My time in Fiji is about to come to an end and I can honestly say that I’ve had an incredible three months. The experience truly has been life changing. Living in the heart of a small Fijian village is a very unique opportunity and it’s difficult to try and express exactly how it feels to be so involved with such a special community. The people of Naicabecabe welcomed us into their village with open arms and the level of hospitality we received allowed us to settle into village life very quickly. My Fijian family were absolutely amazing, giving up their beds and making every effort to make me feel at home. I was living with the village Ratu and his wife, as well as his son and daughter in law. Chris and Jack, our building manager, were also staying in the same house as me and they made my time in the village even more special. The care and love shown by my family is something I will never forget. They would always go out of their way to ensure I was happy and comfortable, including staying up at night to chase rats away from where we were sleeping. Every day we were given good meals and always offered authentic Fijian food. For me, as a very fussy eater, the food was always going to be a challenge. For the first few weeks I did struggle with the food, especially the traditional Fijian root crops which would be served with every meal. However, I soon found myself being more open to try new foods and after two or three weeks I was wolfing down whatever was put in front of me. I have even been able to add a couple more meals to my list of foods I like, which I’m sure will make my Mum very happy.
It wasn’t just my family that made my stay in Naicabecabe so incredible. Every single person in the village would always be there for all the volunteers, even those families with nobody staying with them would invite somebody in to eat with them. Most of the interaction with the villagers came during the building project. The banter with the Fijian men helped to ease the tension and allowed special friendships to be formed. The evening times were also spent socialising, especially when drinking kava. Drinking kava is certainly something I will never forget but I don’t think I will be craving it any time soon. It really does taste as bad as I had been warned but the atmosphere created when a kava session takes place makes it strangely addictive. Kava sessions were a time for telling stories and for dancing. The Fijian women were relentless with their dancing but, even though there would be moaning there was too much everybody always had a really good time.
It was almost impossible to not be having a good time whilst in the village and if it looked like you weren’t you could always rely on one of the children to come and cheer you up. The children in the village were amazing. The kindi kids were always running around playing somewhere in the village and every time they spotted me they would run over and use me as a climbing frame. They would also tell me who in the village they thought had “komo roto” (head lice), volunteers included. Telling people they had “komo roto” soon became one of the running jokes in the village. Setting up the kindi has had an incredible effect on the village children. The volunteers who set up the kindi in the first few weeks did such a good job that the children would turn up early every morning they were so keen. We were told stories by the adults that some of the children used to be loners who would sit at home playing with toys, so it was amazing to witness them becoming friends to the point that it would be rare not see a group of kids causing some kind of mischief somewhere in the village. For me personally I was amazed by the transformation of one little boy in particular, Junior. The day we arrived the village most of the children would not leave us alone but one little boy always sat away crying and would run away if I tried to walk over to him. Unfortunately he could not be persuaded to attend kindi but in time his confidence grew and he began to join in playing with the other children after kindi had finished. It wasn’t long before Junior was one of those children using me as a climbing frame and he became the one most likely to try and engage me in conversation, even though we couldn’t understand each other. I will never forget the day I heard say my name for the first time when he came running towards me. In setting up a kindi and being there for children of Naicabecabe I truly believe we have changed their lives forever and they will grow up to become incredible people.
The school children living in Naicabecabe were also very special people. All of them could speak extremely good English so it was very easy to form bonds with them. There were no children living in my house so my time with them was limited to when I saw them around the village or if I went to visit another house. However, this did not stop them from wanting to get to know me as well as they had gotten to know the volunteers living with them. They loved to hear stories from home and about my family and equally loved to tell stories about their own lives. Unfortunately I was not able to spend any time teaching in the school but I was still able to see that the children were very intelligent and had a great willingness to want to learn.
The building projects we completed in Naicabecabe will have a massive effect on the lives of all the villagers. I thoroughly enjoyed my time on the build and I am very proud of the end results. The bridge and footpath mean there is now no issue walking to the next village during high tide and the transformation of the old church into a community hall means the villagers now have a communal place that can be used for so many worthwhile activities.
The day we left Naicabecabe was incredibly emotion and was testament to the bonds that had been formed. I found it extremely difficult to say goodbye to the villagers, particularly my Fijian dad who had been so good to me over the last ten weeks. Just before we left he sat Chris and me down and told us that he loves us like sons and how grateful he was for what we had done for him and his village. I will never forget anybody from the village and my parting image of the whole village standing in the sea waving us goodbye will stay fresh in my mind for a long time to come.
This expedition would not have been what it was had it not been for the fifteen volunteers I shared it with. I have made friendships for life and saying goodbye at the airport is not going to be easy. What we achieved as a group was very special and I am very proud to have been a part of it and to have shared the last three months of my life with such amazing people.
The leaders on this expedition, Harry, Tim and Ben have also been incredible. Their support and guidance throughout the trip ensured that I got the best Fiji experience possible. I spent five nights in hospital with a nasty foot infection and I will be forever grateful what they did for me during that time.
What I have experienced during my time in Fiji has changed my life and I am never going to forget it. There is no doubt that one day I will return.