Talofa (hello) Samoa!
After spending a week in Apia, Samoa, getting to know our newest destination and helping to finalise the arrangements for our very first Samoa volunteers I can’t tell you how jealous I am of these two intrepid adventurers – getting to do a volunteer project in such a wonderfully welcoming country, in these beautiful tropical surroundings.
For anyone who isn’t too sure where this tropical paradise is – it’s located about half-way between New Zealand and Hawaii, consists of 2 main islands and has a population of about 190 000. Greeted at the airport by a band playing traditional Samoan music (think Hawaii luau-style) and a blast of hot and humid air – I was really excited to get into town and explore.
One of the nicest things I found about Samoa is that the people are so friendly and welcoming – and genuinely interested in foreign visitors to the town. Everywhere we went people were really excited about Projects Abroad, the idea of volunteers, cultural exchange and host families and the potential for the growth of projects in the future. Doors were opened, questions answered and assistance was pledged by everyone we met.
I think this is the most overwhelming thing about Samoa – despite the ubiquitous ‘Island time’ of the pacific region – things happen really easily and quickly possibly because the nation seems to operate like an extended family or really big village.
Apia, the capital city, has everything you need (even Vegemite!) but it really does feel like a collection of small villages connected by a few bustling main streets.
Our volunteers will live and work in Villages near to Apia in host families – getting a chance to get to know the Fa’a Samoa (Samoan way of life) and have someone to look out for them. The placements are based in the villages too – so it won’t take long to get to work each day.
The project side of things in Samoa is really exciting too – in the initial stages we’ll be offering teaching projects in primary schools in villages helping to improve the English language skills of the kids (because it’s so important to securing a good job when they grow up!), and the teachers are really enthusiastic about volunteers who have skills in other subject areas, or interests like sport or arts. We’re also offering care placements which involve working with special needs children in care centres and mainstream schools and also in early childhood education centres with pre-school age children.
Even though Samoa is a beautiful tropical island paradise, dueto many different factors including a devastating tsunami in 2009 there are some development constraints and some real issues in education and sustainable development. Samoa is working towards improving in areas like literacy, English, numeracy and job creation. We really hope that with the energy and enthusiasm of the volunteers that we can help children improve in these areas.
On the weekends and in their free time there is so much to do – in just one week (Monday to Saturday) I managed to see a lot! I went to see some Samoan traditional dancing and music at a hotel in Apia, the dancers are so talented! I also sampled some traditional Samoan food including coconut baked in taro leaves, sea urchin and (my favourite) oka – which is like Ceviche, fish marinated in citrus and coconut milk. It’s so good! The fish market was an eye opener (I had no idea tuna was that big) and made me hungry for more oka. I also managed to visit a waterfall and a beach – where I quickly made some new friends – it’s easy to get to a couple of cool places in an afternoon because the island is so small! It takes only 4 hours to drive all the way around Upolu!
At the end of my week in Samoa I really was not ready to leave! It was so nice getting to know this Island paradise helping the local Projects Abroad team get ready for the first volunteer arrivals EVER!
Bula from Fiji!!!!!
I'm the new Country Assistant Manager for the Fiji Projects Abroad office and thought I'd start off Fiji's tripblog with some of my own first impressions!
First and foremost - Everything here so far is GREAT. I don't even know what to say about it. For one thing, everything is extremely chilled to the max... :) life happens in 'Fiji Time' ie, slow. People are so friendly. I can't walk anywhere without every other person on the street greeting me with Bula! (hello in Fijian!)
My work is really enjoyable - not the rush and deadlines and constant emailing back and forth and urgency as with my corporate job in London, but it is not without its challenges. I really have to take every day as it comes. Any event can restucture my entire day! A large part of what I do is running around town to visit volunteers at their placements or their host families. I love spending time with the volunteers and hearing their stories and experiences - each and every person who arrives here has a unique trip and sees Fiji through different eyes.
I'm also loving the host family I'm living with, the Khans! They are Indo-Fijians and fabulous. They have two children, a shy and awkward 14 year boy and a precious 6 year old girl, Sanaa - who is probably my 'best friend forever' in Fiji. She is also my constant entertainment! She is always smiling like crazy, wanting to sing to me, telling me ghost stories about the strangest creatures (such as ''a big bear that releases smoke from it's tail and if you smell it, it stink and you die''!!). Maureen, the mom spends all day cooking delicious curries and cakes and believe it or not there is actually a coconut tree in their garden!! They hire a local boy to pick the coconuts, and then Mr Khan slices them open with a machete, sticks a straw in and I have a cool afternoon drink!! No joke!!
The room I have here is the funniest little thing... it's separate from the house with it's own entrance and kitchen area (not that I've cooked at all what with Maureen's curries beign served every day!!) and little notices and house rules everywhere such as, 'If you talk on your fone after 10pm, please try to speak slowly'! and, my favourite - 'If you went out dating or picnic come back home have bath same time please follow'!!??
Nadi itself, the little town we're based in, is wonderful. It consists of one main road which is probably 10-15 miles long or so and lined on either side with anything you need - supermarkets, gift shops, internet cafes, Saree shops, book stores, curry stands, a 'Western' cafe or two, illeagal DVD stores, all night BBQ stands (the Fijian midnight, post-night-out snack, yet to be sampled) and Kava shops - this is the traditional drink here: it's made of the yaquoa root and looks and tasted of muddy water, but mellows you out and makes your tongue tickle. Rusty buses race along this road all day long, as well as dilapidated taxis, door-less mini vans and beat-up cars. The closest beach is about 10 minute drive away - and although everyone here says it's an 'ugly' beach, it's still pretty darn nice! Not too shabby for Pia... :) There is however a stunning beach (the most beautiful on this main island, Viti Levu) about a 40 minute drive away, but that too is apparently nothing compared to the smaller islands, as close as a 15 minute boat ride away. Still haven't made it to the smaller islands yet but hoping to do so soon.
And the weather - although ridiculously hot and humid for the first week I was here, it's perfect now. We are in Fiji's deepest winter nights so days are only at 28 degrees and the nights are cool(er) and every once in a while i need a light sweater, but nothing more. Perfection :)
I'm completely excited about the year to come - I think this will be a wonderful place to spend some time....
By Anne Quirijns
Soon after my arrival in Sri Lanka I heard that the son of my host family would get married soon and I started secretly hoping to be invited! During the week before the wedding, there were a lot of people in our host family’s house to help with the preparations for the wedding. And all week Alice (my roommate) and I were still hoping to be asked to attend! The day before the wedding we finally got the call: we were invited!! We were so excited, even though we had no idea what to wear!
The day of the wedding we went by bus to the Mount Lavina Hotel. There we met our host family, dressed in nice suits en beautiful saris. The son (Subash) was wearing a very impressive king’s outfit! He told us it took him half an hour just to put it on! First some typical Sri Lankan dancers entered the room, singing and dancing. Behind them were Subash and his groomsmen. Alice and I followed him together with the family. We felt somewhat uncomfortable because we could feel everyone looking at the two white girls, but at the same time we felt so honored to be treated as part of the family! When Subash was standing in front of the altar, the bride entered the room, also accompanied by dancers, bridesmaids and her family. She looked stunning in her golden dress with lots of beautiful jewelry! During the wedding ceremony Subash and his family stood on the side of the altar and the bride stood at the other side. Unfortunately the monk (at least, I think it was a monk..) who performed the ceremony spoke in Singhalese, so it was impossible for us to understand what exactly was going on. After some words from him, Subash and Pradeepa (his bride) said something (I suppose something comparable to ‘I do’) and stepped on to the altar. There they stood for a while, holding several symbolic items while the monk kept speaking to them. At the end of this ceremony they signed the papers. The wedding ceremony ended with three other monks, who made a circle of white rope around the hands of the bride, groom, their parents and themselves. One of the monks spoke some words to them and then cut off little pieces of the rope to give them all a little bracelet made from this rope. I wish I spoke some Singhalese, so I could explain to you what happened better, but this is what I could make of it.
When the ceremony was over and Subash and Pradeepa had visited all of the tables to be congratulated by their guests, it was time for the best part of the wedding: lunch! Apparently the chef was a famous Sri Lankan TV-chef, so the food was amazing! After lunch Subash and Pradeepa left on their three-day honeymoon in a beautiful old car. Unfortunately we weren’t there on the day they came back, to enjoy the most fun part of a Sri Lankan wedding: the homecoming party!
If you ever get the chance to attend a Sri Lankan wedding or homecoming party, don’t hesitate to go! It’s an experience you’ll always remember!
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