Days from the end of her service, Taylor’s house was set on fire, sending a clear message that someone no longer wanted her there. That feeling, however, was only shared by one person in Fiji, a community that loved her as much as she loved them.
On this Episode:
- What life is like living in a village of 125 people
- When Taylor got matching tattoos with her host mother
- Why her house was set on fire, days before she was to leave the Peace Corps
Photos from Taylor’s Story
Taylor’s Peace Corps Story
Where and when did you serve? What did you do?
I served in the South Pacific Islands of Fiji. Fiji is a chain of over 300 islands. I served on the island of Vanua Levu, in a small village called Vunikura. Vunikura was a Catholic village with about 75 adults, and 50 children living in close proximity. I was a community youth development worker (youth in Fiji was ages 15-35). Primarily, I worked as a Family Life Education Teacher at Vatuvonu Seventh Day Adventist College, the nearby secondary school. This subject was known as health class from America’s standpoint. Secondarily, I worked with the village by preparing and receiving access to USAID funds to start and complete a 15 flush toilet project in Vunikura. I also worked on a beautification project, nutrition demonstrations with the women, as well promoted the importance of physical activity with the women.
What is one of your favorite Peace Corps memories?
My very fondest Peace Corps memory happened about 2 weeks before I closed my service. I became very close with my “nana” (Fijian mom), who happened to only be 6 years older than me. She took care of me every day. She made sure I was fed, she helped (or rather did) my laundry by hand, she helped me clean my house, and even took care of my cat when I left for PC related commitments. My Nana quickly became my best friend, and honestly a huge part of my “work” in Fiji. Often times I felt useless, but I could always teach her something, and more importantly learn something from her. The thought of leaving her made me cringe. I could not decide on a something that I could gift her that would last a lifetime. So I thought, why don’t we just get matching tattoos?! People had tattoos in Fiji, but women normally kept them to a minimum, although our tattoo was small, I still hoped that my nana would feel rebellious by the commitment to this lifelong piece of art.
So we went to get the matching tattoos, both on our arms with the word reading “loloma”. Loloma means always sending love. I thought this was the perfect gift because it will last forever, and from around the world when we say our art on our arms we would always be reminded that we’re sending love to one another.
In America, when you decide you want matching tattoos, you both would get on your phones and look up the nearest tattoo place, take a look at their artists work, decide on who you want to do your tattoo, and go there and hope that that person is available. In Fiji it’s a different story….
What is one of your least favorite Peace Corps memories?
It’s ironic that my least favorite Peace Corps memory actually happened the day I reached out to you (Tyler) to ask to be a guest on your podcast. It’s horrible how just a single person can ruin a reputation of a place by one vicious act. I was evacuated from my village on September 22nd, just 12 days before my original departure due to someone trying to burn down my bamboo house. I luckily was not inside my house, as I had been at a different settlement celebrating another farewell for myself. I was then put on medical separation and was treated behavioral health due to trauma from the incident. I ended my service abruptly and very sadly, honestly. Though in the end, Fijians have extremely great hospitality skills and they still managed to put on a huge farewell party for me on such short notice the very next day.
What do you miss about the Peace Corps?
I miss waking up so close to the beach. I miss my morning beachfront runs. I will always miss the food and the abundance of coconuts. I’ll miss mango season. I deeply miss my family. I miss my having my own house. I miss all the other Peace Corps Volunteers who I served with.
What is something you learned in the Peace Corps?
Something I learned in Fiji that everyone has a story and that if you’re willing to listen, most people will tell you their story.
Do you have a favorite quote or local saying?
Loloma which is translated into sending love. Vaka Malua which translates to go slowly, take your time.