We made it! It only took a month longer than I expected to have my Research Visa approval done, but it got done. All in due time I've learned, things happen as they will. I can't thank enough my friends in Suva for helping to push my permit through, especially Taina and Una. I think I would still be in the US if it weren't for them. No matter what, I had to go to Fiji for a wedding, with or without my research visa approval letter (I could still have entered Fiji on a Visitor Visa), and I left North Carolina without the letter. Then I landed in LAX, turned on my phone, and a few hours earlier Taina had emailed me with my Research Visa approval letter from Immigration! This meant I could enter Fiji and have it be on my Research Visa as opposed to a Visitor Visa. If I had only received a Visitor Visa, I would have had to leave and re-enter Fiji to activate my Research Visa. So thanks again to all!
So now that I am back in Fiji and being hosted again by the Herbarium Crew, I am getting the ball rolling on my field schedule. In Fiji, in addition to getting support from the various Ministries relevant to your work, and using that support to get approval from Immigration for a Research Visa, you must also get permission from the Roko Tui of each Province in which you wish to work before contacting the Turaga ni Koro of each village. The Roko Tui oversees the welfare of the Province they represent while the Turaga ni Koro is responsible for the Village they live in. So now, my next step is contacting the Roko Tui for each of the 4 provinces I work in to describe my research and ask for their permission to enter each place. After that is given I can contact the Turaga ni Koro to organize the actual village stay and the data we would like to collect.
It is an arduous process, but it is all for good reason. With this system, the safety and security of the people, knowledge, land, and others (vanua) are better ensured. It also helps researchers share their work and understand the needs of the communities they work with, as opposed to imposing on them what they think is needed.
Una and I went to go get our kalavata done this weekend and made them slightly larger than our current size to account for the inevitable weight we will gain in the next two months. No what is kalavata you ask? And why will we gain weight? Kalavata can refer to matching outfits, sometimes between couples and other times for teams and workplaces. In the case of Una and I, it serves as a sort of uniform. The reason we chose to have it made a bit bigger than normal is that Fijian food is delicious! AND we will be served lots of it in the village! So better to prepare for a bigger belly than try to avoid the inevitable.
Now we are hoping to leave Suva in the next few days and travel first to Taveuni (either by boat or plane) to where two of our village sites are. The villages in Taveuni that we work in are beautiful. Both are near the coast, however one village sits just on the beach and every morning you can see the ocean hit the shores. The second village is a short drive inland but is also right next to a waterfall with cool refreshing water. It is nice to start the work up here. Then after about two weeks we plan to leave Taveuni and take a ferry across to Vanua Levu and travel down to Bua Province where our second set of field sites are.
In Bua we visit three villages. Last year, during the cyclone season, I remember the heat being almost unbearable - I even started to experience a bit of heat rash. This year we will be going during the cold season, so I am very much loking froward to cuddling up in blankets instead of melting away in sweltering heat (however, note that during the cold season the temperature still only hangs around 70F).
After this, we will head back to Suva for a short break to recuperate from all the running around, kava, and delicious food. Then after that we will head back out for another week or two to Ra on Viti Levu to visit three more of our village sites. These places were the hardest hit by cyclone Winston than all the other villages we visit for our research. The trees were badly damaged up here and on our last trip up there, about a year post cyclone, the mangroves, which are trees that live in march like environments and protect the coast from large waves and erosion, were still dead-looking from the cyclone damage. This is also the place were I got dengue... So I will be fully armed with bugspray this time, unfortunately.
And last, we will travel back down to Suva once more to visit our last two vilages which are just on the outskirts of Suva. These villages were hardly impacted at all by the cyclone and differ drastically from the other sites because of their close proximity to the capitol city.
Our main aim for this round of data collection is to look at diets during the cold season to use in the nutritional component of the study. I will talk more about that in the next post!