Posted by: Alicia Phillips | March 9, 2012

How I fell back in love with Fiji

Bula guys!

Last week I had a 5 day training on program design management with the Peace Corps. Originally I was not looking forward to going, not even a little bit. The training was about 2 hours away from my city, Suva, it came at kind of a bad time for me (I’m busy at work and I just got kicked out of my house for renovations), and most of the time PC trainings are kind of a joke – let me rephrase that: the information never applies to me because I am an urban volunteer whereas everyone else is rural and the information is geared more towards community development. So having to go to training where I probably wasn’t going to learn anything all while I was in the process of moving out of my house was not an exciting development.

It was just a small group of volunteers who went, around 8 of us. And the venue was an eco lodge way out of the way off the main road, but right on the beach. There wasn’t a store or a bar anywhere even remotely close by and there was no cell phone or internet signal either. But what a blessing that ended up being!!!!

I came to find out that this eco lodge is 100% owned and operated by the local village that surrounds it. The villagers manage it, clean it, cook the food, and provide the tours and all of the income generated from it goes right back in to the village. It was such a change from the other resorts that populate these islands that are usually owned by Australians or New Zealanders. While those resorts seem to try so hard to make you feel like you’re in paradise, this eco lodge didn’t have to try at all. There were no frills and they didn’t put on a show- it was just true pure Fiji. And it probably didn’t hurt that the staff was gorgeous. Ha!

Villager working in the field

Now let me tell you a bit about our training. Program design management. We covered how to do a needs assessment on what projects need to be done, writing a vision statement, writing down your goals, coming up with objectives, how to develop and action plan, writing a proposal for funding, and how to monitor and evaluation your progress. Interesting helpful stuff right?! And the best part was that each one of the volunteers was asked to bring a member from their village/organization who would also receive the training. That was the best part of the workshop- the volunteers and the counterparts really sitting down and discussing what can be done in the village and how they were going to work together to do it. A lot of this information the volunteers already knew or had experience doing, but our counterparts have never even written a proposal, so they really benefited from it.  A huge part of the Peace Corps is sustainability and capacity building within your community and this is exactly what this workshop created.

Living in the capital, I sometimes feel like I don’t get to experience the other side of Fiji. The village life. I don’t have a family unit that watches over me, I don’t drink grog, I cook for myself, I go and work in an office every day. So that may be why I enjoyed my time there so much. I didn’t wear shoes for 5 days straight, I could lay in bed and watch the village children ride to school on their horses, I ate every meal with my hands, I fell asleep each night listening to the waves crash on the beach.

My bure

The food we ate was caught fresh from the ocean by the villagers or grown in the village. I got to help them make a lovo, which is an earth oven. The process went like this: Get some kind of meat (fish, chicken, beef, pork) wrap it up in coconut fronds, lay them on hot stones, cover it with more coconut fronds, then cover it all with dirt. The end result is some of the most delicious food I’ve eaten yet!

Covering the Lovo with coconut fronds

Fish, bele and dalo all covered in lolo (coconut milk)

Every afternoon we played volleyball. At first it would start off with the volunteers, and then our counterparts would join in. After a while the villagers would see us and they would join in. So it ended up being volunteers, counterparts, and villagers all playing together, not worrying that we didn’t speak the same language because the rules are all the same. No one got mad at each other for messing up, and there was A LOT of laughing. After the games we could go straight to the ocean to cool off.

After dinner, we drank grog. Grog (aka Kava) as I have explained before is pounded yaqona root that is mixed with water and drank out of coconut shells. It isn’t alcoholic, but it has a way of relaxing you. After your first 2-3 bilos (cups) your tongue goes numb. Everyone is sitting cross legged on the floor, telling stories (called talanoa) and playing guitars and ukuleles. They even put my name in some of the songs and let me play the maracas! This went on until 2 or 3am.

Mixing the grog

During our trainings we had to present our projects to the group and discuss what we think our challenges would be- then the rest of the group would brainstorm and find solutions. It was really amazing to listen to what the village thought was most important for them, whether it be a new footpath or starting a beekeeping project, and how the volunteer and their partner would discuss options and goals and how they would start it once they got back to their sites. While we were sitting in class I could look out the windows and see dolphins in the distance playing in the ocean.

Livia and Kim working hard with their counterparts

Our last night there, after drinking grog until midnight, a few of the volunteers and I dragged some blankets out on the black sand beach and laid under the moon and stars all night long. The moon was so bright it could have been daytime and there we kept seeing shooting stars. We laid there and talked all night. Its crazy how close we have all gotten, our friendships are so strong because of what we have all gone through together.

Swimming under the moon

By the time it was time to leave….I didn’t want to go. As soon as I go to Suva, I wanted to go back. And I think I may have decided to start visiting the other volunteers in their villages on the weekends, to get out of town. Most volunteers come in to town to escape from their villages, so why can’t I escape from town and go see them?! I need to remember to experience that part of Fiji as well as the urban life.

Taking it easy, drinking water from a bu



  1. Alicia, when I get back you will experience the ultimate life in Fiji. I am glad you got to experience the village life. Its the best part of the island life. I can’t believe you have been there that long and haven’t lived the real island life. Just wait til I get back and its going down!!

  2. Bula

    Beautiful pictures especially the sunset. (Botaira na vanua in Fijian)

    What was the name of the lodge/accommodation and village?

  3. I’m so glad you’ve been rejuvenated and are once again interested in Figi. Sounds like you are really growing up, so to speak. from the intense high(arriving there & adjusting) to the intense low (reality sinks in) then the leveling out and realizing that there’s more for you to learn and to teach and you’re adjusting to the “norm”.. There’s good and not so good in every “job” but it’s how YOU let them affect you is what counts. Sounds like you’ve got your head on straight now and will enjoy each day (sometime, somehow) as it comes. Good luck to you and looking forward to your next post.
    ps I think it will amaze (possibly amuse) you to re read these posts of yours in the future!!! You’ll see what I mean.. HUGS Aunt LouAnn n Uncle Herb

  4. Interesting update. Have a good one.

  5. How BEAUTIFUL!!!!

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