from working on STI pamphlets to be distributed through out the country to tutoring math after school (Yes I have not taken math since high school, but thank you Mrs. Rowe for being an awesome teacher because I still retain so much that you taught us). My days vary from being super productive, to feeling like I just lost the last 6 weeks progress. I’ve learned/learning to be unbelievably flexible and not to be surprised by… well anything. Oh Fiji.

There is one new fun super awesome thing that I am doing here… I joined an outrigger canoe team!! (just google it… it’s easier than me trying to explain the sport) I paddle in a 6 person canoe with girls from around where I live and we compete against other clubs from my island. It’s so SO fun and intense workout as well. No offense soccer, but the ambiance of paddling practice definitely trumps you and your open grass field surrounded by forest. You really can’t beat being out on gorgeous blue water while the sun goes down.

And now, another segment of things I find different/fun/awesome about Fiji:

-Tattoos are pretty common around here. There are a bunch of tribal looking things as well as crosses/hearts/flowers etc. There is however one tattoo I don’t for the life of me understand: the inscription of a person’s name on the outside of his/her thumb. Whyyyy? Seriously, on more than one occasion I was talking to someone, forgot his name (locals here have a ridiculous memory when it comes to faces and names), looked at his hand, and there was his name! But whyyy? Is it in case you forget? Is it in case you drink too much grog and can be deposited at the proper residence? I still have never received a straight answer.

-Taxi drivers and I have a long-standing beef. In general, they are known to be very cheeky and not charge a fair price. However, I am very lucky because most people in my town know me and know I am not a tourist. Taxi drivers are also convinced that since I am a kaivalage (of European decent) I need a taxi anywhere I go. I’m pretty sure they either: 1. Think I will melt in the sun or 2. I’m rich… fail on both assumptions. Seriously, I will be walking down the road, the driver will honk a few times to get my attention (to which I respond with nothing because if you do any sort of gesture they will think you are hiring them), honk again while yelling “taxi”, honk againnn while yelling "cab" (in case I don't know what a taxi is?), then stare me down until I am out of site. I have even seen them turn around and hang out the window just to make sure I didn’t want a taxi. These guys see me every single day and they know that I walk to town every single day. Geeeez I just like to walk alright?!

-I know in the past I have spoken about Fiji time. Everything here just always starts a little bit, or a lot later then you had initially planned. It’s part of life… you just kinda deal with it and never wear a watch ever again. Anyways, so people move a bit slower however, in cars, they are SPEED DEMONS. Goodness. I feel like I’m in a Nascar race when I take any sort of transportation. Cars should not be excluded from Fiji time!

- So my personal bubble is pretty small. I’ve never really been the type of person who minded people being close to me. But. The aforementioned “personal bubble” does not exist in Fiji. At the store, in the market, at the ATM, at the post office, people stand right up behind you… Like could rest their heads on my shoulder. It really is maddening some days. Often on weekends I go on morning runs to town and I know I don’t smell like roses but that stench seems to stop no one. Still right next to me. However, I think I know why. The process of waiting in line here is much more… strict. You WILL be skipped if you are not standing close enough. After being skipped in line on several occasions I have even started standing closer (not as close as locals but closer than American standards). I probably should be escorted to the ATMs when I get back to the States… don’t want anyone thinking I’m trying to rob them... isa.

Before I wrap up this blog I just want to say:
1. Congrats to all the recent engagements! Yay so SOOO exciting!!
2. Congrats to all the recent grads!!! Woo hoo real world!
3. Happy almost Mother’s Day mom!!!

Miss everyone back home!

Sunday, February 13, 2011

No, I don't smoke unborn babies

Ahhh okay, no excuses, my sincere apologies for not blogging in forever… isa 2 months!
So first before I get into my life I want to tell you a little story about something that happened to a good friend.

One night my friend (a PCV) was sitting around drinking grog and smoking with some of the men in his village. The men asked him for a cigarette. He obliged and passed them his carton. Immediately they scoffed at his cigarettes and told him that they do not smoke his cigarettes (there is exactly one kind of cigs sold everywhere in Fiji named Benson and Hedges). Confused, my friend asked why and the man replied, “no, no we don’t smoke ‘unborn babies’ only ‘lung cancer’ and ‘heart disease’” (no joke, this conversation actually happened). Now completely perplexed and slightly disturbed he looked down at the box to try to figure out what they could possibly be talking about. Then, he saw it…

On the B&H cartons the government has placed one of three lovely different warning labels: “smoking causes lung cancer” “smoking causes heart diseases”, and “smoking will cause harm to unborn babies”. Apparently the men don’t exactly interpret these labels as warnings but in fact see them as different flavors. I kid you not. Their favorite is “lung cancer”… it’s stronger they say. My friend tried to these men that are all the same they just laughed and told him he was obviously wrong/misinformed/crazy.
I decided to ask around to see what people thought about the different “flavors” near me and got the same response from a bunch of people...
Fact: All B&H cigarettes sold here are the sameeeee. Isa Fiji!

All right so onto my life now. First and foremost an extremely belated Merry Christmas and Happy New Years to everyone! I had a wonderful holiday myself hanging out with other volunteers on this beautifulllll island called Taveuni (if anyone ever plans on going to Fiji, I HIGHLY recommend making the extra trip out to this island). It was a ton of fun but it just didn’t feel like the holiday season… I mean, it was just so gosh darn hot outside. Contrary to popular belief, Florida does get somewhat cold during the winter and I found that I really missed that this year. However, I know I shouldn’t complain; I’ve heard the weather has been pretty rough throughout the US.

Work has been going pretty well. It was nice to come back from holiday and look forward to getting started again at work. I’ve helped out with a bunch of forums/ meetings/events etc but by far two of my favorite things thus far have been tutoring math (they call it “mats” here) at a local high school and doing an aerobics class of some sort after hours at work. Yes, you read that correct… years of working at various gyms have paid off. .. aerobics … SO. FUN. As most of you know I have little no rhythm, but apparently I am a pretty decent aerobics instructor… enough so to at least provide entertainment for 45 minutes. What exactly does one do? Well ultimately it ends up being a little bit of everything... kickboxing, zumba, soccer (well kinda)…

I hope everything is going well back home! A giant THANK YOU to those of you who have sent me letters. I can’t even begin to describe how much they make my day!! I love them!!!

Miss you guys

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Why pass out candy when you can pass out condoms?

I know, I know… I haven’t blogged in FOREVER. Life somehow got busy and I haven’t done any anything that’s too dumb/funny/gross lately that blogworthy. Bummer, I know.

But, I thought I could give you all a little fun filled update of my life. Currently I work for the Ministry of Health specifically with HIV/AIDS. It’s a pretty awesome job and I work with wonderful people. I spend my days helping out with a variety of different tasks from writing informational pamphlets to outreaches at various organizations and villages (so fun!!!!!). This last week has been exceptionally busy because it was… duhn duhn duhnnn…. World AIDS Day! Well days, actually. It began for me on Wednesday, December 1st (the actual day of WAD) and just ended on Saturday. In Lautoka we had a big shindig on WAD and it went really really well. Seriously, we had a parade (with band) and everything! (I was on the committee so to see the whole thing come together was really exciting) Following that I spent the rest of the week at a bunch of different villages/towns throughout my area to help with their celebrations and provide education about HIV/AIDS. You can just call me Megan Benson, red-ribbon-face-painting extraordinaire! (Red is the color for AIDS awareness)

Side note, but if I were to have a business card it would say something like:
Megan Benson- PCV HIV/AIDS Educator/Face Painter/Photographer (not professional)/ Editor (ironic since I am a horrible writer)/ Computer Wiz (ironic for obvious reasons)/Good Idea-Bad Idea Rationalizer

By far one of my favorite things I did all week was pass out condoms and HIV information during one of the parades. The reactions were priceless. First people would be like… “oh its free I want it… ”… then “oh wait... (Slight embarrassment) it’s a condom”… finally “well why not!…(tuck it in their bag or pants pocket)”. Good times.

Aside from World AIDS Day, I have also with the help of other PCVs, developed a program on stigma and discrimination that I am itching to get out and get started on. Unfortunately, like in the US, when the holiday season rolls around, work projects move at an even exponentially slower pace. Patience… right?
Speaking of holidays, I have received a bunch of questions as to whether or not I will be gracing Florida with my presence this season… nope, not this year at least. But no worries, I am trying to celebrate them here in my own special ways. One of the biggest changes has been the weather… As America starts to break out the scarves and cardigans (ah I miss my cardigans!!), I am now trying to wear the least amount of clothing possible while still being culturally sensitive. We are well on our way to depths of a hot humid summer complete with cyclone season. Every time I hear “White Christmas” on the radio it makes me chuckle... maybe they should rewrite their own version be like a “White Sand Christmas”.

It is definitely different here to say the least… it felt so weird to be working on Thanksgiving! I was lucky enough to have another volunteer in town so we made a big meal that night complete with our American favorites like Mac and Cheese (Kraft, thanks mom!), buttery corn, green beans, craisins (closest we could get to cranberry sauce), and this sautéed apple thing (ahhh it tasted like apple pie!!). I did however, miss homemade stuffing soooo much. Maybe next year I’ll attempt a Fiji version of that. The holidays also got brighter when my friend Kelsey swung by here to see me on her way home from Australia. It was quite the time to say the least... cyclone and all.

As for Christmas/ New Years, I will be spending that with other Volunteers on the northern islands. I pretty much just plan on taking a holiday and living on the beach in a bathing suit with a book in hand… island life can really be rough sometimes.

I miss everyone tons right now. I hope you all have a wonderful and joyous holiday season! Happy Chanukah! Merry Christmas! Happy New Year!

Thursday, October 14, 2010

You eat ants?!

I know, I know… I haven’t blogged in a long time. I’m sorry! I’ve just been so busy lately. So to catch everyone up on my life. I have been in Fiji for almost 5 months! RIDICULOUS.

So I have been travelling a lot lately around Viti Levu (my Island) on Peace Corps related activities and for work. Around the end of August I went out to this beautiful chain of islands called the Yasawas to assist in delivering HIV results. It was one of the most breathtaking places I have ever been in my life. Crystal blue water, amazing reefs, white sandy beaches… I felt like I was living in a beautiful post card… I seriously didn’t believe those places actually existed. I also got to see two PCVs who lived in villages out there… always a good time.

Hmm where else… I went to this other beautiful little island called Cagulai and went snorkeling (which is an activity I am now addicted to… next step Scuba!) I’ve also been to Suva a few times for various things. Suva is like this magical little place that sometimes feels like an American city. They have good restaurants, an assortment of western items, night clubs, bars (with happy hours) and a mall! (more like one gigantic store with a food court on top , clothing on the 2nd floor and a grocery store on the bottom) . Annnnnd, in Suva, stores stay open past 6pm! Woo Hoo! Also, in this magical world of Suva, they have this magical store called Cost-U-Less. What is Cost-U-Less you might ask? IT’S COSCO! It’s a giant warehouse of a store that sells western items in bulk. One minor problem… they tend to jack up the price quite a bit. However, if you really a giant box of oat and honey Natures Valley granola bars … you can have it… for $42 (that’s expensive here in Fiji). I did find an item that I considered a steal… a 5lb bag of Craisins for $20! They are so unbelievably delicious (currently munching on them right now)!

Speaking of food… the list of the week that made this blog is titled

Things I Ate Unintentionally

1. Bones. You all already know my issues I have with shards of bones in my food.

2. Cow tongue. Didn’t want to… but I had a piece to appease my host… tasted like mystery beef.

3. Ants. Ants in this country are the sneakiest little creatures known to man. They can get into anything. You have something sealed in Tupperware… they get in. In a jar… they get inside. Leave any unopened food out… might as well say it was nice eating you. Okay, and this will sound gross but you get so used to seeing them in food that I just kinda… push them to the side and continue eating most times. If one slips in… what a little more protein?...

4. Maggots. Okay so the other day my friend bought a little bad of tamarind candy. Its basically just a sugar coated dried tamarind. He so kindly offered me some so I took a few and began eating. Tamarind sometimes has a seed in the middle so you have to wary of them as you eat. So as I said I was eating them and I went to remove a seed and out crawls a maggot. Maggots DO NOT get the same treatment as ants. I ran outside, nearly vomited and threw out the rest of the candy. I’m a bit traumatized still.

I will leave you all on that positive thought… But I hope all is well back home. If my gators could start winning that would make my life a litttttllleeeee bit better. Oh and this is random, but I found another volunteer here who uses quotes! (it’s a sorority thing)

Okay that’s all for now! Miss you all!

Sunday, August 29, 2010

So you're super tan, right?

So the most common question I have received lately is “what exactly have you been doing.” Haha well, not too much yet. Let me explain.

I am the new person. I am clearly younger than everyone at work and very much fall in the category of “youth” here (please refer back to the Lets Talk about Sex Baby post). And even though I have a college degree (which I now have a copy of… thanks mom!), I cannot just jump right in and start working on a project. It takes sitting with coworkers during morning tea and talking to anyone who comes into our lobby and meeting everyone I can. Relationships here take time and can’t be rushed. Even if I somehow had a Doctorate and knew the cure for AIDS and cancer I couldn’t just jump right into a project it and assume they will embrace it (okay, well maybe if I had that sort of credentials then maybe, but you know what I mean). Essentially what I am saying is respect and trust must be earned first before even thinking about a project regardless of your background or education.

So it’s been seven weeks that I have been at my site (over 3 months in Fiji… time where did you go?). I have finally started to develop a routine. Wake up around 6am (that’s when our neighbors children wake up so in turn that’s when I wake up) , make a hearty breakfast/watch the sunrise over the mountains, take a shower, then head down to work around 8:30. I live on the top of a gigantic hill so the walk into town every morning is really nice but whewwwww… that walk up in the afternoon is a dooooozie. During the day I do everything from helping out around the office to working on my project. What project you might ask? That will be answered in a later blog once it is more solid. After work I usually stop by our fabulous market followed by a few laps at a local pool or some yoga with another volunteer in Lautoka who happens yoga teacher (quite convenient eh?). It gets dark by 6:30 so I spend the evening cooking/reading/occasionally a movie.

Okay and now to answer a few other life questions I get:

Is Lautoka big? Well… it’s big in Fiji standards. I think in there are about 60 000 people that live in the area. It is one of two “cities” in Fiji and we do have a 4 theater movie theater here… so its super big and fancy to me coming from 2 months in a village.

Do I live in a hut (traditionally called a bure here)? Nope, I live in rather nice flat outside of town with another volunteer.

Do you have electricity? Yep and I love it mainly because that means I can have a fridge.

Is it hot there? Yes it is, but right now its “winter”( fyi we are located below the equator). According to older PCVs, winter in Fiji just means it gets slightly cooler at night and its less humid during the day. Its funny to me when people walk around in the morning wearing a scarf and jacket… its like 78 degrees outside. But apparently it is unbelievably hot here during the summer… we’ll see how it compares to July in Florida… I’ll keep y’all updated.

Air Conditioning? Ha. Aircon?... Here? I’m so fortunate to have it at work we but at home… no way José. I do, however have a trusty fan! To anyone who has ever lived with me, yes I sleep with it every night and love it.

Do you have hot water? Well… not really. Our house actually does have a small hot water tank (which is super fancy) but water out here is a precious commodity. So every day our water is only on from around 4 am to 8 am and 4pm to around 6:30pm. So that hot water tank ultimately gets used after the city water shuts off.

How will you watch gator games? Ah I don’t know!!! Sore subject… still trying to figure that out. Not that we have cable tv or anything but Fiji has exactly 3 channels and I’m banking on them not televising American football… super sad.

You must be so tan!? Not at all actually… Fiji is super conservative even the cities. I wear skirts past my knees and wear non-revealing tops everyday. When I swim (with exception to that lap pool) I wear long shorts and t shirt over my bathing suit… so hot, I know.

Do you get homesick? Yes and no… some days are better than others. With recruitment (yes, I missed those sleepless recruitment nights dearly) and school starting back home, these last 2 weeks have been kinda rough. (If any PC 10 happens to stumble upon this… ROCK. OUT. KAPPA. And 07s,08s, and 09s… I hear y’all did a fabulous job!) But wonderful cards and packages from friends and family back home make those harder days so much better!!!! I really really love them.

Alright guys… gotta run. I am sorry about the long break in between posts… I promise to be better about them. Miss y’all. Go Gators!!!!

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Oh Fiji...

Things I perceive as different/fun/awesome about Fiji and Fijians

-Doors open in. You know when you go to stores and restaurants the doors open out, not here, everything opens in. I always forget this and look like a fool.

-Tang. Fijians love Tang. I know what most of you are thinking: “I didn’t even think Tang was around anymore”. But nooo my little Americans friends, Tang is very much alive and well. I’m pretty sure I drink enough Tang here to go to outer space.

-Time is relative. The pace of life here is much much slower. When you want to be on time somewhere, show up an hour late. When you want to be fashionably late… show at least 3 hours after the specified time. Ironically, the only thing that shows up early and leaves early is the bus. How people get anywhere sometimes amazes me.

-Pirated movies are a part of life. Apparently they are now regulated… I have yet to see this happen. I know its wrong… but movies, for $2.00… hard to pass up especially on a Peace Corps budget. I just watched Inception at home last night (ridiculous by the way… wow).

- So in the states I ate chicken and turkey and occasional red meat but I just never loved the taste, I’m weird I know… Now I am almost entirely vegetarian BUT, it’s not because it’s different here, it’s because they don’t debone anything. Take a bite into any piece of meat in a soup, or rice, or chop suey and you run the risk of being stabbed by a rogue bone in your mouth… terrifying really.

-So when an American runs into someone they know, whether it is a friend, an acquaintance, or even someone they aren’t particularly fond of, a common first question is “how are you?” But in Fiji they say “where are you going?” It totally catches you off guard at first and kind of comes across as abrupt and nosey but it’s just there where of saying hi!… so hello world.. Where are you going ????

-Supermarkets are everywhere. Seriously, on every corner there is a supermarket… they compete like CVS and Walgreens,. Supermarkets here are about 5 isles wide so you’d think they would specialize in different items, but they all sell the same things. There are two nicer supermarkets: RB Patel and MH. They are nothing compared to Publix but they are still pretty good. I live in an area where there is a bunch of expats so these stores occasionally have more western items… but for a price. I could buy a Cosmo here... for a whopping $22 or an 8 pack of Kraft singles for like $12.

-Fiji Rule of thumb: if food is on sale then there is a good chance it has expired or it will it expire tomorrow. Tricky tricky tricky… Always check labels!

-In general, Fijians don’t like cheese that much… I know. Ridiculous. The only time cheese is really consumed is on pizza. Here there are exactly three kinds of cheese: Rewa mild cheddar, Rewa tasty cheese, and Rewa pizza cheese… As you can see they got real creative with the names. Actually, tasty and pizza cheese aren’t bad and I have made a banging Mac and Cheese out of them.

-Okay so this is going to sound weird… You know when you tell someone your hone number you say the first three numbers and then the second four i.e. 867 (pause) 5309. In Fiji it’s not like that! They say four then three or five then two or whatever makes sense to them… ah this may seem like such a minor thing but it can really get complicated. 87-75309, 8775-309, 87753-09…. madness. After this rant, I know that you are thinking the whole blonde hair thing is proving quite true… judge away.

All right everyone. That’s all for now. Miss you all!!!

Sunday, July 18, 2010

New Address

Some people have asked and yes I have a new address. Here it is! Miss y'all!

PO Box 4166
Lautoka, Fiji Islands