Thursday, June 3, 2010

Fantastic News!

Tuesday, I got some of the best news that anyone in academia can hope for... I'm being funded!!!

I've been awarded an Alabama EPSCoR Graduate Research Scholars Program (GRSP) fellowship worth $25,000 for the coming year! It's a big honor, a huge opportunity, and a great boost to my curriculum vita (CV). I'm well on my way to an academic career now - I've written a successfully funded proposal for external funding. Now I just need a publication or two, and I'll be headed in the right direction for getting into PhD programs and eventually actually getting a job in my field. Not that we're close to all that yet, of course. :-) Still have quite a ways to go on the Masters project before I can even start thinking seriously about all that stuff.

I can't even really think about what I'm going to do with this's more money than anyone's ever even joked about giving me before! I still can't quite believe that it's true. I'm sure it'll sink in, though. :-) Technically, I've been conditionally awarded the grant contingent upon their receipt of state funding for the next fiscal year beginning in October. I'm not worried, though. This is the 6th round of this funding, so it's not like it's a new thing that might get scrapped. Regardless though, I won't be "rich" until at least October, so no foisting the beer tab off on me yet!

Bottom line: I'm overwhelmingly excited about this! Also, I'm incredibly indebted and grateful to my professors, Dr. Jones and Dr. Cormier, not only for taking me to Fiji in the first place (which made me eligible for this grant), but also for their instrumental help in preparing my proposal. I quite literally could not have received this award without them. :-) Vinaka!

Monday, May 31, 2010

Here we go again!

Well, I'm about to make an unprecedented move for me...I'm about to repeat a trip! In all the time I've spent traveling, I've never once returned to a place I've visited before (I don't count Spain because I didn't visit, I lived there). Yet here I am about to head off to Fiji once again!

This will be my second year with the National Science Foundation's REU Fiji UAB group. Yep, that means I get to put NSF Fellow on my CV/resume twice! :-D I'm also getting paid to go abroad again, which I was sure was a once in a student career kind of thing. This year's group seems mature, focused, and awesome. We're also focusing less on archaeology this year and more on ethnography, so I'll be doing more interviews and participant observation. I'm really excited about getting to try out new methods. Most importantly, however, this year I'll be starting the groundwork for my Masters thesis dealing (hopefully) with ritual and social space from an ethnoarchaeological perspective.

Which brings to me a point that I've been thinking a lot about lately. I find myself anxious about the trip this year, perhaps even more so than last year. This would seem odd, especially since last year's nervousness stemmed mostly from having absolutely no idea what I was getting into. This year I know what's in store (mostly...a lot of stuff is still up in the air, though), so you'd think I'd be much more chill about the whole thing. Wrong. I'm more nervous than ever. But this time the source is quite different. I'm apprehensive about the research itself. I know how important these first steps into my Masters thesis will be, and I really don't want to mess it up.

I know some people would be thinking (and some have already told me) that of course you won't screw anything up! You always do well! Yeah, well, you're usually right. But this isn't logic talking. This is fear and insecurity. Look up "impostor phenomenon/syndrome" and you might have a better idea of what I'm talking about. I'm terrified that I'll start the research and realize, "Oh my god, I actually CAN'T do this!" Sounds silly, I know, but the feelings are there nonetheless. That's why I've determined that my goal for this field season is to do the work I've laid out for myself and prove to myself that I AM capable of doing this type of research. I am able to carry out the future career I've laid out for myself. And along the way, I'll keep reminding myself that little setbacks are normal...I am still a student, after all! :-)

So basically, it's going to be another great field season, and I'm excited to continue expanding my anthropological horizons. Stay tuned for future updates! We leave on Saturday (less than a week!), and then we'll have 2 or 3 days in Suva before heading out to Nayau. Like last year, I won't have any internet access on Nayau, for about 3.5 weeks, so don't expect any updates during that period. I should have about a week or so back on the main island at the end of the trip though, so there will hopefully be recaps then!

Moce mada!

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Rainy Sunday in Suva

Yadra, friends!

Well it turned out that today is pretty much a free day for us. We're spending the day buying last minute items (although most stores are closed here on Sundays), doing laundry, and repacking to board the boat to Nayau!

Oh, I realized I forgot one of the best parts of the first full day's activities! When we finally left the village (Koro Va - with "koro" meaning village, and "va" meaning four), it was dark and we were right next to a huge soccer tournament going on. We soon realized it would ridiculous to try to flag down one taxi, let along the four we needed to get all of us back to the hotel! So Paul graciously led us to a bus stop and got us on the correct bus back into the heart of Suva.

Now, the bus...AWESOME! We call the "disco buses" because there's loud music blaring through the whole vehicle...usually Bollywood style but some electronic dance music and we even heard the Backstreet Boys at one point! Open air windows and Friday night activities made it a fun bus ride...right up until the point where the bus broke down! Lol. But I have to hand it to the Fijian transportation system because we had a replacement bus roll up next to us in less than 10 minutes. That totally beats Birmingham! We finally made it back, and we can really say that we loved the disco buses...both of them!

But now to finish out yesterday. After a breakfast of coconut sprial rolls, curry rotis, and cream-filled pastries (which we've taken to calling "crack cream buns", hahaha), we headed out to the Fiji Museum. Along the way we passed a few rugby games, which I was fascinated with since I've never actually seen anyone play rugby.

The Museum itself was great, with a lot of really interesting artifacts. My favorite though was the first gallery room that had full-scale replicas of traditional sailing canoes, including a double-hulled canoe that was used to first colonize the islands. It was all incredibly interesting, especially following our ride in the outrigger the night before.

One quite interesting artifact in the museum was the boiled remains of a shoe that belonged to Reverend Baker, a Methodist missionary to Fiji back when it was first "discovered" by Europeans. Apparently, Mr. Baker greatly offended the chief when he snatched his comb back from the chief's hair. The head is sacred in Fiji, and you should never touch anyone's head...least of all the chief! Needless to say, Reverend Baker ended up converted to dinner rather than converting any natives. :-)

After the museum and lunch, we split up the shopping list for supplies for Nayau. Betsy, Catherine, Kaylin, and I were assigned to get the food supplies for our breakfasts and lunches. We missed the huge Publix-style grocery store and ended up in a smaller store that didn't have everything on our list, but we got most things. We bought a ton of rice, flour, sugar, pasta, and peanut butter. :-) Just the essentials! We also bought oatmeal, jam, Ramen noodles, and spaghetti sauce. We were going for easy to make and could be bought in bulk. I think it worked out well!

Last night I opted to chill in the room with leftovers rather than go out to dinner with the big group. Several others chose that option as well, and we had a nice evening chatting and drinking Fiji Bitter...a beer I actually kinda like! Unfortunately, I won't be able to find it anywhere in Alabama, according to Catherine, who is also disappointed by this. :-)

Today Betsy and I attempted to wash our clothes in a basin in the hotel. There was a washing machine, but no one could figure out how to drain the water from it, so we decided against that. We managed to get the clothes washed and rinsed without any major problems (the tiny closet with the rinsing since didn't have a light though...but we had headlamps! Lol). However, when we went to put everything to dry on the balcony, it was raining. Of course. We tried it for a bit, but the clothes kept getting dripped on. Luckily, Anne and Vassillika found a laundromat that was open today. We wanted to just stick ours in to dry, but apparently the guy said they were too wet, and he'd have to wash them first. Yeah, because THAT makes sense. Oh well! :-) At least our clothes won't be wet and moldy when we get to Nayau!

This afternoon is just packing and discussing what we've learned so far and what to expect and how to act on Nayau, and then free time. I'm afraid this will be my last post until I get back since we're leaving around 10AM tomorrow morning. There will be plenty of pictures and many many stories for you when I return, though! Love you all!

Friday, June 12, 2009

Yadra from Suva!!!

Hey friends! We have safely made it to Fiji! We touched down the day before yesterday in Nadi, Fiji, where we got on a long but beautiful bus ride over to the capital of Suva. The island is beautiful, even through the city grit, and I love it so far! If I think Suva is wonderful, I can't wait to see the relatively unspoiled beauty of Nayau! Speaking of that, we have good news. We no longer have to take the awful, hellish cargo ship for two days to Nayau. Sharyn managed to get a great price on a charter dive boat that can get us there in one night, and she described it as "palatial". :-) So we're all really excited about a much nicer boat ride.

We've actually done a lot since we've gotten here, but I don't want to overwhelm the blog, so I'll hit the highlights. Yesterday was probably the most eventful day. We went to the University of the South Pacific for a lecture, which was very interesting. It's one of the only universities for the region, so there are people from all over the surrounding islands, not just Fiji. Then we went to the market! It was even better than the markets in Spain! There was every conceivable vegetable and fruit and spice, and it went on forever! Then we went upstairs to the kava market to get some for our sevusevu in Nayau. Lauren and I tried our hand at finding and haggling kava...and failed miserably, lol. We ended up almost getting ripped off by a jerk of a kava vendor, but we managed to walk away before he demanded we pay him. We found Sharyn and she helped us find a good vendor for a good price. If I had to do it again, I think I could now!

Last night was probably the best. We met up with Paul, a university professor who has lived in Fiji for something like 20 years and who actually wrote the phrasebook we've been using! He took us to visit a traditional Lauan village right outside Suva. We got to partake in our first sevusevu, and Sharyn said we did pretty good. :-) There was lots of sitting quietly and drinking rounds of kava (not the same as rounds of alcohol, btw). The women showed us some of how they make masi (or barkcloth), and we got to try some cassava straight from an earth oven. The kava wasn't as bad as I expected. As Amanda said, it wasn't Kool-Aid delicious, but it was drinkable and not altogether unpleasant.

Then came my favorite part of the trip so far...we got to go on a boat ride in a traditional outrigger canoe! We hiked up our sulus and waded out to the boat. It seemed so fragile, but once they got the sails up and going, it actually moved really fast and gracefully! I absolutely loved it! Sitting up front with the waves and the reef ahead and the stars coming out, I felt more relaxed than I have since the first showers after all the plane rides! It's hard to describe it except to say that it was beautiful.

Today we're doing a bunch of shopping for Nayau and going to visit the Fiji Museum. I'm hoping I can do another update tomorrow (we leave for Nayau on Monday's Saturday morning here now), but no promises. If not, I hope you all have a great month, and I'll be sure to update on everything when I get back!

Moce mada!

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Almost Time!!!!!

Hey friends!

As the title suggests, it's almost lift-off time for Fiji!  I'm meeting the group at the airport in about 8 hours!  From there, it's off to Houston, then L.A., and finally Nadi.  As soon as we get off the plane in Nadi, we'll get on a bus for a 5-hour trip to the capital city of Suva, which is on the other side of the big island of Viti Levu.  Once we get to Suva, we'll probably be there until Sunday morning, when we board the cargo ship for the (apparently hellish) ride to Nayau.  We'll be on Nayau for about a month before heading back the way we came.  We should have several days in Suva and Nadi on the way home, and it's back to the States!

One significant change is that it turns out we're most likely going to be staying in the village now.  This is great in that we'll have more interaction with the locals...but it's not so great in that we'll have more interaction with the locals.  :-)  Privacy will likely be more of an issue in the village, but the experience will probably be much richer in the long run.  And on the bright side, we wouldn't have to build our own latrine!

Ok, now that I think I may have finally finished all the packing I can do tonight, I'm going to try to get some sleep.  We're meeting at the airport at noon tomorrow...errr, today?  You know what I mean!  I'm so excited (and just a touch nervous)!  Let's hope everyone can keep a positive attitude and make this the absolute best trip of our lives!

Fijian words:
Lako tani. - Go away. (for use both with children and with pushy adolescent boys)
Vale lailai - Toilet (literally "little house"!)
Jilo. (pronounced "chilo") - Excuse me.
Malo - Good
Bula levu - Full (as in: "I'm full.")

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Photos and Packing

Fiji Day is drawing near!  Two weeks from today!  To celebrate, I thought I'd share a couple of photos of the island we'll be going to, Nayau.  These photos belong to Dr. Sharyn Jones, but rest assured that I'll have plenty of my own to share when I get back!  :-)

This is an aerial view of the village of Liku on the southwestern part of the island.  It's one of three villages, but I'm not sure which of the three is considered the principal village - aka, where the chief lives.  I'll let you know!

View of the southern end of Nayau, which is where we'll be camping (assuming the villagers don't make us stay in the village...keep your fingers crossed on that one).  I know there's no way this can be as idyllic as it appears here, but it just looks so dang peaceful and amazing!

This is Sharyn's crew from a couple years ago digging at a rock shelter on Nayau called Waituruturu.  The site is about 3000 years old, and is one of the first sites settled by the Lapita people on Nayau.  Cool, huh?  :-)

In other news, my sleeping bag came in!  It's a Mountain Hardwear Lamina 45 degree bag that I got for about half price, and I love it!  Mom says it feels only a little thicker than a rain jacket, and it packs down to about 6 inches square in a compression sack!  I tried it out the other night...I didn't have my sleeping pad though, so I spread it out on my bed and slept IN my sleeping bag ON my bed, lol.  Can you tell I'm ready to go?!  June 9th can't come fast enough!

Friday, May 15, 2009

Fijian Village Etiquette

Info about how to act in Fijian villages (not cities) from a handout we got at the meeting.

"If you visit a village uninvited, ask to see the headman at once; it's not proper just to turn up and look around.  Never wander around unaccompanied: beaches, reefs and gardens are all someone's private realm.  Complex codes of behavior are in operation; do as you're asked and discretely find out why later.
  • Dress modestly; sleeves and sulu or sarongs are fine for both men and women.  You will rarely see adult Fijians swimming and when they do they cover up with a T-shirt and sulu.
  • Take off your hat and sunglasses, and carry bags in your hands, not over your shoulder; considered rude to do otherwise.
  • It is rare to see public displays of affection between men and women.
  • Bring yaqona (kava) with you.  This is for your sevusevu, requesting permission to visit the village from the chief and, in effect, the ancestral gods.  He will welcome you in a small ceremony likely to develop into a talanoa (gossip session) around the tanoa (kava bowl), so be prepared to recount your life story.
  • Check with your host if you can take photos and wait until after the sevusevu to start snapping.
  • Stoop when entering a bure (thatched dwelling) and quietly sit cross-legged on the pandanus mat.  It is polite to keep your head at a lower level than your host's.  Fijians regard the head as sacred - never ever touch a person's head.
  • If you're staying overnight and had planned to camp but are offered a bed, accept it; it may embarrass your hosts if they think their bure is not good enough.
  • The custom of kerekere means that people may ask you for things.  If you don't want to give an item away, just say that you can't do without it.
  • Travel with thank-you gifts of tea, tinned meat, or sugar, or contribute some cash to cover costs.
  • Sunday is for church and family."