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Entry 17 - Cook Islands - Red Cross

It is back to being HOT AGAIN!

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Cook Islands – Global Volunteers Placement – March 27 – April 14

Week 2 – April 10 – April 14

Monday, April 10 – First Day at the Red Cross

With our very early am return from Aitutaki, I finally was in bed by 1:30 am. This was the day that I was begin my work with the Red Cross, focusing on getting their newsletter ready for the printer.

Niki Rattle, the Secretary General of the Red Cross is wonderful. She is a dynamo and has multiple other agencies that she works with and assists by sitting on their board or committees. There is a house dog named Guapo who the size of a setter, with the tail of a pointer and mainly brown and black with some white. He made noise the first time I met him, but quickly became friendly and was told that he would know me from then on.

Niki from CIRC.JPG

I learned that were soon be three insignias for the Red Cross agencies. Red Cross for the Christian Countries, the current Red Crescent in Muslim Countries and the soon to be Red Diamond in the countries that have equal portions of both of the others. I also learned that there are 180 RC’s worldwide. The Cook Island has 10 offices across their 15 islands, with volunteers running all the outer island offices. The CIRC (Cook Isl Red Cross) on Rarotonga is a small office of only 6 paid staff. The main programs are First Aid and CPR training, Disaster preparedness, AIDS/HIV, safe sex information, disability assistance programs, gender issues and anything else that is needed on the islands. The Seven Fundamental Principles of the International Red Cross/Red Crescent/Red Diamond Movement – Humanity, Impartiality, Neutrality, Independence, Voluntary Services, Unity and Universality.

Red Cross Mission.JPG

So if you need help, they help. CIRC Raised $82,000 for the Tsunami Relief effort. It should be an interesting week. It was very hot, but sitting inside with the fan blowing on me, it was bearable. Tomorrow I vowed to wear a dress. I spent most of the daily reading through the island reports to get a handle on their news and typing what I could of the template into my computer. Niki was busy with Felicity, a RC worker from Fiji who was in the office for a few days for the annual operations audit.

Joe and I cooked dinner at the hotel and I was very tired and not cooping well with my tiredness. Okay, weekend trips that either take the entire weekend or having me ending up arriving back early on Monday am are not the best way for me to have down time and sufficient energy for my next week at work.

Joe reminded me that main goal for GV is the relationships with the people and the work that the individual volunteers accomplish during the placements is secondary. This is a hard concept for me, as I feel I can make more of a difference with my work than in my relationships. My next 6 placements are all with animals and vary from 2-6 weeks. It will be interesting to see if that type and style of work invigorates or drains my energy.

Another thought was that with the smaller group, it was harder for me to fade into the background and not have to be involved and on all the time. You don’t need to interact as much in a larger group and you also have more of a variety of people to spend time with. Variety the spice of my life. Coming up I will work with two different agencies that I have not experienced yet and for the most part, I will be part of a considerably smaller group (3-8 people). There is also a strong possibility of little alone time as quarters may be shared with other team members.

Another chance to learn the lesson to speak up earlier about what I will need to remain a positive and productive team member will be my mission.

Tuesday, April 11

Day two at the Red Cross. More work on the newsletter and a surprise lunch with Niki’s friend Nonni. I will most likely have the newsletter done tomorrow and Friday they are closed

Karen, FedEx and I have been going around and around about one of my 7 boxes that I sent to the States from Thailand. The other 6 managed to make it to their owners, but this one sent to Karen for storage until I get home, was stuck in customs in Alaska. I learned today that FedEx has returned my box back to Thailand and when I called them, they said it was because they had a bad phone number for Karen. Sigh! Every time I spoke to them, I got a different answer as to what was happening with the box and what the reason was that it was still delayed. One version was that they needed detailed manufacturer information on every item. One was that they needed detailed info on the fabric in the box. One was that they needed Karen’s SSN in order to deliver. I am not amused.

I spent two hours at the Telecom on the net sending e-mails and trying to call the FedEx office in Thailand. I have decided that my one of my lessons for this journey is patience and persistence. I admit to getting a little tired of calling long distance and getting a different reason why things aren’t happening. Sounds like giving up control is another major key for this year. As I type this my computer is playing You are always there for me! Thank you! I needed the reminder!

Wednesday, April 12

As I did my morning procress, Sonia’s card was LET GO! Got it!

Red Cross and PIAF – finished what I can of the newsletter and perfected inserting photos and adding boxes around titles. At this point, the people who submitted the articles need to proof the articles and Niki, as the formal editor needs to proof the content. Some of the island reports were 18 months old and I am sure, at least some of the info has already been included in earlier newsletter.

I spent some time with PIAF – Pacific Islands AIDS Foundation that shares offices with the CIRC – PIAF serves HIV positive community and builds care networks across Mela, Micro and Polynesia. 7000 people affected in the entire area, but only 2 in Cook Islands. The 5 tenants of PIAF –
1. Positive Living
2. Positive Health
3. Positive Partnerships
4. Positive Action and Prevention
5. Positive Investment

Spent the day adding text boxes and photographs to the newsletter. I am feeling very smug as I now feel a lot more proficient with these items and have learned to store and retrieve data from a stick. I just may need to get one of those cute little things for ease of transport to off site machines.

Today I had Lunch with Niki and Felicity, the RC Auditor from Fiji at Salsa Café, Caesar Salad. As Felicity and I went to the table, Niki stopped and talked to at least one person at every table. On such a small island, you know everyone and they know you.

This afternoon, I did some fast shopping and internetting. The US Customs office sent back and auto reply and it appears that fabric and cloth are not allowed in without special forms. I need to go to the US Embassy in NZ and see if I can get to the bottom of this. Still no word from Thailand.

Joe had arranged for us to going with Harry and Pauline, owners of the Kii Kii Motel where I am staying, to a Rotary BBQ. We got lost on the way to their house, (Have I told you that Joe’s Lakota name is “Joe who Drives in Circles”) but we finally found them. They are very nice. We went to a resort on the Western side of the island and had a lovely sunset. The place is owned by an American originally from Hawaii who wore a very large hat with flowers on it. The appetizers were amazing, mainly the smoked marlin and the BBQ was okay. Possibly and little underdone. I had a bit of a tummy during the night.

I have one more day of work for this week, and then because of the holiday, no more volunteer work on the Cook Islands. I am finding being the only person on the team difficult as it is just Joe and I. He is fine, but is having a hard time finding things to do to keep busy and we are on totally different pages as what is a fun activity after work. I prefer to rest and have a quiet evening and Joe prefers to socialize and try new things. I admit the constant attention and not being able to blend in the background annoying at the best of times and anxiety provoking at the worst of times. As I look back on it now, I would have preferred to cancel out my third week and had the extra days in NZ. I am trying to change my flight and get out of Dodge earlier than next Tuesday, as is Joe with his flight a week from today. If ever faced with this again, I will not go forward with the third week if I am the only volunteer on the project.

Thursday, April 13 – Last day of work

I woke up with a bit of a tummy and when I got to the Red Cross, there really wasn’t much for me to do, as the team had not had a chance to proof the newsletter. I ended up leaving early for an extended lunch break to try and rest and ended up not returning to the CIRC. When I called, I told Niki that I would call her to see if Joe and I could visit her husband and check out his custom made jewelry.
I managed to change my return ticket to NZ so I will now leave on Sunday afternoon instead of Tuesday at 3am. Much more civilized, plus with Easter weekend and Monday being closed, there won’t be much happening on the island.

I rested for most of the afternoon and finally got up and ate something and seemed to feel better. We ended up at an Italian Restaurant with great food and very European service. Dinner took 2.5 hours.

Friday, April 14 – Good Friday and official last day of Squad 74 (a) - abbreviated

As there was no more volunteer work, today was the last diary entry from Joe.

Joe and I and Barb and Dave, from Minn and living down the hall from us, went on a safari tour of the island. Two jeeps and a total of 16 people. Lovely views, amazingly washed out roads and lots of island history and culture.

I began to wonder how many of us are as well versed on our nations history as these guys are. I know they are in the tourist industry, but they were amazing.

My insight for today was how much happier I am and able to enjoy life when I am not “working” in my own mind. Even my volunteer placements appear as work to me. There will be lots more opportunities for me to lighten up and enjoy all my life, not just the part that I identify as non-work in the months to come.

As we got closer to the end of our three weeks, Joe had to search farther into the island to find different places to eat dinner. We ended up at Castaways owned by some Scottish expats. I began to see a pattern in the menus and clients as we are now going to more restaurants run by non-islanders. We keep running into the same people at dinner which is not necessarily a bad thing, it was just something to notice.

During dinner we could hear the local church festival for Good Friday. By the time we get there, they were screening a movie in English on a large sheet that kept waving in the breeze. The last time I was at an outdoor movie showing like this, was in Thailand in the 70’s. The movie was the life of Christ. in English, but I didn’t recognize any of the actors.

What is the island like? Think of a cone that flattens out at the edges at the edges and you have Rarotonga, Capital of the Cook Islands. There is the main perimeter road close to the water and two blocks inland, is another one lane road that goes almost all the way around the island. From the inner road, there are roads that go up the mountainsides and dead-end. The outer loop is 20 miles total and takes about 45 minutes to get all the way around.

Islanders mostly drive scooters without helmet, that outnumber cars by 2:1. Apparently cars are catching up and they are getting larger and larger. Considering the size and number of the roads and parking, things could get tight really quickly. Shocking number of accidents, which usually happens as people try to overtake each other and usually involved alcohol. Everyday the paper had news about a court case or someone going to prison due to an accident that had happened within the last 6 months.

The people are very friendly. Even if they don’t know you, they smile and say Kia Orana. It is amazing after only three weeks, I keep seeing people who I can identify and I feel connected to the community. The legend is that the Cook Islands originally came from Hawaii and that they sent 7 canoes of people to New Zealand. I am not sure if that is actual fact or just a legend.

Noni juice is bottled on the island and is the Cook Island Elixir to cure whatever ails you. Tastes like watered down soy sauce and is imported to Japan and the US.

Flora on the island is stunning with frangipani, hibiscus, wild ginger and hedgerows of the variegated leaved plants that we buy in pots in the US and are happy when they grow to 2 feet. It is amazing what frequent water and ample sunlight can do to encourage plants to grow.

There are shops everywhere, mainly selling black pearls, and from the abundance, you wonder how any of them can make money. Most of the Cook Islanders have multiple jobs, or shops and you see people you know also selling fresh food in the Saturday Market. Apparently the minimum wage is about $8 NZ per hour or roughly $3 US.

Wildlife on the island. Only birds are native to the island, but early settlers brought pigs, chickens, limited cattle and horses, lots of dogs and cats and the destructive rats. When the islanders were still trying to export fresh fruit, which is now impossible, as they don’t raise enough to compete on the open market, they were having difficulty with animals eating some of the produce. The brought in Mynah birds that are not native and they got rid of the animals, but have also decimated most of the native bird nests as well.

The dogs seem well fed for the most part and fall into two groups – the basset crosses with horrible front leg conformation and the taller Heinz 57. Most the cats I saw are skinny by our standards, but overall they appear healthy. The Island SPCA is working hard on the island to encourage humane treatment and there is a private foundation based vet clinic that is staffed 8-10 months of the year by visiting vets. The clinic is pay as you can and free if you can’t.

The Cook Islands are 15 islands, in two groups; the Southern Group includes Rarotonga the largest island of the group and 9000 of the 15,000 population. Aitutaki, the northernmost island of the Southern group has 1800 people. The rest of the population is scattered around 10 other islands. Three of the islands are not inhabited except by the birds, mosquitoes and sea turtles. Raratonga is the only volcanic island and the rest are Atolls of coral that rose out of the water and eventually became inhabited.

Saturday, April 15 – Last minute shopping, lunch with Niki and Colin from Red Cross, final dinner.

I was at the market at 8:00 and it was a magical day. The first person I saw was Mrs. Anna the Principal from the school. Less than 3 minutes later I saw Sister Celine. Then I saw Edith from the School. Walking into town I met Julz from the Red Cross. At Telecom, I saw Jason, the Aussie Writer who I met the first time I was at the Telecom and had a picture taken with him.
I already knew that I would get to see Niki and her husband Colin for lunch that afternoon and I felt very connected and loved. It was exactly what I wanted to happen so that I could say goodbye to the people that made my first trip to Cook Island so special.

I Picked up the CD from the Dance Competition and found that it played on by computer. It is wonderful and shows all the funny and wonderful things that happened during the performance. I can’t wait to show it to you if you would like to see some of it.

Joe broke his glasses just as we were leaving from Niki’s, but we hoped that her husband, a jewelry maker, might be able to help him. Lunch with Niki and Colin was wonderful and I had the opportunity to select the pearls that Colin made into earrings. I asked Niki how long her hair was and she took it down and showed me. Her hair is absolutely stunning. At the end of the session, Joe could also see as Colin temporarily fixed his glasses. Colin is a man of many talents and has made friends with a flock of chickens in his yard. He clucks to them and up the stairs they walk for their treat of white bread. His favorite hen, flies up three stories to be first in line for the treats.

Niki in all her glory.JPG

Colin and his hen.JPG

We took a final dip in the ocean for a little snorkeling but there was very low visibility and I didn’t have a snorkel, which limited the effectiveness.

I went home to pack and reorganized and try to make sure that my checked luggage did not weigh over 20 kg.

Sunday, April 16 – Easter Sunday and I leave

Went to church at 10:00 for Easter Mass. How Great Thou Art in Maori, kids reading the readings in sequence, acting out the gospel.

Lunch at Café Salsa

Last look at the ocean

Was at the airport at 1:30 for the 3:30 flight to Auckland.

Nanny McPhee on the flight – YAAAH!

What I know after the Cook Islands.

1. If there is any chance that I might be able to snorkel or dive, I will always pack my dive skin. My dive skin is basically a unitard with long sleeve made of lycra and it offers some sun protection.

2. On my next big trip, I will take fewer supplies with me. I have been able to find lotion, soap, shampoo, etc everywhere. As I love to shop locally and I am going to do it anyway, why lug is with you when you can buy it?

3. During this placement, I found myself approaching my volunteer work as I do when I approach my job at home. What this meant to me was that I would focus on my computer and pretty much ignore most social interaction around me. It could have been because I was using my computer to complete most of my work, and this had not been the case in the other two placements. One of the usual team goals for most volunteer organizations is to have fun. Fun is not something that I normally associate with work. I seem to put fun for my after work activities and focus and concentration for work. I believe a lightening of these self-imposed rules or distinctions, (and you know how fond of rules I am), will lead to a general lightening of my outlook and a greater enjoyment overall of my time, no matter where I am.

Kia Orana,Cook Islands. I had a wonderful time - Meitake Maata. I will return again.

Posted by ladyjanes 16:36 Archived in Cook Islands Tagged armchair_travel

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