Elizabeth the Island Enthusiast

a celebration of unconventional adventures

Tag: Cyclone Winston

Trouble in Paradise [Guest Post]

Even though I’ve been enjoying myself in Australia (apart from the strep throat), I haven’t stopped thinking about my incredible nine weeks spent volunteering in Fiji.

To provide some more context, my fellow globe-trotting friend Sarah of Enrichmentality has kindly written a fantastic guest post – I had the pleasure of getting to know Sarah and her husband Simon during our volunteer placement in Fiji, and they were actually there when Cyclone Winston hit the islands this past February.

Read on for Sarah’s harrowing retelling of her first-hand experience (and be sure to check out her website for excellent money-related knowledge!)

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There are, apparently, 15 words for ‘heaven’ in the Fijian language – one of which is ‘yasawa’. And the Yasawa Islands, Fiji are certainly the closest thing to paradise I’ve experienced.

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Earlier this year, we were in Fiji with family when Cyclone Winston struck. We were out in the Yasawas, staying at the wonderful Naqalia Lodge and enjoying a Fijian dinner by kerosene lantern light, when the resort manager handed us two weather reports – one out of the country’s capital, Suva, and one out of the nearest city, Nadi.

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Each predicted a different path for the cyclone: one heading to Nadi, one heading to the Yasawas.

We had to make a choice – try to get on the evacuation ferry (which could be full by the time it got to us) and take our chances trying to find appropriate shelter on the mainland in Nadi.

Or, we could stay where we were, in the Yasawas, with the caveat that if Cyclone Winston did indeed hit Fiji and do a lot of damage (as it ultimately did), we could be stranded.

Deciding to take our chances with the boat, after a very rough ride, one injury, and a broken camera, we were back on the mainland, thanks to the extraordinarily skillful work of the various resort workers who managed to transfer terrified passengers from tiny boats onto the ferry in extremely choppy water.

Note the waves coming up over the side of the boat – this is the third floor deck!

Note the waves coming up over the side of the boat – this is the third floor deck!

We managed to find shelter in a dorm room at the hotel we had previously been staying at, and after a terribly windy night, awoke to debris everywhere. Several days later, when we could get our hands on a newspaper, we read a lot of tragic stories of lives and homes and livelihoods lost.

But the pages of the Fiji Times were also filled with messages of support and hope and thanks – for the local and international donations and aid. From our room overlooking the airport, we watched supply-carrying government and military aircraft landing on a runway lit by the headlights of cars, since the power was still out.

We were so grateful for the running water, the food, and the roof over our heads that we enjoyed.

We felt extraordinarily lucky – as we should every day.

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We made a few donations and did what we could to help out with the clean up, trying to relive some pressure from the staff who had their own homes and families to worry about. But we wanted to be out helping in the worst affected areas – although we didn’t have any structure to offer a hand through, and we weren’t keen to be wandering around offering help when the country was under a curfew and emergency services were already pushed to their limits.

At that time, we decided that we’d like to go back and help out as soon as we were free of the constraints of our jobs, and so, two days after my final work commitment, we boarded a plane back to Fiji to begin our volunteering experience.

Seven months on, much of Fiji looks restored to its idyllic reputation. Although there remains much work to be done, and your support is still needed, Fiji remains a beautiful place to visit.

Please be sure to visit Sarah’s website at Enrichmentality.com!

Surveying Cyclone Aftermath at Teidamu Primary School

It’s a funny feeling to know you’re in a situation that will change your life forever.

Today I found myself in such a situation, when another volunteer and I went to a different primary school not far from the one we’d been assisting at for the last 2 weeks. I’d thought the previous school had extensive damage from Cyclone Winston, but that was nothing in comparison to the site we visited at Teidamu Primary School.

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Like the other school, Teidamu Primary School sits on top of a hill in one of the most wildly scenic educational settings I’ve ever seen, surrounded by panoramic views of sugar cane fields and the Pacific Ocean, with the city of Lautoka visible in the distance.

Over half the school’s main buildings and classrooms were completely destroyed, with roofs blown off and heaps of rubble sitting among the ruins. Two large white tents from UNICEF, a children’s rights and emergency relief organization, currently serve as makeshift classrooms.

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As we arrived, children peeked out from zipper-enclosed “windows,” giggling before quickly zipping themselves in after noticing they’d caught our attention.

“At least there is a breeze today,” one teacher commented, “the tents can get very hot”.

I could see why; with the exception of the entranceways and a few open side-slits, the tarps barely had any ventilation.

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Even though this school experienced significantly more devastation and wreckage, the children had an essence of joy about them – I spent some time conversing with the 7th and 8th graders, who at just 12 or 13 years old, exuded a loveliness and intelligence far exceeding their age.

After asking how the cyclone had affected them, one girl admitted her mother had died during the storm.

“She’s embarrassed to talk about her mum,” a boy said as the girl immediately repositioned herself to the back of the group, looking down.

This nearly drove me to tears on the spot. I know the pain of losing one’s mother all too well, but learning this mother was a victim of Cyclone Winston was almost too much for me to handle. Even more striking was this 13-year-old girl’s immense strength, despite the fact her mother passed – on her birthday.

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“It is a part of life,” the girl sighed, when I had a chance to chat with her later in private. Apparently her mom had been the manager of the school, and she died while trying to recover belongings during the cyclone from their house not far away.

She asked to see pictures of my home. Unfortunately I’d cleared off most of the photos on my iPhone, so all I had were a few airplane shots flying over the Rocky Mountains, taken on the flight to Los Angeles from Denver.

“Wow,” she exclaimed when I showed her the photos I’d snapped out the window, as well as a few pics of the food and entertainment on my overnight Fiji Airways flight to Nadi. “Is it scary to fly?”

“No,” I laughed. “It can certainly seem scary, sure, but once you’re up in the sky everything feels normal.”

“So it’s like a home?” she asked.

“Yeah. Just like a home.”

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