Saturday, December 4, 2010
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
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 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
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
Friday, July 16, 2010
Bula y’all. I know its been a while... sorry. SO. Big things have been happening.
1. I passed my language test… woo hoo! I was worried there for a bit. Fijian= not easy. There are a lot of vowels and a lot of words that just have the word vaka in front of it. Oh and “c”= th, “b”= mb, “d”= nd, “q”= g, “g”=ng.
2. I’m officially a Peace Corps Volunteer. Woo Hoo! I was sworn last week and moved straight to my new home in… da da da da daaaa…
3…. Lautoka! Lautoka is a city (one of two in Fiji) on Vitu Levu. It’s beautiful here… we’re located in between the ocean and foothills of the mountains. Seriously, it’s amazing! Oh also Lautoka is home to the only lap pool in Fiji and one of the two movie theaters… yep I totally saw Eclipse last week. Robert Pattininson is still hot in Fiji. I live in a really nice flat with another awesome volunteer that has a deck that overlooks the mountains. It’s a bit different for us than it is for most Fijian PCVs. I am a Fijian version of city girl. We don’t live in a village so we don’t have a chief or Turange ni Koro (like a mayor) or in general as many cultural rules to follow (don’t get me wrong we still have a bunch living in the city). I will definitely miss living in my village in Rewa but I’m also super excited to be living in the city.
So yeah, life is pretty sweet. I’m missing the rest of the FRE 8s a bunch right now but we have a conference in October where we will all be reunited. Ah leaving friends three times in 3 months is brutal! First college friends, then family/roommates/friends from home/people I have known forever, then new Fiji friends. Ah!!!! Don't get me wrong, I am doing fabulous, but man this can be exhausting.
Sunday, June 27, 2010
So currently my host village is on a small little island next to one of the big islands…. Right? Right. To get from my village to the bus stop and to civilization in general, I have to get on a little boat and cross the 50ft river. Oh and a big Peace Corps rule is I have to wear a PFD every time I cross water…. Nothing like a big yellow neon sign pointing to the non-Fijian. So the other night I was coming home with a bunch of groceries, my backpack, my purse, my PFD ect…. It was around 7pm so it was super dark here (well maybe not super dark but I think you all know where this story is going and I’m needing all the decent excuses I can get). So. I’m walking down the steps into the boat and go to take the last step… FAIL. Apparently I had already taken the last step and instead I went splashing into the water. It was so amazingly graceful that you all would have been proud. As I was falling I managed to throw the groceries into the boat. And then apparently my purse was waterproof and my backpack had a plastic grocery bag of fabric in the bottom hence keeping everything dry and safe…. Skillz, I know…. I got them.
So now I am surrounded by these giant Fijian men… all attempting to yank me out of the water. I was laughing hysterically, they were trying not to laugh, the other volunteer was still in shock that that had actually happened… all in all… it was awesome. Oh and I’m pretty sure I mooned them as I was trying to get out because my skirt now weighed approximately 10 thousand pounds. Good times in Fiji.
And by popular demand... here is the meke dance:
Thursday, June 24, 2010
Last week we were invited to dance a meke at Rewa Day. Time for some definitions/explanations. So a meke is like a Fijian line dance. Currently I live in the province of Rewa. A province is kinda sorta loosely like a state but we are run by a Chief. The Chief of Rewa is a woman… that’s a BIG DEAL here in Fiji. Rewa Day (days actually, it lasted over a Friday and a Saturday) was a whole celebration of Fijian Tradition within the Rewa Province.
Got all that? Gooood… back to the meke. Twelve of the us learned this traditional dance in 5 days. Truth be told, after 4 years of DM line dances… this seemed like the Macarena. So we get there on Friday after the open ceremony dressed in our traditional Fijian attire ready to make our debut. There were a few things we did not realize. 1. We would be performing this in front of a few hundred people directly in front of the Chief and 2. apparently we were the highlight of the entire day. And by highlight I mean we made the paper, the national paper, the next day! I figured out what my true calling in life is… A meke dancer! I’ll be signing autographs all day…
But in all seriousness it was an awesome experience. Actually few unexpected reactions resulted from our dance.
The people of Fiji were shocked that we learned the dance in a week… I guess they spend weeks and months working on them. So they now think we are all actual pretty smart.
The Fijians people have an amazing culture riddled with tradition. Unfortunately we were told that in some places the tradition of Meke is dying out with the younger generations. So the fact that these Americans could come in and perform for them further gave them a reason to rejuvenate this tradition.
So yeah it was a ton of funnnn. The video may or may not be on YouTube… still debating over whether I should put that gem on here for your viewing pleasure…..
Friday, June 11, 2010
In church? Okay so here’s the story… last week we were invited to a youth group meeting at the local Methodist church. So cool…. go meet the youth, chat for a bit, call it a night. Simple right? Well there were a few things not mentioned to us.
1. The youth in Fiji are comprised of people from the ages 17ish-40ish or until you get married… whatever comes first. In church youth groups, the age range is 15ish-25ish … so yes I am very much a youth here… oh super. Nothing like being clumped in the same category as hormone infested teens.
2. Youth groups here are apparently not like youth groups in the states. Back there we used to just hang out, talk about life, maybe a Bible verse or two, and call it day… Always very casual. But here… not the case. It was a formal church service…. All two hours of one.
3. Here’s where the sex part comes in. So we get there. The priest greets us outside and then informs us that she really wants us to focus on sex and other related issues. Okay… well…. Okay? Since I have the only health education background I was nominated to talk (I eventually convinced another person to stand up with me since I am a “youth”). An hour and half into the service I got up introduced us and said we were welcome to questions. So they did… about everything from sex to drugs. So we all just answered the best we could. I’m pretty sure some of the males were trying to embarrass me sometimes or they thought I was too shy to answer some questions… pshhht proved them wrong. Everyone who knew me through college knew us HEB kiddies had to take Sex Ed and Drug Ed… not many things phase me these days….
As much as I joke about the situation… it was actually really cool that: 1 they trusted us and 2 they were interested so much in that topic.
So life here is still going well. Fiji is a great… still beautiful and full of culture. Speaking of culture… Americana is evvveerrrywhere. Currently “Down” Jay Sean is playing in the background. The Glee version “Like a Prayer” is always on the radio… totally NOT upset about that at all. However I think some people think that is the original version of that song. Don’t worry Madonna, I am trying to set them straight.
Well I hope all is well in Merika… Last I heard Evan and Erin were in the DWTS finally… and is Lost over? I’m assuming they were found. And how are my fave shows Greys and Top Chef? I was sick over the weekend and I started watching the second season of Greys (thank you Nicole!!!)… Izzie just met Denny, George is still alive, Meridith just met McVet, Burke hasn’t been shot (yet)… madnessss!
Miss you all!!!
Sunday, May 30, 2010
Bula! So this past week has been a bit crazy. I moved in with my host family. I have a mom, sister (18), two brothers (24 and 26), a cat named Laisa, and a dog named Boy. They have all been absolutely wonderful to me! I have my own room andddd my own bathroom (that’s a really big deal in Fiji). I live in a nice little house in the center of the village. We have treated water in our village (also a big deal) and electricity. Most recent exciting news… my village has free wireless Internet in our provincial office area! Quite ironic since most people do not have laptops here, nonetheless I am excited about it as well is my host sister who looks forward to checking her facebook more often. Prior to this revelation I had to go pay for Internet at an Internet café… its pretty cheap to do but a little more a of a hassle.
So Fiji is kind of a tricky county when it comes to the whole language thing. To anyone who knew me through high school Spanish… they would be able to vouch that language is not my forte. But here you would think I would have to figure out how to speak for my survival… however there is a catch… most people can speak English and some better than me! If fact, my sister just took a test on Hamlet last week… I barely understand Shakespeare sometimes and English it’s my first language! Nonetheless my language adventure continues. This brings me to my title… I was asking one of my brothers one night at dinner what the word for love was… his response was “pizza!” hahaha good times in the house. My brothers did not let me forget how the family dynamic works. From the moment I arrived, I was immediately treated as another little sister. They watch out watch out for my safety however I am constantly the subject of harmless sibling teasing. Me speaking in Fijian sounds like when a child is learning how to say the Pledge of Allegiance… “I pwedge aweegance to da flag of de United States of ‘merica, and tuuu de repubwic…. “ You get the point. Everything I say is just a little off from what is actually supposed to sound like. I think I am improving a little bit each day(at least I hope I am).
My na (mom in Fijian) is my new social life coordinator. No blackberry or facebook necessary. Every Saturday night we have a huge gathering for the 4 PCTs and their host families at one of our houses. From the looks of the first one we had, it seemed like the whole village stopped by our house at some point. Last Saturday was curry night (the Indian influence is HUGE here). We had a huge dinner followed by lots of singing and dancing. My dancing (its more like a lack of dancing… I have no rhythm or really any moves) is perfectly acceptable here. In fact they told me I am a great dancer. Looking back now they could have been joking but eh, oh well. Speaking of compliments a new one I am getting used to is “uro levu!” To Fijians it’s a great compliment and means you’re hot… in English it translates to “you’re fat!” Oh yeah… talk about motivation to try to stay healthy. In general many Fijians like their women bigger because it simply means to them that you’re eating well and are therefore healthy. Everyday my na yells at me (in a loving way) because I don’t eat enough. I can only eat so many carbs… love me some bread, potatoes, kasava, and rice… but goodness I have a limit. Okay well that is all for now. Moce!!! (it means goodbye and is pronounced “moth-A”)
Friday, May 28, 2010
Yay! I made it to Fiji!!! And it is BEAUTIFUL. We got in around 5:00am. FYI we left on May 18th and because of time zone craziness we arrived on the 20th so technically May 19, 2010 never really existed to me… weird huh? So after we got into the Nadi airport. we drove another few hours to like a Christian hostel type place. When we arrived we were greeted by the entire Peace Corps Fiji staff where we partook in a traditional Fijian and Hindu welcoming ceremony complete with kava. Basically I think they said “we know you are going to mess up and we forgive you in advance and offer you unconditional support.” It was really really nice. Kava is a drink that is apparently part of life around here. Its made from the yoqana root and makes your mouth numb when you drink it. Very interesting….
We spent the night at that place and woke up the next morning and drove an area outside of Suva the that houses a learning center for Fijians. We stayed in dorms called bures. But these totally top any dorms I have ever seen (not that that’s to difficult to do compared to UF). These were located on top of a hill overlooking a river. Then in the community center… aka my classroom… overlooks the ocean. Oh another new part of life… tea time! Tea time happens twice a day complete with finger sandwiches and cookies. To everyone who said I’d come back skinny…. That will not be happening. Between tea time and a starchy diet, I may be in trouble. Ahhh. Oh and about that title. Meals here are sometimes… different. We eat everyday at the cafeteria on campus. Usually its rice, dalo, or some kind of starch and fish or beef stir fry or chicken. One morning we woke up to spagettios , barely cooked bacon, and a loaf a bread all on our plate. Oh yeah breakfast… the most important meal of the day.
Alright enough about the scenery and such…. A little about life. My group (we are called PCTs, Peace Corps Trainees) consists of 35 men and women from young college grads to men in their late 60s… haha yes we are quite an eclectic group. I truly love getting to know everyone. I’m already somewhat bummed that I have to leave them so soon when we move in with our host families. Don’t get me wrong I CANT wait to meet my host family… I just cannot believe I am already leaving the people again who are my good friends. Alright that’s all for now.
PS. I promise to put up pictures soon andddd I will do my best to post more often now that I have access to internet.
Also, I wrote this post like a week ago and have since moved to a place where I have even more freeeeeee access to internet!