Independence in a Communal Society: Day 39

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Returning after our holiday, we had not only our backpacks but boxes worth of books, school supplies, and ingredients for a week of comforting menu items. Fane gave us no hint as to when she would return to the village, and we were given permission to run her household to our liking, to cook and clean for ourselves. After being dependent on others for a month, we came back with something to prove to the village.

Making the Exotic Familiar

Ten days of tourist comfort reminded Garrett and me how much we yearned for the familiar: reasonably pure water, meals with lots of protein, comfort foods, and clothing that had even the slightest resemblance to clean. Instead of being reluctant to return to the adventure, we decided to find a new comfort with what Fiji provided; however, this also meant we took a turn for the debatably worse. Thankfully we didn't let the others closely witness the change, but we took it...there.

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We became 'Mericans. Throwing our backs into the job of tidying the house, we scrubbed nature raw, paving paradise...in the 'Merican way. Taking the pure produce of the Highlands and frying it into submission, we cooked with Fijian ingredients...in the 'Merican way. Positioning our laptops near our work stations, we performed household duties while bouncing around in shorts listening to Lil' Wayne embrace obscenity...just like the 'Merican way prescribes.

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Occasionally, we had a visiting mother come see what we were up to, curious as to why every piece of flatware spread across towels to dry in the hesitant breeze. The kids were ever-inquisitive, asking to play cards in our main room or shoot pool just to be in the presence of the beats. Most of the villagers found it surprising that we cared enough to scrub the walls and floors until the original colors were visible. It did seem a bit odd to make viciously clean what was nearly submerged in pure nature, but we were tired of being told not to do what seemed natural to us.

We wanted to feel comfortable, like ourselves, and because we had each other, we found an excuse to escape from the Fijian experience in our own American oasis.

Walking a Fragile Cultural Line

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In the mornings, we were summoned by the neighbor children to come have breakfasts of scones, crackers, and tea. Though the fluffy scones in coconut cream were our favorite, we often wanted to experience our own breakfast routine (and infuse secret peanut butter into the menu).

Careful to not be offensive, we often explained that we'd already begun preparations of our own breakfasts of beans or oatmeal, sure to express our gratitude for the offer. The mothers always seemed pensive but understanding of our independence - we hoped our wild excitement for Fijian jobs well done would be endearing to them - but we soon felt them pull away and leave us alone for good.

Coming from a culture that encourages independence, we had trouble understanding why they didn't find our domestic attempts flattering. We mimicked their cleaning patterns and adopted the motherly civilities, like acknowledging everyone by name as they strolled by the house. The 'Merican oasis soon withered and became something akin to a typical household, as my sulu returned and Garrett took up manly duties.

When someone asked for help or a tool, we supplied them with what they wanted. And we continued to eat one or so meals a day at another person's house, in order to be social and imply our continued need and appreciation for their hospitality. We still had a desire to be a part of the communal atmosphere.

However, after a couple days of exercising our domestic capabilities, it felt as though we couldn't win both battles of comfort and acceptance. Our attempts to be comfortable while still submerged in another world were not universally well-received.

The Bi-Weekly Seminars

Even if our Martha Stewart tendencies didn't merit praise, we still thought our new adult classes would give us brownie points. We appointed Wednesday and Saturday nights as class nights, careful to swerve around rugby practices, processionals, committee meetings, and days when people typically went to the city.

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That first Wednesday, we spread the word: Tonight is Q&A Night! We were teaching their children throughout those summer days, and yet most of the parents didn't really know why we were there or what topics we discussed. Additionally, people always seemed to have questions on health, hygiene, money management, and so on.

9pm came and went, and not one adult showed up, even after we confirmed the event with many of the main figureheads in the community. We sat in Fane's freshly cleaned common room, thumbing the little pieces of paper and freshly sharpened pencils we had prepared for the onslaught of questions and opinions. A couple friends stopped by to see what we were doing. "We're waiting for some of the adults to show for our Question and Answer session." The boys suggested we invite ourselves to a kava session, or we wouldn't be speaking to anyone that night.

The adults were busy with kava, as they were most nights. There was no special occasion, simply the occurrence of dusk. We became an afterthought, and though we knew no one meant offense by their absence, we couldn't help but take some. Sick of the grog and its apparently necessary presence at every social gathering, we were not about to speak over the din of a kava party about matters of health.

We went to bed defeated, hopeful for success next time, and comforted by a spoonful of peanut butter in a spotless room.