Cruising the South Pacific with Captain Bligh

Well, last time I was wingeing about minor things like awful weather, uncharted reefs, bad anchorages, a buggered finger, being scared of losing Songlines… This is the good stuff. Fiji people and their beautiful land and villages.

101577871.jpg Ba Ba See Me! Ba Ba see me! Ba Ba see me! 

Singing What A Happy Family

Monday July 29. Yalobi Village. Took the duck to the village and made arrangements with John to return in afternoon the present yaqona to the chief. It is traditional for visitors in Fiji to bring the herb as a gift. It is used to create a drink called kava, the main social drink in Fiji. With the presentation of the bundle of dried sticks, the chief accepts it with a long speech in Fijian punctuated by rhythmic claps by several men and women invited to participate. Sometimes a coconut shell of kava is presented to the visitors. It is impolite to refuse the rather odd tasting stuff. It looks like very used dish water, and tastes a bit like a mild solution of iodine. Then your tongue and lips go a bit numb, and that’s it, nothing more. Apparently if drunk for hours, a sort of downer occurs. We were at a village where the men drank and played guitar and sang for hours, gradually slowing in both until I thought they might fall over asleep in the middle of a song. Apparently there is no hangover or ill effects, and if a much preferred social drink to alcohol which often makes people aggressive. After the chief’s long welcome speech, we were told the village was now ours to enjoy; we could fish the bay, swim the reef, walk through the paths of the village or over the island. Pretty good for a couple of bucks Fijian. It’s a good idea. It gives the villagers a chance to check out the visitors, and makes the visitors feel welcome and comfortable. We walked around the village for awhile, stopping to visit with people who acknowledged us and generally getting our bearings. The houses are simple, either made of a grass or reed material, or more recently concrete block or brightly painted clapboard with tin roofs. The villages are braided with paths lined with beautiful flowers and shaded by trees. The women rake the paths and their own dirt yards. Delightful. There is no glass in the windows or doors on the houses, everything is open to the delightful tropical temperatures and their neighbors eyes. Living half the year as we do in Far Horizons Trailer Village, similarly tightly packed, we understand the positives of close packed living. People are more civil, because the consequences of not being civil are too high, and it’s just more fun! The villages all have several conveniently located water pipes, and a number of pit toilets. They are quite clean and tidy, regardless of their simplicity. Claire looked at one particularly small, brightly painted house, as the woman washed dishes in a dish pan inside and a man lounged on the grass mat floor, “I could live here!” And I knew she would. Small as it was, it’s bigger than our tent, but smaller than Songlines.

We said we wanted to walk up the mountain and were directed to a path that led past the cemetery. It sounded interesting, and the three of us, barefoot as always now, began padding up a well worn dirt track into the jungle. We met a cow, some pigs, a man was burning and chopping with his long knife, nearby two women were raking brush together and burning it. They were preparing small patches under the cover of the jungle for planting cassava, one of the root plants that makes up their staple diet. The plants and trees all had large glossy leaves, looking like nothing we are familiar with. Hi up the trail we met three people. One of them spoke English and we conversed for awhile. Before leaving us she offered us a green paw paw she was carrying. The view half way up the mountain was over the bay where the red Songlines rode quietly at anchor (finally) and high volcanic mountains stretched down the island chain. We walked back down the trail, visiting with a horse along the way before making our way along the beach to the local school. Claire was immediately surrounded by a bunch of kids, as she almost always is here, anywhere. It is a large residential school where kids come to live for the week and small boats come for them from their villages at the week-end. There was a large football field in the center where the teens played a vigorous game of touch rugby. (Fiji recently beat Britain in this year’s Commonwealth Games)

Resort and Songlines Our kind of resort, plywood window covers

Naviti Island

We are sitting on the verandah of a small Fijian resort (not at all like our western idea of a resort) on the beach after sunset. The sea comes in like fine silk snapped in the air; gentle waves, pale blue with black faces and shush gently up the sand. It doesn’t matter that this is halfway around the world from our home. It is the moment that matters, the moment that becomes part of the fabric of who we are. Another precious moment suspended in time and space in the middle of unnoticed exotica; the exotic becomes just another element in the texture of this experience we call life. Travel makes us so thankfully aware of these moments; life is just moments, moments strung together over the span of a life. It is not the life span that matters; it is the life in the span of the moment, right now, that matters. Our white western Christian way of thinking too often focuses on the things we are to be thankful for, and we forget to be thankful for the fullness of our precious time here.
The chief cook showed us how to scrape the meat out of a coconut quickly and cook fish over a 55`gallon drum with a small fire inside, and handed us samples with his big black fingers. How sweet it is, the sincerely offered gift. I notice that these small backpacker resorts, staple of the cash economy of these islands, we are attracted to the Fijians working there and the young white backpackers seem to only gravitate to each other and have no contact with their servers. They are missing so much. They were playing music, and as usual, when it has a good beat, we can’t resist and did a six count swing to some Fijian music. All cooking stopped! The kitchen door and window swung open and smiling Fijian faces appeared everywhere yelling and clapping! After dinner, a different beat and we did our sexy little cha cha to another Fijian song and got an ever stronger response from the staff, and then tried to teach it to a few who asked. We’ve never had a better audience. This was our anniversary treat, two days late.

Later the head cook and another staff helped the three of us carry the rowing skiff across low tide coral, barefoot, in the dark. I accepted their help, feeling it was their way of showing they enjoyed our company. Neville growled at me, “You’re good at that.” He feels accepting help is a sign of weakness. While Neville sulked, we carried the skiff across the coral flats, laughing at the cuts we were getting and the good time we’d all had during the evening. Just as we were about to shove off, the head cook, a huge man, grabbed me and gave me a big hug! The Fijians are wonderful people, and love strangers who respond to them. Too bad about the young backpackers, who ignore them, and Neville who seems to need to remain above the locals. This goes against his background as a strong advocate for Aboriginal rights in Australia. His desire for isolation remains a mystery to me. As for us, we will never forget Naviti.

Twilight in the tropics. Pink and gray clouds streaked, smoky, billowing high. Jade coconut trees with gray trunks on white sand. Aquamarine water over the reef, stippled and coloured with a mix of pink and blue/green from the sky, changing slowly, gently into night.

Saturday Aug. 10 A pounding tropic rain woke us at 4a.m. We closed the hatches while Neville slept, and sat up buckets to catch water. We were naked, as we are always on deck at night, and when it rains. No use wetting clothes that won’t dry in the humidity. We dried off a bit and returned to our cabin to enjoy the fruits of marriage (was that subtle enough?) and then returned to the deck with soap for a second bracing wash up. Then we returned to doze away the two hours until dawn, the rain pattering above our heads, lulling us deliciously. Another late anniversary.

Wednesday Aug. 14 Nabukera Village. We bought a green paw paw for stir-fry and walked the beach. Claire collected shells, and later talked with a young woman who was visiting her grandparents during school holidays. Then the children saw us and came out to play. As always everyone asks your name, and gives theirs, with a solemn bulla bulla (their hello) and then the fun begins: Girls do cartwheels down the beach and sing out to me, doing a play on my name, Bob, “ba ba see me!” “ba ba see me!” all competing for my attentions; six year old flirts! So cute. They laughed because ba ba means baby in their dialect! Then a croup of them sang some of their school songs for us. As usual we hated to leave. Each village is more friendly than the last. We could easily live among these people.

fair weather anchorage Fair weather anchorage, a bit of rest

Friday Aug. 16 So So Village. Two boys in a canoe made of scrap wood and corrugated tin roofing, paddled out to Songlinesand sold Claire a bunch of green bananas. Claire and I rowed the skiff to the village and walked. We met a woman peeling green plantains for cooking for lunch who invited us to sit with us and talk. Claire gave her children stickers and showed her postcards of America and pictures of us on our tandem and with our tent. Then we walked the vegetable patch paths and met a man and his small daughter having a break, eating a coconut. The mountains are jade in colour and have long thing wispy ribbons of blue smoke from the burning of casaba, banana and sweet potato patches. The people in these villages live simple lives. Their diet consists of root vegetables and fruit with a fish once in awhile. The descriptions sounds poor, and yet… They have the healthiest looking skin past middle age, I have ever seen. Many of the chiefs are in their eighties and still look good, with strong muscles and bright eyes. They are relaxed. Everyone works. Everyone shares. Human relationships are the most important thing in their lives. They are not poor. When they get television, then they will become poor.

Monday Aug. 19. Nalawaki Bay on Waya I.

Beautiful bay. Steep volcanic mountains rising to sharks tooth points, grass meadows, black rock and soil, cream colour beaches and a live reef. 1000 hours.

Happy boat Fijian bon voyage

bailing out to swim for home Time to swim for home

An old gaff rigged wood fishing boat came in from So So Bay loaded to the gunnels with young Fijians. Much yelling waving and laughing from boat to shore. Several small boat transfers over the reef and the gaffer motored past us back toward So So. More laughing and yelling until, suddenly the local kids started jumping into the water to swim the 100 metres back to shore. Such happy people. We later learned some of them were going to Suva to a Christian camp where they would sing.

1100 We rowed into beach and Joe, Jim and John showed us the safe way through the low tide reef, then took us to the chief. After the Yaqona presentation we walked through the village and were welcomed at a blue and green trim doll house where three women were rolling dried palm fronds in preparation for making the beautiful mats they live on. We visited and they invited us back. We walked to the mouth of the creek where we saw women washing clothes. Three kids escorted us as we attempted to climb the steep water fall, boulder strewn creek. We sent the kids back after awhile and continued climbing boulders until jungle stopped us. After our return to the beach we were walking toward the skiff when, “Come, come.” said a woman from the blue and green house. “Come and have tea.” We went, sat on the matt with the family, had tea in huge mugs and wonderful corn flour scones. Claire gave the children stickers and we all talked. One woman spoke very good English and the others looked at us and smiled. How do you repay poor people who have you for tea? Smiles. Smiles are valued here.

 Lovely washerwoman

Lovely washer woman A cool creek plunges through black volcanic boulders through jungle thick with vines and dark green, small lizards and spiders. At the mouth, on the beach, the sun shines on a small pool in gravel. A woman, deep black with a beautiful welcoming smile washes clothes. Around her on the rocks are piles of colorful clothes. She picks up  a red sulu (Fijian wrap dress. Claire has one) and dashes it in the soapy water pool. She flings it on the rock and flails at it, thwack, thwack, thwack with a curved stick. Then she turns the cloth and thwacks it again, and again. Then it goes into a pile for rinsing in a clear pool. Her children play in the water and climb the rocks like spiders, gripping the slick rocks with their big black toes, laughing, babbling in their beautiful melodic native language., Later the woman will spread her clean clothes on the beach cobble to dry in the sun.

 

Bringing in the catch Good catch On the reef, a man throws a fine net in a wide arc onto the water, begins to quickly draw it in. The water dances with fish, and he gathers the wriggling mass of silver flashes to his chest and wades ashore to the exclamations of his neighbors. He dumps it into a beached canoe and begins sharing them.

Friday Aug. 22. We paused on a beach walk to talk with Jim and Kelly. Jim goes to school in Suva and will stay there to work and is visiting his grandmother for school holiday. He touches on the recent troubles between the native Fijians and the Indian population, brought here by the British to work the cane fields in colonial days. “Fiji people hate Indian people.” He says it simply, without apparent malice, just stated as a fact. “Fijians are very good people. But, when Fijians go bad, they go very bad.” This refers to the violence of the troubles. It is a difficult problem, not easily solved as are most racial/religious divisions.

When we were leaving the beach a beautiful young girl smiled at me. “I see you at So So,” she said, all teeth and dancing eyes. Claire remembered her too. Such wonderful people. Their faces make me happy.

 


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