Back In Fiji: "That's What The Indians Name Their Dogs!", Peace Corps Fiji by James Patton

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By Admin1 (admin) on Sunday, July 15, 2001 - 9:59 pm: Edit Post

Back In Fiji: "That's What The Indians Name Their Dogs!", Peace Corps Fiji by James Patton

Back In Fiji: "That's What The Indians Name Their Dogs!", Peace Corps Fiji by James Patton

Back In Fiji

"That's What The Indians
Name Their Dogs!"

Peace Corps Fiji

James Patton

I lived in Fijian culture as a lone American for four years --three years as a math and science teacher and a fourth one on my own.

In 1979, I cashed in my return ticket home and re-wrote it to travel. I departed Fiji within days of the Iranian seizure of the Americans and the American hostage crisis in Iran.

With a backpack and another year to travel, I was en route to visit 30 countries by way of the Pacific nations to the west, Asia, the Middle East, and Europe, going "the long way" back to the U.S.

The journey started years earlier
the first day on the job in Fiji:

At the last minute, after two months of culture training around Fiji, the Minister of Education switched my assigned science teaching site from an urban Indian high school to a rural, non-electrified Fijian village -- deep in the interior of Fiji's Big Island, Viti Levu.

When I arrived at my new village, the Fijians gathered around me as I got off the bus in front of the local shop. The Fijians, young and old alike, responded with a chorus of laughter when I introduced myself as "Jim."

The principal of Wainibuka Jr. Secondary School at Nayavu Village explained "Thatís what the Indians name their dogs!" I considered this and said "Well, James, like in the Bible!" This met with great approval, and I got a new, unfamiliar name (my given name is Jimmy) at the outset. The villagers surrounded me, their new teacher or the teacher of their kids, and walked me to the thatched bamboo house they had built for me on the school compound.

It wasn't too long before I realized the real reason I was there. The principalís barefoot wife already taught the science and chemistry. I was there to get the kids through an exam--the dreaded national math exam, that year -- and there were no textbooks! (and I had been taught Hindi, not Fijian in the language training).

Fortunately, the language of instruction was English. I accepted the challenge and became very involved with the school, the teachers, the students, and the village. By the time my Peace Corps tour was concluded three years later,* I was fluent in Fijian, and "James" had transformed into "Tamesa" in accord with the Fijian language (same word, just as "Jim" and "Kimo" are the same word in Hawaiian). Despite the initial great resistance, I had conceded. I now referred to myself as James.**

When Rod, my PCV replacement, arrived to take over my math teaching position (and my house), I was offered a nice house in the village and asked by the villagers to stay. I stayed an extra year and lived a traditional village lifestyle of kava, relationships, occasional travel to Suva, and subsistence farming (and reading).


* I was supposed to stay in the Peace Corps two years. However, at the end of the second year, I was summoned to the Peace Corps office in Suva and told that my school would not have a volunteer the next year if I did not stay. The Volunteer who was to have been assigned there had become unavailable. So, I stayed an extra third year. When replaced after that year, I stayed in Nayavu Village an additional year independent of the Peace Corps.

** The first year I signed my letters "Jim." The second year, J.P. The third year (and beyond), James.

By Alessandro Pistocchi ( - on Wednesday, March 29, 2006 - 5:03 pm: Edit Post

I would like to move to Fiji to teach maths. Is there anybody here who can give me some lovin' help ?

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