I know what you are thinking, You are on a tropical island! How could that possibly be less than paradise? I got many comments before departing for residency on how I would be in paradise, and how lucky I was to be in a place like Fiji. I always paused for a minute, trying to figure out what the outside impression was of where I was going. I was not going to live in a resort on the beach… I was going to Fiji to bring services to marginalized populations. We are nowhere near the tourist track, or the beach. In fact, we have seen two other white people in this town since our arrival. The profile of Labasa was exactly what I was looking for regarding my residency, because it was an area of need without occupational therapy services, leaving lots of room for program development.
Although the lifestyle can be taxing in areas of need, the work is always intellectually stimulating. A lack of resources leads to great creativity. I have learned things about healthcare that never would have surfaced had I stayed in the United States. One example includes the discovery of a literature pool regarding the effectiveness of wound healing with banana leaf dressings. There is a shortage in wound dressings here in Fiji, particularly for the patients. There is no proper bandaging material available outside of town, so patients who travel hours to get to the hospital with a large abscess cannot safely change their bandages at home. This is a huge problem that leads to high rates of infection, and commonly amputation. My last educational lecture to the hospital staff focused on wound care, and I presented the findings from the studies that successfully used banana leaves and boiled potato peel for wound care. It was fascinating to listen to the discussion unfold with the staff and hear stories about what has been used in the past in Fiji and how things are changing. Big ideas don’t require fancy technology.
My experience working at the Labasa Hospital has truly forced me to step back and look at the big picture. As an aspiring type-A hand therapist, I find myself worrying about the elements of what is missing relative to my experience in the United States with hand therapy, because I have learned that evidence-driven interventions are most effective. I continue to remind myself that the way things are done in the states is not always relative to Fiji. Small gains in Fiji end up feeling like big rewards.
Now let’s talk about the beach. 5 weeks into Fiji and I still hadn’t seen the white sand beaches and blue ocean everyone raved about. I know, first world problems. I don’t want to give Labasa a bad rap, but Justin and I were ready to start exploring. Although Labasa can be rough living at time, the areas outside of town are dripping with heavenly beauty. Our first month in Fiji we stayed in town every weekend. I was working on my projects every Saturday, and we wanted to get oriented to our new home town. We also wanted to save money, because, student loans don't dwindle while in school. We gave ourselves a swift kick in the britches and got to planning some weekend excursions. My previous post highlighted our first getaway at Palm Lea Farm in Tambia. It was a short ride from Labasa (~30 min) and was a little slice of jungle paradise. But, the water on the north side of the island is murky and brown from the mangroves which is slightly nerve-wracking given there is a high concentration of bull sharks. Unless you can get on a boat out to the reef (which by the way, is the third largest reef in the world), brown water awaits you at the shore. I still can’t figure out why most people don’t venture out to the reef. After feeling like our batteries were recharged 110% at Palm Lea Farm, we decided it was worth our mental health to start taking weekend trips. We are nomads by nature and have never been the type to stay home when opportunities are at our fingertips. And working on a Saturday? I’ll be having no more of that.
Savusavu is a hidden gem in southern Vanua Levu. We hopped a 2-hour bus ride to arrive at the sight of the bluest ocean I have ever seen. The change of pace from Labasa was immediately palpable down to my heartbeat. This was the slow life I was looking for.
We chose Savusavu because of its convenience to Labasa. Reading about this sleepy beach town on travel sites sounded nice, but it was definitely downplayed. My first though upon arrival was – why aren’t people flipping out about this place? I just couldn’t believe how glorious everything felt. High hills of pristine greenery surrounded town and across the bay. And that insanely blue water with visibility down to the ocean floor made my heart sing. I suppose most people want luxury during vacation, which Savusavu lacks. It is a simple place, with a tiny strip-mall of local shops to cover basic necessities. There was a power outage on Saturday that lasted most of the day, but it didn’t bother us because we were out swimming and lounging until sunset. What Savusavu is missing in high-end creature comforts, it makes up for with jaw-dropping scenery.
And now, pictures of paradise.
I am an outdoor and travel junkie who is currently completing my doctorate in occupational therapy overseas in rural Fiji. On Sweet World Travels you will find stories of my life with my husband, the communities we serve, and the many adventures we take.