Disclosure: This is stupid long. Hands down the longest post I’ve ever made. So grab a coffee, a blanket, and enjoy ?
LINK TO FIJI NUTRITION & PUBLIC HEALTH PROJECT
To say I learned a lot in my two weeks in Fiji is an understatement. It opened my eyes to a whole new world. A world of “Fiji time” and coconuts. A world of resorts and poverty. A world of drinks on the beach and sweat in places I didn’t know had glands. Do I take things for granted? Absolutely. The knowledge I have of health and fitness. Money. Time. Vegetables. I’ve done these types of mission trips before. You see how lucky you are in the life you live and swear you’re going to take that back home and live differently. I haven’t done that yet. I also haven’t had the same experience as I have the last 2 weeks. This was my first solo trip farther than Chicago. The first time I’ve ever been out of the country. So with that, the 10 lessons I learned:
Lesson #1: Breathe Culture shock is real guys. So freaking real. Let’s start with “Fiji time.” When I arrived at the airport in Nadi, Junior, the man who’s house we stayed at, picked me up. He took me on a little tour of Nadi and to Lautoka (where we stayed) and talked about the Fiji way of life. I figured it was kind of like small town KS where everything is a little laid back. So. Wrong. It makes western KS look like the Big freaking Apple. I’m always busy. I’ve almost always had two jobs while juggling class – or one job with a lot of hours. To get everything I need to get done and workout, I have to schedule things out. I’m always on the go and sitting and waiting gives me anxiety. I didn’t realize what a miserable way of life that is. I literally can’t enjoy just sitting because I know there are a million other things I could be doing. (Don’t get me wrong I have Netflix days that turn into weeks because I hit a wall and can’t function at that pace anymore.) So they say we’ll leave at 9. We’ll probably leave by 10 – maybe. “The boat’s on it’s way.” Code for it’ll leave in an hour – maybe. My Aussie friends laughed at me because that is what I struggled with most. They’d say be ready at 1, and I was ready. Then we sat there and I would get anxious that we weren’t going. As the weeks went on, the anxiety was less visible, but definitely still there. I could sit still, but my mind was still freaking out haha! Guess what guys? It’s gonna take a hell of a lot more time than 2 weeks and an increase in my anxiety meds to get me to chill out.
Lesson #2: Not everyone who honks at you is cat-calling. As a young, single female I know to walk with a purpose, look confident and ignore douchbag guys that honk when they drive by. The first time I went on a walk through town 9 out of 10 cars honked at me. Yes, some wanted to give me rides in their unofficial taxis, but most were just saying hi. I used to always walk down the street and smile and say hi at the people I passed. Then I got mistaken for really friendly/easy and started to accumulate more creepers. I keep my head down and go where I’m going. You do that here, and you’ll look like an American Bitch. Everyone says “Bula” (hello) as they walk by. There’s always a smile, and it makes my heart so happy!
Lesson #3: Life’s too short to deal with bullshit You create the life you want to live. These people are so happy, even when they don’t have much of anything, materially speaking. They will welcome you into their house with open arms, and you’ll leave with full bellies. They go with the flow. They don’t obsess over the small things. I’m 23 years old. I don’t need to have my life figured out. What I do know is that I don’t need to deal with the bullshit. My “ex” drunk text me while I was there. I finally had the realization that everyone’s been telling me. I deserve so much better. So I told him to commit or f*** off. Being on my own, away from everyone I know, laying on the beaches of Fiji (rough life right?!), I was forced to think about my life. What was I not happy with? I wasn’t happy continuing to cry over the boy that wasn’t ready. That’s not my fault. It’s his. Cut the bullshit. I’m not happy with my fitness level right now? Quit complaining and ripping yourself apart for and hit play.
Lesson #4: As much controversy as there is over our healthcare system, it’s pretty kickass. So a little bit about what we did because no one really knew. Hell, I didn’t know until Jules, our coordinator (who is the freaking best human being ever!), got here. We were doing a study, which, if it succeeds, will hopefully be able to be implemented in other areas of Fiji or other countries. We went to 2 resorts and did health checks on all the staff – height, weight, BMI, blood pressure, heart rate and blood glucose. We also did education sessions on healthy eating, risks of too much sugar consumption and exercise. For some of them this was the first time they’d ever had their blood pressure taken, and they were in their 33s. See, we grow up being poked with needles. As a baby, we get vaccines. It isn’t like that here. Most of them are afraid of injections, so they don’t go to the doctor. Or they’re working so much, they just power through the pain. In America, we tend to overprescribe medications. They have the exact opposite problem here. Out of the 400+ health checks we did, we had more than a few blood pressures of over 180/140 and blood glucose levels of over 10 (for those that don’t know it should be about 120/80 and between 3.5 and 5.5). Vitals that would have you hospitalized in the US. But they went back to work. Of course, we made them promise to go to the hospital right after work, they still finished their shift. These people are freaking incredible! Most of them didn’t know, but they were concerned about their health. More often than not, they had family members with diabetes or high blood pressure. They don’t want that for themselves. (I also realized that there’s no way in hell I could be a doctor, not because of the work. But because I couldn’t tell someone their diagnosis. I had enough trouble telling them their blood pressure was a little high, because you could see the fear in their eyes. It just broke my heart every time.)
Anyway, this lesson is getting long! The point is, they don’t have as much access to healthcare and the basic knowledge as we do in the U.S. We showed them how much sugar was in their juice, and they were shocked! (To be fair, I typically don’t drink juice because I know it’s high in sugar, but it had more than I was picturing.) We are fortunate to be able to get the medical attention we need. Yes, I know some parts of the country and some neighborhoods don’t have the same access I do as a middle-class, suburban girl, but overall, as a country, our healthcare system is leaps and bounds better.
Side note: I had said before that Fiji had one of the highest diabetes rates in the world, and many asked why. I didn’t have an answer until I got here. Within my first hour of landing, I was offered bread, cake, pie and ice cream. At Tokoriki, the staff eats in their staff quarters. Breakfast was cake and white bread – straight carbs and sugar. The amount of juice, soda and jam consumed is mindblowing. Dinner was typically well over 60-75% carbs – white rice and bread, noodles, root crops, etc. Don’t get me wrong, I love me some sugar. But cake for breakfast isn’t something I could do. It’s hard to tell them that their traditions are bad, but they could live much happier, healthier lives by making a few changes. It’s a fine line between being the white, Western girl telling them what they are doing is wrong and encouraging them to keep some traditions, while make other, healthier swaps.
Lesson #5: Something as simple as fresh vegetables are a luxury sometimes. When we were at the resort in Tokoriki, the island of Yanuya was a 5-10 min boat ride away. At Tokoriki, when we were done with our health checks for the day, we stayed at the (5-star) resort sipping on cocktails by the pool. At Yanuya, there are no vegetables. Less than 10 minutes away from mountains of food that gets thrown away are people that don’t have an option of that food. The Fiji you see in postcards vs. the real Fiji. The soil has too much sand; they don’t grow. It’s too far and expensive to the mainland, and if they were to get veggies back, they would spoil in a day because of the heat. (For real guys the heat was insane. Maybe it’s because I came from negative temps, but it was always over 85 with high humidity and very little A.C.) There’s no electricity, so no fridges to put the veggies in. They live off root crops (high carb, high sugar) and processed foods because they keep. They are overweight and unhealthy, but there’s nothing they can do about it. Takeaway – next time you throw away the cucumber you forgot you had in the fridge, remember that’s a damn delicacy.
Lesson #6: Vegemite might be the worst thing that has been created on this earth. Ever. On a more fun note, I spent most of the 2 weeks with Australians. There’s a 99% chance that in the next week or so you’ll hear me say “heaps” or “reckon.” It’s going to happen. Anyway, I’ve heard about Vegemite because I don’t completely live under a rock. At Tokoriki, they had little packets at breakfast. I made the mistake of asking what it tasted like. “YOU’VE NEVER HAD VEGEMITE?!?! YOU HAVE TO TRY IT!! Mates, she’s never had Vegemite!” is basically how the conversation went. Thanks, Jules. Next thing I know I have Cass putting Vegemite on my cracker. That. Shit. Is. Nasty. Sorry, Aussies. You think PB&J is weird. At least it doesn’t taste like ass. Moral of the story. Leave that for the Aussies.
Lesson #7: Before you get on the horse, ask how to make it stop. This story is actually hilarious. I fell off a freaking horse in Fiji. Only. Me. I’ve got a gorgeous bruise to show for it too! It’s exciting! So, on our day off we went to Bamboo Backpackers for beach volleyball and sun – because we hadn’t had enough of that yet. There was a guy doing horseback rides. I got super excited. Like seriously they had to tell me to calm down and wait my turn. I WAS READY!! When it was finally my turn, he asked if I’d ridden a horse before. I’ve done some riding, but I wouldn’t call myself an expert by any means. Well he took that as “she knows what she’s doing.” Not true. I know how to ride a horse that’s been trained in America because it’s pretty standard. Not the Fiji local that does rides with his horses with the tourists. He gave me no instructions on this horse. I realized as we got riding, I didn’t know how to make it stop! I wasn’t too worried about it at first. It was a pretty laid back ride. To start with.
Then the little shit decided to stop listening. I know how to make a horse go the direction you want it to. When it wants to. It’s like a child. If they want to throw their food across the room, they’re going to throw their food across the room no matter how nicely you ask them not to. Same thing. My leader is going one way, and my stubborn horse is going the other. I tried to get him to turn around and next thing I know, my guy comes f***ing sprinting by! So what does my horse do! F***ing sprint after him. Needless to say I was not ready for that. Not only have I never gone that fast on a horse before, I wasn’t in the right position. Off goes my hat, and I’m holding on for dear life. It’s my favorite hat, but I’m far more concerned about not dying. Their saddles are smaller and don’t have the knob at the front, so there was literally nothing for me to hold onto. I’m slowly sliding off the side. There goes a shoe. The locals watching are yelling at the guy to stop and yelling to ask if I’m ok. The way I saw it I had two options. Fall whenever he knocked me off and risk getting trampled, or tuck and roll. What’d I do? Tuck and roll as far out of the way as I could. Reason #485737595 I shouldn’t own white. I got up with scratches all down my side and a massive bruise already forming. There goes the white shirt. No amount of bleach is going to save that one. I jog down the beach to find my shoes and some nice guy brought me my hat and looked me over to make sure I was fine. The guy I was riding with asked if I was ok and said in 12 years that’s never happened before. He also took that opportunity to tell me the people before me almost fell off this one, too. Bud – I’m thinking he wasn’t having any of it today. The saying get back on the horse. I lived that haha I got back on the horse. Granted I was shaking and slightly terrified, but I got back on.
Lesson #8: Drink. Water. Coming from negative temps, I had the biggest shock to my system of everyone there. They were all pretty worried about me. My shorts hadn’t seen light in months, and all of a sudden, I was wearing them every day, dripping in sweat. Drinking water is so important. And when water isn’t enough? Go for that Powerade! I couldn’t keep up with the amount of water my body needed. A couple days it caught up to me. A combination of questionable curry and dehydration led to an unpleasant couple days. Drink water kids.
Lesson #9: If I am anywhere around you, you won’t get bit by the mosquitoes. I will. You’re welcome. The mosquitoes love me. It’s extremely unfortunate. I have bug bites in places I’d rather not mention. I also am slightly allergic to them, so they blow up like balloons. My legs were swollen from bites. It’s funny now, but at the time I was miserable. There were a couple nights that I would lay in bed “running” my legs against the sheets to itch them. Also, to go with the bug bites….pale, little Kansas girl got hella burned. So much sun, and it’s been so cold, my entire body has been wrapped from head to toe the last couple months. Consequently, I haven’t seen a lot of sun on my legs. But I came home with a flip flop tan! Mission complete!
Lesson #10: You, as an individual person, can make more of a difference in someone’s life than you think. It’s easy to think that “I’m just one person. How can I change the world?” If Bill Gates thought that, we wouldn’t have computers the way we do. If Henry Ford thought that, we wouldn’t have the assembly line like we do. If Steve Jobs thought that, 90% of the people sitting in the airport with me, wouldn’t have something in their hands. See where I’m going with this? No, maybe you won’t change the entire world. But you can change one person’s world. If everyone changed one person’s world, can you just imagine the possibilities?! It’d be incredible. By educating the 400 people we talked to, we are making a difference in their world. At the Sheraton, I went to the bakery after we did our health checks and was craving a cookie. Ironic, right? Let’s lecture about the dangers of sugar and then go get a cookie. Well guess what guys? I got caught red handed. The cook that I was talking to early that morning, walked by, looked at me and said, “sugar.” One word was all he had to say for me to know he listened. Ok, fine, he was definitely making fun of me, but I probably deserved it. I mean I definitely deserved it. Another person I was talking to, I saw later the next day. We spent a good 5 minutes the day prior talking about the importance of diet and exercise, limiting stress and salt. I gave him his goals of 33 mins of walking 4 days a week, less salt, and no more juice. When I saw him the day after he walked by me and said, “I walked yesterday after work.” That is what we came for.
It’s easy to think that it’s a gorgeous island country. Obviously I went for a vacation and not to volunteer. Staying at the resorts makes that hard to argue, but the people we were working with aren’t living in resorts. They are living in real Fiji. The Fiji where they might not have A.C. The Fiji where they don’t have veggies. The Fiji that you don’t see on postcards.
LINK TO FIJI NUTRITION & PUBLIC HEALTH PROJECT