June 13, 2017
It was mutually agreed that the first day in Fiji felt drastically longer than a day. However, rather than feeling like time never seemed to pass, it feels more like we’ve been here for a while– like we’re all already friends, as cliché as it sounds. The first flights, including mine, landed a little after 5 am, which I’m sure is much earlier than any of us would normally be awake on a summer day. Though I got stuck in immigration (which it seems was not uncommon,) I was the first one to meet the GLA staff, and therefore had the pleasure of watching all the other students file out of the immigration and border control to meet most of us for the first time. It wasn’t hard to talk to anyone. We all have a commonality. Each and every one of us was brave enough to leave the luxury of comfort behind and to trek into something entirely uncomfortable and new. I think that’s a likely cause of instant relationships; nobody was afraid to share. We were all well beyond the point of fearing discomfort.
Our tour of our first location seems more like a vacation than a leadership trip. There’s a pool, incredible food, amazing staff members, and palm trees that allow streams of sunlight to hit the resort. It’s not something for us to mistake, though. Already today we’ve had multiple team building orientation activities to create the sense of comfort we left behind and to prepare us for, as we call it, “The Island.” From what I’ve been told, this island (where we will spend the duration of the trip) is the most remote location that GLA takes students to. Despite that, I was also told the “The Island” has everything we could ever want. A supposed one look at the environment has been enough to make the GLA staff abandon the want for technology and idealistic Western amenities. To put it simply, it’s gorgeous, I’m ecstatic to go, and from what I hear everyone else is, too.
We took a small trip away from our current Home Base to visit a nearby beach called Wailoaloa Beach, appropriately translated to “black water” beach. Though the main purpose was to allow us time to leave the grounds of the resort, it was interesting to look at the beach and quietly reflect on its condition. The water is dirty, polluted to the point where the waves are a dense gray color. Glass bottles and shards, cans, and even a CD riddle the shoreline. In a place known for being so beautiful and clean, this beach exists. It’s significant for all of us to look at and realize that where we are isn’t a vacation, but rather a place in which we can do our best to help. The beach may be beyond our help of 21 days, but we could at least encounter it with a positive attitude, doing more orientation exercises there and finding the beauty in smaller doses. Did you know that the tribal symbols found all over Fjii (and on the planes owned by Fijian Airlines) mimic nature? The tiny shells scattered across the sand each have distinct patterns that have become interpreted into the Fijian tribal print.
How could one immerse themselves into a culture without the language? We had the translation of the beach, and also took time to pick up a few more words. The most significant of those words is “Bula.” It’s used as an all around term, which I like to compare to “sup.” It’s a greeting, cheers, exclamation, and anything between. It’s a little something that allows us to become a little closer to who we’re living with, as when one says “Bula,” there is bound to be a reply. Not only that, but natives are quick to greet us with a smile, as we’re all just as eager to reply. It’s the little things that bring us closer together: the GLA students, staff, and Fijian people.
On the second day Sydney and Athena have been selected as leaders of the day which takes a role of leadership and responsibility. Being jet lagged had us up before the sun, which is unbelievable because most of us have not gotten up that early for school. After breakfast we all gathered for a cultural presentation that was presented by a local Fijian instructor. We all learned how this culture is a lot different historically and socially from our own. We were taught new words which included, good morning (Yandra), yes (io), and goodbye (mothe). After the presentation we all gathered as a group to discuss our group dynamic. Using a tree as a metaphor we used the roots as our names, truck as support, and the branches as our goals and what we hope to learn. Continuing in the discussion we dove deeper in knowing the construction of GLA. Exploring different food options in town, we went out to lunch and had fish and chips. Which we all say was amazing, including the ice cream and milk shakes we got.
Moving onto another life changing adventure, we had the opportunity to hike in the Sleeping Giant garden. Seeing orchids, ballerina flowers which look like ladies dancing, and trekking through mind-blowing trees eventually led us to an outlook of Nadi where we have been staying. Concluding the hike, our lovely guide, Howard, gave us a vibrant colored juice which had papaya, passion fruit, guava, and mango. Our next afternoon activity was a visit to the famous mud pools. Communally we enjoyed a little competition with potato sack races, partner balloon race, sprinting, freeze dance, and passing a ball to your team mates. We were led to buckets with mud and slathered it onto our bodied with help from others. We waited fifteen minutes for the mud to dry, and then jumped into a mud pool. We then went into another pool which was very warm and relaxing, slowly washing off the mud. The final pool was filled with minerals and big enough to swim around. Once we arrived back to home base, we finished the day with either playing cards, doing yoga, or just relaxing. Cannot wait for another day filled with Fijian smiles!
-Athena Mihalakakos and Sydney Ferris
Every day gets better and better I constantly fall in love with new colors, foods, and kitties. Today we visited a beautiful Indian village and we learned to make traditional foods, including curry, roti, and chutney from scratch. We took turns flipping the roti and stirring the curry while others caught lots of frog as well as good vibes, love and happiness. While we consumed the fruits of our labor, we gained an inside view to the Indo-Fijian culture, which led to our very generous hosts letting us try on some of their traditional sarees.
On the bus ride to town the sense of community was strong as we all bonded over a mutual love of music from back home. When we arrived in downtown Fiji, we were introduced to even more welcoming people as we dove into life as a Fijian. We shopped for traditional Fijian Sulus and discovered some new and unusual foods in the supermarket. We all touched base in an internet cafe while trying Fijian beverages and desserts. The feeling of homesickness is hard to imagine because being on this island, we are so welcomed that it feels like we are at home.
The leaders of the day were Tessa and Evan. Now having spent a couple days on the island, we all awoke fairly energized and ready to take on the day. Our breakfast consisted of toast, fruit, cereal, and eggs… Yum! After breakfast we situated our luggage and prepared for the journey ahead to the port where we will depart for the island of Naviti. Upon the arrival to the port, we found a cafe and little shops to wait out the departure of the boat. During this time some of us shopped at the boutiques. Once we got on the boat we sat on the bow and watched as the beautiful islands went by– some being as small as a football field! The three hour boat ride flew by. Everyone was full of joy and had huge smiles as our island entered our view of the horizon. We were greeted on the beach by the staff singing and playing guitar. Giving the hugs, they gave us flower necklaces and coconuts with straw in them to drink. After, we were introduced to the amazing staff and went to our designated bungalows. Lunch was served and free time followed. It consisted of swimming and snorkeling. The reef here astonished many of us, We saw fish of every color and even a stingray! In the water, there is also an elevated platform that everyone jumped off. Once we finished out snorkeling, there was volleyball, soccer and tea time! After, we had a presentation on stereotypes and that there is always more than one story to something. We should not make any assumptions of people no matter where they come from. Dinner followed and was made up of fish soup, fish with sauce, veggies, mashed potatoes, and finished with pudding for dessert. After, we had mentor time, which is a time to discuss the day, our experiences, and life. Some of us laid out on the beach and stargazed. The night sky here is so surreal to all of us, After a long and exciting day, bedtime sounded great to all of us and we headed back to our bungalow looking forward to what the next few days hold.
June 16, 2017
Photos from Fiji:
June 17, 2017
On the morning of our first day in botaira we started off the day with a delicious, traditional Fijian breakfast prepared by the local staff of the resort; providing us with the energy to prepare us for the crazy fun adventures ahead.
We were separated into three groups, each given a different activity. In group one with Patrick, we went snorkeling in the beautiful Fijian coast to swim with manta rays, but unfortunately for us, there were none spotted in the area. So instead we helped relocate clams that were effected by the hurricane that occurred early last year to provide them with the sufficient sunlight they needed to grow.
In group 2 with Sam, we embarked on a nearly two hour hike up the center of the island, that led strait to the top of a mountain, parallel to another mountain to what the locals call the teddy bear. The hike took us to a small village where we bonded with each other and met several children of the island as well. They put on a little dance and had lunch with us. After the hike we took a boat back to enjoy some free time where we saw group 3 channeling their inner Fijian.
In group 3 with Lisa and Ms Tema, a leader in the Vinaka program, a published author, and an overall incredible and admirable woman– we dove deeper into their culture by learning some Fijian words and sentences that will later on help us during our service days in the village, and we were taught several different ways to tie a sulu–the traditional wrap worn by the Fijian people.
Our overall experiences these past five days have been absolutely breathtaking, and we are extremely grateful to have been welcomed into this amazing culture and given the opportunity to live like a real Fijian. We can’t wait to begin service on Monday to give back to this wonderful community.
Vinaka vaka Levu!
– Lu Gund and Macy McCormick
July 18, 2017
Lilly: My morning began with a lesson in Fijian language and proper tying of sulus after a healthy (and, of course, delicious) breakfast. The language is hard to get the hang of. Pronunciation is extremely difficult, especially with “g,” which, by the way, makes a “ng” sound. However, once one gets the hang of it, the language rolls right off the tongue. Midday was a marine adventure, in which my group and I dove deep into the coral reefs to search and take a tally of the sea creatures we spot. The water is incredible, absolutely beautiful and radiating with colors, just like the sunset we watched on the top of the island. I’ve taken two hikes in two days, walking and climbing to the to peaks, which are difficult, but completely worth while in the end.
Audrey: while Lilly was busy in her own group, I spent the day under water exploring the coral reef, we ran in to toothy needle fish and squishy sea cucumbers and a wide array of other sea creatures. After we took a lunch break, the rest of the afternoon was spent learning how to weave from native Fijians, we made jewelry and realized that all of the furniture we have been admiring is hand made and woven. After we had finished our jewelry, I got the opportunity to help out in the kitchen for tea time biscuits, the experience was wonderful and it felt so nice to be welcomed with open arms into their routine. The people here have and will continue to amaze me with their intense kindness and close knit community, I can’t wait to see what adventure we will go on next.
Today was our first day of service! Last night, we were split into three groups: education, marine, and sustainably. As leader of the day, it was my responsibility to ensure that everybody was ready for their day of service. (This, however, was mainly just making sure that everyone had eaten their breakfast).
Today was our second day of service at the village and our second session with the kids at the primary school. We continued communicating with the children in English to further expand their knowledge. The children today were so motivated and engaged whilst reading and writing in their notebooks. In the sustainability group we poured hand made cement and attached the gutter to the house for our rain catchment system. Over all it was a very productive day of service for everyone involved.
It’s day five of our service projects in Gunu Village. The sustainability crew mixed and poured the concrete base of our second rain catchment system, and already started attaching the gutters to the roof. The education team got to spend the morning teaching the same kids as yesterday, only increasing the bonds between each volunteer and student. The marine team planted a record number of mangroves, reaching a total of 835 for the day. Although we haven’t known the locals long, they already seem like family. While the students at the school were busy playing sports in the afternoon, the education team got a special surprise, and helped Tema teach the kindergarteners.
The day started with everyone at breakfast enjoying some cereal, vegetables, and freshly picked fruit. After eating, we boarded the boat and headed towards our service location. Although there was a small hiccup with the boat engine dying halfway through the trip, we all persevered and got another boat to take us the rest of the way. Today was the first day of our 3rd and last rotation of service groups. The marine group did an outstanding job relocating nearly 1,300 mangroves, amazing! The sustainability group made a wooden frame and collected all the materials for the cement platform they will be making tomorrow. As for my and Macy’s group, which was education, we had the opportunity to meet some inspiring children that we had the privilege to teach and will continue teaching for 2 more days! After service concluded, we headed back to home base and had a leadership activity that challenged and bettered our communication and ability to cope with frustration. Dinner was served soon after consisting of freshly caught fish, chicken, veggies, and fruit. Mentor time followed, where various topics were discussed, and we all headed back to our bures, calling it day. Looking forward to what tomorrow holds for us!
July 2, 2017On our final day on Naviti, we spent a chill day relaxing on the beach in preparation for our busy day tomorrow. We snorkeled, suntanned and ate a delicious meal prepared by the local staff. When everyone was done with fun in the sun we headed back to Botaira for tea time and a final group bonding activity. As the end of our time here approaches we are deeply saddened to leave the memories and bonds we made with each other and the staff here. But, we are excited to go see our families and tell the stories of our adventures in Fiji.
PS hi mom ~Emma and Emily~
Please, fellow students, just remember to take a few things back with you:
-Be proud of how many mangroves you planted, but be prouder of the total
-Live in the moment, keep your mind where your body is, just as you did in Fiji
-Sometimes, it’s okay to live on Fiji time at home
-If you find Grade A Sea Grapes in the super market, know you know exactly where they came from
-“Hydrate or Die-drate”
-Remember your chow circle buddy and count off number
-Think about all the water your tank will catch in a year
-Think about every single kid you helped with English, even if they only learned how to spell Tuesday
-Maybe take a cold shower every once in a while… Maybe not?
-Remember how scary it was to jump from the diving board for the first time, but also know how brave you are for doing it
Though the service work or the cold showers and sandy beds or rodent fights in the middle of the night may have been difficult to handle, just posting a photo or sharing a video of the experience is easy. The experience is the hard part, but making a difference is easy. Each and every one of the people I met have made an impact on me, down to the attendant checking me into my flight home. I know everyone who travelled with me is going to do great things, whether it be going to Mars or maybe simply planting one more tree. Thank you GLA Fiji for giving me an incredible twenty-one days that simultaneously felt like a lifetime and a day.