It was 9pm in the Fijian highlands. The glow of candles and fluorescent lights shone through the windows and spaces between woven walls. Kamikaze frogs darted in and out of our path as Garrett, Abel and I lugged our huge bags toward Fane's house where half the village men and children were waiting, TV ablaze with violent American movies, and kava mixed for the ready.
We called the village on our first day in Lautoka to let them know we arrived. We wanted to make sure, since he wasn't at the airport, that Abel remembered we were on our way. A few days prior to our arrival, the village chief, Abel's uncle, passed away, and the entirety of Namosi was grieving. He apologized for not meeting us because of this family matter, but we swatted his sorries away in hopes he knew we completely understood and were sad for his loss. So throughout the day on Friday, Abel made arrangements for us and informed the village we were on our way. Bui apparently ran around from house to house saying she was waiting for her sister to arrive.
And so, when we stepped into Fane's house on Friday night, many of my old friends were there to greet us in proper Fijian fashion…with some kava drinking. Garrett clapped with cupped hands, the way he was taught, guzzled the entire "high tide" bowl, and laughed as a room full of smiles and cheers acknowledged his first official taste of Fiji.
It wasn't long before the riddles started circulating, the kids slowly fell asleep in front of the TV, and the village spokesman leaned over to speak to me.
"So how long do you plan to stay in Nakavika?" "We will be doing some traveling once a month or so," I said, "but the majority of our time will hopefully be spent here in Nakavika." "Great. We need to talk about permission." "Of course. Garrett and I are ready to speak with whomever we need to talk to about our intentions and what we plan to do while here." "Okay. You will talk to me tomorrow."
Since Abel had always said we are most welcome, this conversation worried me a bit, as I hadn't anticipated any issues with our arrival and presence in the village. Of course this was one of those moments of cultural disconnect - where we didn't know the formalities that needed to occur nor the possibility of our intentions not being accepted.
The next morning, Mario, the village spokesman, came over and sat in the living room of Fane's house, ready to hear what we had planned. I brought an entire backpack filled with supplies out of my adjacent bedroom, and with that, about five kids flocked to hear what we were planning. A ten minute explanation, a couple clarifications, and we were welcomed by the voice of Nakavika.
Mario advised us to speak with Fane and Weiss, our host family, and the now-official village chief, Abel's father, for further acceptance and to clarify our intentions with them. A sevusevu welcoming ceremony needed to take place.
The Fijian sevusevu involves adorning a sulu (a traditional sarong of sorts), entering the home of the village head man and having your presence accepted on behalf of the entire village. All words and actions revolve around the fulcrum of the event: the kava bowl. Made of hard, dark wood, this conical vessel with a flat, thick rim and whittled legs holds the lifeblood of the Fijians - not so much their fountain of youth but fountain of "social feelgood." A sheer cloth lays atop the bowl and receives the dry, pounded stem of the kava plant, which is bundled up and massaged into some clean water. Murky, peppery water is then blessed and presented to the chief and guests of honor.
It took some coordinating, but Abel united us with his father to be official welcomed. I think we both felt a weight lift off our shoulders as our project concept got off paper, out of our minds and finally hit the road.