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Fiji Calling: I Don’t Wear Anything I Can’t Wipe My Hands On

by Claudia Lifton-Schwerner

Nyack High School and SUNY Oswego graduate Claudia Lifton-Schwerner won a Facebook contest last Spring to blog on behalf of Global Vision International (GVI) about their animal and environmental protection projects around the world. Her first stop was the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico. Her latest blog post is from Fiji.

Ani DiFranco always knows how to simply and eloquently translate my feelings into lyrics.  My clothes have become both napkins and towels over these past few months.  After living without the amenities of the western world, living simply becomes second nature.  Falling asleep slightly damp, in a pile of sand, and waking up tangled in a mosquito net begins to feel natural.  You grow to appreciate the simple meals of porridge, rice and pasta, and a rare piece of fruit is an exciting treat.  I have begun to look forward to the occasional bucket shower, and cannot imagine doing my laundry, or washing my dishes in anything but the sea.  Having access to a phone and the Internet only once a week makes me appreciate my friends and family back home even more, and it allows me to completely immerse myself into my surroundings.

I was a little apprehensive about living in these conditions for a year before I left the comforts of home, but I have never been happier.  Reading, writing and yoga have become a part of my daily routine more than ever before.  I have fallen even more in love with music (a feat I never thought possible) as I listen to my favorite artists with a new appreciation- completely uninterrupted by the “real world.”  I have been inspired by the moving lyrics and complex harmonies of Umphrey’s McGee and Tea Leaf Green.  I have discovered new intricacies in the instrumental genius of Sound Tribe Sector 9 and Papadosio.  Govinda’s bewitching violin wakes me up every morning, and provides me with energy for the day.  I am forever captivated by the poetic melodies that Andy McKee crafts with his magical fingers, and I will never be able to listen to the ethereal voices of India Arie or Joni Mitchell without getting goose bumps.  These artists keep me grounded and immediately alleviate any sense of homesickness I might experience.

This week has been filled with new challenges and accomplishments.  As a part of the construction crew I have had the privilege of visiting three different villages.  We have spent our days fixing gutters and roofs of the villagers’ homes and churches.  Many of these villages were devastated by Cyclone Evan last year, so I am happy to be a part fixing the damages.  We have also been tending to organic vegetable gardens that provide the villagers with a dependable and sustainable source of free food.

The work is exhausting in this heat, but Esava always makes the time fly by constantly cracking jokes.  Every day Esava, a native Fijian who runs the construction team, teaches us a new word in Fijian.  We always attempt to practice our growing vocabularies with the villagers.  We get to spend time with the villagers during these day trips, and I am always astonished by the kindness and generosity of the Fijian people.  Their homes are always opens for us to use as shelter from the sun, and we are always greeted with a welcoming smile.  As a reward for our hard work, Esava took Annina and me to the nearby underwater caves.  I felt like I was in a different world while swimming from one dark, mysterious cave to another.

Next week I will be finishing my time with construction and joining the education team.  My favorite friend on base is a tiny human (even smaller than you, Miese!) named Emma. She is a four year old firecracker whose energy and spunk make it impossible to be anything but joyful in her presence.  We pass the days together by collecting and painting shells, playing “shark” in the water, and spinning in the rain.  If the other children at school are anything like her, then I cannot wait to begin!

Claudia’s worldwide journey for Global Vision International includes stops in Mexico, Fiji, Thailand, South Africa and Kenya. Read her previous posts on NyackNewsAndViews and follow her adventures around the world at

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