Bui’s knees in my back and adorable, obvious rustling in bed wake me caused a laugh to accompany my first breath of the day. She had spotted something in my bag that she liked, so I proceeded to pull out the bag-o-tricks from my sister-in-law that included bubbles, a very high-pitched whistle, a hypnotizing hourglass, and a flower for her church-ready hair. Instead of going with Chris and a fellow traveler named Lina to the next village for family time, Abel offered to take me on a little trip to a nearby waterfall. Bui jumped on that bandwagon with a smile that spanned her entire face. And as we walked, more children tagged along, sliding down muddy slopes for the poised camera and pointing out the sensitive fern before cautiously stepping over its little thorns.
The first waterfall was like a natural stairway with cascading clear waters making the descent a little dicier. Some of the kids plummeted into the teal pool with us while others remained on top, shouting down to us and each other, as excited as though this were a candy store shopping spree. The water was as cold as it was wet, but we disregarded this discomfort by trying to balance on a fallen log like American Gladiators.
Across the pool, Abel and I climbed onto some flat rocks shaded by a fantastic tropical canopy to find a second and much more deadly waterfall. Dropping a large rock down, he demonstrated what would happen to our heads if we jumped. Obliteration. We sprawled there for a while, talking about the village and America, while fluorescent spiders walked by our resting chins that overlooked the ledge. The kids on the other waterfall sang and danced for our attention.
When we came back to the village, hair dripping and laughing, my host parents and all their friends were lounging in the yard, drinking kava, sharing a sticky bowl of colorful popcorn, and awaiting my inclusion. The adults and parents posed for photos as enthusiastically as the kids and pulled me into the frame for a few shots.
We moved the party inside my house when the clouds began spitting, and for the next three hours, I witnessed a hilarious evening among lifelong friends that included my serving of tsunami bowls to every man, card tricks, riddles, and childhood games. Sometimes the volume and amount of laughter during certain Fijian games caused me to believe they weren’t so family friendly, at which point I would turn my head left and right asking anyone, “What’s so funny?”.
Abel, while mixing bowl after bowl of kava, asked me to put my camera on video mode while the men harmonized songs of pride and love for their country and countrymen. 15 to 20 men closed their eyes to reach high notes and perfect tones in a concert just for me. My eyes fluttered by lamplight to the tunes of the Highlands, head heavy to my pillow in the middle of the crowded, sleepy room. It was the kind of peace John Lennon would fantasize about.