And a flying fox in a palm tree: Day 25

There's only been one other time when my Christmas wasn't filled with earmuffs, slick roads, and airings of National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation. And the night we left for Maui with the rest of the holiday escapists was a tad doleful as we left winter in our contrail.

Two Bellies Churning

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Our rosy-nose expectations of the twelve days of Christmas made the final week leading up to the big day a little anticlimactic. How do we prepare for the event? What's going to happen? The rest of the villagers were jolly as ranchers but had no advice for us on how to infuse ourselves in the mix...aside from purchasing four sugar sweets and three Fijian hens for every child in town. We learned quickly that the children didn't know of Santa, nor did they receive presents for the occasion.

Unsure of whether we were really expected to provide for the feast or the kids (we weren't) or whether we were being inappropriately pressured (as is the way in this region), we turned to what we couldn't misconstrue and what certainly seemed generous to us: more class time, with a new focus that week on teeth brushing.

While Garrett and I worked on altering the lyrics of popular songs to create good hygiene jingles, I dabbed the sweat from my brow, not caused by the weather but by the storm brewing in my stomach. Three weeks of the Fijian diet, along with two weeks of questionable water (thanks to the cyclone), caused severe discomfort and an inability to withstand my day-to-day motions of teaching and living. Garrett was hardly a step behind me in the malady department, and eventually, both of us could barely summon the strength to call the kids over, let alone impart knowledge.

Eleven Pots a-Stewing

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I awoke on Christmas morning in a deep sweat, my mosquito net swirled around my face, to the sounds of the jungle...and a rowdy billiard game. Fane provided my sulu-i-ra for the day, while Garrett sported his sulu and Bula shirt and quickly joined the holiday grog session, as the Fijian men expected of him. Carrying a tray of lovo-baked root vegetables to the community hall, I put them with the other hundreds of white and yellow bulbs of starch and joined twelve ladies swatting flies.

I had no idea what was going on. I was segregated from Garrett on the women's side, the food side. No one was talking to me. I still had open sores sticking to the mats while I tried to sit like a lady in my sulu. I was irritable. It was Christmas. Where was my family? Oh yeah, I chose for this relocation...can only be irritated with myself.

Abel soon dragged me away to another kava session next door.

The kids eat first, then the men...

My stomach was grumbling, and I didn't want to fill my empty vessel with bowls of narcotic. When we returned to the community hall, Garrett was knuckle-deep in his food already. I sat at the end of the line across from a boiled pig's head and let my misguided irritation at the lack of organization ooze away into a hot bowl of stir-fry.

Having survived on lush diets for 24 years, our ever-wanting American bodies were wilting without ample nutrient, which thankfully made up the bulk of the holiday luncheon: watermelons, carrots, chicken breasts with ounces of meat, coconut cream-covered leaves of green, and five golden potato chunks. Even as someone hacked away at the pig skull inches from me, bone bits flying into my food, I couldn't have been persuaded to put my fork down or leave this food untouched. "May I?" asked the guy hoping to indulge on the pig brain. "By all means, enjoy..." and I savored a second helping of carrots.

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Four Hours Wasted

The men swept Garrett off into the green day, and in my quest to find him, I walked into a household where thirty people were watching a typical American marine movie - not a John Cena but, amazingly enough, a step below. I couldn't turn down a seat of honor, an actual seat, mind you, and before I knew it, my Christmas hours drifted by into late afternoon.

Eyes were wide and amused. No one spoke. Sitting in that house watching mediocre cinema could have given me ample ammunition to exasperate my irrational angst, but instead I tried to harness whatever good things were surrounding me at that moment. What did I have to be pissed about on Christmas? I was among friends in the South Pacific with some form of entertainment and a full belly.

Of my list of skills and traits, one I'm particularly not proud of is my ability to not just ignore the silver lining but zero in on the dark underbelly of the cloud. It's occasions like these that tend to muddy my mood in the moment, when in hindsight the same occasion becomes a story I recall with a smirk. It wasn't my definition of a perfect Christmas, but I forgot that seeking the perfect Christmas wasn't my ultimate goal in life. Living a varied, open-minded exciting life was more my cup of tea.

Sensing my need for some movement, Abel took me on a mini-trek, and when we returned, Garrett came running to us, covered in sweat and liquid humidity.

I just helped catch two bats! ...and I ran through the jungle barefoot!

He was beaming. It seemed his day was far from angst-filled. He found himself a real part of a familial unit, a brotherhood perhaps. His Christmas was full of solidifying friendships and firsts...and, unfortunately, cut-up feet from the floor of the bush. Maybe he wouldn't be as excited as I was to leave the next morning for our Fijian holiday.

Are you kidding me? I need a beer...

Alas, our bodies were both desperately pining for a getaway, a moment to relax among the typical Fijian paradise and take a break from the highlander lifestyle. And to think, our families were still experiencing Christmas Eve when our Christmas sun went into hiding.

What do you think of our Christmas experience in Nakavika? Can you believe we were the only foreigners to ever be in Nakavika for the holiday? Any aspect of the day you'd like to know more about? Comment below!