A Travellerspoint blog

America has spaceships

After visiting Nadi, David and I left to take what would turn out to be a very rainy boat ride from Port Denarau to Botaira Resort on Naviti Island (Naviti Island is in the Yasawa group of Islands just northwest of Nadi, Viti Levu). Once we arrived at the resort, we slept most of the day, but only after meeting and saying hello to the staff.

Solo is one of the primary hosts for guests at Botaira, and he worked there when I visited three years ago. Mini is another host who worked at Botaira when I originally visited, and he works primarily at the bar. Both Solo and Mini, apart from one another, did a double take when they saw me. Both of them stopped, looked me in the eye and said, “I know your face.” Both seemed very happy I was revisiting.

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Rainy boat ride to Naviti Island

I told Nowah (pronounced Now-wah), the receptionist, Solo and Mini that I planned to visit So So Village to see my host family: Kiti and Kelera. Solo organizes and leads day excursions, and he planned Tuesday to accommodate my request and offered a village tour that morning.

Instead of hiking, we took a boat around the south end of Naviti to circle back to So So Village. The rain from Monday made the trail less safe to walk. It’s a pretty long trek: forty-five minutes one-way. And it’s steep. By boat, it was only 20 minutes.

Before we arrived on shore, I thought about how I only spent 24 hours, if that, with Kiti and Kelera three years ago. And yet, I felt like I was reuniting with family. I was excited to give them the sevusevu I brought. Proud because I was prepared (thank you, Khan). And excited because I really felt the sentiment that the sevusevu represents. Even with such little time shared between us, I have a lot of love for Kiti and Kelera because of the love they showed me when I visited three years ago.

The University of Georgia has a study abroad program aptly named “Studies Abroad in the South Pacific.” You can choose to study in either Australia or New Zealand for four and a half weeks, and then you can choose whether or not to tack on a one-week trip to Fiji. I chose New Zealand (primarily for the glacier hike) and tacked on the one-week stay in Fiji.

My group visited Nadi and then stayed four or so nights at Botaira. We were welcomed with music, hibiscus flowers tied into lays and very happy faces. We learned about the marine protected area in front of the resort, the natural and societal histories of Fiji and native sea life. We also learned about the people.

Because UGA has a relationship with So So Village, each student gets to stay with a host family for one night. The families accept students into their homes, feed them, entertain them and make them feel welcome.

Uttiyo, our instructor who built these relationships with So So and Botaira, brought our traditional sevusevu: a very large bouquet of kava wrapped like we would wrap flowers. This was to ask permission from the chief for our visit. We participated in the formal sevusevu ceremony where the chief blessed the kava and gave his blessing for us to enter his home. We toured the village visiting homes, the community center and the school (which UGA helped to build years before we visited). We raced and jumped and played with the school children. The most memorable event for me, however, was dinner.

Kiti caught our dinner just hours before we arrived, and Kelera prepared the parrot fish fresh with side dishes. We were told not to accept more food than we could finish. In a place where food is scarce, not to finish your meal is rude.

My schoolmate and I finished our dinner and cleaned our plates. (Side note: I don’t like fish as a general rule, but this was absolutely amazing. Freshly caught and cooked just moments after. It was absolutely delicious). After we finished, there was conversation about the last piece of fish. I politely said I was full and didn’t need any additional food. Several minutes passed, and there was Fijian conversation between Kiti and Kelera. Then, Kelera meekly asked if I was going to eat the last piece of fish. I said no that I was full. Kelera asked, “If you aren’t going to eat it, can Kiti have it?”

That question moved me in a way that is hard to explain in words. I was taken completely by surprise. Kiti caught the fish. I was a guest in their home. I didn’t live there. I didn’t work there. I had done nothing to earn that type of respect or that type of offering. But in their minds, that fish was mine. Not theirs. Kiti caught that fish for me. And I had to give it to him for him to take it.

I don’t know if Kiti or Kelera remember that conversation. It probably isn’t memorable to them because they live their lives with that type of generosity. But, I will never forget it.

When I arrived on shore at So So Village this time, I was proud to show David where I had visited three years before. We had been in the village only a few minutes before I recognized Kiti walking several yards away. He and Solo exchanged Fijian words that I couldn’t understand. Solo told me that we would see Kiti later in the tour.

We toured the village seeing the homes and the community building. I pointed out the church to David noting it was Methodist. Solo said there was another church in the village, but it slipped my mind to ask the denomination and why there would be two churches with such a small population.

We ran into Kiti again, and Solo said more words in Fijian and Kiti’s gaze changed from Solo to me. He broke into a surprised, boisterous, giggling laughter. He put out his hand and shook mine laughing and looking at my face with an expression of surprise and disbelief. I was so excited that I offered my sevusevu and was ready to start the reunion right there. He asked if I wanted to wait for Kelera, and I said of course. Solo and Kiti decided for us to visit after we toured the school buildings, so we continued on our way. David leaned over to me as we walked and whispered, “He is very happy to see you.”

We continued on to see the school buildings. We visited the kindergarteners who didn’t say much since they typically learn English in older grades. I wanted to take a picture of the children and the schoolroom, but I was hesitant. Uttiyo asked us a question on the trip that has stuck with me: “How would you feel if people showed up at your home and took pictures of you?” That question gave me a lot of perspective. These are people. I am a guest. And in many cases, I’m only a tourist.

We stood in the schoolroom, a little awkwardly, and I noticed a sign on the board that I wanted to remember was there. So, I asked if I could take a picture. The teacher, who is the only kindergarten teacher in So So, said yes and told us all to feel free to take pictures. I moved toward the sign, and I saw a few children watching the camera. I saw the moment, and I took it.

I asked the kids if they wanted to have their picture taken. Of course, they don’t speak English; but body language goes a long way. I motioned for a smile. A few did. I took the picture and kneeled down turning the camera around so they could see themselves. Never have I heard such boisterous and happy laughter from 4 and 5 year olds. Each one crowded around the camera touching the screen with small fingers pointing out him or herself in the crowd. I stepped back to take a more inclusive picture, and repeated the process. Almost each child took a moment to find him or herself and laughed at the magic they had just witnessed. I crouched there, hoping that moment could somehow not end.

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Kindergarteners at So So

We moved to the next schoolroom with older students. The one room was housing two grades around 1st to 3rd grade equivalents. These children were less boisterous but one student took the time to point out to his friend were he was in my picture. A kind gesture, I thought.

One child was writing notes from the black board: 3 + 8 = 11. He also wrote out the words: three plus eight equals eleven. On this same board were more notes “Things in America.” According to the blackboard, we have eagles, red Indians, the Statue of Liberty and spaceships.

What a privileged life I’ve lived to have these things. No, The United States isn’t perfect. No, I don’t enjoy politics. Yes, we are a young country. And who knows? America could be a spot in time on future generations’ histories. And how awful that would be. But it’s happened before. To many, in fact. But how blessed I have been to live in the time and in the place I have. Because, as Uttiyo educated us three years ago, the only difference between me, and anyone who lives in So So village, or anywhere else, is that I was born where I was born, and they were born where they were born. And that’s it.

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Blackboard in the 1st-3rd graders' room

We left the school and walked along the pathway heading to the community building. I saw Kiti waiting ahead. Solo told us to meet him at the community building after visiting with Kiti and Kelera. I walked to Kiti, and he looked at me again with that happy, surprised, and disbelieving expression. I was grinning from ear to ear.

We walked to his home where Kelera looked at me the same way. I introduced David as my husband, and they both gasped with huge smiles and welcomed him. Kiti shook his hand. Kelera sat on floor, Kiti sat in a chair and David and I were led to a love seat opposite them. It is disrespectful to have your head above those of your hosts in a Fijian village, so for Kiti and Kelerea to direct us to sit above them was honorable, just as Khan said it would be.

I offered my sevusevu: the kava and the other grocery items not found on the island. Kiti began the traditional Fijian ceremony for the sevusevu, blessing the gift and us. We sat respectfully bowing our heads as they did. I wish with all of me that I knew exactly what Kiti said during that blessing.

We continued to talk for 10 or so minutes. They showed me where I had written my name down in the book they have for UGA students who stay with them. I rewrote my name with my email address per Kelera’s request. Kiti asked several questions that I remember thinking, “What a thoughtful question,” but there was so much going through my mind and body that I can’t for the life of me remember all that we talked about. I think there were several moments when we all just smiled and stared at one another in disbelief.

But the energy in the room, even without the words, I’ll always remember. Happiness, surprise, excitement, love. There was a lot of love. I may have only spent one night with Kiti and Kelera, but there was a lot of love for one another in that room.

David and I left their home, took pictures outside, said our goodbyes and walked towards the community building. Kelera shook my hand when I left and said, “Come back.” All I knew to say was “yes.”

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Kelera and Kiti with grandson

Additional pictures:

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View from boat on the way to So So. You can see the village if you look closely.

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So So Village

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This is the view from the village facing south

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Quote I saw on the blackboard

Posted by smweaver24 22:13 Archived in Fiji Comments (0)

Khan, it’s a Muslim name

“Don’t tell Bamboo that I helped you.” He said he would get suspended if our hostel found out he helped us because they want visitors to get advice and to spend money there. We swore we wouldn’t say a word.

sunny 88 °F

He caught us on our way out of Bamboo asking if we needed a taxi. We wanted to visit the Hindu temple in Nadi, (the largest Hindu temple in the Southern Hemisphere) so we took him up on his offer. He looked at me in the rearview and asked me the typical questions tourists get while in Fiji: where are you from and how long are you in Fiji. We went through our story: a 15-week trip starting here, revisiting Fiji to show David where I visited once before. He introduced himself: “Khan, it’s a Muslim name.”

He asked if we were going to visit any of the islands (a very common question when you’re in Nadi). I explained we were going to Naviti Island in the Yasawa Group to stay at Botaira Resort and to visit So So Village to see my host family from three years ago. “Do you remember their names?” I responded proudly with a “yep” and “Kiti and Kelera Vuluma.”

“Do you have your sevusevu?” The word sounded familiar, but I had to ask what it was. “Your gift. To the family. Since you are coming back.”

From that point on, Khan was our guide and much more than our taxi driver. He knew we wanted to go to the temple, so we went there first. He showed us to the office and helped to get me a sarong for my waist and a cover for my shoulders. I had completely forgotten that as a woman inside the temple, you are not allowed to show any leg above the knee or any shoulder.

Khan corrected the office attendant when he accidently said $15 instead of $7 for the entrance fee. He showed us where to put our shoes (also, no shoes for anyone inside the temple). He waited the half an hour for us to tour through.

Since I visited in 2010, the outside of the temple has been repainted, many of the paintings inside are new, and it’s all vibrant and beautiful with color. I almost cried at how thankful I was to have been there before – and that I was able to return.

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Khan took our picture when we were ready to leave. We grabbed our shoes, returned the sarong and cover up, and got inside the taxi headed for an ATM. Khan noted the good timing as four or five tour buses full of Caucasians and Asians parked in the gravel parking lot in front of the temple. I took this opportunity to ask Khan a very honest question. “Khan, do you think American tourists are more obnoxious than others?” He gave me a quick glance in the rearview.

My question came from the night before with Travis and Sam. We were eating dinner at Bamboo when a loud group of people came from a bus and sat down behind us. The majority of the group was American. Travis said he traveled once with a group that he was embarrassed to be a part of, and I said the same of some people from my study abroad group in 2010. Both of us recalled times when our groups were buzzing clouds of loud conversation and disregard for others. Travis said he knew this group was American because they were speaking so many decibels above everyone else (the accents helped, too).

Khan never acknowledged my question. He only commented again at the number of tour buses arriving. We went through the roundabout in front of the temple pulling onto a straight road. Khan said, “While we’re here,” parked and hopped out of the taxi. He returned 30 seconds later with a bouquet of kava wrapped like we in the US would wrap flowers. He took us inside the small pool hall and showed us $5, $10, $20, $30 and $40 options. He said this was the traditional way to present a sevusevu. I reminded him we needed to go to an ATM, and he said not to worry. He would cover it until we could pay him back.

When we got to the ATM, I asked again for the word he used earlier. I had my notebook out and ready. “Will you spell it?” He spelled sevusevu and turned halfway around. “Smart girl. Writing it down.”

I thought we were headed back towards Bamboo when I saw a dress shop. He said we could go in but he passed it, parking at the grocery store. He took the kava from me and put it in the trunk out of sight. He marched into the grocery store, grabbed a cart and started shopping. He picked out powered milk, instant noodles, two cans of mackerel in tomato sauce, British blend tea and breakfast crackers. He spoke about how you can’t get these things on the island and Kiti and Kelera will appreciate them.

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Khan put the grocery bags in the trunk with the kava while David and I walked across the street to the dress shop. I had been… almost… confused. I knew Khan had nothing to gain from this. He paid for the kava, and we hadn’t paid him back yet. He picked out the groceries; and I said to David before we crossed the road how he could just drive away with it all. But…although I didn’t know this man…I trusted him. A lot.

Khan joined us in the dress shop speaking Fijian to the owner, who David later recalled, didn’t look too happy that Khan was there. The only word I knew at the time was “Bamboo.” I picked out a dress, and the owner sold it to me for half price.

We got into the car, this time truly headed back to the hostel. Khan said outright that he told the shopkeeper not to treat us as tourists. We were staying at Bamboo. Don’t rip us off. And most importantly, we were with him. Khan said he has been a taxi driver for 32 years, and he has never overcharged anyone for anything. He has done his best to earn business by helping people. “You don’t become a millionaire overnight.”

Khan told us stories about past clients; in particular, one about a “gringo” girl who yelled at him for charging her $15 for a ride when she claimed it should have only been $5. She knew this because she had been living in Fiji for six months, and she knew what that ride was worth. By the end of the trip, she paid him $20 and apologized.

I told Khan how happy I was to see Kiti and Kelera again, and I thanked him for all his help. He said Kiti and Kelera would seat us in a place of honor when we get there. “Just wait to see how they treat you.” I told him how excited I was. “You will have a good trip, Sharon.”

Khan dropped us off at Bamboo. He asked if I was excited for the next day, going to Botaira and seeing my host family again. I said yes and thanked him once again for all his help. He responded, “Sometimes, you need someone to show you the way.”

Posted by smweaver24 21:59 Archived in Fiji Tagged temple #khan #hindu #guide Comments (2)

Bula!

Everyone greets you with "Bula!" which literally means "health" and is used to say hello.

We said goodbye to our families, had a farewell lunch at Chick-fil-A, hopped on the plane, and we were on our way to our first stop: Nadi, Fiji. It was all very surreal. We knew we were leaving for fifteen weeks but somehow, we didn’t know or didn’t understand. It felt like a regular day. Nothing different. Just same old, same old.

The flight, although it was only five hours, was long. Screaming children make any flight a long flight. But I made friends with our neighbor, the wife of Tampa Bay Rays first baseman (which is explains the GARGANTUAN rock on her left hand); and I also made friends with our flight attendant who later in the flight offered us free drinks. That beer helped quite nicely.

The flight attendant, Lisa, was the second person to tell us we “inspired” her by what we were doing. She was somehow encouraged that we were taking such a long trip. In fact, everyone we talked to was surprised. It was nice to be encouraged… and somehow to also be envied simultaneously.

The flight to Nadi was a long eleven hours. Our hostel picked us up in the Nadi airport at 5:30 am along with two other Americans named Travis and Samantha, aka Sam. Sam is recent graduate and journalist who loves travel and adventure journalism although she works for a political writer in DC. She heard about a man who started scuba diving resorts and owns Namena Island in Fiji. He decided he wanted to create his own resort in his 20s, picked up and went. He’s 80 now and moving back home to the US (this is the abridged version, btw). She just decided she wanted to write a story about it – so she hopped on a plane and went! I thought about how amazing it was that she just decided to go. I had the thought, “I would never do something like that,” but then I realized, I’m in Fiji – on a round the world trip – that I put together – in 6 weeks. Maybe I would do that.

David and I spent most of our day with Travis and Sam at Bamboo Hostel located outside the city center of Nadi. It was nice to meet other Americans traveling. After speaking with several other travelers at Bamboo, they could be two of the very few Americans we meet during the course of the whole trip. We met two Swiss girls who’ve been traveling for eight months and have four more to go. They’ve met three Americans in those eight months. Only three. I’ve come to the opinion that Americans don’t travel. It’s just not in our culture to do trips like this.

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We did meet one other American our last night at Bamboo (after staying at Botaira resort for five days). He lives in New York and has a house in Dunwoody, GA. I have no clue how that meeting happened. Small world, right?

We also met an Italian guy named Francesco. His family owns a restaurant in Cortona, where, as luck would have it, The University of Georgia takes students every summer to learn the language. He joked that we would probably have a few mutual friends on Facebook since he meets so many UGA girls (and guys, but his emphasis was on the girls) every year.

All this sounds exciting, but honestly, when we first arrived to Bamboo, I thought, “What have we gotten ourselves into?” It wasn’t exactly clean. The metal bunk beds creaked. It was hot. It was humid. We had a room with 6 other people. But somehow, it soon became homey. We met so many people in just two nights. We made friends with a British guy named Hugo who told hilarious stories including one about a guy he briefly traveled with who he called “Dutchy” because according to Hugo, you get to a point where you just can’t remember all the names of the hundreds of people you meet. We made friends with an extremely nice German guy named Pius. And we continued to hang out with Francesco and Travis (Sam left after the first night). Everyone talked to everyone. The hostel sold dinner, we sat with strangers, had conversations, and everyone asked where you’re from, how long you’ve been traveling and how much longer you had to go. It was a small family. Plus, we all had kava with the staff after dinner.

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Kava is a very mildly intoxicating beverage made from the kava plant root. It’s used in formal ceremonies for Fijians and is a large part of their culture. It also tastes like dirt. It makes your tongue go dumb, and according to Fijians, the brain is eventually sure to follow (if you have enough – when I say very mildly, I mean very, very mildly). It was like nights I’ve had in the South when it’s hot, everyone has a beer, and someone is the around the campfire (substitute kava bowl or “tanoa” here) playing a guitar. That was our nights at Bamboo. And it was lovely.

After the initial shock wore off, David and I were extremely excited about our trip. We had already made friends and felt very welcome and like family at the hostel. Since every day still felt like just a regular day, David and I repeated to each other, “Hey! Guess what? We’re in Fiji!” because somehow, even once we were there, it was still unbelievable.

Posted by smweaver24 17:23 Archived in Fiji Tagged #firststop #bula #fiji #bamboo Comments (1)

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