project review

Caught under the Fiji spell...

Review submitted by Gillian Mitchell
Review date 12 Jul 2010


Having travelled for 5 months prior to my arrival in Fiji, I saw the last four weeks of my trip as my penultimate stop before home and didn’t really have much of an idea on what the final month was going to bring me, or what to expect from the beautiful South Pacific! I didn’t realise as I landed in Nadi that these last four weeks were going to become some of the best of my travels; ones which would have the greatest impact on me, and that Fiji would get underneath my skin and leave me wanting more! I most definitely saved the best till last!

As I sit here trying to sum up my experience in a few simple paragraphs I am chatting to three new Fijian friends, and two fellow volunteers over the internet. This to me shows the legacy of the amazing time I have spent within the space of a few weeks and the lasting impression which a trip to Fiji has had on me. Arriving in Suva after a journey through the many villages scattered within the lush rainforest setting, I immediately realised that the picture postcard view that we all have of Fiji and the surrounding islands is merely a facade which the true Fijian lifestyle lives in the shadow of. Don’t get me wrong, the island life with its white sandy beaches, palm trees, and clear blue oceans epitomises a beautiful side of Fiji which locals are and should be very proud of, yet , although undoubtedly special, this isn’t the side of Fiji which caught my heart! Living a five minute walk from the city centre, I came to appreciate our home of Suva for what it represented...a hub of activity with all the hustle and bustle you would expect from a major city but like everything in Fiji, still remaining very much on Fiji time...closing down at 5pm and refusing to show its face on a Sunday! For a capital city, in comparison to one that never sleeps...Suva appreciates the odd nap here and there so bear with it! Its friendly and colourful nature hits you as soon as you walk out of the door, with locals keen to welcome you to their country as well as learn about yours. You will not walk down the road once without at least 10 people shouting BULA to you, or striking up a conversation.

They say ‘home is where the heart is’, a description which is more than accurate to use when talking about the Colonial Lodge (and I know the other volunteers would agree with me)! It is a home from home. Arriving at the lodge I immediately felt welcomed and comfortable with a ready-made family waiting! Our Fiji mum Suzie is an absolute gem and constantly goes out of her way to make sure everyone staying within her home is happy, smiling and has everything they could want...including the most delicious home cooked meals! Make sure you request the chicken curry...amazing! I couldn’t have asked for a better base to have in Fiji and consider the lodge a second home to me, with its doors always open waiting for your return. To add to the family you also gain two amazing little brothers in Josh and Colin...two cheeky little characters who will always be ready to watch films, play/beat you at card games, or just chill out with you after a long day at school. What more could you ask for!

My placement was a teaching project at one of the local primary schools and walking into school on the first day I was immediately struck by hundreds of smiling faces owned by some of the most wonderfully kind, caring and welcoming children you would ever hope to meet. My memories will be of the eagerness these children had towards learning even though they only had a blackboard through which to do so. Arts and crafts with just a pencil and a piece of paper in England would be welcomed by some very bored children but in testament to the beauty of Fiji my class threw themselves straight into everything  I gave them with no complaints...just 100% enjoyment and fun! Always keen to learn about you and your lifestyle, I was constantly bombarded with questions such as “what does snow feel like?” “Is the world pretty?” and “Do you really have double decker buses...?” addition to being persuaded to teach them games, songs and show them pictures of what it is like back home! Seeing 30 children enjoying activities which you have taught them is hugely rewarding and even though my 4 weeks at the school flew by, the impact that my time there has had on me will last much MUCH longer!

Although the trip was mainly about the teaching project, time out of school was always filled to the brim with a range of activities, making the most of what Fiji has to offer. With my newly found extended family in the form of the other volunteers we filled our evenings and weekends with trips out to the islands to kayak, snorkel and sunbathe on beautiful beaches, relaxed by the local pool or caught a rugby game at Albert Park, went out to the rainforest to swim in natural pools and waterfalls, zip lined, had many trips down to the cinema, meals out, DVD and pizza nights in, and who can forget our countless nights out in Suva! Whether we were squashed in the back of a taxi to a weekend away, watching many a DVD in the lodge, trying to understand Fijian men, relaxing on the beach, having a random kava session in the middle of a shop, or dancing on the rails in O’Reillys the stories we have from our trip will continue to make me laugh for years to come and the friends I made will be there too, including some new Fijian friends who I will be sure to visit again some day! Only one thing could have been done to make my experience in Fiji better and that would have been to extend my trip to stay longer.

All that is left to say is Fiji...”Sota Tale”...I will see you again very soon!

Read more about the Fiji Teaching project.