Talanoas and Travel

Life has been busy since my last blog post. In the past month or so, my dad visited Fiji just in time for us to celebrate his birthday, the IUCN Oceania Regional Office (IUCN ORO) helped host two talanoas (Fijian for “conversation” or “discussion”) with Pacific Island leaders and stakeholders, and I set sail from Nadi through the Mamanuca and Yasawa island chains to discover the islands on the “sunny” and “warm” west side of Viti Levu, Fiji’s main island. On Thursday I returned to California, briefly crashed with one of my best friends in San Francisco, then picked up my car from my dad (who was kind enough to drive it back to San Francisco) so that I could drive down to Monterey in time to start classes on Monday.

Dad visited in mid-July and we celebrated by going out for melt-your-face-off-spicy Indian food in downtown Suva. His visit was filled with activities that I had planned on doing at some point but didn’t have a good excuse for yet, so we visited the Fiji Museum in Thurston Gardens, stayed at the Beachouse for a couple of days on Korolevu (the Coral Coast on Viti Levu’s south side), dined at various restaurants and walked around the whole city. I also taught him how to use a Fijian coconut scraper to make coconut milk!

I told him to wear Hawaiian shirts to blend in

After Dad returned to California, life at the normally laid-back office got unusually busy. IUCN ORO hosted a talanoa centering around integrated ocean management and the ocean/climate change nexus, and the research intern job was to write short briefing papers based on our research papers and to assist Andrew, the acting regional programme coordinator, with talanoa planning and preparation. A week later, we also assisted in preparation for a talanoa on deep sea mining (DSM). DSM is a potentially lucrative, yet also potentially dangerous enterprise being considered by Pacific Islands countries whereby mineral resources are extracted from the seafloor. The main goal of these talanoa sessions was to bring together various stakeholders in frank and honest, yet civil conversations in which different views and solutions are considered and discussed.

Pacific Islands leaders, plus two lowly research interns, at the Integrated Ocean Management and Ocean/Climate Change Nexus talanoa in Suva

Discussions ranged from regionalism to ocean acidification to the upcoming COP23

Alex and myself were able to take off work for the last few days of our time in Fiji. Since it had been raining heavily, so much that mangoes never came into season due to the rain knocking off all of the mango flowers, I decided to take a trip to the Yasawa islands on the west side of Viti Levu. This usually sunny area is more heavily frequented by tourists, especially those from Australia and New Zealand. Since I seem to have been cursed by the Fijian rain gods, a storm moved in right when I arrived and sunshine was scarce the entire time. But in the area around the island of Nanuya Balavu where I stayed, excellent marine stewardship has made the reefs gorgeous and healthy, and they were teeming with fish. Even in the rain, I was able to snorkel waters filled with loads of corals and fish right off shore and took a day to SCUBA dive around the island, traversing my way through underwater caves and spotting quite a few green sea turtles, fish, nudibranchs, beautiful fan corals, and even a few giant clams.

The coral reef was clearly visible from the SCUBA boat!

Coral skeletons showed the diversity of the corals in the Yasawas but not their vibrant colors

The SCUBA mask indentations on my face have faded but the memories of Fiji remain…

My Fijian language skills have progressed to somewhat complex sentences, and I was eager to practice with Fijians during my last few days in Fiji. On Nanuya Balavu, the hostel staff members were highly impressed with my Fijian language skills rivaling those of a toddler. It really struck me how much more receptive people are when you attempt to speak to them in their own language, and the parallels between this and translating the language of conservation into language that laypeople can get behind struck me as well.

My final farewell, both from IUCN ORO and from the staff at the resort on Nanuya Balavu, was a beautiful rendition of the Fijian song “Isa Lei”

Suva sent us off with a tremendous burst of rain that flooded the roads and gave us serious doubt as to whether our tiny plane would be able to take off at all. But after being escorted out to the runway by airport staff with rainbow umbrellas, we said our final, fitting goodbye to our home for the past three months through rain-streaked windows.

Now, back in California, the fog has descended over the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey. Although I never really got the sunshine I was expecting this summer, I did get something better: memories of an amazing learning experience and the chance to make good friends halfway across the world who made me feel like part of their family in the Pacific Islands, as well as one big human family.

Winners of the IUCN Ocean Trivia Night. Yay teamwork!

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