August 27, 2004: Headlines: COS - Fiji: The Hoopeston Chronicle: Janessa Stream is one of only a handful (twenty-five or so) Peace Corps Volunteers in Fiji Re-Entry Group 1

Peace Corps Online: Directory: Fiji: Peace Corps Fiji : The Peace Corps in Fiji: August 27, 2004: Headlines: COS - Fiji: The Hoopeston Chronicle: Janessa Stream is one of only a handful (twenty-five or so) Peace Corps Volunteers in Fiji Re-Entry Group 1

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Janessa Stream is one of only a handful (twenty-five or so) Peace Corps Volunteers in Fiji Re-Entry Group 1

Janessa Stream is one of only a handful (twenty-five or so) Peace Corps Volunteers in Fiji Re-Entry Group 1

Janessa Stream is one of only a handful (twenty-five or so) Peace Corps Volunteers in Fiji Re-Entry Group 1

Rossville woman writes of Peace Corp experience

By Janessa Stream/Special to The Chronicle

Get out your world map. Find Hawaii, that's easy. then look south.... south... south.... East of New Caledonia. Try to locate the small South Pacific island nation of Fiji. The Republic of the Fiji Islands. A nation shadowed by a history of British colonial rule. A nation of coconut trees, sandy beaches, sugarcane and tourism.

Two groups of people, Fijians, descendants of ethnic natives, and Indo-Fijians, descendants of indentured Indian labourers, brought to Fiji by the British in the mid-19th century. There are two main islands (Viti Levu and Vanua Levu), the northernmost of which is my home. The town of Labasa.

My name is Janessa Stream and I am one of only a handful (twenty-five or so) Peace Corps Volunteers in Fiji Re-Entry Group 1. I am an Environmental Resource Management volunteer, but there are also Health and Youth volunteers in Fiji. Among the group, there are volunteers on the islands of Kadavu, Viti Levu, Vanua Levu, Ovalau, Beqa. Many sites are rural, though there are placements in Suva, the capital, and towns of Lautoka, Nausori, Levuka and Labasa.

I have been sweating over what to write for this article for weeks. Literally sweating. As a Peace Corps Volunteer, I assume it's not unusual to think, "Why, what can I write about? I haven't done anything since I've gotten Here!" That is true, some days. Others, it couldn't be further from the truth.

Ten months of Fiji - on Fiji Time.

Life in Fiji is by no means easy. I find my present life in Labasa starkly different than I had expected when I came to Fiji last September. Having spent the formative months, the first half year, of my Fiji days in a village on Viti Levu and splitting time on the island of Taveuni between a government outpost and more remote villages, Labasa, with its dusty streets swelling on Saturdays as Fijians ride in on the buses for buying, selling, and socializing, seems like a foreign land. I work in an office. I can't see the sea. Some days it's a wonder that this is Fiji at all.

I find myself thinking that I don't know what this place was like for volunteers of Fiji past. Peace Crops left Fiji in 1998, deeming the country "graduated" from the program. Then the coup in 2000, and things changed. The country fell apart. Peace Corps is back.

I don't know what Fiji meant to former volunteers. I see Fiji today as strung out on the line between in the past, whatever that means, and the development it hopes will come. My job is to try and help bridge this gap... And that between rich and poor. Between rural and urban. And young and old, and Indian and Fijians.

I have guesses at who they are. Which village they lived in. How excellent their Hindustani for Fijian was (is?). I've heard the stories about them. Who repairs cars and rides horses and taught math and was the fastest man in Labasa and drank grog like a fish (and even liked it). some days, I feel the vestiges of that Peace Crops past lingering in the Fijian consciousness. I'm saddened that the tradition was severed. I wonder what Fiji was because I only see what it is. I imagine that my life - living and working in a degree of modernity - is different than their experience.

Some days have gone so quickly and I fall into bed amazed at what I have accomplished. More often, though, I itch to continue with the day, to achieve something, to have a product to show for all of my work. In some ways, this article is a product of what I have been doing. In some ways, the itching is just bed bugs.

Some days I come to work at 8:00 a.m., on time. At the Office of the Commissioner Northern Division on Labasa, I have my own office, set aside for disaster preparedness and mitigation. That's my job, to prepare the people of the Northern Division for disasters, and teach them how to manage them.

Often, however, my job is on hold for lack of some "necessary" component: computer, data, funding, interest groups. While waiting for whatever obstacle to end the roadblock of my progress, I apply for grants to obtain funding for a disaster management program in the North. I also run workshops for various ministries. Last week it was a three-day program for the Volunteer Youth Corps at the Ministry of Youth, Employment Opportunities and Sports.

Some days I come to work later, around 11:00 a.m. These are days I have meetings with the Labasa Town Council, Public Works Department, the Ministry of Health or Education. I have only been in Labasa for three months, because I moved from my original placement, in Taveuni, after three months at site. I am therefore in high-gear networking and trying to assemble information and resources for disaster work or secondary projects.

Two or three days a week, with another volunteer in Labasa, I coach the Labasa Town Swim Team, which we formed in June. Two dozen swimmers. Tireless high schoolers. Half Indo-Fijian and half Fijian, half girls and half boys. We lack lane lines, goggles, suits, any and all equipment, but the swimmers are excited and motivated. The team shows great promise. I spend a good deal of my free time writing sponsorship letters to corporations and designing "exciting" practices for kids who have never swam competitively.

Some days I wonder why I even stay here. Those are the days I question my purpose in Fiji. My job. Integration. Cross-cultural exchange. Some days I doubt my language skills. Those are the days I chose to remain silent. Some days, meetings happen four hours late (Fiji time!), disaster management takes second priority to sugarcane roads and cement mixers. There are days when I think I can no longer tolerate the heat, the curry, the waiting, the cold showers, the bugs.

Some days, the sun shines so clearly in the sky. It's not so hot. I get a phone call from a contact requesting a workshop. The $0.60 roti parcel actually tastes good (and fresh!). The friendly Bulas and Ramrams on the street, at work, or in the market, make me smile widely - both outwardly and inwardly.

Some days, it all lines up.

I hope today is some day.

(Janessa Stream, 23, is the daughter of Steve and Jeannie Stream of Rossville, and a 2003 graduate of Barnard College.)

Copyright © 2004 The Hoopeston Chronicle
308 E. Main Street, Hoopeston, Ill. 60942-0190

When this story was prepared, here was the front page of PCOL magazine:

This Month's Issue: August 2004 This Month's Issue: August 2004
Teresa Heinz Kerry celebrates the Peace Corps Volunteer as one of the best faces America has ever projected in a speech to the Democratic Convention. The National Review disagreed and said that Heinz's celebration of the PCV was "truly offensive." What's your opinion and who can come up with the funniest caption for our Current Events Funny?

Exclusive: Director Vasquez speaks out in an op-ed published exclusively on the web by Peace Corps Online saying the Dayton Daily News' portrayal of Peace Corps "doesn't jibe with facts."

In other news, the NPCA makes the case for improving governance and explains the challenges facing the organization, RPCV Bob Shaconis says Peace Corps has been a "sacred cow", RPCV Shaun McNally picks up support for his Aug 10 primary and has a plan to win in Connecticut, and the movie "Open Water" based on the negligent deaths of two RPCVs in Australia opens August 6. Op-ed's by RPCVs: Cops of the World is not a good goal and Peace Corps must emphasize community development.

Read the stories and leave your comments.

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Story Source: The Hoopeston Chronicle

This story has been posted in the following forums: : Headlines; COS - Fiji



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