Saturday, May 20, 2017

Oh hey!  It’s been over a year since we left Belize!  This occasion was marked by me finally using the tickets to American Samoa that we were forced to buy on our crazy trip to Fiji.  The tickets expired a year from purchase, nothing like a little procrastination :)  Daniel and I have zero regrets about taking this adventure. I’m trying to convince him to keep up this slightly nomadic lifestyle, but if you know Daniel in real life, you are laughing right now.  He just wants a quiet life on his farm.  

     Life is going pretty well here right now. In December, we FINALLY (after 6 months of looking) found an off campus rental house, and it is quite perfect.  A big yard and porch, a kitchen with a stove, room for the girls to spread out alllll their toys.  It even came with a dog. The bus goes right past our front gate, our neighbor is a nun who brings treats over for the girls every few days, and we have a little grocery store within walking distance that sells fresh donuts in the mornings. 

     We’ve slowed down a bit on our adventuring-- since we decided to stay in Samoa for the rest of Daniel’s studies, it feels like we don’t have to rush to get everything in. (Oh yeah: we are staying in Samoa until November!) My parents were able to stay with us for almost a month in January, and the girls completely wore them out :) While my parents were here we visited several beaches and took a ferry over to Savaii (the bigger of the 2 islands that make up Samoa).  This is where I admit that even though I grew up going to the Atlantic Ocean for vacations, I think the Pacific has ruined me for beaches.  Crystal clear water that is warmer then a bath, bright blue starfish, tiny little hermit crabs scurrying about in perfect little shells..... sigh.  We don’t get to the beach as often as the girls would like, because the side of the island we live on has a rockier coast.  Although, if it were up to my babies, we would be at the beach all day every day, so I guess they will never be at the beach as often as they like.  

    We now have 3 year old and a 4 year old, and it’s been sooooo challenging.  I would say that Lu has caught up to Miss M developmentally, so it’s pretty much like having twins.    It’s crazy to see pictures from our fist few months in Fiji, when I was hauling the girls around in an Ergo carrier and a stroller.  Now they can climb up the bus steps by themselves, and confidently walk down the aisle and plop into a seat.  Lu hasn’t outgrown her klutziness, and falls off something pretty much every day.   She also is completely untrustworthy, and if she manages to disappear for 30 seconds I know I will be fishing a whole roll of toilet paper out of the toilet or scrubbing crayon off the walls.  Emma is freshly 4, and we are seeing some glimmers of rationality emerge from the “threenager” stage (so much drama.  so much screaming).  They have  outgrown  that easy bribability that I loved about the 2’s, which makes adventuring a bit more challenging when they won’t walk uphill for an hour for a cookie and a juice box.  But-- everyone is toilet trained!!!!!!  And they are always, always up for an adventure, even if it’s just a bus ride into town to the grocery store.  They were enrolled for a few months in the cutest little preschool run by Catholic Sisters, (which technically should have given me 2 free hours every weekday! ) In reality though, preschool bugs hit us hard, and after struggling for a term with the girls out sick almost every week, we decided to give it a break for a while.  I’m crossing my fingers their immune system will adapt, and we will try again next term.   I’m enjoying becoming part of our village community though the preschool, and I love that the girls are picking up bits of Samoan language and culture.  

That about catches us up!  We decided to stay in Samoa because the campus has an agricultural component, unlike Fiji, so Daniel has access to animals for research.  He’s finishing up with the research soon, and the remainder of the time will be for writing his thesis.  After a few months of ridiculously hot weather, things have started to cool down and I am loving it.  I’m looking forward to “winter” here, which so far seems like it will be sunny skies and cool breezes.  I’m trying to take some time each day to just sit quietly and absorb the beauty of this island, because I know I will miss it so much when we leave.  

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Sliding Rocks

Want to go on an adventure?

The best thing about a 2 and 3 year old:  the answer is always YEAH!!!!
No lack of enthusiasm for Mom's ideas over here.

Anyways, the first month or so we arrived the weather was amazing and I was motivated to see as much of Samoa as possible, within a 30 minute bus ride.  Right down the street from us is Papase'ea sliding rocks, which is a stream with smooth channels in the rocks that you can slide down, like a natural water slide.

The stream is in a valley, so it is shady and cool.  It's a pretty steep hike down, but the stairs are nicely maintained, and the whole area is cleaned and landscaped by the local village's women's committee.  The entrance fee goes to this committee, and it's nice to think they are benefiting directly from all the tourism.

The water is cool and clear.  When we were there the water level was low, so you couldn't go down all of the slides,  That was fine with us, we just paddled about with the girls.  Until I got it in my head that I had to at least go down one big slide, the biggest one there, because you can't go to the sliding rocks and not slide down the rocks, right?

the slide from the top

Well.  Once was enough.  Turns out the rocks are so slippery that there is no friction to slow you down, so it is more like a water drop then water slide.  One second I was at the top of a 20 ft cliff, the next second I was at the bottom, with the wind knocked out of me and a nose full of water.  Not... as much fun as I was expecting :)

Just looking at these pictures makes me want to go back this weekend.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

the Samoan way

Apia harbor

Well. Things just got away from me for a while there.  After having some mentally rough weeks, the thought occurred to me, "Ah.  This is culture shock.  It is normal and ok and things will be fine."  And things are fine.  I'm not sure why it didn't occur to me that we might have an adjustment period, I guess I figured I could handle Belize and Fiji I could handle any tropical country.  And also we were so busy worrying about other things, like visas and adoptions, that I never took time to sit down and learn a bit about the country we were traveling to.  The thing I love about Samoa, but which has also made adjusting a bit more difficult:  Samoa has an amazing, deep culture.  There are traditions and rules that are fascinating, and also good to know about lest you accidentally offend someone.  I am very grateful to the patient Samoans we have met, who have answered many questions and not taken offense at our ignorance, and also laughed at us a bit.  

Ice cream made from Samoan chocolate

I'm very glad we landed in relatively cushy circumstances in Fiji as our first stop over in the South Pacific, because if Samoa had been our first stop I most likely would have had a breakdown, just because our situation here has been much more sink or swim.  In Fiji, we were in a fully furnished and equipped house, steps away from buses and shopping and everything.  That was the ideal way to start, get rid of jet lag, and learn a bit about life in the Pacific.  USP Samoa ushered us to little house on campus that had obviously sat vacant for a while (read: fairly filthy), and was mostly (completely) empty.  Our total household furnishing included: 2 bed frames with a 3 inch foam "mattress," 1 table, and 4 curtains.  We did some frantic shopping (and I did frantic curtain sewing after I realized that there are 15 windows in our house and all our neighbors are male students) and now I'm actually kinda enjoying living with the absolute minimum.  It's fun to think about what I would add, if I could, and how small the list is: a mixer, an oven (we are using a 2 burner cooktop), a cushy armchair.  Maybe a large cutting board.  I plan on making a list of everything we have right now so I don't forget: these are the absolute essentials, life really doesn't require much more.

preschool game day

  Also helping with my new, improved mood : our house now seems relatively luxurious, because for a month we had to share with a bunch of roommates.  It's amazing the attitude adjustment that can happen when you think, "things can't possibly be worse" and then things get worse.  When everything goes back to the way it was, it's wonderful.  I'm not saying our roommates were rough, in fact we loved them a lot, they spoiled the girls rotten and we had so many great conversations.  The problem is our house is TINY (a 12x 16ft common area, four 10x8 bedrooms, two 10x10 kitchen areas, and two bathrooms.  Two bedrooms, a kitchen and bathroom are "ours," and all the rooms are arranged around the perimeter of the common area, so there is no separation of living areas.) At one point I think there were about 6 extra people living in the house, joined for almost every meal by at least 6 more people.  I don't really even  know how many people were staying here, which is SO Samoan.  Sharing is a huge, huge part of the culture, and personal space and privacy aren't at all what we are used to in the western world.  An example: Daniel and I were surprised to be asked by multiple people (including random taxi drivers) the first weeks we were here how much rent we are paying, and how much money Daniel gets as a monthly stipend.  Here, this is not a rude question. I also quickly learned that our bedroom isn't considered private; if you have the door closed, expect a quick knock and then the door will be opened, ready or not.  So anyways, the point is that people who needed a place to stay (teachers taking an accelerated course  here on campus, placed in our house by administration) just bunked in together in the 2 spare bedrooms and made big communal meals for those staying elsewhere.  Every night we were presented with a huge plate of food, even if we had already eaten, because, "that is the Samoan way."  The girls were fussed over and presented with a special treat every time someone came back from an errant.  The girls learned more about sharing in the last month then I've been able to teach them in the last 2 years, and are actually much better about sharing with each other now. (They rather unfortunately have also realized that if they want something another child has, they just hold out their hand and ask.  If the child refuses to share, a mama or teacher will swoop in and scold the little one. Since I'm not too big on giving the girls chips and candy, they often take ruthless advantage of other kiddos at preschool snack time.) All in all, I'm really glad we got our crash course in Samoan life, but also really glad we have our house back to ourselves for a while.

new best friend

Before life got away from me, we were going on lots of "adventures," as the girls like to say, and I have tons of pictures which I will post soon.  I also have lots more to say about some of the challenges of life, but we will leave that for another time :)

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Talofa Samoa

On the flight over-- Miss M's mind is blown when she is served a giant pink marshmallow.  For breakfast.

View on the drive from the airport
Pacific Islands seem to be my thing, because I really like Samoa.  We've settled in a bit now. We know our bus route, the girls are attending a preschool a few days a week, I have a library card, and we've found 3 playgrounds.  Samoa is very different from Fiji.  For starters, Apia is a bit smaller city, and we are living on the outskirts on the USP campus, which has animals.  Daniel is so happy.  Whenever the cows graze in the field by our house it feels just like Belize.  As promised, the people here are super friendly.  It seems to manifest the most in a chatty curiosity-- most everyone (even those encountered for a few minutes, like grocery store tellers or taxi drivers) want to know where we are from, where we are staying, how our day is going, what our plans are, and how we like Samoa.  Everyone is super curious about Miss M and Lu, and how we ended up as a family.

Ocean front playground

Lu coordinates her flower with her outfit

Miss M prefers flowers the size of her face

The thing I enjoy most so far is the creativity of the people of Samoa.  There are so many beautiful crafts.  Every single grocery store sells fabric-- bright, beautiful tropical prints.  Samoa is known for the intricately printed designs painted on fabric, which are sold everywhere and worn by men and women both.  There is also a lot of weaving.  We bought a woven mat for the girl's room that makes the whole room smell like freshly chopped hay.  Everyone uses baskets woven from coconut palm leaves to carry produce at the market, and I am dying to learn how to make one.  They are so common that they are thrown out just like plastic bags.

beautifully printed fabrics at one of the markets
It is much more hot and humid here—probably due to the huge jungle covered mountains that project like fingers through the settlement of Apia. (funny aside-- before we got here, I looked at google maps trying to figure out the distance of a school for the girls from where we are staying.  There is a big blank peninsula- shaped space on the map, right between where we are and where the school is, with no roads shown.  I figured the map was incomplete and the roads were small.  Turns out, that "space" is a huge mountain.  You have to go around it.)  Because of this climate it seems a majority of daily living is done in open air buildings called Fales.  Fales are  like palapas-  an earth or concrete base, with poles supporting a thatch or zinc roof.  Most lots have a fale, and in many the fale is the center of activity, with a small house crouched behind like an afterthought.   The other architectural feature that is predominate is churches.  In the half hour drive into the city from the airport, I counted at least a dozen huge, beautiful churches.   Religion is very much a part of everyone’s life, in fact on Sundays most everything is closed and buses don’t even run.

The buses are great-- they are brightly painted and decorated and made of wood!  The chassis are apparently from the 1950's, and the whole bus structure, from floors to seats to roof, is wood.  There aren't any windows, and when it rains there are pieces of plexi glass that you can lift into the window frame.  The bus costs 1 tala a ride (around 40 cents US) and don't run on any timetable, they just loop around their route all day.  That means if you aren't lucky and just miss a bus, you have to sit and wait for another to show.  The most I've had to wait on our route is about 1/2 an hour.  I'm glad so far we don't have any set appointments we have to reach on time, cause you can't really predict how long it will take you to get  somewhere by bus. Since the buses don't run on Sunday, though, we have to take a taxi to church.  Taxis are really expensive here, the same route that costs 1 tala by bus costs 10 tala by taxi, so we try to take the bus when we can.  But the absolute BEST part about the bus is that when it gets crowded, people sit on eachother's laps.  I had read about this before I came, and told Daniel, but he thought it was just something people told to tourists.  NOPE. It's totally a thing.  One day we took a trip into town just as the 2 all boys high schools down the street from us got out for the day.  Normal capacity for the bus is maybe about 35 with 2 people per (small) bench seat.  That day, we found out people don't wait for the next bus, they just squeeeeeze in.   2 guys would sit on the bench, and then 2 more guys would sit on their laps, so now there are 4 people crammed into a maybe 3 ft by 1 1/2 ft space.  Then everyone squeezes into the aisle, and when absolutely no more fit, people stand on the bus steps, and the poor guy on the end hangs on the the door frame for dear life.  There were 15 people in the 3-seat area around me, and well over a hundred on the bus. Everyone is pretty blase about it, I had to laugh thinking about the fistfights that would inevitable break out if you tried that with Belizean highschoolers! I did make the mistake of traveling when school let out by myself another day, and ended up with a very heavy 10 year old on my lap! So, pro-tip:  travel with a toddler on your lap, so you don't end up with a very close seatmate!

Much more to come, we have been going on lots of adventures, but internet is painfully slow and sometimes non-existent.

Friday, July 1, 2016

off to Samoa!

My Mom, who took the picture:  You look like an interesting family
Me: Mom,  we ARE an interesting family.
Mom: well... (remains unconvinced.)
On Monday we leave Fiji for Samoa!  We are fairly sure we will be in Samoa until December, and then return to Fiji for 2017, but us + planning ahead = HAHAHA

Anyways.  It has been such a wonderful few months in Fiji.  I think this time abroad is exactly what our family needs.  This summer Daniel and I will be married 8 years, and this is the first time we have been out of Belize for an extended time.  Every aspect of our lives has been different here--  city living, a big house, no getting up at 5am to milk cows..... we were living under so much pressure, which we didn't even realize until we left.  Farm life is nice in some ways, but it is also unrelenting, Now we have a chance to put our heads up, take a deep breath and look around.

We have found Fijians as a whole are so friendly, but when Fijians find out we are traveling to Samoa, they all say we will love it there because Samoans are super friendly. I'm expecting some epic levels of friendliness.  I am going to miss Fiji, but I am so excited to be able to visit another island in the South Pacific.  My serious lack of geographical knowledge means that I keep getting surprised by countries.  Someone will mention they just came from Kiribati, or New Caledonia, or Vanuatu, and I have to google it.  I'm also spending time googling small local airways, looking for bargain fares between islands, because even though we have no budget for side trips I am dying to experience some of these places.  How fun would it be to visit a country you didn't even know existed a few months ago, right? Crossed fingers.  

I am sad that we won't be in Fiji for the Olympics though.  This is the first year that rugby will be an Olympic sport, and the #1 ranked 7's rugby team in the world is.... Fiji!  Rugby is SO major here, that even I follow it now.  It's hard not to when you have 2 tv channels, and 85% of the time both channels are showing rugby.  People here follow rugby the same way Belize follows the World Cup:  when a game is on, you don't need to watch it to know the score, because you can hear the cheering/ groaning from everyone else up and down the street. We live right up the street from the stadium, and know whenever the team is on the move because they get an official police escort, including sirens on and speeding through red lights.  Anyways, we are going to miss a major party in August, but we will be cheering Fiji on in Samoa!

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

A few weeks ago my parents came to visit, and we visited the beach for the first time in Fiji.  (Suva, where we stay, has a rocky coast line).

This place.... is pretty much perfect.  All I have to say is-- if you ever have the opportunity to visit the South Pacific, GO.

Sunday, May 1, 2016

The one thing I appreciate the most about Fiji is how much everyone seems to enjoy children.  I get a lot of attention-- usually I’m walking around with Lu in the Ergo carrier on my back, with Miss M walking or in a stroller, and I know we are a very unusual site.  Everyone has been so friendly and loves to talk to and play with the babies.  And I mean everyone-- there hasn’t been a day we go out that the grocery store cashier, gate guard, random McDonald employee, people that are walking by on the street  wave to the girls, complement the ”princesses” and stop to say hello and chat with the girls.  The other day we were riding the bus, and Lu fell asleep in the Ergo on my back without me noticing.  I turned around to find a college age guy gently cradling her head so she wouldn't bump it on the seat.  If we get on the bus and it's full, multiple people will reach out to hold Ms M on their lap. The girls are a bit shy about all the attention, although Miss M might be persuaded to say “hola” (close enough to Bula) and Lu will wave bye-bye with abandon. People seem especially fascinated with Miss M, and I haven’t quite figured out why, but I think it might be her hair.  Most babies I’ve seen her age have very short hair, and Miss M’s little pom poms seem to be quite charming.  People come up to touch her hair and give her kisses, which she does not appreciate at this age :)

For me, part what makes this overall friendliness so interesting is that Fiji has a long and fairly recent history of cannibalism-- this was not the country to be shipwrecked on/ come to as a missionary years ago.  You would probably get eaten, as recently as the 1830’s.  (We learned this history at the Fiji museum, which has a nice collection).  I think this is a fascinating fact to add to my impressions of Fiji.  Some other observations:  people are fairly neutral on the issue of shoes.  Most people wear flip flops or sandals, and many people don’t even bother and just walk around barefoot-- even in the shops.  Fashion, and the concern about it, is much different than in Belize.  Most women wear cotton skirts and loose cotton tops, men are in short sleeve shirts and shorts or sulus. Both men and women often just wrap a long piece of fabric around their waist as a skirt and tie it, simple as that.  People just don’t seem to fuss too much about appearance-- hair, makeup, and  jewelry are kept pretty simple. Although, charmingly, ladies often have a flower or two in their hair. I love this practicality, which is so reasonable when it can be so hot.

he is selling the fresh clams and conch here, not the shells

Even though Fiji as an island is relatively isolated, it is an interesting mix of cultures.  Predominately the population is made up of native heritage Fijians and descendants of a large Indian immigrant population.  There is also a Chinese presence, and of course a British influence left over from the colonial days (meat pies!  My favorite!) This makes for an interesting mix while shopping and eating.  The stores are filled with glamorous sarees and jewelry, and the smell of curry floats through the air during meal times.  In the market, lots of fresh fish and native produce such as taro, papaya, and types of sea weed  fill the stalls.   I’ve asked some of the ladies who work around the compound (who are mostly originally from smaller islands in Fiji)  what they like to cook for dinner (trying to get ideas).  The answer is usually curry.  Since we have been here I've had a lot of fun trying new foods, and exposing the girls to new tastes.  They are pretty unfazeable, sampling vegetarian curry, chinese dumplings, lamb, taro root, and anything else I happen to think looks interesting.  The only thing they both flat out refused to eat was a cheeseburger, the one time I took them for a happymeal "treat" at McDonalds.... which probably indicated they have a much more refined palate than me.  I ate the cheeseburger instead :)

practicing pork dumplings.  My teacher is very particular about how the dumplings are folded....

 I've been able to take a few Chinese cooking classes on Saturday mornings (where I learned about the deliciousness that is mushroom soy sauce, among other things), and now I'm on the lookout for an Indian cooking class.  I wouldn't say Daniel is particularly enthusiastic about new foods in our meal rotation, but he is a good sport.  Also, ice cream is a LOT cheaper here than in Belize, and Cadbury chocolate is plentiful, so he has lots of snacks as back-up :)

Sunday, April 24, 2016

We’ve been here a little over a month now, and I feel settled in.  We have a routine, we’ve found grocery stores and the parks, we know how to ride the bus.  Life here is nice.  We do have  an interesting housing situation-- we are actually in shared housing.  That means we have a bedroom in a 4 bedroom house, and all the other rooms are shared.  Since we have been here we have had several roomates (this is mostly used by the university as temporary housing), and actually after the first few days of panic (there is no way we can keep the girls well behaved enough!!) it has been fine.  We did not expect this-- it was a last minute thing done by the international office-- but the location and safety cannot be beat.  The house is on campus, so Daniel can come and go easily.  This also means the whole campus is the girl’s back yard, and they have claimed several “treehouses” (mostly trees with interesting roots they play around).  Also, there is a housekeeper (!).   To keep us from being too spoiled, I’ve told her we will clean our room, but I haven’t scrubbed a bathroom since I’ve been here :) . It actually makes me more conscientious, though. I’m much more careful about doing our dishes right away and making sure the girls clean up all their crumbs.

Living with others has been good for us, although not without some challenges.  I’ve seen some gaps in the girl’s manners that wasn’t apparent when we mostly kept to our own house. They are VERY interested in everyone else’s coming and goings, but our house mates have been tolerant of the constant inquiries of  “where  you GOING? What you DOING?”  We are still working on the concept of personal space with others, although it actually took about 3 weeks for the girls to be ok with me in another room. I felt like a mama duck with her ducklings for a while, I would trip over them every time I moved.  The hardest part has been just having one room that is really ours-- if someone is napping, or if the girls are at each other's throats and need to be separated, there really isn't anything I can do.  We will only be in this housing through July, and then will move to Samoa for at least a semester, so we can work with it for now.

As for Suva, it is the perfect sized city. The infrastructure in the city is much better than Belize-- cross walks!  stoplights! sidewalks!  It only costs 70 Fijian cents- about 35 US cents-- to ride the bus, and the buses run all the time, all over the city.  The girls and I love the bus-- Miss M asks just about every hour when we can go again, and when given the choice between going to the playground or riding the bus, she chooses the bus.  You‘ve never met a more thrilled bus passenger.  She spontaneously yells WOO-HOO! throughout the trip.  The buses don‘t have windows, so she sticks her little hand out, waves to everyone nearby, and yells, “I‘m riding the bus!!”   While Daniel is studying, we take mini-adventures, small trips of a couple of hours to explore without being overwhelmed.  We ventured into the center city and went to the market, which is huge and has a great variety of produce.  We also checked out a few malls, and the girls went to their very first toy store.  I’ve told the girls that the toys live there, so they don’t fuss when we leave, we will see how long that lasts :)  We get a lot of attention when we are out and about, but I have not felt unsafe.  Fiji actually feels much, much safer then Belize.

This picture needs a caption:  This is the downtown bus station, which happens to be RIGHT on the water.  That is a cruise ship pulled up to dock right across the street.  I couldn't believe how huge it was.

We  found a great modern jungle gym in a park on the water, with lots of slides and swings and climbing.  I love watching the  wonder in the girls’ faces when they encounter something new.  They have impressed me so much with how quickly they can figure out new situations, it is amazing how adaptable small kiddos are.  Miss M rode an escalator and elevator for the first time at the airport, and now she is a pro.  When we go to the mall, all she wants to do is ride up the escalator and down the elevator. She knows how to push the button for the cross walk and crosses like a NYC native.  Both girls also now recognize McDonalds…. there is one close to our house which we have visited for ice cream and the playground :).  You would never know a few weeks ago they were chasing goats barefoot across a field.  My goal for our time here is to do as many things as we can that aren't available in Belize, including things like dance lessons for the girls.  I also stumbled across some Chinese cooking lessons offered by the Chinese cultural center, and have gone a couple of times.  No one speaks much English beyond "Good!" with a thumbs up and smile, but that seems to be enough for cooking lessons.  It's a lot of fun.

Pardon the recycled Instagram photos for this post, I'm having some trouble getting my Mac on the wireless here, and have to borrow Daniel's computer for now.  I've got a few more posts written, and I figured I would just try and post more rather then worry too much about pictures.  More soon!

Friday, March 25, 2016

So, Fiji.  I am enamored.  We are in Suva, the capital city.  It is on a bit of a peninsula, and a cool sea breeze blows all day long.  The light has a different quality here-- somehow things have more contrast, more clarity.  At first there was something about the light  that puzzled me, until I remembered that the sun  appears to be moving in a different direction than I am used to because we are below the equator.

We flew into Nadi, then took a smaller plane across the country.  The interior of Fiji is a continuous roll of mountains, starting out brown and  then becoming green and jungley.  Suva is ringed by more mountains, and slopes down to the harbor where huge ships and smaller fishing boats dock.  There are a lot of similarities to Belize-- Fiji is also a former British colony-- so the architecture feels very familiar.  Schools are built the same, the school children all wear uniforms, the trees and plants are the same.  It was quite disorienting driving from the airport, seeing so much that looked familiar, yet driving on the “wrong” side of the road.  Also, lots of men wear sulus-- which are basically wrap skirts.  Still getting used to that.

We are incredibly lucky to have a nice place to stay.  It is within a few blocks of  a lot of shops (including a store which  is like a Costco and a McDonalds… such a different world).  Also, we have hot water and AIR CONDITIONING.  Basically, this is a luxury resort for us.  It’s amazing how well you can cope with the heat and humidity when you know there is a nice cool bedroom you can retreat to.  And the heat and humidity  can be overwhelming-- it has been around 90-95 degrees daily, with similar humidity. We missed a few weeks of the semester, but it worked out the best for us, since Fiji was hit by a category 5 typhoon a few weeks ago.  Suva did not get a lot of damage comparatively, but there still was near 200 mile per hour winds, trees down, roofs off, and no electricity.  Parts of the country were completely flattened.  Here in Suva, you can see spaces where huge trees were knocked down, but other than that you would never know such a huge storm recently hit.  It would have been very, very scary to have been here during the typhoon with the 2 girls.  We are still dealing with rolling electricity and water outages, which can be frustrating, but since parts of the country still haven’t had electricity restored since the typhoon we can’t complain.

The University campus is really incredible.  It is quite large, and paths and bridges wind through huge, vine covered trees. Palms, oversize ferns and lots of really large bats flying around during the day make it seem like a prehistoric jungle.  The buildings are architecturally very interesting, with lots of tropical influences.

Daniel is one of only a few students in his class, and he is enjoying it, although he is working non-stop to make up for the 3 weeks he missed.   The semester is being held here in Fiji because there are a lot of industrial farms, and the class will go on field trips to visit.  I’m quite jealous Daniel will get to see so much of the country!

Internet here is very intermittent, and I've been slow to take out my nice camera because I'm mostly hauling around both girls and don't have an extra hand.  But I've got lots to share, so hopefully I'll be able to post again soon!

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

(I'm working with limited internet right now, sorry for a long post with no pictures.  I've been posting on Instagram a bit if you are desperate for pics....)

Bula!  (that’s hello)  We made it, we are in Fiji and it is glorious!  Before I get to the awesomeness that is Fiji, though, I have to document our trip here.  It was EPIC, in a very Homererian shipwreck-Cyclops-angry sirens way.

On Monday, we heard that our long-awaited Fiji visa was ready.   Since Daniel’s flight is part of his scholarship, we had to wait for the coordinators to source his flight, and then pray that the girls and I would be able to buy tickets  for the same itinerary.  On Thursday, Daniel was told they wanted to fly him out that  Sunday.  At about 10pm that night, Daniel was sent a flight itinerary, and we noticed the university was working with a travel agent to source the flight.  We quickly emailed and asked if we could work with the same Fijian travel agent to get flights for me and the girls.  At 1am Friday morning,  after multiple phone calls and emails to Fiji, we were successfully booked on the same flights Sunday.  And the itinerary was perfect: direct Belize to LA, and then overnight LA to Fiji.  About 24 hours travel time for us.   At this point, it was Friday in Belize and Saturday in Fiji.  Everything was set for Sunday….. Only no one had ever sent us a copy of our visa.  We spent Friday and Saturday trying to get in touch with someone to send it, but since it was the weekend, no one was in.  We decided there wasn’t much to do but cross our fingers and go.

Sunday  morning around 5am (after I got about 2 hours sleep-- seriously, where do allll those odds and ends in a house come from?  Impossible to be “finished” packing)  we set out for the airport.  The trip was uneventful  until about 5 minutes from the airport, when Lu projectile vomited all over me and herself.  No problem, I’d packed a few changes in the carry on.   At the (automatic) check in, we perplexed the kiosk since I was traveling on my US passport, the girls on Belize, and Daniel on his British passport.   When an agent came over, she asked to see Daniel’s ESTA waiver.  UMMM….. Oops.  I had completely forgotten about that.  Since he is British he doesn’t need a visa to travel through the States, but a few years ago they started requiring an online check and small fee that has to be done before travel.  Thank goodness for technology, cause I got out my computer and credit card, hooked up to airport wireless, and 15 minutes later, we were good to go (although my hands were shaking so much I could hardly type).  They ticketed us all the way through Fiji without asking about a visa!

Our flight to LA was great, Lu slept most of the way and Miss M was enthralled by the seat back tv.  This was my first time to the LA airport, and I was quite surprised after we cleared customs and immigration to exit right on the street.  After a bit of confused wandering around (hauling 2 carry-ons, 3 backpacks, and 2 toddlers) we were informed that we had to go up a level and to departures to go through security again.  Ok, no problem.  We got to security, and were informed that our boarding passes that were issued in Belize were not acceptable, and we had to re-check in at the Fiji air counter.  Which didn’t open till 6pm.  It was 1 pm.  We entertained the idea of trying to go somewhere, but we were tired and everything was confusing, so we settled in, getting the babies some pinkberry yogurt and raiding the 7-eleven-- the only 2 food places in the departure terminal. We got on the internet and were relieved to see an email from  the Fiji university stating that we didn’t need a copy of our visa, we were in immigration’s system

6pm arrived with much relief, as at that point I was doing laps around the terminal with 2 very squirrely 2 -year -olds.  We were first in line to have our boarding passes reissued….. And then, oh so casually from the gate agent, can we see your visas, please?  (here it’s important to note we were flying in on one-way tickets, as we will transfer to Samoa in June for another year and a half).  We got out the computer and showed them the university email, stating we did not need a copy of the visa.  We showed them the scholarship letter, the university acceptance letter, anything we had. NO DICE.  These (very polite) people were not going to budge.  They required a signed and stamped letter from Fiji immigration with our full names stating we have visas.   Right in front of us, the supervisor called down to baggage and asked them to remove our luggage from the cue. (it was 6pm, the flight was scheduled to leave at 10... I mean, give us a chance….)  Trying very hard not to panic, we got the computer out, and miraculously were able to call Fiji and the coordinator answered.  He was confused at the opposition, but agreed to email a copy of the visa.  5 minutes later, we triumphantly walked the computer over to the supervisors.  And, NOPE.  The letter stated that  those who hold Daniel’s type of scholarship are allowed in without visas, but the gate agents determined that it did not cover myself or the girls (we are dependents on his study permit).  So we called Fiji again. The coordinator promised to call immigration, and get them to write something out with my and the girl’s names on it.  Then we waited.  The gate agents set up a bit of a corral with those barrier things and brought us chairs.  At this point, the girls were manic, running and throwing toys and generally being over- tired over- stimulated toddlers.  Daniel and I called Fiji every 30 minutes, and kept being told “20 more minutes.”

Then Fiji stopped answering (they are still having electricity rationing from the hurricane that hit 3 weeks ago).  At this point it was 8pm, and the gate agents were not budging.  OK, back up plan.  What if we bought ongoing tickets to Samoa?  Fiji grants a 4 month tourist visa on entrance , so we could get tickets to Samoa for May, and then just change the dates when we got to Fiji (the semester ends mid-June).  We asked the agents.  “OK," they said, "can we please see your Samoa visas?”


We actually have applied for Samoa visas, but did not have it yet, and anyways, why the heck would they need to see our Samoa visas when we would be flying there 4 months  from now? How is it not enough that we have proof we are leaving Fiji?  It was approaching 8:30, the counter closed at 9, and Daniel at this point was ready to scrap the whole thing and go back to Belize.  I asked him to please go back and talk to one supervisor who was sympathetic, and find out if there is any flight we can buy that will  fulfill their requirements and be less than the $1,200 US per person  that the unneeded return ticket to Belize would cost.  And LO, he had an idea.  Buy ongoing tickets to Samoa, then further tickets to Western Samoa, which is a US territory and therefore we do not need / already have visas for.

And so, with very shaking fingers, using the last 9% charge on my computer, we bought those magical tickets to Western Samoa , showed the confirmation email to the agents, and they printed out our boarding passes.   We went straight through security and boarded at 9:45 pm.   The girls slept the entire 11 hour flight.

It was with much trepidation we approached the immigration agent at the international airport in Fiji, because the LA gate agents had regaled us with stories of travelers without proof of visas being locked in a room and than deported. “Do you have a visa,” the agent asked without looking up at us.  “Yes….,” we tentatively  said.  She waived us past.  Stunned, I (stupidly) said, “um, do you need to see it?”  “Nope.”  And we walked on by.

So now the girls and I have one-way tickets to Western Samoa, and a horror of the LA international airport that will take a loooooong time to fade.
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