A Diving And Food Guide To Taveuni – Fiji’s Garden Island

I have visited Taveuni, the third largest Fijian island, five times. First with a group of volunteers for an Easter vacation, next with my sister to visit Bouma Falls, again with my mom to swim beneath the waterfalls in Lavena village, and two more times in a single week, once with my brother and sister on their vacation from America, and again with my girlfriend and some other volunteers to dive the famous Rainbow Reef. Because the latter two were the most recent, they are the ones I will focus on in this two-part travel guide to the island.

Locals refer to Taveuni as the “Garden Island of Fiji” due to its fertile soil and abundance of farmers making a living growing and selling fruits, vegetables, and kava. Despite this, the produce is very expensive in the town markets. The farmers sell their crops to the main island to make money, so the fruits and vegetables for locals must then be imported. Of course, this is often but not always the case. Sometimes pickup trucks filled with pineapples will pull up offering the delicious fruit for only a dollar.

The main town, Naqara, is tiny and unimpressive. There are only six market stalls set along the street selling fresh foods. There is a new supermarket, built in December 2015, that sits at the end of town, only a three minute walk from the beginning of town. A couple of eateries serve dishes that leave me wanting, such as bad fish and chips and unappealing fried rice. A caged parrot hung on a porch above the bus repair garage, longing to get out of town and into the jungle. I felt the same way.

Kara’s homestay/hostel is one of two places I have taken up quarters in Taveuni and there are many reasons I continue to return. On her compound she grows just about every fruit and vegetable imaginable. Parrots squawk and flutter between trees, sometimes landing on the passion fruit vines for a juicy snack. Their green backs, blue wings, and red bellies hold my attention for hours. There is a pool on the compound made with large stones cemented around a small stream. The passage which allows the stream to flow can be stopped up so the pool fills and creates a semi-natural swimming pond complete with fish and shrimp.

Kara’s place is on a large plot of land just outside a village called Lovonivonu (“turtle cooked in an underground oven,” in English). On the compound is her house and the hostel, a single room building with two bathrooms, a sink, one bed, and three mattresses on the floor. Although this sounds strange, the sheets are clean, the mattresses are comfortable, and I have never had any problems.

Outside, connected by a large front porch, is a kitchen with a gas stove, sink, and all the utensils, plates, and pans you could need. Around the side are two more bathrooms with showers and a large sink for handwashing laundry.

Kara usually provides fruits for breakfast in the mornings and she will cook for her guests for a small fee (about USD$7/day) if they ask. She charges FJD$25/person/night (USD$12) to stay in the hostel. She is one of the kindest people I have ever met and I highly recommend her accommodation. To get there from the ferry, just walk south until you see the second sign for Lovonivonu and make a left. From the airport, a taxi is necessary and will cost about FJD$20 (USD$10). Tell the taxi driver to take you to Waimakare. If they are unsure where that is, most locals know it as “rock pool.”

It is possible other guests will share the accommodation with you, but Kara will usually ask if this is alright. However, I have only shared once in my five times there, as it is not well advertised and very few tourists find out about it. It is truly a hidden paradise.

On my last trip to Taveuni, I dove the Rainbow Reef. The Somosomo strait, an ocean passage between Vanua Levu and Taveuni, is one of the most beautiful dive spots in Fiji. The Pacific Ocean feeds through and creates more soft coral than exists anywhere else in the world. This is why Fiji is often referred to by divers as the “Soft Coral Capital of the World”.

I dove with Taveuni Ocean Sports and I would highly recommend them. On top of being professional and safe (not extremely common when diving in Fiji) they are fun and provide amazing snacks. Owned by an American named Julie, they are really good to US Peace Corps Volunteers. They picked three other volunteers and me up from Kara’s, which would have been a $15 cab ride, each of the two mornings we dove and dropped us off each afternoon. They also provided all of our gear and took us out on very new and reliable boats.

The first day the weather was bad and we were with an inexperienced diver from Japan who spoke little English. She held us up. Once down on the ocean floor, we waited for some time for her to get the hang of swimming. She was up and down and all around the whole time, unable to control her movement and flailing her limbs. Due to this, we spent a lot of time on that first dive sitting on dead coral looking at a few fish and one White Tip Reef Shark.

As Peace Corps Volunteers, we are always on the lookout for good food. The snacks we were given on the boat between dives were some of the best I’ve had in Fiji. The dive shop provided homemade hummus, not too thick and not too thin, fresh vegetables, crackers, fruits, fresh squeezed fruit juice, chai tea, and home-baked desserts. I felt bad for the Japanese girl as we swarmed and devoured every crumb before the dive master finished talking to us about fish species found on the reef.

The second dive on that first day started out better. We went to Fish Factory, a dive site I had heard amazing things about. People had told me schools of fish surround divers in thick clouds that make it difficult to see. I had big expectations.

Once in the water, my mask began to fill with water every time I turned against the current. I cleared it a few times by pushing against the top rim and blowing out my nose ,as I had learned to do when I first started diving. It worked, but did not stop it from filling again two minutes later.

During the PADI Open Water Diver certification course, the diver is expected to prove their ability to remove and replace their mask underwater. It is by far the most stressful part of the certification. However, now I am more experienced, I have earned my PADI Adventure Diver certification, and I am more comfortable underwater. So, when my mask would not stop filling up with water, I took it off and readjusted it, seventy feet below the sea’s surface. Three times I did this. No luck. I suffered and saw little. Still, I did not miss much. Fish Factory, at least on this day, did not live up to its name.

At the end of the first day, I was disappointed. All of us were, though we did not want to admit it to the others. I felt as though I had wasted two-hundred dollars. It was not the dive shop’s fault. As with all disappointment, our expectations had been too high. We had heard so many amazing things about diving in Taveuni—many people had told me it was their favorite spot in the world—and it did not live up to the hype. I hoped the next day would be better.

That night we went out for delicious and expensive bacon cheeseburgers at Coconut Grove, another American owned establishment. Hannah and I had a glass of wine and the total for the two of us came to FJD$64 after a Peace Corps discount. Quite an expensive dinner, but I happily threw the money out of my wallet. I was excited for a good meal after spending months in the village eating fish and taro leaves.

The following morning Emily was having problems with her ears. They hurt and had not cleared since the first dive the day before. She called Julie at the dive shop who told her it would be a bad idea to dive. Emily decided to stay home and wished us luck. As we left she said, “You guys better not do the White Wall.”

Julie picked us up just after seven. On the way to the shop she asked how we liked the diving the day before. I lied and said it was excellent. After all, it was not her fault it had sucked.

At the dive shop we grabbed our gear and headed out again, on a newer, nicer boat with two two-hundred horsepower engines. It was fast and brought us to our first dive of the day, a site called Swirling Rainbow due to the rotating current.

This time, us three Peace Corps Volunteers had our own personal dive master so we did not have to wait for anyone else. As soon as we got in the water we descended and began swimming, enjoying the fact that we were in control of our dive. We saw an octopus standing guard above its home, a White Tip Reef Shark resting on the seafloor, schools of fish, a huge Clown Triggerfish, an Oriental Sweetlips hiding in coral, lots of Clown Fish guarded by anemones, and much more. It was a nice dive, more what I had expected from Taveuni, with lots of soft coral and sea fans. And the strong current kept it interesting.

After another delicious hummus snack and one-hour surface interval, the dive masters revealed our next dive site: The Great White Wall. It was the dive we had all been hoping for since we arrived in Taveuni. It is a vertical wall covered in white soft coral and sea life. It seems to be in the middle of an infinite sea, as there is nothing but deep blue see beside and below it. It was truly amazing. Swims through caverns, under coral ceilings, and up through rock holes that looked like portals with the sunny ocean surface above made it even better. It was the best dive I have ever done.

Getting back on the boat was not quite as enjoyable. After we surfaced, our dive master told us the current had brought us too close to the reef and we needed to swim away so the boat could get close enough to pick us up. We kicked as hard as we could as our inflated vests kept us afloat. Shortly, the boat came around and the captain threw out a long rope. The dive master told us to grab hold.

I grabbed on and so did everyone else, including another group of divers that had joined us at the surface. There were about ten of us holding the rope in a single file line. Hannah was in front of me and as the boat started to pick up speed I saw her bobbing in and out of the waves, struggling to breathe without her regulator.

The boat took off and Hannah let go of the rope. She slammed into me and spun off to my left. I let go, not wanting to leave her behind and because it was becoming near impossible to hang on. I quickly realized that no one was still on the rope. The boat had pulled us so hard that everyone had let go or been ripped off.

“What the hell was that?” a middle-aged American woman asked.

All of us Peace Corps Volunteers had learned not to become angry at such things and we all laughed. Eventually we all got back on the rope and struggled to get up on the boat as fast as we could, which is a difficult task with twenty pounds or more of gear on.

At the end of the day we grabbed a beer at the parent resort of the dive shop, Nakia, and talked about what a great time we had and how much better it was than the previous day. I even shirt swapped our dive master for his Taveuni Ocean Sports t-shirt that costs FJD$30 at the shop.

We had dinner at Taveuni Dive Resort, a delicious pizza, and talked mostly about diving.

The earlier trip with my brother and sister to the waterfalls at Bouma will be in Part 2 of this Taveuni series. Look out for it next week or subscribe here to my monthly newsletter.

Close Of Service

Last week, Peace Corps Fiji Group 91 had our final training and conference. Traditionally, this is the fanciest and most expensive of all the trainings. It was the last time I will see most of the people I spent the last two years with. However, as I am not leaving, I did not feel as sentimental as many other volunteers.

We stayed at a nice resort, The Pearl, on the beach in Pacific Harbor. The rooms had hot water, air conditioning, and big-screen TVs. The ocean comes right up to the edge of the resort and Beqa Island, where I did a shark dive, can be seen from the bar. Peace Corps paid for delicious breakfast, lunch, and dinner buffets for us that included steak, shrimp, lamb, and omelets.

I learned that Peace Corps approved my extension of service for another year, pending a few conversations and confirmations from my village’s headman and school’s headmaster. I will be changing from a Health volunteer to a Youth Empowerment volunteer, which I am very excited about. The headmaster wants me to teach a literacy intervention program. I love this as I was already doing it last year under the old headmaster and I love teaching reading and writing.

The conference was only two days but it was nice to see everyone for one last time to catch up and say farewell. I hope to see many of them in the United States somewhere down the line. But for the next year it is only me and one other girl from my group, Kito, who are staying behind. Then I will travel the world for a while before returning home.

In the training we had to do a small exercise. We were given a sheet of paper that said “Fiji is…” and a blank space underneath. The first word that came to my mind was “Home.” Fiji has become a second home for me. A home away from home. I have friends and family here, an amazing girlfriend, and everywhere I go someone on the street stops me to say hello. I can’t imagine a better place to spend the next year of my life.

During the conference we also had a farewell kava ceremony with the staff, learned how to cope with returning to the states, took a lot of pictures, and told each other what we planned on going back to. Most of my group only has two months left here. I cannot imagine going home yet.

Over the next year, in addition to teaching the literacy intervention program, I plan to help my village fund and build a hydroelectric dam. This will provide consistent electricity to a village that has only ever had power from a generator for a couple of hours every night. They could make ice to keep and sell fish and manufacture lumber from their pine trees, both of which would generate income. These people live so far from town that they cannot live here and hold a job, so a steady income would change their lives dramatically.

Here are some videos from the conference:

If you would like to stay up to date on what I am doing in Fiji, I have started a daily vlog on YouTube here. I film throughout the day and upload the videos every morning. If you like them, subscribe to the channel to get updates every time I post a video.

Also, I have started a newsletter. If you are viewing this site on a desktop, the signup form is at the top of the sidebar on the left side of this page. If you are on a phone or a tablet, or you can’t find the signup form, click here. I will be sending out an email every Tuesday with the latest blog posts, vlogs, and things I am enjoying.

Adventure Diver Certification

Last month I decided to rise through the ranks of PADI diver certifications in order to earn the title of dive master. It is not an overly difficult process, but it does take a lot of time and money. Time I have, money I’m a bit short on.

Last week, I succeeded in moving up the ladder by one rung, getting closer to my goal. I took leave and spent the week in Labasa to get my Adventure Diver certification. It was $650 FJD and three days 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.

I did the certification with Hannah. It was her first time diving and she got her Open Water certification, the most basic level. Although there were a couple dives I had to do separately, namely the deep dive (went down to 115 feet) and the drift dive, we were able to do all of her dives together. We had a blast.

The dive shop is on Mali island and it is absolutely stunning. With coconut trees and white sand beaches to lounge on in between dives and crystal clear blue and turquoise water to swim in, I have no complaints.

I did a total of six dives over three days. We saw a leopard shark, two green sea turtles, several giant clams, and a few clown fish. Also, the Great Sea Reef, the one we dove, is the third largest continuous barrier reef in the world. It was incredible.

Leone, the dive master, is a Fijian from Mali island who got his certification in Fiji and then taught diving in Wales before returning home and opening his own dive shop. He now takes visitors to the hotels in Labasa diving. If you are planning a trip here and would like to contact him his number is +679 903-3404. You can also find him on Facebook by searching for Great Sea Reef Divers.

Below are a few videos of our trip. I didn’t record the actual diving because my GoPro is broken, but I have videos of the boat ride and exiting the water with our dive gear. Enjoy!

Stung By A Stingray

Getting stung by a stingray is not fun. I found out the hard way a few months back. Now that I have recovered, both physically and mentally, I am ready to talk about it.

It is true, I survived an animal attack that killed Steve Irwin. I will take credit for that, it is impressive. However, his was much more intense, the stingray was much bigger, and a barb lodged in his heart. There is no comparison.

I was travelling to Wainigadru, the village where I catch the bus, by boat. When we arrived, I stepped off of the boat. Immediately, I felt a vibration throughout my body similar to an electric shock. Even though I had never experienced it before, I knew exactly what had happened.

I lifted up my leg. A tiny hole on my right foot had a steady stream of blood rolling from it. From the amount of blood and the speed it was coming out, I could tell it was deep. I looked around for the stingray, but it was gone.

I walked Hannah to the bus stand and waited with her. I had did not have any of my things–no clothes, no money, no phone. As I sat waiting the pain increased. I knew from stories I had heard from friends in my village that it would continue to get worse. Almost every man in my village has been stung once. And nearly all of them have told me it was the worst pain they have ever experienced.

I wanted to hop on the bus and go straight to the hospital, but without any of my stuff I knew it was a bad idea. Instead, I got back on the boat, being very careful of where I stepped as I walked through the sea.

On the way back to Tawake the boat captain, Toga, asked if I was in pain. When I said adamantly, yes, he told me he would show me the traditional Fijian medicine for stingray stings when we got back to the village. In the meantime, he decided it was a nice day to go fishing. We ambled around the sea in several large circles with a fishing line hanging out the back of the boat, trying to catch dinner. Meanwhile, I was holding my foot and trying not to scream at him.

When we finally arrived back at the village, nearly an hour later (it is normally a twenty-minute ride) I lay down on my floor and writhed. I truly writhed. Not like when people say they were writhing in pain, but really they just had a wound that hurt. I mean I rolled around, unable to stay still, in the worst pain I have ever experienced or imagined. I thought about sawing my foot off to ease it.

The bleeding slowed but the pain continued to intensify.

“Ricky.”

The call came from Toga’s house next door.

“Yes?” I said from the ground.

“It’s still hurting?”

“Yes,” I said, stifling a laugh. “Still hurting.”

“Come.”

I got up, put on a shirt, and limped to their house.

“Come inside, lie down here,” Toga said when I got to the door. He pointed at a foam mattress laid out on the kitchen floor.

I did as he said. There was even a pillow for me.

“If we don’t do this Fijian medicine, in two or three days you won’t be able to walk.”

That was all the convincing I needed. The people in my village have lived by the sea for hundreds, maybe thousands of years. If anyone knows how to treat a stingray wound, it must be them.

“This is going to hurt,” Toga’s wife, Terisa, said in Fijian. She showed me a strand of thick grass, the type where the bottom is a slender tube. Then she took the tube end and shoved it into my wound. Back and forth, side to side, she scraped every hidden cranny of the inside of my flesh.

She was right; it hurt.

“This will get out the bad blood,” Toga said.

I consoled myself with information I had just read, while writhing on the floor of my hut, on WebMD. It said that stingrays often leave barbs inside a wound that the victim must remove to reduce the chance of infection. I hoped that was what the grass plunger was doing.

By the time she finished, the wound was gushing blood. They assured me that was a good sign.

I heard Toga pounding something on the counter behind me. He came back with a shot glass filled halfway with a cloudy green liquid.

“This is a type of grass, called soco,” he said. He handed it to Terisa, who poured it into the wound.

“Blow it,” he said. She blew the juice to force it deeper into the wound.

I expected this part to sting, but it did not. It almost felt nice. Soothing. I guess anything would after someone jams a piece of grass into an open wound.

Next, they covered the puncture, from which the stream of blood had slowed to a trickle, with the pulp of the pounded grass. They wrapped it with a piece of cloth and tied it tight. They said I was all set and I returned home.

Lying on my bed, I continued tossing and turning. I decided to call the Peace Corps Medical Officer. Who knew what I had just done to myself by accepting herbal remedies?

“I’m surprised you’re not crying,” Fina, the medical officer, said when I told her what had happened. “You should go to the hospital right away. We can pay for your boat ride and a taxi.”

I told Toga I required his boat again and gave him $50 for the fare. A few hours later I was in Labasa, waiting at the hospital.

The pain had subsided by then, and was almost unnoticeable. It is crazy that the worst pain of my life lasted only four hours, but I guess the venom of the bullet ant has a similar effect.

The doctor gave me a tetanus shot, antibiotics, and painkillers, then sent me away. It was an uneventful end to an extremely stressful day, which is the best situation I could  have asked for.

I think I could have used a couple stitches, because the wound bled a small amount, off and on, for about a week. But I used butterfly bandages and gauze and eventually it healed. Now it is just a tiny scar that carries a big story.

Celebrating Independence Day In Fiji

This Fourth of July was awesome. Despite being away from the United States, from friends and family, and from grocery stores where one can buy just about any food in existence, I had a great time. I spent it with my friends and fellow Peace Corps Volunteers here in Fiji. And one Canadian.

Since we only get Fijian holidays off, and many people had to work on the fourth, we celebrated on Saturday, July 1. Which is Canada Day, I discovered. the Canadian who planned the trip tricked us into celebrating this unknown holiday.

The eight of us got a pick-up truck with a canopy cover and bench seats in the bed to drive us down to Korovatu beach. We expected it to be empty, since no one else on the island celebrates American Independence Day, but it was actually pretty packed and there weren’t any shelters with tables left.

We found the shadiest spot and spread out towels on the sand. Each of us had contributed a bottle of wine for sangria, so we put out a pitcher of that and everyone filled up a cup. Mike (the Canadian) and I, the only men among the group, began setting up the grill and firing up the charcoal. He had sautéed chicken and made beef and veggie burgers the night before, so all we had to do was throw them on and let them cook. The grill was travel size though, so it was a little tougher than that.

The girls swam while us guys cooked. In Fiji, the tide is a tricky thing. It’s not like the States, where you just move your beach chair backward or forward to accommodate it. Since the coral reef here breaks the waves long before they reach shore, the sea floor after the reef is mostly shallow and flat. So when the tide goes out, there is very little water left on the sand, almost until the reef ledge. So, at low tide, swimming is not a possibility, unless the beach has a deep lagoon.

On this day, we caught the tide as it was rising, just by chance, which gave us all the time we wanted to enjoy wading in the calm, clear sea.

The land around the beach was also used as a copra farm. Copra is dried coconut, usually sold to make coconut oil. There were hundreds of coconut trees, most about fifty feet tall, all around us, the sapphire sea and small islands ahead of us, and an empty sky above where a warm winter sun resided. It was, in a word, perfect.

We lined up the potato salad, burgers, chips, chicken, veggie burgers, cheese, condiments, and toppings on a bench. The chicken legs were possibly the best I have ever had, marinated in chili powder, lime, salt, and pepper. Everything was phenomenal.

After the cooking, eating, and drinking, I took my first dip in the ocean. The water was perfect. Sometimes the water here is scalding. Truly hot. But in the winter, as it is now in the southern hemisphere, it tends to even out, never getting too cold.

We swam, played, and laughed, then did it over again and again until the sun began to set. The truck showed up to get us at dusk and we arrived home at dark.

I hope to have more celebrations as good as this one in the future. Happy Independence Day to everyone in the U.S.A. and our fellow Americans serving abroad in every capacity.

Morning Routine Of A Peace Corps Volunteer

I recently posted a video outlining my morning routine. There is a great book, Daily Rituals by Mason Currey, which outlines the routines of world class performers, people such as Beethoven and Maya Angelou. I find studying these routines to be very helpful to shed light on what all or most of these top artists have in common.

For more information on why I write affirmations, check out Scott Adams’s article here.

Life In An Organic House

Many days, the first thing that happens after I get out of bed is I catch a spider web with my face. It is not at all a pleasant way to start the morning, and my first words of the day are often curses or, when I’m in an oddly happy mood, a laugh. However, the angry brushing of my face and limbs to remove the sticky cobweb is equal to the strongest caffeine when it comes to removing the fog of sleep from its siege on my brain.

Next, as I’m drinking my coffee or meditating, a wasp might dive bomb me from the ceiling. If I am lucky, it will land a few feet from me and I will smash it with my water bottle before it can fly away. If fortune has decided not to favor me that particular morning, it might land on me and force me to swat it off before it can remember that it has an excellent defense mechanism capable of causing enormous pain to an animal approximately one-thousand times the size of itself.

If neither of those occur, I am almost certain to find a brand new swarm of ants, approximately two-thousand of them, making a brand new home in my luxurious bure (Fijian thatched house). They might be nesting on the wall or on a tree trunk that serves as a pillar of support to my walls and roof. No matter how many of them I slaughter with an easy press of my finger on the nozzle of an aerosol can, they will not learn. It will happen again, at least once every week, in my house or bathroom. I will once again sweep up their corpses and toss them into the wind. I will not allow even thousands of these puny lives weigh on my conscience.

Later in the day I might spill some oil on my woven mat. The creases between the woven leaves make cleanup nearly impossible, so even though I will wipe it up I know some still lingers. But I do not worry about it, because I know my ants will come to the rescue. They will swarm the area until every last drop of oil is licked dry and the mat is clean. This is my struggle with the ants. Sometimes your best friends and worst enemies are the same.

Occasionally, as I kill wasps throughout the day, usually around ten of them, I have to make a decision. Do I throw them outside and let the chickens eat them, or do I pile them up so I can count how many yellow and black scalps I’ve taken at the end of the day? If I do the latter, the pile of bodies will be swarming with ants by the time the sun goes down and I record my kill count. Often times this leads to two different factions of ants warring over the feast. I have sat and watched this miniature battle for nearly an hour in the past, and I do not consider a single second of that time wasted. I was learning, and being entertained. The whole time I could only think of Henry David Thoreau watching a similar scene in his wood shed, and I understood how he had become completely engrossed in the epic campaign.

Rats used to come out in the evening while I watched movies on my laptop. They would run around the edge of my walls, forcing me to become startled and jump up every so often. This stopped when I got my cat, Musashi. However, last night, a brave little mouse decided to disregard the smell of my cat, who was absent, and make my home his playground. I chased him around, sprayed him with bug spray (which did nothing) and swung at him with my machete. He avoided all of my attacks and I went to sleep with the blanket pulled over my head.

At night, I might look around the roof for roaches that have prematurely evacuated their hiding spaces. If I find them I spray them with the same weapon I use against the ants, or I smash them to save time and money. There bodies must be similarly thrown to the wind or fed to the ants. I prefer the former with these creatures, as Oriental Cockroaches in particular have a vile odor. I spend a lot of time hunting these suckers down so that I never have to go through the experience of waking up to one curled around my genitals like the ugliest of lovers ever again.

It is not easy living in a house that is alive in so many ways, but it is a truly amazing experience. It is something that I wanted to do for a long time. Years before I came to Peace Corps, I added “Live in a primitive dwelling for a year” to my bucket list. Now I have crossed it off. Although I sometimes lust after the comforts of a royal suite with a hot shower, memory foam mattress, zero wildlife, and maids rather than ants to clean up after me, I would not trade my two years in this bure for anything in the world. I hate it sometimes, but I always love it.

In Memory Of Nana

At the beginning of this year, my nana got sick. Nana is the Fijian word for mother. She is the woman who fed me during my first year in Tawake. She massaged my back when I had a cough. She did my dishes. She walked to my house to bring me lunch on the afternoons she went fishing. She took care of me. She was my family.

She had a lump on her breast. I had no idea until it started bleeding one day. My tata (father) told me about it. I do not know if they had prior knowledge of it or not. I do know that it was not treated properly. Tata did not go to the nurse to get help because he believed, if they prayed hard enough, God would help her if he deemed her worthy of his help.

I did everything I could. I insisted that God only helps those who help themselves. That God gave us the knowledge of modern medicine and wants us to use it to treat our illness whenever necessary. Nothing worked. God is the almighty, and doctors cannot compete.

During all of this, I went to their house to get Tata’s signature on a form. Nana was lying on the mat on the floor of the sitting room. She looked tired and weak. She had hardly moved from that spot in months. When I came she must have been embarrassed by the blood pooling under her right breast, because she mustered the strength to lift herself off the ground to wipe it up. It made me so sad, but I did not know what I could do. I think about it often, how I could have helped, but I still do not know what I could have done.

Finally, it got to the point that she lost so much blood she was losing consciousness. One February afternoon, I heard a commotion outside. I went out to see if visitors had arrived, and instead saw a few men loading my nana into the boat on a makeshift stretcher. She was finally going to the hospital. Though it was sad to see her in such a condition, so weak and fragile when she was once strong and sturdy, I was happy she was finally going to get some help.

I saw Tata in Labasa, the nearest town, the next week. I sat beside him on a bench in a busy courtyard beside the street. He told me Nana was okay. They had stopped the bleeding and she would be going home in a few days. However, she had breast cancer and it had spread to her lung. She needed a mastectomy.

Unfortunately, Tata did not believe the doctor. He prayed to God, asking if this information was true, and God had given him no confirmation that it was. Therefore, it was false. She did not need a mastectomy. She needed to go home and pray.

So go home she did, and pray they did.

Tata’s sister, a woman I call Nana Levu, came to help out with the housework. She is a very sweet lady and she began cooking all of my meals.

I used to go to their house for every meal. I would eat with them and talk with Tata in English and Nana in Fijian. She did not speak very much English, so the days it was just her and I, when I first got here, it was rough, but I learned a lot of the language that way. Now they brought my food to my home, I guess because they either did not want me to see Nana that way, or because it was too much for her and she needed rest and care.

I wanted to go over and talk to her. I wanted to tell her that she should not listen to everyone else, that I would get the nurse for her and get her help. That she needed her breast removed if she was going to get better. But I did nothing. I sat in my house, upset and unable or unwilling to help.

In May my tooth started providing me with a nice, shooting pain whenever I ate hot or cold foods, so I went to Suva to have it fixed. The day of my dentist appointment I got a text. It was from Tata and read, “Sa mate o Nana.” Nana is dead. She had died on Saturday night, the night before I flew to Suva, and no one had called me to let me know, to give me a chance to go back to the village for her funeral.

I was on a completely different island and there was nothing I could do. I called Tata. He told me they had to bury her on Sunday. The nurse told them that without a way to preserve the body, the rot in her chest demanded a quick burial. At about eleven o’clock Sunday morning the village buried her. I found out on Monday morning.

Nana Levu is still cooking my meals, but there is a noticeable absence. I went to her grave the other day to be with her. I wish I had been able to attend her funeral, but some things in life we cannot dictate, as Nana found out the hard way. She did not choose to forgo treatment. But it does not matter now. I miss her, but I must move on.

I will never forget what a loving woman she was, nor the important lessons she taught me. She was always laughing and joking. She tried her best to converse with me, sometimes through hand motions and broken English. She took me in as a member of her family. She called me her son. I am so lucky I had the privilege of knowing such a great woman.

Best Restaurants on Vanua Levu

I live on the island of Vanua Levu, so I do not know much about the big island, Viti Levu, but I have eaten at just about every restaurant on my island and the island of Taveuni. I have compiled a list of my favorites. These are the best places to eat in the north of Fiji.

Copra Shed

The Copra Shed is the main expat hangout spot in the North. They serve everything from fajitas to burgers, but the highlights are pizza and breakfast. They have the best breakfast I have found for a reasonable price on Vanua Levu. It’s not great, admittedly, but it is good, and it is better than anywhere else outside of the resorts. The omelet is my go-to.

Their pizza is the second best I have found in the north, the best being at Palmlea, outside of Labasa. The “Dina” pizza is my favorite. The sausage topping on it is delectable. A large pizza will easily feed three hungry adults, or four if you don’t mind having just a few slices each.

This spot also has an amazing view of Savusavu bay and it owns the marina, so all the yachties hang out on the deck drinking Fiji Gold and Fiji Bitter beers. The bar has a TV with decent channels and it’s a nice place to go to meet expats who can tell you about some of the must-see places in Fiji’s “Hidden Paradise”.

Surf ‘n’ Turf

Surf ‘n’ Turf is my overall favorite restaurant in the North. It is a small, family run restaurant in Savusavu, with a beautiful view of the bay from the outdoor eating deck. They serve the most amazing seafood I’ve eaten in Fiji, and they also have the best burger. During avocado season (January-February) ask them to add their homemade avocado salsa to your beef burger. It’s to die for.

Other favorites include the seafood pasta, which is full of lobster, shrimp, fish, etc. The snapper burger is my number one choice when they have fresh snapper. The kokoda (like seviche) is excellent. Just about everything on the menu is good.

This is one of the pricier restaurants on this list. The burger is only FJD $15, which is not bad if you are converting from U.S. Dollars, as it is only about USD $7. Everything else is FJD $20-$50, which still isn’t bad when converting.

During the day, go here and get a double scoop of homemade ice-cream. You won’t regret it. It is the best ice-cream in Fiji, hands down. They have three flavors: chocolate, coconut, and coffee. All of them are excellent. A double-scoop cone is FJD $7.

Koro Sun

Koro Sun is a resort. I believe the dining area is open to the public, though I’m not completely sure. It is on the pricey side, but if you want some good Western food, it is well worth it. The Americans who own the resort are also very nice and they are often roaming around so you may get a chance to meet them. There is a well stocked bar and a live band most nights.

Chinese Wok

Chinese expatriates make up the third largest ethnic population in Fiji. This is one of two main Chinese restaurants on Vanua Levu, and the only one in Savusavu. It is absolutely delicious and offers the cheapest beer in the area. It also has air conditioning, so it is a great spot to eat when you need to get out of the burning Fiji sun. Everything I have ordered has been great, but the Mongolian eggplant is one of the best meals I’ve had in Fiji.

Mum’s Kitchen

A tiny hole in the wall across from the Savusavu bus stand, Mum’s Kitchen serves the best curry in Fiji. The best option for value and taste is the vegetable curry, only FJD $6. Get it with roti, a mix between tortilla and naan that is common in Fiji. It will fill you up, satisfy your taste buds, and go easy on your wallet. Don’t miss this one.

Oriental

Oriental is the other big Chinese restaurant on the island. It is near the Labasa bus stand, so it is centrally located in town. Ask to be seated in the VIP room, as the main room does not have air conditioning and the fan does little to dull its stuffy heat. Some good orders here are the chicken wings and the flat noodles with beef.

Grand Eastern

This is the main stop for Northern volunteers near Labasa due to its friendly staff, well stocked bar, great food, and gorgeous ambiance. There is an open-air indoor dining area, as well as picnic tables on the patio surrounding the pool. At night the surrounding torches are lit and the light of the flames dance over the palm leaves. It really is beautiful.

Unfortunately, they have a mosquito problem, so ask the server for a mosquito coil to place under the table and keep them from dining on your ankles while you dine on delicious fish and chips with mashed potatoes. Other favorites are the pizza (not comparable to American pizza, or to Copra Shed, but decent), the stuffed chicken breast, and the kokoda.

Banana Leaf

Banana Leaf is a small restaurant in the middle of Labasa town. It is upstairs and has a small outdoor eating area overlooking the street, as well as an indoor dining room with air conditioning. Most menu items are cheap and it is my number one choice for lunch. They have a few lunch specials, the best of which is chicken fried rice for FJD $5. The wait staff is also very friendly.

Palmlea

This is a hidden gem just twenty minutes outside of Labasa. If you take the bus to the junction they will drive down and pick you up. A very friendly couple owns it. The dining area is open to the public, so you can enjoy their food even if you are staying in town.

They have a large menu, but the spotlight falls on the wood-fired pizza and sangria pitchers. Ask for the white wine sangria, made with citrus and pineapple—it is phenomenal. The red is also very good. The sangria, unlike that at just about every other restaurant, is not cut with soda or sparkling water. It is straight wine and liqueur with some fruit to flavor. Do not miss this one if you are near Labasa.

Coconut Grove

This is a small, out-of-the-way restaurant on Taveuni. It is owned by an American expat and she has always been good to us Peace Corps Volunteers, offering a discount whenever possible. The best thing to get here is the burger. The extra cost for cheese and bacon is well worth it. It’s the second best burger in Fiji, first being at Surf ‘n’ Turf. This burger, however, is more consistent, whereas the one at Surf ‘n’ Turf can be great or just okay, depending on the chef’s mood.

Eating at Home

While grocery options are limited, Western staples are hard to find, and cooking is a hassle, it is still a great option. Things like cream cheese are a bit on the pricey side, but if you are willing to shell out the cash and get your hands dirty making some dough, bagels and cinnamon rolls can be had. With the right oven you could make a rotisserie chicken or homemade pizza. With paste from Suva you could whip up some Thai green curry. Vegetables are cheap at the market, provided they are in season. I prefer to save money and cook great food rather than spend a lot and eat an average meal.

Life Without a Refrigerator

Most days I do not sit and remember the joys of refrigeration, wishing I had a container that would keep my food cold. Nor do I think of the cool wisp of air that tickles one’s cheek upon opening the refrigerator door. I do not even reminisce on the soft smells that waft out of it. Life without a fridge is easy, even better.

Okay, all of that is a lie. I do remember, but I truly do not think about the beauties of such a device very often. I probably would if I did not have a family cooking for me. Luckily, I only prepare my breakfast, and eggs can keep outside of the fridge for two weeks or longer. I never knew they could be kept out for a day before I came to Fiji.

The most important lesson I learned when I began life without a refrigerator was how to shop. Since I could not keep anything for long, I had to learn which fruits and veggies keep longest, what westerners assume needs to be refrigerated but actually does not, and how much of each item to buy to survive in my village for two weeks to two months.

In the category of what lasts longest, I learned that the more water a fruit or vegetable contains, the shorter its lifespan. This means that greens and fruits of all sorts do not make the cut. All fruits need to be plucked from trees in the village once they ripen, so I do not eat them very often. Eggplant, pumpkin, and carrots all last for a fairly long time, as do staples such as onions, chilies, and garlic.

Dry goods are always a good thing to have around because they last forever. Typically, I keep beans in a bug-proof container for the days where I feel like cooking my food or my family forgets to bring my meal (not very often). Right now I have dhal (split peas) and black-eyed peas. Occasionally I find black and pinto beans, which I buy immediately. Other dry goods are things that we do not typically think about in the States, such as powdered milk.

Canned goods are obviously a good option when there is no refrigerator because they last nearly forever and are not affected by the heat and humidity. However, the boat ride and four-hour bus ride to town make it a pain to haul a bunch of heavy cans from town to my village, so I tend not to buy them. Also, the cans are not able to burn, so they end up getting buried on the beach if I am lucky, or washed out to sea if I am not.

Cooking is also affected by the ailment of fridge-less-ness. I have to make the exact portion of what I want to eat at that moment. There is no way to make a heap of food and save the leftovers so I do not have to cook later. Occasionally, I make too much and have to eat it for the next meal. I can save most things made at dinner until the next morning, as long as I re-cook it before eating. I can even eat fish the next day provided I fry it before consumption.

Items considered staples in America, such as butter and cheese, are unavailable to me completely. Both are unusable within two days. I could make a sort of makeshift fridge to keep cheese for a couple of days by putting it in a plastic bag, then placing that bag in another plastic bag, and letting it sit in a bucket of cool water. However, this is not even worth it, especially considering a small block of crappy cheese is FJD $6.

Because I have to take a twenty-minute boat ride and then a four-hour bus into town, I typically do my shopping in the village. This means I can only buy simple things like split peas, Ramen noodles, onions, garlic, and tuna. I can order eggs once a week, which I do occasionally when I’m tired of dhal for breakfast. But a bag of Dhal lasts about four to five days and costs FJD $2.50, whereas eggs are FJD $5.50 per dozen and I need to buy two dozen for one week. On a shoestring budget, the former is my usual choice.

For all of these reasons, I made the decision over a year ago to pay a family in the village FJD $10 per week to cook for me. This has been a huge money and time saver.

Life without a refrigerator is manageable. However, try to remember what a huge life changer the appliance is. Appreciate it. Most of the world does not have the luxury of saving leftovers, keeping cheese, buying groceries a week or two in advance, or pre-making the week’s meals. I know when I return to America I will never take the fridge for granted again.