Bula… My name’s Tom, or Ray as I’m known to my fellow TP’ers. I came to Fiji on a 10 week project and here I am on week 3, already believing it’s the best thing I’ve ever done, and that’s a lot of stuff to beat.
Now I’m one of those sometimes rather irritating people who can find words to fit any situation, so when one of the three expedition leaders, and I forget which one, said ‘you won’t be able to tell people why Fiji is so amazing, it just is’, I naturally thought to myself ‘Ah I will…’. But alas, I find myself sat here struggling to describe to you exactly why this country is so incredible. I guess, in the same essence as ‘Nam’, you had to be there man…
I will however, attempt to enlighten you as to the sheer awesomeness that is Fiji, by telling you a little about my experience so far. To write about all I’ve experienced in the two and a half weeks I’ve been here would quite frankly take far too long, and the laptop is running low on power, so I’ll simply start from our arrival to the village.
Having all piled onto boats from Caqalai, we then all had to pile out, discard our flip-flops and wade in. The wading was swiftly followed by a substantial walk across soft, wet, coral-filled mud. Add to this the seemingly impossible task of keeping our newly purchased pocket sulus clean, and this wasn’t the idyllic stroll into a bustling Fijian village I had imagined. However, any disappointed or similarly negative expressions were soon transformed into 18 beaming TP smiles, as we were greeted by an ensemble of Fijian women singing a welcome song, just for us. A welcome song that I feel, and I’m just throwing this out there, could’ve made even Mr Brown look on the positive side of his recent election defeat. We then shook the hands of what seemed to be an endless stream of women and children and had a small flowery bush placed gently around each one of our necks. The 18 volunteers and 3 leaders, all resembling extras in a stage performance of Narnia, were led into a house and nervously sat around, fingering at our newly acquired shrubbery and awaiting instructions for the afore mentioned sevu-sevu. A sevu-sevu, for those who don’t know, is a formal ceremony where we, the visitors to the village, give a gift of Kava root to the Ratu (who incidentally looks a lot like James Brown) in order to be welcomed to the village. This lasted for roughly 15 minutes before we each had to introduce ourselves to the women of the village who had gathered to collect us and take us to what would be our Fijian homes for, I assumed, the next 8 weeks. I say I assumed, as I was under this impression until 2 days ago, when my Fijian father informed me that it was now my permanent Fijian home, and should I wish to come back to Fiji, I would be welcome any time. That gesture of extreme generosity is what the Fijian way is all about, sharing… the Western world really should take a lot from the idea of community and looking out for others. That is, except the rather annoying habit they have of ‘borrowing’ your flip-flops… I’ve not seen them since…
Two days after we arrived, we began on the three projects, school, Kindi and build. I opted to start on the build, as I’d eaten rather a lot previously and wanted to burn some of it off… at least I thought I’d eaten a lot… on the day after our arrival, I had lunch at my house, then wandered around to take in the whole village, and was promptly given 3 MORE lunches, and offered countless cups of tea. ‘It’s simply because we’re new here, it’ll wear off’ I thought to myself, ‘make the most of it’… it didn’t, and still hasn’t worn off. I still regularly eat lunch at 2 different houses, sometimes not even eating at my own and, should I ever be hungry, I can always find a house with tea and cakes… all it takes is a stroll past the window and I’ll be invited in, if that doesn’t work, I stroll past again! Food is a massive part of Fijian life, they eat tonnes! But you see hardly any overweight Fijian men, as what they eat is extremely healthy, simple and very VERY tasty!
The build project we have been doing is far more rewarding than I had ever imagined it could be. The fact that most of us have had absolutely NO experience of building anything, let alone a community hall (I built a shed once), adds so, so much to the equation. It means we work together (with the help of a few Fijians) to finish the job in hand, it means that we develop new skills which, should we so need them, can be taken into life back home, but most of all it means that when the community hall is finished, we can enjoy the hop-hop all the more, knowing that we have pulled together and given this village something huge in return for its brilliant hospitality. I mean, within 3 days of arriving, everybody knew my name, or at least one of my two names! I’d walk from my house to the meeting place, and pass kids shouting ‘Bula Ray’, ‘Bula Tom’ and once or twice ‘Ray, you’ve got us for rugby today’, which is my personal favourite.
There’s so much more I could write about, the children, the rugby, the weather, but I’ll leave you with this thought, when was the last time somebody you’d never spoken to invited you into their house and gave you a hearty lunch? When was the last time you walked past a vicar and 2 village leaders who called you over, shuffled along a bit and sat you down to share their tea and cakes? For me, the answer is last week! Peace out.