Arriving in the village of Yanuca was one of the best days of my life. After a few days of relaxing and bonding on Caqalai the suspense of going into the village had built and on the boat ride over the butterflies were fluttering as we all became slowly more nervous. However, all fears were soon crushed as lining the sea wall in the distance all we could see were rows and rows of bright colours where all the villagers had put on their best dress to greet us. As we pulled closer they all started to sing and dance and we were pulled straight on shore and into a massive hophop. This hophop continued far into the night as the grog steadily flowed. Never have I felt more welcome in any place in my life with everyone pulling you up to dance, wanting to know your name and to help you in every way possible. I immediately felt like I was a true member of Yanuca and excited that this tiny village of 15 houses was home for the next couple of months.
The first few days the team clubbed together to begin building the community hall. We spent the days digging, hammering and often rushing off to the toilet as our stomachs were not quite used to the Fijian cuisine yet! For a group who had never picked up a hammer before (apart from Andy, though at times we can’t quite believe it!) we learnt the basic skills pretty quickly under Big Jack’s ‘guidance’ (mainly consisting of “what happened?” and “get me the chainsaw”). It was nice to all be doing the same thing to begin with so we were still able to get to know everyone whilst bonding with all the villagers as well. We all found ourselves comparing families, homes and the food that was being prepared for us. When it was time for the project rotas to begin the bottom plate of the build was already in place and we were impressed at how quickly it was all going up.
I spent my first 2 weeks teaching class 4 at the ‘local’ school. I say local in loose terms as the walk takes just under an hour and is often through very deep water! Sharp rocks and shells on the sea bed also don’t help and many of us have ended up with pretty wrecked feet (possibly a slight understatement). I can’t believe I used to complain about walking to the bus stop. However, we have all learnt to love the walk either chatting amongst ourselves (genuinely playing would you rather…) or walking deep in thought about what everyone at home is up to or how we still can’t really believe we’re actually here. I still find I’m having to pinch myself that after months of waiting I’m actually on the other side of the world having the time of my life, living the dream.
Teaching was one of the biggest challenges I have faced here and yet one of the best things I’ve done. I was shown into the classroom of 10 children (the smallest class in the school thank goodness) and simply told ‘off you go’! The class had no teacher as she was on maternity leave and so for the first few days I was on my own. Fortunately, I was soon joined by the Australian gap year student, Nathalie so the stress of teaching was shared and we battled through the pain of the ‘Draco Malfoy’ lookalike – and personality-like – together.
Each class has a syllabus, however, it’s quite tricky to teach a class about the Aborigines when they don’t even know the alphabet yet! I ended up going all the way back to basics and ditching all the text books. We had to teach the sounds of the letters as well as the letters themselves and it turns out that they were learning the same things in kindi as we were in class 4! It was evident that since the children had started school some had not learnt a single thing while others were flying through. It was upsetting to see, however, the feeling that you got at the end of the day when the children had grasped what you were trying to get across is one I cannot describe. After 45 minutes of teaching the difference between a liquid and a solid, pouring water over the kids heads and banging frantically on doors and tables, when they finally shout out the correct answer the smile across my face was a picture. It’s so satisfying and a real sense of achievement hits you. Although you’re only in school for a short period, just realising you’ve taught them one tiny thing makes you feel as if your time there has been all worth it.
After school I went into kindi which has been my best week yet. Circle time, singing, throwing paint around and ’learning’ was the order of the day. I don’t think I have ever said the colours red and blue more times in half an hour and still not have the person opposite know the difference! They are all so enthusiastic though and often genuinely believe they are right when you hold up a blue block and they shout out pink! We all saw the funny side and spent most of the day just laughing. The tooth brush march was definitely the highlight, however, I’m still unsure whether I found it more cute or disgusting! There was a huge amount of spitting and metre long lines of drool hanging from the chins of every child. If the village dogs ever came near, toothbrushing turned into absolute chaos with kids running everywhere, toothpaste smothered all over their face! Crazy Foto became my favourite shortly followed by Peni. I will forever remember when on my last day every child ran out shouting ‘moce Anna’ over and over again. Even if they hadn’t learnt their colours and numbers, at least they knew my name
When my week at kindi was sadly over it was time for me to make my mark on the build, even if that was a few holes in the floor and massive hammer marks in the wood. We’re so close to finishing all the building now which is good and bad; good because it means the paint can come out but bad because Big Jack will soon be leaving the team and the end is getting slowly closer.
After project each day we do sports coaching at school and Emma, Harriet and I have been trying to coach some hockey. However, taming extremely enthusiastic children with a large wooden stick in their hands can often be trickier than first thought, especially when you have a class of 30 children, only 10 sticks and 4 balls. We’ve resulted to not even giving class 1 and 2 hockey balls as we decided it was detrimental to both the health of them and us and therefore let them go mental with tennis balls, which when hit with a hockey stick travel absolutely miles. None of them wear shoes and they all seem to believe that the aim of hockey is to hit the ball as hard as you can and just aim for goal. There is no passing or legal tackling and we often are holding our breath and biting our nails as we watch them try to play a match. We’ve learnt to just go with it and have decided that, although not as effective, Fijian style hockey is a lot more fun. It really gets your adrenaline going when a large heavy ball is flying at you and all you have to protect your feet is some foamy flip-flops. We have seen some progress with the older years who now know how to hold a stick correctly and most have learnt a sort of reverse stick and are insane dribblers. One boy, without any guidance, did a chip over the stick and ran on leaving his defender completely dumb struck as to what on earth had just happened. I don’t think I’ve ever cheered more loudly. They all then attempted this leaving balls flying everywhere in the air. Great fun.
This time last year I would never have thought I would be on a remote island in Fiji, having cold bucket showers, hand washing my clothes with a scrubbing brush and living in a single roomed rectangular house made of corrugated iron. When I left for here I was worried about all these things and living with a family who I’d never met before. However, all of these put together are what make me feel completely at home here. I feel like I’ve lived this way for years. When I was told in the briefing that I would find a second home in Fiji I underestimated what they said. I’ve got a home, a wonderful family and, although there are zero luxuries, I feel like I have everything I need.