|Alex, with new friends Aralai, Sala, Shannon, Bu, and Jacob|
We stepped out of the van in the village of Namatakula and there was a group of children from ages 3-14 awaiting our arrival. As a former British colony, everyone learns English in school, although they speak Fijian to each other. Despite being somewhat embarrassing, it’s pretty nice to have the cultural experience of being around people that speak a different language but still get to be the lazy American who isn’t fluent in any other language.
The children-- cousins, brothers and sisters--all live in the village and are currently on their winter holiday from school before starting a new school year in late January. Jackson shared some of his Tic-Tacs, and a game of rugby immediately ensued. They went easy on Jackson (and Alex, who after observing for a while joined in), but were ruthless with each other. The side yard was slick and muddy, so it was not long before the kids gave up trying to stay neat and were soon blissfully dirty.
One of the adults was outside digging a trench, and our boys helped a few kids fill a basket of debris and drag it down a very muddy path to dump it. It started to rain, which made things even muddier. We all were barefoot, wet, and muddy.
Have I mentioned that it was muddy?
|Kenyon and Aralai|
They have an outdoor washing area where everyone is very careful to wash their legs and feet before coming inside, so that helped mitigate the mess a bit.
Simon and Judith’s house is not at all like any you’d see in the States. Built by Judith’s father, it has an open air dining area, a kitchen (a term used loosely) with a gas tank used for cooking, floor tiles that are patched together to make one semi-complete floor, and a toilet and shower that is a luxury for this area but very far from what one might think when you hear the word ‘luxury’. Let’s put it this way--when I saw it I did a quick calculation to see if I would be able to avoid pooping there, but we’re here for three nights so no such luck.
For lunch, we had rice with curried scrambled eggs, onions, peas and carrots. Kids eat on the floor in the kitchen; adults traditionally eat on the floor as well but because many of the homestay guests couldn’t sit cross-legged on the floor, Simon and Judith now use a large table.
After the kids’ trench work was done, the rain was done as well and we went down to the river (except for Kenyon, who had fallen asleep). The kids continued to play ball games there and took turns jumping in, while I sat in the river and chatted with a couple of women who were cooling themselves on the broken wooden bridge that lies in the water.
|Jackson in the river with friends|
From there we headed down the path with cousins Sala and Jacob to the ocean. Jacob began collecting clumps of seaweed to be cooked for tomorrow’s dinner, and everyone joined in. They are self-sufficient people, taking most of what they need from the plantations they've planted in the village and the sea, which has an abundance of fish, crabs, seaweed, and octopus.
|Sala and Jacob, seaweed hunters|
|Alex, the proud seaweed hunter|
When Alex scraped his foot on a rock, Sala brought over a long piece of bamboo for him to ride on, and then carried him piggyback.
Dinner was an assortment of foods: cassava (a thick tasteless root used to make tapioca), fresh, wonderful pineapple, chicken, and rice. We are bombarded with things that are different from what we're used to on all fronts, but the kids are doing a good job of being polite. I make sure that, between Sam and I, nothing is left on their plates because these people have nothing and it would seem like a terrible waste. During dinner, Iso came home from spearfishing with what to me looked an amazing haul. He said it was average; a good day would bring in 15 large fish. He’s known as the village’s best fisherman, and other people in the village came right over to buy what Iso wasn’t going to use.
After dinner we were invited to a kava ceremony with the village chief. Fijians make a drink out of the kava root that is slightly alcoholic and looks like grey, muddy water. When it was our turn, we followed tradition and clapped once, accepted the bowl of kava, said the Fijian greeting ‘Bula!’, drank it, handed it back, and clapped three times. Typically, it is for adults only but each of the boys was adventurous and participated in the ceremony, drinking a small bowl. When it went into Alex’s mouth I wasn’t sure if he was going to swallow it, but it went down fine. When asked by the village chief how he liked it, Jackson gave a lengthy explanation about its earthy taste; I love the fact that he had no qualms about giving a foodie review of kava to the village chief.
|Sam drawing a world map showing the kids where we live|