Thursday, August 13, 2009


I have been awful the last several months about getting up here, but I did want to post one more entry to say that I am currently in the process of closing my service here is Fiji and will be returning to the States in the very near future. I leave in a day or so to begin a shortish trip (about a month) to the south island of New Zealand, Thailand, and Cambodia (if anyone knows people in these places feel free to pass on that info...). I return to the States on Sept 13th or so where I will be meeting up with the Bickel's in Arizona for a mini reunion. I then return to Cincinnati to see the rest of the fam on Sept 26th where I will continue looking for further employment (if anyone knows of any opportunities there please share as well). I've already applied to several vacancies, but it appears that this may be a couple month process, so I have yet to hear anything concrete back.

I have had a great experience here in Fiji and in many ways I am sad to go. However, I am excited for the trip, seeing everyone at home, and figuring out what my next step is going be.

Thanks for reading....

Tuesday, March 10, 2009


Monopoly in the hospital (She had rat-lung worm! -look it up:

Nico, Sarah, and I On swinging bridge in Taveuni

Natewa Bay

MH burning (courtesy of Fiji Times)

Well, here we are in March, and life is moving here in Fiji. I was just talking with someone the other day about the difference between this year and last year around this time. My first year I always felt like I had more time than I knew what to do with and was begging for enough work to fill up a day; now my general feeling is that there isn't enough time in a day/month/before I leave to get done everything I would like. I am getting ever closer to finishing my tree planting endeavor in Labasa. It has been a long time in planning and getting appropriate approvals and the like, but we will hopefully start this weekend, which is very exciting. I have been sitting down with people over the last couple weeks to plan the renovations of the children's park we are working on. We still have sometime before work can begin, it is usually advisable to wait to start construction until after the rainy season (late April, early May), but there is a surprisingly large amount of planning that needs to go into something like this. [If anyone out there knows anything about building playgrounds shoot me an might just have earned yourself a life long friend...] National Youth Day is coming up on March 23rd, and I have been asked to speak at the event they are holding here in Labasa about climate change and Fiji's environmental issues. It is exciting, but a little daunting; working out a 20 minute talk that encompasses all of that while giving people things they can do individually to mitigate these problems is going to take some work, but it is a rare opportunity to talk to a large audience of young people and I'm trying to make the best of it. My environmental group is also gearing up for another round of waste management workshops with local women's and youth groups as well as organizing environmental movie nights with local schools.

Rachel and I are shopping around a proposal for a poster campaign to encourage sustainable catch sizes. We have the poster essentially designed, we are just looking for funding for the printing and the transportation to do the awareness work that will accompany it. It also looks like I will be going down to her side of the island to do some of the marine protected area monitoring trainings she will be holding in several villages. Looking forward to that, as it's been awhile since I've been out on the water.

Track season is also in full swing. We had our interhouse meet last week (which is essentially tryouts) and we have started official practices this week. It actually looks like we have some good distance runners this year (as opposed to last year when we only had 1 come out for the team), which is exciting. Not that I take issue with coaching short distance runners, I just feel I know a bit more about the LD training work. Our first meet will be in April, and the national meet will be held in May.

I had a reasonably interesting birthday. A couple people were in town and we decided to do a brief tour of the bars here in Labasa. As we were sitting and eating a lateish dinner at our fourth or fifth stop the waitress came up and told us that their was a fire on the main street and we ought to step outside to see it. Initially we wrote it off, finished our dinner and prepared to move on to the next establishment. We stepped out onto the main street to find more people than I have ever seen on the streets of Labasa watching the largest supermarket here completely engulfed in flames. It was one of the crazier things I have seen here. The local fire department did a surprisingly good job at containing the fire (the building abuts a couple others and could have easily caught half the town on fire). The full story can be found on the Fiji Times website here: ...sometimes they move their links around, so if you would like to track it down manually it is in the March second edition under the title: Inferno, an all-night fight to save a town.

That's about all of the big news for the time being. I'm still trying to figure out what to do with all my leave. Again, it figures that I have all this vacation time at the same time that i have all this work to do. I'll maybe be planning a diving trip in early April, but with the rest I am still looking for options. [If anyone knows of a not obvious way to get cheap flights to New Zealand, Australia, Vanuatu, or anywhere else around here they may also be become my best friend]

Thursday, January 29, 2009

A New Year

Pictures from "Clean-up Fiji Day"

I swear I more energetic that morning that I look...

If you don't ask me where this picture came from I promise not to lie

Well, here we are 2009. I haven't written up here since October, and I apologize. Call it a New Years resolution to do better through the next several months. Instead of covering the last 3 months of things that have happened, I might just skip up to where we are for brevity sake.

On second thought, maybe a bit of what has been missed: The holidays were great. I spent a good deal of December on vacation. Rachel had a friend visit at the beginning of December, so I went down with them to Viti Levu, did some diving (which was fantastic, lots of eels and sharks..) and did some outdoor type stuff. I also ended up accompanying them to Taveuni, where we did some camping, some snorkeling, and other forms of merriment.

I went out to Viani village for Christmas, then back out to Taveuni for a large new years celebration (there were about 20 volunteers that came out). Had a really good time, despite aquiring some food poisoning that kept me from doing the diving I had wanted to do. After I got back I spend a couple days here in Labasa then had to go down to Suva for a training. It was supposed to be a three day deal, but while I was down there Fiji was hit by several tropical depressions in a row which caused wide-scale flooding (particularly in the west around Nadi, Ba, and Sigatoka and in the North around Labasa). As such, many of the roads in these areas closed, boats weren't traveling across the strait, and all the airports were closed for several days. This prolonged my stay down there on the order of a week or so. By the time I finally made it back up to my house it felt like I had been gone for a month. The last couple weeks I have been working on getting the house back in order and getting back into the swing of things at work.

There are plans for several projects this year. We are trying to get some trees and things planted on the main street of Labasa. It looks like we will get final approval on the placement and the monies in the next week or so, and the planting should be finished by march (my fingers are crossed). We are also still working on renovating a couple parks, which will hopefully start in the next several weeks as well. There are new people in charge of fisheries, the labasa town council and the provincial office, so I am hoping to sit down with them and work out a plan for this year. Hopefully these guys will be a bit more sympathetic to the work I am trying to do here than the last group. Track season starts next week as well, which is exciting. We're hoping to get more of a head start on it than we did last year and build on our succeses.

Otherwise, I am starting to think more and more about what comes next after Peace Corps. We were just given the dates of our closing conference (mid april), which really woke me up to the fact that I do not have that much longer here. So the search is on for the next place. It's a daunting task, as I feel there are several different avenues and options to consider. I'm trying not to stress too much about it, but July (my completion date) is looming and I think I have been asked somewhere on the order of 5-6 dozen times what I'm going to do when this is over. Patience is called for.... or something like that...

I'm going out to a friend's village this weekend, and then I am hoping to find someplace to watch the superbowl on monday (go cardinals...).

Anyway, I hope all is well out there. If you have emailed or something and I haven't gotten back I apologize and assure you I will get too it. I'll get back up here reasonably soon.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Same Story

Natewa Bay, taken not far away from Viani

Councilor Paulini and Rachel in her Kindergarden

A few of us at Ms. Extravaganza 2008

PC Fiji, all of us after out beach cleanup in Nadi

Again I have to apologize for allowing a month or so to go by without posting anything up here. I have been traveling a lot, which accounts for some of it. In September I piggy-backed on an NGO's trip out to Viani village (which happens to be Rachel's village) for a voter education/constitutional rights workshop they were doing for the community. I went out there with one of the Labasa Town councilors and we took the opportunity to check up on a Rotary International water project being done at the primary school and to see if there was anything we could do to help Rachel along with the Kindergarden she has started in the village. The workshop went well and it was nice to get out of town for a few days and visit a village I had not had a chance to visit yet.

During the first week of October all 57 of the volunteers here in Fiji were brought into Nadi for our annual All Volunteer conference. Immedietely following my group stayed in Nadi for our Middle of Service conference. These two conferences have not traditionally been run consecutively (in the past All Vol. was done over Thanksgiving), but due to budget cuts back home and the depreciation of the dollar in conjunction with rising transportation costs have forced us to tighten the belt a bit and combine trips; the result was all of us being in Nadi for about a week. It was good to see some of the volunteers I do not get a chance to that often, however I'm not a huge fan of Nadi (international airport is there as are several of Fiji's larger resorts, as such it is expensive and tacky; not to mention seeing the sterotypical tourist from our country that comes to Fiji, spends two weeks at a resort that they never leave and is strikingly similar to one they might find in Virgina Beach, and then goes home feeling like they got the Fiji experience bumms me out a bit), and I truthfully would have rathered spent my time elsewhere. That being said, the conference was one of the better run ones we have had since I have been here and it is good to see out post growing up a bit and improving as time goes by.

This past week I spent three days in my province's chiefly village, Naduri. The first two were for our bi-annual provincial council meeting, and the third was for the annual Macuata Day celebration. The council meeting lagged on a bit as I was not involved in it as much this time around, but the Macuata Day celebration was a pretty good time. The main purpose of the event is for the provincil office to raise the 40% of its operating budget that comes from the communities they serve. In that sense it was quite successful in my opinion, the final figure I saw was $65,000 raised, which I believe to be a significant amount. Each tikina (think county) set up a stall on the village grounds that their representative delegation sat and drank kava in throughout the day. Each tikina also brought local dishes for a shared lunch and preformed a meke (a fijian tradition dance) or other item for general entertainment. Aside from the tikina that illegally brought a dozen sea turtles for the feast, it was a nice event and it was great to see people from all over the province celebrating together.

My work on the park here in Labasa has stalled a little bit. The Town Council is in the process of reconfiguring their lease on the park's land, and they have asked us to delay our renovations until they have finalized that (which will probably take about 3 weeks or so). We did however receive some more funding from the Festival Committee and are in the process of panning some other environmental/beautification projects around town.

We have had some funding and transportation problems over at the Ministry of Fisheries office that have kept us from getting out into the field as much as we need to. We have about half-a-dozen fish ponds that are ready to be harvested, so hopefully that will all rectify itself here in the next week or so and we can get back out there. I am trying to set up a better working relationship between our office here in Labasa and the local resturants and hotels so that we have a fixed market for the tilipia the local farmers are producing. I am also working on creating a manual that the ministry can use to help train interested communities on small scale aquaculture. These have kept me busy, but it's mostly office/town work and I'm itching to get in the field more.

My big success for the past 7 weeks or so has been my garden; it is starting to get pretty respectable. I have 4ft high long bean plants, a couple rows of broccoli, 3 rows of spinach, a couple nice squash plants, about a dozen good looking tomato vines, and a mint plant that is getting out of control. Those added to the preexisting papaya, mango, lemon, chili, and coconut trees on the property are working to make it a nice little oasis here in town. I hoping to get some more beans in this weekend along with a few other things. I am a little concerned on how some of these plants will fare during the upcoming raining season (about a month away), but it is still pretty exciting to walk back there everyday.

Thats about all I have for the time being. I will do all I can to get up here next week. I hope all is well...

Friday, September 5, 2008

A Long August

It has been a pretty busy month, and it has unfortunately kept me from writing up here as often as I would like. The organization that has been funding my environmental group had their week long festival here at the end of August, which has kept me a bit preoccupied. For being run only a week in a small town in Fiji, the Festival of the Friendly North raises a pretty substantial about of money; we grossed this year about $125 thousand (net is expected to be around $100 thousand). All of the money that is raised goes towards community projects in the greater Labasa area. Through the past couple years they have constructed new wings for an elderly nursing home, dormitories for a local school for the handicapped, aid to flood victums, a fitness center here in town, and contributed towards several other smaller projects (including the town beautification that I am currently assisting with). The funds raised this year are planned to go towards building a mortuary in a rural town a couple hours east of Labasa and continued beautification work. It is a great organization and I have been very happy to have been a part of it. The Fiji Sun did a short write up on the beautification project (I'm kind of a big deal here, I own many leather bound books...people know me...), and it can be found here: . They miss quoted me a bit, but the general idea still came through I think.

The pictures above are from the Festival parade where some of the members of my environmental group (H.O.P.E. Labasa) along with some of the other volunteers in the area marched. They gave me a night to MC the entertainment program and a small amount of time to speak on the final day of Festival about our beautification/environmental work. Between these I think we got a decent amount of awareness out to the area about our group and what we are trying to accomplish. We received quite a bit of good feedback and have started getting some new support since the Festival, and we seem to be gathering a bit of steam as we go on.

As scheduled, we began work on the park here in town midway through August. The Labasa police came out and joined members of H.O.P.E. to start the clean-up of the park, and we are looking at begining construction here in the next couple weeks. We have been asked to aid in the creation of a children's park around the new fitness center that the Festival funded, and we are hoping to do some youth education work with some of the new funding that should be coming in now with the completion of the Festival.

Otherwise things are going well. I have started working about half the week over at the Ministry of Fisheries. They have several projects they are juggling, and right now I am going around and trying to figure out exactly where I can best fit in. I have been taking it a bit easy this week, as with the Festival and everything there have been a lot of visitors and late nights. It looks like (keeping my fingers crossed) that we will be starting the reef surveys in a week or so, which will keep me busy and traveling for awhile, but I'll do my best to write back up here soon. I hope all is well with everyone.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Back Again

Pictures from our trash can painting

I feel like I start off a lot of these posts this way, but I apologize for being a bit derelict in posting recently; it has been a crazy month or so filled with several projects, several visitors, and several new responsibilities for me. I am really going to make a better concerted effort to get back to the once-a-week posts.

My friend Jessica just completed her visit to Fiji last week. She was in for 8 days or so, during which we spend a few days on Viti Levu around Sigatoka and Suva, then the rest of her time up here in the Labasa region. It was a good little break from the grind, and it was nice to see someone else from home out here; I hope to get some pictures from the trip up in a couple weeks or so. Jessy attended one of the meetings for the Marine Protected Area project I am helping WWF up here with, and in the process found her way to making an appearance in the Fiji Times, one of Fiji's national newspapers. Thanks to the wonders of the internet, you can see the picture (jess is on the far right and I am sitting next to her obstructed by the man in front of me) at the following link:

I have been doing quite a bit of work recently with the environmental group I helped to form here, H.O.P.E (Helping Our Polluted Environment) Labasa. We just completed out first project, which was organizing the primary and secondary school children around town to come out and help us paint the new trash cans places along the main road. We received a write up in the paper for it, which can be found at the link here: We are now in the process of renovating a park here in town. It has been pretty exciting, as we have received several donations and quite a bit of free labor for the endeavor, and it looks like we will be "breaking ground," so to speak, in a week or so. Labasa is glaringly lacking any green areas in town, and we are hoping that crreating this park will be a stepping stone to creating more awareness about environmental issues to the population here as a whole.

I also just started to officially work with the Ministry of Fisheries up here. It's looking like I will be focusing on their aquaculture program, which I am really looking forward to as it has very good potential up on this island and there seems to be a healthy amount of interest and funding. They are also the lead organization on the spat collection and seaweed farming projects I have been trying to promote, so I stand to be able to continue with that as well. I feel like I am finally at a point between my work with the environmental group, the provincial office, and the ministry of fisheries that I have full work days, which may sound a bit odd, but it comforting to be busy....

Three new volunteers just arrived here in Labasa; all female and all working in the health sector. It's really good to have some new blood up here; they have all come up being pretty energetic and motivated, and it's brought some new life up here which is great.

Thats about all I have for now, I'll get back up here in a week or so.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008


It's been a couple weeks since I've gotten anything up here, but in my defence, I've been doing quite a bit of traveling. The first training session I did with the new group went really well, and during that week I was able to get some good meeting in with WWF and a few other people to line up some future work. I took advantage of the long weekend (June 16th was the Queens Birthday observed holiday) and spend some time traveling around the big island. I spent a couple days over in Sigatoka (on the Western side of Viti Levu) and actually got in a bit of diving. It wasn't the best that I have ever done, but it was nice to just get out there in the water again. That side of the country is pretty difficult to get over to on any regular sort of basis, so it was nice to see some of those volunteers and hang out for the weekend. When I got back to Labasa from that trip I had a meeting with a some local stakeholders and officials about the environmental issues that we are facing here in Labasa. I didn't get as many people out as I had hoped, but the meeting went really well, and looks like it is going to be a group that gets together regularly. We discussed several different things, but we layed out a framework for addressing some important problems (like litter control and waste disposal). It was just an initial meeting, but I'm excited for the direction it looks to be heading. Last week I was also in Suva for a couple more training sessions with the new group. It's good to see some new blood coming in, and I am excited for those volunteers that are coming up here to do so. I just got back on Saturday, and am trying to get back in the groove.

During the next couple weeks the group that came in before mine will be departing. It only reinforces how fast the past year has seemed to go. It also looks like I will be invloved with starting a youth organization in the area. A local NGO (Save the Children) is looking to expand a branch of one of their programs up into my provenence, and they are planning on using my position here as a facilitation point to make it happen. It should be a good project; it deals a lot with empowering children and young adults to take leadership rolls and such. I don't have a whole lot of experience with these kinds of things, but I'm looking forward to the prospect of it. I go back down to Suva in a couple weeks for another training sessions. The new groups finds out their sites in July 4th, and we are all eagerly anticipating it to find out which of the new volunteers are coming up to our area. I have a few other things going on here and there, but I should be able to get back up here next week.