I would like to start this blog update by answering a question that I was asked by many people in the last few days: What is Fiji like?
Everything Is Different
I could answer this question by describing my whole situation, living conditions, culture conditions, etc. (that is what I primarily did in my last update). Instead, I am going to answer the question by saying one word, which sums it all up: Different. Fiji is different. Everything here is different. Different from Europe. Different from Germany. Different from what I expected. Different from what I imagined. Different from what I have known about lifestyles around the world so far. However, since everything is so different, it is not that hard to get used to new things as I am not confronted with my habits and expectations all the time.
There is nothing that reminds me of Germany here. For example, there are not many tourists, there are hardly any European products or brands in shops, and there are mostly people of color on the streets and rarely any whites. Therefore, the only thing I can do is adjust! Adjusting just happens – without me desperately trying to.
Let me give you an example: If I saw a cockroach in my bedroom/bathroom at home in Germany, I would probably freak out. If I see cockroaches here, it will just be kind of a minor thing – most of the time anyway. I do not (always) freak out, I just try to keep cool and get the cockroach repellent spray, and that is it. However, I still find cockroaches extremely awful. And yes, sometimes there are a few situations when it is hard not to freak out. On Sunday night, I found a cockroach in my bed. Not on the floor. Not in the shower. In my bed. Thank god, my roommate, who works in SPCA, was able to remove it carefully.
Another example of a different thing which I adjusted to is my sleep pattern. Fijian people do not need much sleep in general, and as a result of the heat, people here are used to getting up at 6 am, or latest 7 am in the morning. I am usually not a morning person, but here I turned into one. I now get up between 6 and half past 6, go for a run, do some more lesson preparation or check my emails. Fijis also go to bed very early, mainly because of the humidity, which makes you extremely tired.
Working As A Teaching Assistant
The Good, The Bad…
Work has officially started by now. I am helping out in a grade 4 class and am assisting a 21-year-old Indian teacher whose English I hardly understand due to his strong accent. It is funny, though. I sometimes have the feeling I actually have to babysit my teacher, not the kids. I think it is kind of weird to have a supervisor who is only two years older than me.
My first experience with the kids was fantastic! When I entered their classroom, 37 big, hazel eyes were staring at me, and I was immediately offered a chair and a desk. The kids would even give me little bows and super magic smiles.
When their teacher told them I would stay ‘til the end of the term, they started clapping and cheering loudly. I was completely overwhelmed by their reaction. At first, the kids were really shy, but after the first break they even came to me asking questions like “where is Germany?”, “is Germany different to Fiji?” or “how long have you traveled for to come here?”
Furthermore, Fijian people and also children are very polite. I guess, politeness and hospitality is part of their culture. Some of the students were even asking ME for permission to go to the bathroom or to drink water during class. Of course, I said “yes” and they were like “thank you, Miss Lena!” or “vinaka M’am!” It was amazing.
…And The Ugly
Despite all the positive feelings and emotions, there are things of the educational system that I was shocked about. Kids are being hit in class, not only as a result of bad behavior or as a way of punishment but even when they misunderstand a task or don´t work properly. Two years ago, human rights were introduced in Fiji (2 years ago – unbelievable, isn´t it?) and since then teachers have not been allowed to slap kids anymore. However, many teachers here simply don´t have the skills or knowledge to maintain discipline without using violence, so most of them keep hitting their students.
On my first day at work, it had been a very embarrassing situation for me. I was sitting in class and had to watch the teacher hit one of those super cute children with a flat piece of wood. By now I know that kids here are used to being slapped, but I just don´t think it is the right way to treat them and to make them participate in class. I tried to find a correct way of dealing with the situation, but the only thing I can do is look away when they are beaten up.
Due to the final exams, my primary task at the moment is marking. Over the last few days, all I have been doing is marking. Marking maths workbooks. Marking exercise books. Marking and correcting texts they wrote as homework. The other day, I was told to conduct a mock exam in Health Science. However, I spent most of the lesson discussing the conditions of writing an exam and giving them rules, which, apparently, they were not familiar with. For example: Do not copy from the person sitting next to you. No teamwork. Do not talk during the exam. Once you have finished, make sure to read over your test paper again and try to spot mistakes.
Apart from marking, I also have to make sure that the kids are working properly and quietly when there is no teacher in the classroom, which is a common situation here in Fiji: teachers turn up whenever they want. If they do not feel like teaching, they just stay at home or turn up late. Therefore, it is not a rare situation to be ‘left’ alone in front of a boisterous class. If you have done teaching before, you may know that this is a pretty uncomfortable situation, esp. being just an inexperienced teaching assistant. I was told that I was pretty lucky because for some reason the kids in my class show me some respect. Apparently, other volunteers are struggling much more to maintain discipline in their classes.
In the meanwhile, I also joined the school choir – mainly out of curiosity. Now, I am even kind of an assistant to the music teacher with whom I get along very well. She even asked me to teach the kids some Christmas Chorals, which we could perform at Price Giving Day. I am still preparing those songs together with my roommate as she worked at the same school and joined the choir, too. Moreover, we´re planning to sing another song at the ceremony as a surprise act – My roommate, the music teacher and me. I hope it´ll work out.
The weekends are usually spent either at home in the host family or different places around the island with other volunteers. Many volunteers actually use the opportunity to travel around the main island, Viti Levu, to explore different areas, lovely beaches, and rainforests for little money.
Last weekend, we went to Sigatoka, which is a city located between Nadi and Suva. We had a very nice accommodation from which we took two day-trips on Saturday and Sunday.
On Saturday, we went on a hiking trip in the dunes of Sigatoka and spent the rest of the day on one of the most beautiful beaches on Viti Levu. On Sunday, some of us visited the Kula-Eco-Park where you can find exotic animals and reptiles, which you are even able to take photos with.
Next weekend, I will go to one of those few traditional Fijian villages with my host family. These communities are usually very conservative. The village people live far away from the urban culture, and terms like ‘globalization’ are generally unknown. We will probably be able to participate in a real Cava Ceremony.