Lemon leaf in the morning: tea that surpasses all other attempts to comfort the soul. There's no better way to begin a new phase of life in Fiji. We awoke from our personal bedroom slumbers to a Fijian breakfast, sitting Indian style around a tablecloth near the kitchen. With all the logistics configured with the village authorities, we were free to begin finding our place among the rest of the community. The kids offered to take us swimming, relieving the discomfort of the hot, humid daytime, and along with this experience came our first hike through the clay-like mud, rock jumps, pebble skipping and the singeing of our first layers of skin.
The next day, a Sunday, every Nakavika resident between the ages of 5 and 25 walked along the road toward Namando river for a mass swimming session. Throughout the entire afternoon, we fought the current to swim from one outcropping to another, jumping off after scaling the near vertical slopes, and swam into the cavern with 30 feet of rock towering from the edges. Trying desperately to hold onto a slippery rock and not get swept away by the force, Garrett and I laughed hysterically as we used each other's bodies to grapple our ways back to safety atop a rock. Waterfalls, volleyball on a floating rock, watching the older kids dive off the 35 foot cliff - it was a scene impossible to be reenacted with the same level of vigor and light-hearted fun.
When we weren't out on excursions to the water, the kids surrounded our/Fane's house at all hours of the day - waiting for the next class to begin. Making a schedule in Nakavika with times and structure is seemingly arbitrary. To make all the children come over at 5pm would make about as much sense as asking them to check their e-mails beforehand as well. So instead they wait for us to convene, while playing billiards, spying on us in our rooms, playing loud running games outside our windows and lingering over the threshold as we drink our afternoon tea. It's a comforting acknowledgement of the good times to be had in our "classes", which the kids happily attend and anticipate.
The first class took place next door at Lidia's house (homes are referred to by the name of the first born child) after dinner and by the light of one florescent lightbulb. Our silhouettes had to have come off as spooky to the kids sitting below, but they still managed to find us intriguing and even (gasp) giggle-worthy. Running back and forth, we got them to sweat a little for the knowledge of when to use "is" and "are." Though every competition had no prize for the winner, the kids valued the act of playing over the compensation for their hard work. We found something that worked.
The following classes began earlier in the day, once the sun's angle became acute, and depending on whether the clouds were spitting, we had children come inside our sitting room or outside on the nearby slope of grass. I had never really taught kids before and just went for it, letting trial and error guide me, and Garrett found himself at first very confused and nervous with the act of teaching but soon grew to realize how he could use his amicable personality and practical knowledge to help the kids take care of themselves.
Not only did we both learn how to blend into the community, but the community found roles for us as well. Abel led some of the village youth, mainly the "rugby boys," to our house after practice since they were asking about classes for their age group. We were thrilled people perceived us as open to helping anyone and knowledgeable enough to offer something valuable. That night, we conducted our first class with the boys that discussed sports injuries and expanding their English vocabulary. In this hour, I think Garrett had a revelation with regards to his potential impact in this village.
The rugby boys have opened up a whole new sector of The Nakavika Project.
Do you have any questions about Fijian highland culture or our project thus far? Leave a comment, and we'll get back to you the next time we're on the web!