Ezra Remer - 2014 Program Participant
Entrance to Highlands Sign, Removal from the “Grid”
Why did you you decide to volunteer in Fiji?
I’ve always been interested in traveling since I was young. I’ve also had a strange “obsession” with the South Pacific since I was young as well. I started researching volunteer travel programs worldwide and I fell upon Rustic Pathways. The trip to Nasivikoso seemed like a complete culture shock, and I needed just that, so I took a dive in and decided to embark on my journey.
How did you originally find out about Rustic Pathways, and what made you decide to volunteer with them?
The internet was my friend when it came to discovering Rustic Pathways. They do a great job at marketing their programs and they were extremely responsive to all my questions. The generous scholarship they offered sealed the deal for me to choose Rustic Pathways.
Ezra and Rex at Momi Battery
You’ve participated in the same Fiji program three times, and are already signed up for a fourth this summer. What makes you return to the same location rather than trying somewhere new?
The sense of family and community present in Nasivikoso is really the main factor that draws me back year after year. I love experiencing new places, so it kills me a little that I return to the same place again and again, but I know it’s worth it. It’s like visiting an old friend or a family event where you like everyone there. There’s a certain aura about Nasivikoso that’s really indescribable. When I first arrived in the village there was a sense of being there before, like I was born a Fijian. The people of Fiji are the most welcoming and friendly people I’ve experienced in the world and I’m from New Orleans! Even though I have to work all year to pay for my trip, I couldn’t dream of spending my summer anywhere but Nasivikoso.
You stay in a homestay with the same family each time you volunteer in Fiji. Why is staying with a local family the best arrangement in your opinion?
Staying with the same family every year allows for a deeper familial bond to be created. My first year going to the village I was by far the youngest participant and my nene (mom) called me her “little boy” all the time. Since her only child had moved to the city for university, I was her new baby and she treated me so the entire time.
Since then it’s not an awkward experience to live in someone else’s house for two weeks, it’s just visiting family. Even though my momo (father) speaks very little English, there’s a certain rapport built between us through my broken Fijian and smiles that is very homey.
I believe in full cultural immersion, and Rustic Pathway does a great job at creating this environment with the homestays. This element of the program is the most important to a true “changing experience” that most participants are looking for.
What is something you have learned from your host family about the Fijian culture?
I’m not too shabby at my Fijian anymore since my Nene spent multiple summers insisting on speaking to me in Fijian (even though she spoke English) and I was forced to adapt. The basic calmness and natural happiness present in Fijian culture affects the way I live my life back home. There’s a saying in Fiji, “Senga na Lenga” which roughly translates to “No worries”. It’s really less of a saying and more of a motto to the Fijian lifestyle of carefree, happy living.
One night I came back to my family’s hut and there were about 15 people just laying on the ground. When I asked my Nene who they were she just replied coolly, “I’m not very sure, but they’re family now!” It’s this accepting culture that makes me keep coming back.
What is your favorite aspect of volunteering in Fiji? Your least favorite?
I actually enjoy the construction on the school when I volunteer. Personally it’s hard to consider anything difficult or laborious when you’re working in the most beautiful place on earth, with the friendliest people on earth. When a positive feeling is shared by all participants and everyone’s joking around and getting the job done, I would choose construction on any day.
However, if the participation in the group is down, and people aren’t happy or doing their jobs, it can be tiring and boring. I’ve been with groups that have worked from sun-up to sun-down with a smile on their faces the entire time, and it made the volunteer work really enjoyable. But, when the morale isn’t up and people aren’t participating or are complaining, it can get extremely frustrating.
Mixing Cement at Construction
What advice would you give to someone that is volunteering in Fiji for the first time?
Come in with an open mind and expect nothing. Come to the program with a positive attitude and outlook, and be as friendly and happy as you can possibly muster. You’ll be repaid for this approach with the welcoming Fijian culture. If you arrive expecting certain things and only viewing the program as “successful” if your expectations are accomplished, then chances are you won’t have a good time.
My first year I was up for anything, despite my previous demeanor against that, and it was noticed by everyone around me. The villagers will appreciate positivity and flexibility, and welcome you with open arms.
Fiji is made up of more than 300 islands. Were you able to visit any others in between volunteering at the school? Is there a weekend trip you would recommend to others?
The Village program actually doesn’t have any weekend trips associated with it since it’s pretty isolated in the interior. However, the new program itinerary introduced this past year has us staying near Somosomo village on Naviti Island in the Yasawa group. This island is the cliché vision of Fiji, with beaches and palm trees, and is one of the most beautiful places I’ve experienced on earth.
I personally prefer the rough mountains of the highlands interior, but living in a beach bungalow and going snorkeling for a few days is definitely appreciated and fulfills the “paradise” aspect that the Fijian islands offer.
How has your time in Fiji impacted your future goals or plans?
Traveling to Fiji has opened my eyes to the future of rural global planning and volunteerism. I’ve always been interested in international affairs, but traveling to such a foreign country has started me on the path toward world travel.
I definitely would like to work for the Rustic Pathways program in Nasivikoso when I’m old enough to lead a program. I’ve met travelers who participated back in the 1990s and early 2000s and still return when they can to visit all the family and friends that are made back in the village. As I’m writing this I’m reminiscing of the river and jungles, and the sunset above the rugby field behind the village. I’m smiling right now and it’s engulfed the dark cold weather outside with my Fijian dreams.