No one said it would be smooth sailing. I made my way to Fiji in high spirits, feeling empowered by positive self-talk, as you might have seen from one of my previous posts. I needed every ounce of that optimism come touch down, because it would be tested within minutes of entering immigration. Justin and I closely followed the visa requirements with the guidance of my mentor, and had all materials in line before flying to Fiji. A few days prior to our arrival without notice, the Department of Immigration placed a stronghold on the visa process and added some lofty changes. Surprise! You are only allowed in the country for two weeks! Justin and I sat stunned in the immigration office outside of the international arrival hall. We had all the requested materials, but the clerk said they could no longer accept any applications after January 31 (It was February 1) and all applications for the year must have been made before that date. I tried not to freak out, so I called my mentor, and then we freaked out together. After a hot minute we re-grouped and tried to problem-solve and came up with a plan. We would take our flight to Labasa the next day (my residency site), my mentor would request permission from the director of immigration in Suva for our extension, and take it from there. If it was rejected again, we would fly to Tonga or Samoa and try to re-enter on a tourist visa. Our ideas were a little comical in retrospect, but creativity was of the essence.
By the next morning, we received notice that the director of immigration approved our visa extension and we were to get our passport stamped before taking our flight to Labasa. Relief! Or so we thought. We reared our American faces at the immigration office with the letter from the director, and again, it was not good enough and they began requesting further materials. Meanwhile, a tropical depression was forming over the South Pacific and heading straight for Fiji, placing the community on cyclone watch. But who has time to worry about natural disasters when your visa is restricted, and residency compromised?
I’ll cut the visa story short and let you know that we still do not have the stamp, but we have been told by the director it should be approved. With unplanned funds from our starving bank account, obscure requested materials (ie. FIRCA Tax Form… I still don’t know what that is, but we got one), and approximately 17 trips to the immigration office, we are crossing our fingers that before our 14 days are up we can rest assured of our visas and my residency. As one of my yoga mentors told me, Ishvara Pranidhana all the way…
Oh, the humanity! Let’s knock the drama and talk about something better – occupational therapy! The town of Labasa is small, upbeat, incredibly friendly, dense with greenery, and far off the tourist track. You won’t find any pictures on my feed of white sand beaches or dreamy resorts. This town has other things to offer, and it’s not for luxury travelers. I have seen one small hotel on the main strip and wonder who stays there. Labasa is a great fit for my chosen intentions with global health, but I can feel myself missing creature comforts that were abundant in our travels leading up to Labasa. Fiji is prohibitively expensive, which I believe is largely in part to its isolation in the South Pacific. Unlike other resort islands like Bali or the Philippines, it is much more outlying and harder to reach. Thankfully my focus is on school, so it will push me to stay buckled down. The weather is hot and humid right now, and we do not have the extravagance of air conditioning. I am currently sleeping on a foam pad on the floor and wake up in a hot sweat every hour or so. I would be lying if I said I wasn’t exhausted from the conditions. There is a high risk for Dengue Fever and Zika in Fiji, particularly right now in the rainy season. We try to keep our arms and legs covered, which is a task in itself given the heat and humidity. I get bit every day, so I just think healthy thoughts. Justin and I are also frequently hungry but are slowly adapting. I have had to unsubscribe to some of my favorite food blogs because receiving pictures of food in my inbox is torture. I have reminded myself as to why communities such as Labasa are in greater need of services such as occupational therapy, because most people don’t want to sacrifice the comfort of their routine and homes. I miss those comforts, but I know the rewards that come from immersing myself in this community are far greater had I chosen a different route. The next three months will stretch me in many directions, and I welcome the challenges with open arms.
Right now, Justin and I are contracted with the Board of Education and the Ministry of Health. We are working in two locations: The Labasa School for Special Education and the Senior Living Center (‘Baba Siga Ashram’). The school happens to have a woodshop as part of their vocational program, which is a great fit for Justin. My specialty so far based on my fieldwork rotations is with adults, so my primary focus is with program development and at the Senior Living Center, with an emphasis on yoga therapy. My first week on the island has been mostly orientation and assessing the specific needs of the area. I have also laid out workshops for the vocational program and staff members, focusing on components relative to Labasa. Our work is cut out for us, and we are ready to give all that we can to this community over the next three months. I have immense gratitude for my lifelines in the United States who are continually helping problem solve all things yoga and occupational therapy related. You know who you are, so thank you a million times over!
The best part about being involved in this community is the people. Everyone is SO friendly and hospitable, it is impossible not to feel welcome. We are living with a lovely couple, who also happen to have a beautiful flourishing garden of tropical plants. After work, Justin and I sometimes stroll the neighborhood and have been eagerly invited into people’s home for tea and dinner. The joys of small town living shine bright in Labasa, and I could not feel more fortunate to be a part of the community here.
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.