A Day of Surprising Events on Caqalai Base
A 6:30 wakeup, howling winds and heavy, sideways falling rain. On the boat at 8 speeding towards the dive site getting drenched every few seconds as we go over yet another big wave. Looking like we’ve already been diving and shivering like wet dogs. This was my morning today. It was cold and pretty miserable. On days like these you might think it would be easy to get downhearted and start wondering if it’s all worth it. But you don’t. Because as soon as you get below the surface everything above you is all but forgotten. The bright colours of the fish and the coral, even on days when visibility is bordering on dreadful (at the start of this morning’s dive it was approximately 0.5m), and even when you are doing your 51st dive like I was this morning, are simply mind-blowing.
This morning actually turned out to be one of my favourite dives so far. I instantly forgot how cold I’d been on the surface (it’s a rare day in Fiji when you’re freezing on land but perfectly warm 10m deep, but I’ve discovered it does happen!) and the visibility improved drastically throughout the 50 minute dive. I was surveying invertebrates, which allowed me to go on the lookout to find as many sea cucumbers and urchins as I could. Unfortunately there were no cucumbers today and only a small number of urchins (all of them the very boring and very common ‘small black urchin’) so not the most successful of surveys as far as the data collected is concerned. However, while looking for these I did see 5 or 6 nudibranchs – little sea slugs that vary massively in size and shape and, most strikingly, in colour. Not one I saw was remotely similar to another. One was a vivid green with what looked like bright blue flowers growing out its back. Another was a deep red and had fluorescent yellow spots. They may be small, but these little creatures have quickly become one of my favourite things to see underwater (even if they’re not quite as awesome as sharks!)
This week was my third week on the island and was also the first time I was able to go to school to teach. I had heard slightly mixed reviews on what this would be like so was a little nervous; however I was also excited about the challenge of doing something I’d never really done before. I was placed at MDS school class 5 (roughly aged 9/10) along with 2 other volunteers who had been teaching this class for a few weeks. To get to MDS you need to take a short boat ride and then walk up and down a relatively steep hill which takes approximately 40 minutes. This was made considerably more difficult as we all have to wear sulus to school which are not the easiest thing to go trekking in (or to get in and out of a boat in when the water is shin deep either for that matter). Despite this I greatly enjoyed the walk through the very picturesque jungle, chatting to my fellow volunteers and a few locals along the way. When we eventually arrived at the school I was immediately amazed by how nice and clean it was. There was a large field with rugby posts in the centre surrounded by very well kept classrooms, staff rooms and other buildings. It was not at all the dirty, run down place I had half been expecting. I was then taken to my classroom and introduced to the kids.
We were teaching the water cycle, In English to 10 year old Fijians for whom English is very much a second language. I have to say that, going in I wasn’t very optimistic about our chances of getting any of them to understand much of what we were saying. I was completely wrong. They listened attentively (only stopping to occasionally hit each other when they thought we weren’t looking) and by the end they could each tell me, without hesitation or much prompting, the definitions of words like evaporation and precipitation, I was very impressed.
The game of bulldogs in the field that they all desperately wanted to finish off the day (myself included) was definitely deserved. So outside we went where I expected to have to go easy on them and pretend to fail to catch them when I really could have done so easily. However, yet again that day, my expectations were completely wrong. They were very fast and agile. Catching them was almost impossible.
I loved my first time at school (I quite enjoyed being called ‘Master Dominic’ or ‘Sir’ at all times!) The kids simply kept on surprising me and it was an experience I won’t forget.
I can’t wait to go again next week.
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