Bui and I could only appreciate a few games of “Last Card” before one bite of breakfast had her running for school Monday morning. I took my books and journals to a mat on the patio for a little writing when Abel joined me for a quick lounge and giggle. The important thing to note about village life is the emphasis on relaxation. Note it. Do it. Love it. Chris, Lina, Moji and I grouped together in the late morning to head out for an exciting program by the river. Hiking in flip-flops proved a bit difficult, but we were soon bounding from rock to rock barefoot by the flowing waters that cut into the jungle’s core. We forged rapids, stumbled on mossy boulders, and ended on a small beach beside a bamboo forest. Moji chopped away about ten shoots and assembled them into a trusty raft, with our ever-so useful helping hands,of course. I felt so Bear Grylls, I attempted an English accent that turned into an Aussie one…which I didn’t even know I could do.
Once the raft was sea-worthy, we floated about 10 meters away to a trickling spring on the other side, a hot spring that spewed 80 degree water with a sulfuric twist. Chris, our gondalier, wasn’t content with just moving across the river after all that hard work of tying knots with vines, so he pushed us towards the rapids downstream.
The waters were at best about two feet deep and incredibly rocky. Our vessel tried to skewer a couple boulders and toss us into the river before it finally wedged itself into a pool for an eternal rest. The walk back through the rocks gave us red and bloody knees, but the laughs induced by the mini-adventure on a self-made raft were worth the potential for wound infection.
Walking back upstream the way we came, Moji and I attempted a little prawn fishing with one pair of goggles and a young bamboo stick topped with ten rusty nails. I tried getting one school of fish for about 20 minutes, continuing to jab and announce, “Aw, I came so close!”, and Moji humored me by letting me continue, adding later that "it always seems like you’re just that close". Touche.
The climax of the program was certainly the literal high point…and the last event of the adventure: a 30+ foot cliff jump into teal, chilly waters. The crawl up the mossy rock face was nearly as scary as the impending plunge, and upon reaching the final step before the jump, I nearly busted my own vocal chords with spontaneous screams. It took about three minutes of nervous dancing, slow countdowns, and self-encouragement to rock myself to that point of no return. I had enough time to scream twice until my feet and outstretched arms broke the water surface. It was a slap heard ‘round the jungle.
Of course it took Lina, Moji, and Chris a combined 20 seconds to do their jumps (twice might I add). Advice for others: don’t look down.
We returned to the village by the singular dirt road entrance and indulged in belly filling meals on the floor. Soon after, Fane pulled out a sulu and shirt for me to wear to the school, where I was going to volunteer a little time to unintentional complete classroom distraction.
Lina and I wanted to offer any services we could provide in order to make some progress, but what usually occurs in these situations is a rowdy, screaming classroom with one or two kids actually following your instructions as opposed to just giggling at your outfit. Our social studies lesson on “How Roads are Made” didn’t change mindsets or anything but hopefully taught one person how to draw a road cross-section. So useful in the practical world.
When my time as a Fijian village teacher expired, I changed back into my appalling Western attire in time for Abel’s lesson on cooking with bamboo. It was a practice from the days before pots and also one that is used on modern day picnics. As the cassava boiled inside the young bamboo shoot, the kids giggled wildly, running in and out of my video footage. Abel taught me how to say some hilarious and simple phrases, while older women walking home from the farms stopped to laugh at my attempts. The cooked cassava was as soft as a well-cooked sweet potato, and just as sweet. We ate it with our fingers while practicing ballet moves and more phrases until the darkness settled.
With the night came a few more travelers from Lautoka, our friends from the Madventure house, and many of us ate together by candlelight in my host uncle’s home next door. The kids, Bui and Pio, played with the wax from the dripping candles and created a guessing game for after-dinner entertainment.
Why is it so easy to have a completely lovely day in a place so secluded from our favorite vices, activities, and daily pastimes? I think it’s because life is meant to be simple. Simple and vibrant. Like a Fijian village.