Bula! From Fiji

I met T. Jay and Crystal, also students from K-State when we entered the study abroad program and all chose to attend James Cook University in Townsville, Australia. Despite being nearly strangers, we figured it would be fun to travel together to get there and make our journey there an adventure. In order to get from Kansas City to Townsville, this required six flights, so we decided to take a break for a few days to explore Fiji and then another quick sight seeing tour of Sydney.

8 February 2003:
Bula!
We have finally arrived in Fiji after 18 hours of traveling. The flight to Fiji was the most uncomfortable ride I have ever been on where I was sandwiched between two guys for eleven hours straight. The plane was huge and completely jam packed. Every seat was taken and mostly by college students on their way to study abroad in Australia. Our flight arrived in Fiji at 5:30am and we finally left the airport a little after 7:00.

-cabinA short drive took us to turn at the McDonalds, down a long eroded street and then dirt road to the Club Fiji Resort. We checked in and were lead to one of the furthest cabins on the land (room 24). It’s small, no air conditioning, no phone and no TV – it’s the most rustic we’ve ever been and it’s perfect.

Crystal and I showered the plane off and sat down near the beach to write in our journals. A guy raking the sand stopped to talk to us, his name is Neeko and it turned out he is the activities everything person. He talked us into snorkeling today after breakfast (which really didn’t seem like breakfast since we have been awake for so long).

We met up with Neeko at 10 and he took us on a boat straight from the bay our cabin is on out to a reef. The boat had water in the bottom and a fish swam around inside of the boat, Neeko said he caught it yesterday. The reef, coral and fish were all beautiful, it makes me look forward to learning to scuba dive when we get to Australia. The schools of teal and silver fish that shimmer in the light were my favorite.

After snorkling we showered, yet again, and headed to the center of Nadi for some shopping. The stores are pretty much the same as many islands I have been to, and sellers follow shoppers harassing for a sale. One guy stopped me on the sidewalk and started a conversation. Initially I believed him to be another shopper until he insisted we go with him to a particular store. I dunno if T. Jay wanted to or if he didn’t know any better because he followed him, and we followed T. Jay.

kavaThe guy lead us straight to the end of the store and instructed us to take off our shoes and sit on the mat. We then participated in a kava ceremony in preparation for trying the drink. Kava is made from dried and ground kava root, then mixed with water in a ritual fashion. Everyone in the circle took turns sipping the drink, it really didn’t taste like much – water with a powdered substance in it. It made my tongue numb for a minute and I supposed if you drink more it causes a high effect.

From where I am sitting, looking out across the bay I can see the sleeping giant. Another traveler, Canadian named Murry, pointed it out to us. It really appears like the ridges of the hills are an outline of a man from head to toe. So far, I love Fiji. The people are friendly and the environment is beautiful. It is fun observing the birds, their calls and the unique vegitation. I don’t know what’s planned for tomorrow, I do know as long as we are in Fiji it will be wonderful.
-giant

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Lost the Fiesta and I’m Not Cursed

So many sports fanatics can relate to the roller coaster of emotions which come with cheering for players, sports and your team. The first time I declared myself to a team was with the Minnesota Vikings, most of it had to do with being oppositional about moving to Kansas City. Prior to this I had only seen football as a slow-paced game where huge men hog piled over a ball. Luckily as my knowledge of the positions, plays and players grew I came to respect the game and love watching the sport.

My real true passion for cheering a team came as a freshman at K-State in the fall of 2000. It would have been near impossible not to get drawn into the sport with the majority of the campus and community clad in purple every Saturday. I remember eagerly turning to the sports page of the university newspaper to measure the rise and fall of our ranking each week dependent upon the game before. And the very first and only game I attended during the season happened to be one of the most memorable games I have ever gotten to witness. K-State played a rival team Nebraska for their last home game, by the end in heavy snow conditions. I stood with my brother, sister-in-law and their friends with heated pouches in my mittens and boots to watch Nebraska get defeated. In my very first game not only did I finally get to participate in the Wabash, I got to storm the field with several thousand other deliriously chilled K-Staters.

I was hooked, college football was cemented into my college experience.

k-state tickets

It wasn’t until my senior year when I finally bought my first set of season tickets. My roommate, Sheila, and I attended every game and dedicated ourselves to standing, yelling, high-fiving and absorbing every second of every play. We enjoyed the football as much as our own pre-football festivities with a Game-Day CD blasting our Saturday tailgating anthems. Sheila and I were so invested in the games I remember standing near tears devastated at the loss to Marshall, holding onto hope until the very last second ran off the clock. I picture it raining that afternoon as we stood shocked looking at the scoreboard, maybe that is just how my memory puts me during that crummy emotional state. kstate

Despite the loss to Marshall, K-State went on to have a great season and was invited to play in the Fiesta Bowl. Being an irresponsible new graduate I hopped in with Sheila and a group of friends to road trip to Tempe, Arizona for the game. The whole trip was an adventure from the walkie-talkie game of “Would You Rather” I am happy there is no record of, to the hotel suite way too many of us shared, to the dangerously ingenious ride back after celebrating New Years in the downtown area. The spontaneous trip would have all been worth it, had it not been for the bowl game. K-State entered the stadium with odds against them, a fresh accusation against our prized quarterback overshadowed their ability on the field. K-State lost to Ohio, and I haven’t been able to smile at a Buckeye since.

Fast forward to this year, even a few hours away from Manhappiness, I continue to be a dedicated football fan eagerly anticipating every Saturday with more and more purple added to my wardrobe every year. My friend Crystal and I had decided to abandon mommy duty and drive to visit our friend, JoJo, in Texas. Simultaneously as K-State won games week after week and worked their way higher in the rankings we heard from JoJo, our mini-vaca happened to be the same weekend K-State would be coming to town and she could get us tickets. BEST NEWS EVER!

K-State continued their season undefeated and was finally placed at number 1 in the rankings as we made our way to Waco. JoJo showed us around Waco, introduced us to her favorite places to eat, drink and karaoke, she took us hiking, to the farmers market and to the Baylor campus where she is employed. We merrily enjoyed our freedom from changing diapers and wiping up slobber to have adult conversations for hours on end. And then Saturday evening rolled around, we walked the entire loop around the Baylor stadium and I was amazed at the personally labeled parking spaces and the high-end tailgating equipment sported by the alums. I was used to seeing cornhole, washers and ladder golf at tailgates, not high-definition flat screen TVs.

Fortunately we ran into a familiar sound and crowd finding ourselves at the K-State band playing in the parking lot just before going in. JoJo had gotten us tickets in the visitors section and I was pleased to see so many football fans in purple ready to cheer on the undefeated season. In front of us stood a group of K-State frat boys in button up shirts, khaki shorts and top-sider deck shoes – kind of laughable – yet they were for the good team so it was okay.

Baylor began playing better than K-State from the very beginning and I wasn’t worried. I had faith all of the excitement I had leading up to this game, driving all the way from Kansas City to Waco wouldn’t be for nothing. And then the game just kept getting worse. The refs made some horrible calls where the entire purple crowd cursed and screamed to the field. One of the frat boys in front of me appeared so infuriated, his face matched his shirt when he barely took a breath in his yelling commentary. I almost felt the need to stop my attacks on the ref to comfort the kid and prevent an early heart attack.

At halftime K-State went to the locker room behind in scoring 17:28, my confidence in the win never wavered. “They are a better second half team,” “Snyder is setting them straight now,” “They can do this.” I audibly reassured myself and anyone else near who was listening. And when the second half started, it didn’t get better. I sensed the desperation of thousands of K-State fans witnessing this on television watching the dreams of a perfect season vanish to a team we were/are better than, except I was watching it in person. In the second half Baylor continued to score while K-State floundered. With each Baylor touchdown the green people celebrated with greater enthusiasm jumping and dancing as the stadium played House of Pain’s “Jump Around.”

Over and over it played until the score reached 24:52. “Pack it up pack it in, let me begin…” I tried my best to sooth the lump in my throat and avoid looking at the Baylor crowd. I could imagine the excitement of being a student in attendance at the game to witness their team crushing the number one team in the country, at the same time already beginning to grieve the loss of the number one spot for my team.

I was so sour and depressed after the game we retired back to JoJo’s and went to bed early. Crystal and I got up before the sun on Sunday morning to flee Waco and return to Wildcat country. “Pack it up, pack it in…” popped onto our XM Radio channel within hours of our drive resulting in both of us lunging to turn it off.

K-State went on to play an outstanding season, never regaining a number one ranking, non-the-less they were invited to once again play in the Fiesta Bowl. Despite the temptation of making the trip to Phoenix, I was beginning to wonder if I carried a curse for away games. Logically I know I don’t have any sort of power to control the outcome by simply attending the game, and still the superstition concerned me.

I was glued to the TV to watch the opening kick-off return to see Oregon score against K-State. Unfortunately for K-State the Ducks took over, and I was reassured to know I’m not cursed.

Pawnee For Life

In my last semester of college I was coming down to weeks before graduation still wondering what my next step in life would be.  I enjoyed every ounce of the college experience and probably didn’t give enough thought to looking past that.   Lucky for me, a peer in one of my psychology classes told me where and how to apply for a job at the community mental health center, where she had been working.

Not ready to abandon my college roommates or completely emerse myself into career minded adulthood across the country somewhere, I submitted my resume.  At the time I wasn’t so sure the interview went well, the boss lady seemed bitterly all about business.  I figured either I missed something good about the interview or there were few applicants for the position when they called me back to offer me the job.

When I went in to sign the initial hiring paperwork, I met a hunk who was hired on the same day.  He later became my husband. And the mean boss lady was a bridesmaid and is one of my best friends.  She told me she hired me because she liked my purse…

In the moment working at the community mental health center was the logical next baby step for me after graduation.  Looking back I understand how this job, the team I worked with and the people we served made a deep impact – much grander than a baby step.  The team consisted of dozens of bright and creative minds, all complimenting and balancing each other out.  We worked with children diagnosed with mental illness and their families, I witnessed growth and change for some kids I would have doubted possible.  In the workplace the team seemed to be synchronized like a grandfather clock, finding strengths and supports within each other to do our jobs well.  Of course our grandfather clock would be wildly colored, with constantly evolving pieces being added and removed, provide laughter every hour on the hour and have a tiny toy rat terrier in place of a cuckoo bird.

Working with kids with emotional issues did get a little cuckoo at times, and not only did we have the support we needed in the workplace we all got along outside of work as well.  All the credit goes to the boss lady for hiring some amazing individuals, with whom, I am happy to call my friends.

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While we did have some great times and continue to maintain friendships, things were not all golden and drama free.  The team consisted of many strong-willed individuals who saw situations from opposite perspectives, though, I have never seen a group be more respectful in figuring out how to work towards solutions.  And I know I may be a little extra persuaded by the experience finding my husband there and all, though I think others share the same insight about the incredible group dynamics.

I worked there for three and a half years following my college graduation and left to further my education in this field.  Few of the staff I worked with are still there since many used the opportunity as a step like I did.  Those years were invaluable to me personally and professionally.  I appreciate everyone I worked with and learned from, unfortunately now my dilemma is being unable to replicate the fun workplace I remember, anywhere else I have worked since.

Let’s just say…  If I were granted a corporation to save the world, I know just the people I would recruit to be a part of the team.

JoJo LOVES Theater.

JoJo, Sheila and me

My friend JoJo just celebrated her 30th birthday. She is outgoing, and I remember this vividly because it was the first impression that I had of her my freshman year of college. We met as floor mates in the dorms at K-State the moving in weekend. JoJo introduced herself to me, and most everyone on the floor, and invited us to a house party. Looking back it’s hard to differentiate whether that was JoJo being outgoing and friendly or if part of it was pressure from her brother and his friends to bring some college freshman girls to their house party. Whichever the truth was, we have been friends ever since.

Several years after leaving the dorms we became roommates and shared a house with another friend Sheila. While I know that I invested more time in my education in college than I ever came close to in high school, I also realized that JoJo dedicated way more time to her degree than I did mine. She was so passionate about the theater program, theater activities, people from the theater program and theater classes that sometimes it even consumed Sheila and I’s time participating with her. It felt like I was living and breathing lighting design for those years living with JoJo. She went on to get her master’s in the field and teaches it at a major university currently.

Just tonight I talked with JoJo and she brought up a moment when she felt challenged by her investment in this passion. Her sophomore year of college she had her first opportunity to be the lighting designer for a KSU production. The same day that she needed to be in the theater setting up the lights and writing cues happened to be the same day that Mason died in a car accident. Mason was a friend of hers and if I remember correctly, he lived in the house where we went the first weekend as freshman to party.

The timing of these two events happening on the same day for JoJo strike me as significant. There is never an okay time for a tragic loss like Mason’s. However, in that moment she was shown that some sacrifices may have to be made in pursuit of her passion. “The show must go on,” so JoJo finished her job with the lighting while friends of Mason gathered to share stories and mourn the loss together. Today it still sounds like JoJo regrets missing that time with friends while in the theater. Despite the learning that she had to have processed that day about what she may have to give up for involvement in theater she continued to pursue the job she loves.

I wonder what it would be like if everyone had a job they could be passionate about? She inspires me to think about what am I dedicating myself to and is it worth the effort if it is something I don’t really love?

Okay so theater did involve a lot of long hours, late nights and some monotonous tasks. It did also have its perks – a long list of larger than life cast members who love to cut loose and have a great time too. We had a fantastic college experience together full of important traditions, funny memories and support for each other when it was needed. I put a photo album together for JoJo to recognize her birthday and our friendship.

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