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Fiji

'It's about becoming a family'

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Samantha Russell ('11, Environmental Science - Marine Ecology) is a Peace Corps Volunteer in Fiji working on environmental resource management projects. She lives in a small Fijian village where much of the community's social life takes place in the village hall and where she was asked by women in the village to join a meke, a Fijian dance, for the community's celebration of Fiji Day. It's "exciting and nerve wrecking at the same time," she wrote in her blog. "I love dancing with them, but only practiced this one once and they have me standing in the front and center…. It will be fun, I get to dress up and be pretty for a while, and let's be honest, who doesn’t like traditional dancing to the beat of hollowed out bamboo???" | Photo by courtesy of Samantha Russell
Samantha Russell ('11, Environmental Science - Marine Ecology) is a Peace Corps Volunteer in Fiji working on environmental resource management projects. Here, she's helping to build a cage that will protect a coral planting project in a nearby Marine Protected Area. | Photo by courtesy of Samantha Russell
Samantha Russell ('11, Environmental Science - Marine Ecology), far right, is a Peace Corps Volunteer in Fiji working on environmental resource management projects. | Photo by courtesy of Samantha Russell
Samantha Russell ('11, Environmental Science - Marine Ecology) is a Peace Corps Volunteer in Fiji working on environmental resource management projects. Here, she cracks up with the leader of the women's group in her village while cleaning up a creek after a cyclone. | Photo by courtesy of Samantha Russell
Samantha Russell ('11, Environmental Science - Marine Ecology) is a Peace Corps Volunteer in Fiji working on environmental resource management projects, including a fish pond meant to create an alternative to fishing in the endangered coral reef area. | Photo by courtesy of Samantha Russell
Samantha Russell ('11, Environmental Science - Marine Ecology) is a Peace Corps Volunteer in Fiji working on environmental resource management projects. Russell was pretty excited about procuring this small raft that will help her monitor the coral reef in the Marine Protected Area near her village. | Photo by courtesy of Samantha Russell

“This experience has been about taking a leap,” writes Samantha Russell (’11, Environmental Science – Marine Ecology), serving in Fiji, “about going out into a country in which you have no idea about cultural taboos, food, respect or even dress code, and figuring it out. About putting aside your sense of self to become the person that is needed by the people who surround you. It’s about making mistakes and being grateful that the village that you are in tolerates them and even laughs them off before teaching you the right way - yet constantly shows you unfailing love. It’s about becoming family.”

“I think the most essential thing I have learned is that waiting is the most important thing you can ever do. I go wait at our bus stand and talk with the people going to town. I wait with my neighbors as our clothes dry. I wait with groups as the lovo (earth oven) finishes cooking. I wait at a grog session for the yaqona to be pounded. I wait with families before their loved ones are buried. I wait and we talk. We talk about the weather. About planting. About projects. About family matters. About life. About my family. We talk and I feel at home, like I belong here.”

“Waiting and talking has reminded me that we all need to slow down. To remind ourselves that not everything has to be planned to the last minute, to leave room for mistakes and fate. We need to sit with and really hear our friends and family, to talk about our problems, and yes to even gossip a little, to remind ourselves that we are not alone. That no one can do this alone. Life is not about ‘finding’ yourself, but about allowing people to help find you. To let them in and to be hurt, be completely taken aback by their bluntness, to hear something about yourself you didn’t realize was true until it came from the mouth of another. To hear the words of affection and love. To listen, and really hear.”