Kia Chronicles

It's been a while since it has rained on the island and we are desperate for fresh water!  The water tanks are empty, the bore hole containing ground water is dry, and we are subsisting on the emergency tank that the village shares in tough times like these. We have resorted to bathing in the ocean, not doing laundry, and using water very sparingly.
Other than that life on Kia is swell.  I am deep into designing and planning a community leadership training workshop for the fishermen and women of the island.  The program will be aimed at teaching the fishermen about the scientific basis of marine resource management and give them the information and knowledge to equip them to sustainably manage the local qoli qoli's (traditional fishing grounds).  It is a huge undertaking and is a great challenge given the culture, customs and mentality of the people on the island.  They are very set in their ways, beliefs and behaviors.  Every day is a challenge and we are slowly trying to penetrate the people and get them to open their minds to new ideas and ways of doing things.  Its been a frustrating but exhilarating experience.

When I am not working on the workshop planning I occupy myself beach-combing, taking photos, learning to cook traditional Fijian dishes and socializing with the women of the village.  I have learned to weave some and have developed a knack for weaving rings out of palm leaves.  There's a huge influx of jellyfish in the water recently so I haven't been able to snorkel as much as I would like.  Last week we had a beach cleanup with all the children of the village.  It was fun and we picked up a lot of trash but there is still so much more to collect!
I've had some awesome experiences on Kia- everything from watching meke (traditional dance) to hiking the highest peak on the island, watching a colony of fruit bats emerge at dusk, and volunteering at the school.  Not to mention eating fresh, tropical fish for dinner almost every night, watching picture-perfect sunsets, and making wonderful friends.  Kia is a special place. 

Bula Vinaka from Fiji!

I have arrived safely and soundly on the tiny Island of Kia, off the northern coast of Vanua Levu, the second largest island in the island nation of Fiji.  I am living in the village of Yaro, a small beachside community of 122 members.  The people of Yaro are primarily fishermen and women, harvesting fish for both their sustenance and livelihood; they catch fish as a source of food and also as a product to sell in the local fish market. 

Life on Kia is a dichotomy between productivity and leisure.  Villagers work hard to sustain their lives and families.  Women spend their days cooking, washing, looking after children, weaving, fetching water, and other daily chores.  Men primarily fish and do other things around the village as needed- building/repairing houses, gathering firewood, tending crops etc.  Every family in the village has a small parcel of land and mostly grow root crops like taro and yucca.  Fruit trees are abundant on the island and there is usually a fresh supply of papaya, coconut, mango, breadfruit, and bananas.  When people are not busy working, they like to loaf around.  Most houses don’t have any furniture, less a cupboard for dishes, and everyone sits and lies on woven mats on the floor to do everything, eat, sleep, etc.  When all the chores are done people lie around, relax, talk, smoke, and lounge.
The people of Kia are warm and welcoming and we have been well-received.  Women invite us to come have afternoon tea with them and men are always eager to talk to us and invite us to sit with them.  All the women have very short hair and they are enamored at my long, curly hair. The children are endearing; some are still quite shy while others have transcended the ‘new white girl in the village’ notion.  Several times they have observed me on the beach collecting shells and coral and they periodically bring me the prettier ones they encounter.  I have spent time teaching them to play duck-duck-goose, braiding hair and playing in the ocean.  Three evenings a week we help the children with their homework; they need special attention in the areas of math and science and we have been organizing lessons to supplement their classroom assignments. 

Yaro is a very religious village.  The villagers have church almost every day.  Sunday at 7am, 10am and 6pm, Monday is men’s group, Tuesday is women’s, Wednesday is cell group, Friday is youth.  The villagers are especially fond of singing and have regular choir practice.  Fijian is not a particularly easy language to learn, but I am trying.  The words sound similar to Spanish so they are not difficult to pronounce, but they are very foreign and hard to remember. 

I spent my first 2 weeks transitioning to island/village life and have begun planning and preparing for the work that lies ahead.  My task is to design and implement a series of workshops for the fishermen and women to raise awareness about marine conservation.  I will be formulating workshops to discuss and explain important issues relating to the harvesting of marine resources such as the importance and conservation of biodiversity, the role and importance of preserving endangered species, the biological consequences or poor fishing practices, and the importance of gathering traditional knowledge of the local fishery to establish a baseline for future fishery monitoring and management.  The task is great, but I am looking forward to the challenge!