I’ve been putting off writing this post for nearly two months for several reasons. 1: it’s really hard to find the time to write when you have real work to do during business hours. B: no longer being in the country means there’s less inspiration (ie I can’t just look out the window anymore and spruik nonsense about mongooses). And 4: I don’t want to admit that it’s over. To admit it’s over is to admit I’m back in the real world, and to admit that is to look down at my feet and actually have it register that I’ve worn thongs to work. But the admission is a necessity. Stalking Fijian volunteers’ Facebook newsfeeds is not a healthy past time. Also, I’m about to embark on the sequel, and to do so, I really need to finish up the original. This has to be done.
But how? How does one wrap up a year of a life without it sounding like the final scene’s voiceover from a Grey’s Anatomy episode? What do I have to do to get to the level of Scrubs? I tried putting copious amounts of product in my hair (the lack of sweat and salt concentrated in my hair really hasn’t done anything for my devil-may-care look), but so far that’s been unsuccessful. How do I say that Fiji was one of the best, most frustrating, beautiful, surreal, completely flabbergasting, funniest, worst, tan-inducing, ringworm-contracting, sign language-learning, social, character-defining, sign language-ignoring, carbo-loading years of my life, without sounding overdramatic or verbose? I don’t think it can be done. Not after that completely grammatically incorrect sentence.
Let me put it this way: having a fridge stocked full of every item and more found here: http://www.steveinfeej.blogspot.com.au/2011/12/all-i-want-for-christmas.html, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, only marginally blunts the pain of not being able to head down to Bad Dog for happy hour drinks and running into at least half a dozen volunteers. Being able to listen to Triple J every single morning, afternoon and night doesn’t quite make up for the hours and hours and hours of suboptimal music we made on our own on various beaches, campfire sites, and resorts. The pleasure of a salary, no matter how big, is basically irrelevant compared to the pleasure of rugging up and spending AUD5 on a movie and choc top combo.
At the same time, home is home. Food IS amazing. Listening to non-Suva Soundtrack tunes is quite literally music to my ears. Having money is, well, awesome. But there’s sort of a sadness there too, as I come to realize just how much the price of normalcy has cost me. A year ago, our little group of six volunteers were brave little Vegemites, fully aware of the noble sacrifice we were making to spend a year of our lives away from home volunteering (shut up, just because it was Fiji doesn’t make it any less hard). We knew not to expect the same level of infrastructure and development. We knew not to be angry when a bus didn’t ever show up, or a boat broke down, or, heaven forbid, somebody stuffed up the movie reel at the cinema. And although we’d been told before we left Australia that the return wouldn’t be easy, none of us took it to heart. I don’t think anyone realised the sorts of memories we’d create. And now, that’s all they are. Reality has shifted completely into past tense, and so have my casual boasts: ‘oh, Fiji’s lovely. I volunteered there for year’. If I’m feeling particularly devastated about leaving, it’s more like: ‘oh I wouldn’t know anymore. I volunteered there for a year, true, but it felt like a lifetime ago. I couldn’t tell you what it’s like now’.
While it’s easy to wallow over what was, the wallowing is only occurring because the year was so enjoyable. And that’s saying something. Anyone that’s read portions of this blog, anyone that’s seen my Facebook status updates, sent me an email, caught up with me over Christmas, talked to me on Skype, or lived in Fiji with me, will know that it’s not the easiest place to work in. Sigh and mention tropical islands as much as you like: they only took up 25% of my time. OK fine, another 10% was taken up at the movies. Then again, about 3% of those movies were so terrible it was pretty painful to sit through them. That still leaves two thirds of my time (minus trips to Australia and North America) in an…interesting work environment, which wasn’t always fun. Sure, it doesn’t pay to dwell on the negatives, but unless I’m providing advice to prospective volunteers or critical feedback, I honestly don’t have anything negative to say. Funny stories about pushing buttons to get free money from AusAID, and raffling off chickens to pay for office rent, sure. But all those mildly troubling times are so heavily outweighed by Taco Tuesdays, Wire Wednesdays, Band Jam Slams, Bad Dog pizza, choc tops and Fijian movie audiences, buffet breakfasts, Beach House scones, arguments over Fiji’s best snorkeling, yoghurt making, getting called fat and having money stolen by the cleaner, free sweet ‘n’ sour chicken every month, getting saturated on EVERY single boat ride to Leleuvia and Caqalai, the first live performance of the Suva Guitar Heroes to an audience of largely deaf children (thank goodness), wearing shorts and thongs to work, not going to work because it’s raining and watching Harry Potter instead (I hope no one important is reading this), rocking the manskirt, getting over the manskirt, challenging myself not to die due to slipping in the rain, naming and claiming hammocks all over the Coral Coast and beyond, becoming the ‘guy over there reading. Still’, cooking curry from total scratch (except not catching the fish), writing a blog that only crazy people will ever read (plus about 1000 from India thanks to my Roti post), conducting careful research into the pros and cons of locally-produced sweet biscuits versus Australian sweet biscuits and then having large portions of the volunteer community debunking the myth by discovering the Australian biscuits were actually made in Indonesia, becoming addicted to the smell of Pure Fiji coconut anything, single-handedly introducing Community to Fiji and cementing my position as Global Entertainment Consultant, bringing culture and steak (and graduating from well done to medium steak) in the form of Ye Olde Book Clubbe at Scott’s, GROWING A BEARD!!!!!, being confused with Daniel Craig’s James Bond and assuming the awesome descriptor of ‘Steve: he’s so cut!’, dancing on the tables at Beach House, learning to surf, re-learning to surf after I didn’t do it for 8 months, beating my own personal best AND Lars’ best at the Intercontinental buffet dinner (6 plates for the win), enjoying eating a pineapple out the window of a moving bus whilst experiencing conjunctivitis, Toorak balcony breakfasts with House 2.4, the muffin/roti parcel/sandwich man who finally in the last month upgraded to real chicken sandwiches with avocado instead of chicken luncheon with butter and mayo, getting almost completely stuck on a sandbar with Amanda and swearing never to follow her again only to do the exact opposite of that, telling housemates that our volunteer allowance was being increased and watching them dance on the bar with glee, living in a house that had a bar, spending entire days at work playing Pokemon, spending entire days at work on Skype and Gchat, not experiencing winter except for spring in North America which wasn’t even that bad but I like to complain about it anyway, becoming a total banana snob, becoming even more of a beach snob, and I guess meeting a whole bunch of people that I hope will continue to feature in my life.
That’s quite a list. You may notice there aren’t many fond memories or achievements from the workplace. That’s not to say they weren’t there (they were, they’re just a bit tricky to find). But the other parts are so much more important, and have had such a bigger impact on my life. That’s not to say I haven’t grown as a professional, not at all. But Fiji, for me at least, was a year of personal development over anything else.
My final words are going to be somewhat cheesy, but everyone knows by now how much I love cheese. All the above memories, and the billions more that are being flung around the vacuum that is my brain, were created in concert with the people I’ve shared them with. Pre-Feej, I would’ve laughed, hard, at anyone that suggested putting a group of completely different people on an island and letting them loose leads to some pretty solid relationships. But somehow, it works. And I’m glad it did. Because without the cast of dozens that featured heavily in my life this past year, none of that massive paragraph above would’ve happened. Which would’ve sucked, because as paragraphs go, it’s a pretty great one. FYI, that was totally a double meaning. Insert ‘year’ where ‘paragraphs’ is. Bingo.
In addition to all the peeps I met whilst in Fiji, a shout out really has to go to all my blog readers: especially that one person in Uzbekistan. Without your comments and harsh criticisms, I would never have had the motivation to keep this going for a full year, or really flex my creative muscle and write truly weird posts. Sorry about the bad ones.
For anyone interested in a sequel, my time in the Pacific has not yet come to an end. Come mid-June, you should be able to begin reading about my new adventures at SteveNG (www.stijipng.blogspot.com)