Trip to the Village

I've been back from the village for 5 days and am finally sitting down to write about the awesome experience.  Because the kids are home for spring break, I am spending more time mommying and unpacking the endless boxes than I've been writing.  They are plopped in front of the tv and I just cannot bring myself to unpack another box right here I am, finally!  

One week ago today the Passin family all woke up at 4:00 a.m. to start our long trek to Vuya on the northern island of Vanua Levu.   Our friend Brooke used to be a Peace Corps volunteer in Vuya and now lives there with her Fijian husband, Solo.   She has lived in the village for four years, so it is definitely home for her.   (We just found out last night that her husband has received his visa, so soon they will be moving to Alaska!  We are thrilled for them, but will miss them a lot!)  Back to our trek, we drove about an hour and a half to Natovi wharf so we could catch the 7:00 am ferry to the island.  The parking lot for the wharf was crazy!  Thank goodness we got there when we did, otherwise our car would not have made it on the boat, regardless of the tickets we were holding.  Picture people, buses, and cars everywhere without any sort of organization... and no system whatsoever for getting the people and the vehicles onto the boat.   It was nuts, but we got on!   

The ferry ride was about 3.5 hours and very hot.  We got seats on the inside without air conditioning, so we were soaked in sweat...but it was good training for the weekend ahead.  

This is after the trip there after the boat docked. They were so excited to be there.

Brooke met us at the warf and we all squeezed in for the 15 minute ride to the village.  On the way there, she went over a few rules with us to remember in the village.   We could not walk around until we had our official sevusevu, a welcoming ceremony by the chief of the village.  We had to be blessed before we could walk around the land.   No hats or sunglasses allowed in the village. No exercise or hanging clothes on Sunday.   The kids couldn't run around the village in front of people's doors.  (Brooke had already informed me that I needed to have skirts at least down to my knees and my shoulders covered the whole time we were there.  She also let me know that we couldn't swim in swim suits, but instead shorts and tank tops).   We got to her house and as soon as we got out of the car, we were greeted by many curious villagers.  We shook a lot of hands and the girls got kisses and pinched cheeks the whole weekend.  We walked into Brooke's house to a wonderful feast for lunch.  We sat on the floor mat (no one has tables) and the food was laid in front of us on a long table cloth.   We had plates to eat and no silverware.  We were supposed to use our hands.   As we started eating, I noticed the Passin family and our friend, Dave who was with us were the only ones eating.   Brooke, Solo, and several adult and children villagers just sat there watching us eat.   We ate and ate, and the whole time I was wondering if anyone else would join us...but apparently it's good manners to let the guests eat first.   The girls did surprisingly well eating the different food, but I am assuming they felt a little pressure with everyone watching them.   After we finished, Brooke brought us a bowl to wash our hands in, we sat back and finally some of the others ate.   It was such a delicious meal!  I've got to learn to cook like that.  It's so impressive what they can make considering there is NO ELECTRICITY in the whole village.  

Brooke's house

The boys needed a nap after the 4 am wake-up.  Zoe and I took one too.

Brooke's house consists of her and Solo's bedroom, a sitting area (which is the floor and a mat), her kitchen, and her shower (cold) and flush toilet.  She lives really well compared to much of the village.   She has a gas stove whereas most of the village uses wooden stoves/fire to cook.   All of the other houses had chimneys.   Because there is no electricity everything you eat is made fresh that day since there is no refrigerator.  The fish is caught and cooked that day.   The vegetables are picked and cooked the same day.  The milk is made from powder and there is no cheese, cold beer, or cold water (except for in the shower!)   Again, the food was amazing all weekend.  It tasted so fresh and almost everything is made with coconut milk.  This is obviously not coconut milk you buy in a can.   They pick the coconuts, scrape out the insides, squeeze out the milk.   It is a labor of love, but yields delicious results.   Cooking the meals takes up a large part of the day.   There is not much else to do, so it's not hard to spend a lot of the time preparing the meal, eating the meal, and cleaning up after the meal.

This is how Brooke bakes things.  She created a little oven on her stove top. We had yummy banana bread. 

The girls had fun scraping the coconut for our plantains cooked in coconut milk.  

They had fun scraping; I had fun eating!

After a few hours on our first day there, we had our sevusevu, allowing us to roam around the village.  The chief wasn't there so there was an appropriate representative, an elderly woman who lives in the village.   We all walked in the dark to her house, lit with only a lantern (I think) and had the appropriate ceremony, siting on the floor.   It is all in Fijian, so I am not sure what is being said, but I know it involves a lot of talking and clapping in unison.   We gave her the traditional gift of kava which is used to make grog.   After the ceremony we all shook hands with her and she kissed the girls.  While we were all sitting it was important not to stand to walk over to her, instead we crawled over to shake her hand.    Because it was so dark and quiet, the girls were a little freaked out... it felt oddly eerie...but at the same time, such a cool experience.  Afterwards, the boys went and drank grog for hours. 

On this trip I noticed that Fijians sit on the floor a lot.  Everyone sits on the floor to eat, chat, participate in ceremonies, attend church, ride on the boat, and sleeps on the floor.  Their hips are better than mine because after a while on the floor, everything on my body starts to get jumpy.  I wonder if you have done it your whole life, if your body just is accustomed to it.   

Brooke and Solo have solar panels/charger so they are able to charge their phones if it's sunny enough and have a few lights at night.    There are a couple of people in their village with a generator which was used when the rugby matches were on.   Otherwise, people listen to their battery operated radios and use kerosene lanterns.   If there is news in the village, there is a town crier who stands in all parts of the village shouting the news. When we were there, there was a meeting that night so I heard him calling out the event.  

After a rough night's sleep (hot, full of mosquitoes, crowing roosters right outside the window at 4am, and floor sleeping) we woke up ready to see the village and head down to the beach, about a mile walk away.   We had an amazing breakfast, sat around a lot, then headed down to the beach.  The beach is beautiful!  By this time, both Andie and Zoe had made many friends in the village and a few of them came along with us.  One child in particular, Mere, was the most lovely teenager (13) I've ever come into contact with.  Her English was pretty good and we could not have dreamed up a better friend/caretaker for our girls.  She is so smart, caring, and funny.    I wonder what life will have in store for her in the village.  

Bouquet of flowers Andie picked in the morning.

The walk through the village to get to the beach. 

The beach

Andie and Mere

All over the village there are random dogs, cats, chickens, and some horses.  Solo got a horse for the girls to ride on and they LOVED it!!!!    He also had them ride the horse for the walk back home, so we loved it too....didn't have to listen to complaining!

A little different then home where they ride with a saddle and a helmet on!  But, just look at those smiles!

Zoe loved it too.

Mere in the tree.  These kids can climb!

One of the guys climbed the coconut tree for us and we all had fresh coconuts.  They were amazing.  Not much better than sitting on the beach with a cool breeze and a fresh coconut water.   

Our girls did some tree climbing as well.   

This is Brooke and her best friend in the village, Tupe.   

On Easter Sunday we had a huge feast of traditional lovo.  Lovo is a Fijian feast cooked on the fire in the ground.   Like everything else, it's delicious.   The kids appreciated the food more since they were a part of making it from the beginning.  

Preparing the lovo

Breadfruit for the meal.  Brought me back to my Peace Corps days.  

Andie found a cat she named coconut.   She was obsessed.  

Here is our Easter Sunday feast.    Delicious.  

We were told to sit at the head of the table on Easter Sunday.   We ate and ate and ate...and when we finished, everyone else was still eating.  Brooke informed us that we needed to push back from the table and lay down to show that we are done.   You should not continue to sit with the group if you've finished eating.   So, one by one...we all rolled away from the "table" and laid down on the mats surrounding the food.  It was not only considered ok if you fell asleep, but a good thing if you fell asleep.....  I think it means you really liked the food.   I didn't fall asleep but I did enjoy relaxing after such a big meal.  It's kind of nice to all lay around in the same room together after good food.    

Being it was Easter, our kids expect an Easter egg hunt.   This is definitely not the norm in Fiji.   We tried explaining it to Solo the night before and he looked at us like we are crazy.  I does sound sort of crazy.  "A big easter bunny comes and lays/hides all of these eggs filled with candy for small children to find."   The easter bunny wrote a letter to our girls stating that their easter baskets were in Suva and that the egg hunt would be later in the day.  After lunch, the adults hid all the eggs.  By the time we finished hiding the eggs, a lot of kids were tuned into what we were doing.   We had no problem collecting kids for the hunt!   (Thankfully Andie and Zoe had no trouble sharing their hunt with all of the other children.  Candy, snacks, food...everything is shared in the village...and they did ok with that.  I think they were very aware of how little these kids have in comparison to them.   At one point Zoe said when does everyone go back to their real houses?   She thought everyone was camping.  When we explained she stayed quiet for a while, seemingly absorbing it all ).   Anyway, we hid all the eggs, called the children together and they went wild!  It was SO MUCH FUN to watch.   The kids seemed amazed that not only was their plastic eggs everywhere, but they were filled with candy!   

I hid one egg in this pig's jawbone.   Not a typical hiding place in our area of the states!

Solo loved the candy so much.  Wonder if he's hiding an egg in his pocket?!

After the egg hunt and some more napping and hanging around, we went to church.   It was BEAUTIFUL!   Somehow Fijians harmonize their voices to sound angelic.   I didn't understand a word of the mass and we sat on the floor the whole time...but the music was amazing.   We were definitely the only white people in the whole church so I was aware we stood out greatly, but it didn't matter.   We had the perfect "seats" towards the front of the church with a window open that led out to the sea.  There was a strong breeze along with the perfect voices.  It was probably the most cool and relaxed that I felt all weekend.   The girls were so relaxed they both fell asleep within the first 10 minutes.  

Sleeping girls

Beautiful chuch

View from the church and the door from where we were sitting.

After church we went back to Brooke and Solo's for dinner and a little dance party using the music on Solo's cell phone.  I wish I had a picture of Andie dancing because she rocked it!  She was going crazy dancing and the Fijians who are all used to the Fijian shuffle didn't know what to think.   I love that she can just totally let loose and never worry about embarrassment.   She encouraged the rest of her family members to get up and dance with her...and how could we turn that down?  Dave did get a shot of us all dancing.  I sort of love it.  (Warren is dancing goofy...not his usual club moves!)

The next morning before we left the girls got in some last minute time with their new friends and animals.   

There was no water the  morning we left so we are all looking a little sweaty and greasy.   


As we drove out of Vuya, the village children and adults all came out of nowhere calling "Moce (pronounced Mo-they) (Goodbye)   The kids chased the car down the road forever calling Moce over and over again.   The girls felt famous.  They couldn't stop giggling at it all.   

We drove to the dock incredibly early and got ready to work our way onto the boat again.  Luckily we had Brooke and Solo with us who were going to the embassy this week for the visa interview, and they knew how to get the money spot on the boat.  After waiting for 2+ hours to get on the boat, Solo made his way to the outer deck shaded area and secured an awesome breezy spot for us on the floor.  It made the trip home seem so much better!   

Getting to and from Vuya was a trek.  It was hot, sleepless, and full of mosquito bites....but it was by far one my favorite weekends we've had in Fiji.  The experience was amazing and all of us are better people as a result.  Thank you Brooke and Solo for a once in a lifetime, true Fijian village experience!


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