I'm up before the crack of dawn.
My family is enjoying Christmas brunch.
I'm a pack mule walking a kilometer down the rocky road toward a bald cavern - one that I must then traverse.
My niece is probably opening her first present from Santa (or at least watching since her motor skills aren't Olympic yet).
Garrett and I are flopping around in the back of a truck, sheltering ourselves from the mountain mist, and looking forward to a much-needed vacation.
Our families are enjoying holidays we've never missed before.
Escaping the Bush for the Coast
We time traveled. Teleportation was on our wish lists for Santa, but alas, the highlanders don't have conventional chimneys. Instead, Garrett and I teamed up to form our own family unit this holiday season. In desperate need of R&R, we decided to see the side of Fiji that makes people drool: the beaches.
The original plan for our trip to the coast was to join our host mother, Fane, on a ferry ride to Vanua Levu, the second largest and most populated island of the 333 that make up Fiji. Her village near Savusavu sounded like a dream: two humble homes by beach and farm where fresh food is grown and private sand bars are present. Aside from the boat ride and low food costs, our entire trip would have been "virtually free."
Of course, after two weeks of bodily battering, all we wanted was that marginal comfort of a hostel and the freedom to do what we wanted without justification. And because we attempted to whip together a Christmas vacation at the last minute, we encountered some logistical problems (e.g. no ferries left the week after the 25th).
I Thought Adults Get Privileges
A growing trend in the previous week was an inverse relationship between our mounting self-confidence and the village's skepticism of our abilities.
Where are you going? To the waterfall. We need to take showers. Who is going with you? Just Garrett and myself. Do you know where the waterfall is? Yes, I've been there about seven times before. But who is going with you? No one. Do as you wish. (Garrett and I go and return, unharmed and clean) You shouldn't do that alone again.
We understood that having two falsely confident Americans bounding around their territory could mean an obligation to our safety and security; however, we felt a little odd about having 5 year-old chaperones on necessary trips: to clean up, to wash clothes, to be alone. It was a "Blowin' In The Wind" situation; at what point would we be taken seriously as people who can manage their own survival?
And when we wanted to take a Fijian vacation away from the village, no one wanted us to spend any money elsewhere in the country on overpriced hostels and beach resorts. Instead, we would be jumping from family home to family home and fitting our R&R in between tense culture-melding situations, all while paying for many taxis, buses, ferries, food, drinks, and treats for both ourselves and whomever invited us to join them. It was a twisted situation where we didn't want to seem ingrateful, but there was a salient double standard and mild swindling going on. Top it all off with bacterial diseases.
It was imperative that we take the true vacation we needed. Our bowels swirling like boiling pots, we told Fane we were going to Rakiraki, the northernmost point of the main island. After expressing our thanks for the invite and reasons for the plan change, she insisted we call her every day, or at least every day we relocate. And when our last interaction with her resulted in yet another misunderstanding based on money, Garrett finally voiced the opinion we'd been too timid to pronounce before.
How does one identify the line of acceptability when two cultures are a part of a homestay situation? When is the guest's debt repaid, and with what? Money? Favors? Good deeds and help around the house? We felt our work with the children, frequent attendance in household chores, and funds covering out food expenses was enough, but all too often we were cornered to give more than was necessary.
Garrett and I boarded the bus, thrilled to have finally been heard and ready to relax after nearly a month of difficulty.
The Sunshine Coast
Bumpy, dusty ride north - I had the sweats. My body was in agony. Luckily, we met a cordial guy on the bus that loved our Namosi slang and helped us understand a few things about Fijian culture.
We arrived in Rakiraki at night, when all we could see was a distinct line where the lights of the city stopped and a grand mass of nothingness began. I hate pulling into my destination at night; however, it does allow for that creepy, yet surprising, awareness of where you are the next day.
Disembarking the bus, we ran to a seemingly friendly group of ladies and asked about the Volivoli Beach Resort, careful of our pronunciation since we learned voli was a semi-vulgar word in our learned dialect. After a haggle war between two cabbies, we ended up with a taxi bus/pimped ride manned by two giggle-boxes with hip-hop fetishes. We bounced to Akon with neon lights surrounding us in a dream.
Bags flopped to the ground in front of reception where we were greeted with a, "Whoa, you guys look rough." We soon snagged rooms, flopped on our beds, and passed the heck out at 10pm, exhausted.
Have you ever been in a similar cross-cultural awkward homestay situation? Comment below and add to the conversation. Be sure to share this post and check out what we woke up to next week...