One side of the sky was navy blue and brilliant with stars and a succulent moon; the other side hinted at the curvature of the globe with shades of pink. The dew making my feet squeak in my flip-flops mirrored the moisture on my eyelids. There wasn't a wavering thought in our minds about returning to the village, so this morning absolutely marked an end. Knocking on a few doors at dawn, we came across the home where little Weiss was sleeping. It would have been impossible to take our final carrier ride without saying goodbye to our dear friend and favored student of 2.5 months. We hugged him and asked him to tell the other kids we say goodbye and will miss them. He nodded his heavy head, instantly taking the form of an older, mature being with wise eyes that see the realities of a world he can't change.
We loaded our bags, put on our rain shells, and bumped down the mountains. I felt like wasting away as I doubled over my backpack, hoping to sleep away my pain.
Boxing Up and Sending Our Promises
Munching apples and peanut butter on the side of the river in Navua, I felt tapped of my happiness. Dropping our bags at the South Seas hostel, my mind was elsewhere in thought. I could not feel good, could not joke around, knew we had to leave but still finding the reality of it all exhausting and pitiful. I couldn't find the silver lining, because I knew the dark underbelly had to be fully absorbed.
Taking the $171 Fijian we raised from the saddening fundraiser, we found a pharmacy stocked with exactly what we needed, as well as many eager saleswomen tending to our mounding baskets. We bought children's fever reducer for all age levels, bandages and antibiotic ointment, medicine for fungal infections and boils, oral rehydration salts, first aid tape, and enough supplies to cure the village of the common hindering maladies.
Starting to ache with hunger, we found our regular pizza joint and let our deprived taste buds go wild. I barely uttered a sentence, with my head hung low over our budgeting sheet. Finishing just in time, we got our boxes of goods, along with instructional/descriptive guides for the medicine, to the carrier - the outside of the box covered with the words "Vitalina" and "Nakavika Dispensary." Luckily, her daughter, Siteri, was waiting for the carrier and could take it up personally.
On a day where little made me happy, it pleased me tremendously to know we succeeded in supplying Vita with the tools to strengthen her village.
Feeling the Weight of Sadness
While Garrett and Jackie Skyped with their families and changed plane tickets, I wrote one sad e-mail after the other. Needed some stress relief, Garrett and I wandered into the movie theater, while Jackie worked online, and watched "Invictus" - the scenes with laughing, playing children making my eyes blur. I got a craving for the kids and wondered what they were thinking at that moment.
We didn't get to say goodbye to some of our favorite children, Daiana included. Our neighbor for months, our daily visitor, a girl I can only describe as a "schnickelfritzer" - Daiana was a highlight to even the saddest, sweatiest day. Her English was timid and comprised of a few words, but we were able to communicate and build a friendship through games, silly looks and voices, and throwing her around until she doubled over laughing. She constantly wanted to be hanging on our arms, hugging our sides, sitting on our laps, or crawling on our weary frames. She was tough. Though she was only three years old, she could stop around a house like a 300 lb. man. She could charm a room full of uncles and cousins to give her all the dried mango skins she could handle in her bright orange fingers. It was a terrible realization that we left without saying a word to her.
I'm not sure if I ever laughed harder than when Samesa shimmied by our doorway pretending to machine gun us down while we had our afternoon tea. His spastic movements nearly knocked him off his own feet. I fell dead multiple times and subsequently rose from my [pretend] bloody pile to seek revenge on his dear soul. Even standing in formation at school, he pulled out his 007-style mini-gun and aimed at our cameras, taking us out with a smile. However, this somewhat violent description of him doesn't give due justice to his incredible sweet nature. He sat quietly when all other boys were rambunctious during class and participated willingly in any activity that furthered his knowledge and confidence. I was always excited to see him approach the house for class. He was one of the great ones.
Makario had to slowly grow on me, though Garrett found his sweet nature easily through all the tears. He had learned at an early age that throwing tantrums and bawling uncontrollably would get him attention, which in my opinion was hard to swallow constantly. However, this little five year-old began showing us his non-mooching and attention-hungry side within a few weeks, allowing us to see what a caramel-coated, cream puff he was. His attempts at English were adorable, and it was most obvious through Makario how our classes and exposure to the kids had helped them progress. When before we couldn't get him to participate without falling over in embarrassment, we left Nakavika with him screaming our names from across fields and villages. He felt comfortable around us. We all grew to really appreciate one another. And of course, I found his regular bathroom breaks in the yard hilarious.
Mosese was Samesa's older brother and had a smile equally as mesmerizing. Garrett and I couldn't help but utter his name like the hyenas' forced whisper of "Mufasa," and every time, he lit up and stuck his tongue out with a shy head roll. He was enthusiastic about our games and classes, well-behaved and never on either side of a childish argument. When he left for a good month on holiday, we missed him and constantly asked when he'd return, which no one could say thanks to the flimsy Fijian calendar. But when he returned, he came running to our next game, his cheeks squeezed and flanking a toothy grin. Mosese was wonderful.
Pio was keen on pushing our boundaries to accommodate some personal wishes. He attempted to charm us for the playing cards, the white board markers, the bandages, the balloons, but he soon realized we used any moment he was interested in our things for lessons. When it became increasingly difficult for him to ask a favor without uttering a complete English sentence, he would initially struggle to build the phrase in his mind but soon shout it out with pride. Pio was very helpful, picking oranges for juice, fetching pots for dinner, showing us around the farm - he was a huge helper in our early days and our home alone stint. We hit a rough patch after scolding him for taking my playing cards, and we didn't see him for a week. However, the day he returned at his own will, we knew we'd reached a new level of understanding between us. And his Fijian boy songs inspired standing ovations.
Buiwai kicked her tongue out when frazzled, quietly listened to and absorbed our stories, and made us proud as our star pupil. Our next door neighbor and frequent visitor, she expressed her aspirations to be a nun and perform well in school. She killed at spelling Frogger and stuck around for supplemental lessons on tongue twisters and stories. She also had a hilarious habit of staring at us while we did anything: cook, clean, talk, sleep, etc. Our impression of her was a limp jaw staring lifelessly at any subject, which made her laugh and stick that bashful tongue out with a smile yet again.
There were many more we cared about deeply: Anna, Elias, Abele, Betero, Kenny, Vosita, Emma, Petere, Samu, Lidia, Bui, etc. - not to mention the many youth members that helped us with vital needs and vital fun. I could write an epic poem about the youth of Nakavika and how much they meant to us, how they made our entire experience in the Highlands. They were all I could think about during the movie. Not even rugby-playing Matt Damon could shake me out of my funk.
Relapsing with a Phone Call
My withdrawal symptoms were severe neck weakness evident by my hanging head, a heavy, slow-thumping heart beat, a buzzing numbness throughout my entire body, a lack of appetite for even delicious Indian food, and an inner monologue that sang with sadness for the felt failure of the project.
I decided to dial the village and see if the sadness I was feeling was due to the confusion of the young Highlanders. Weiss answered the phone.
Did you tell everyone we had to leave and will miss them? That we're sorry we couldn't say goodbye or stay longer?
Abel got on the phone, along with the older Daiana, to tell me they were coming to Suva the following morning and wanted to see us.
How are the kids today? Do they know we left? Do they know why? How are they reacting?
Elias cried when he found out.
I wept a little, standing in the South Seas lobby.
I felt every morsel of guilt, pain, and regret I could that day, sulking and remaining silent in my own dismay. Jackie and Garrett were sad about the children, relieved by the location change, and ready to jet off on earlier flights due to budget constraints. We spent our last night falling early into a deep slumber, swarmed by the cool winds of the ceiling fan. I slept in my sulu, trying to relate it with every good feeling I had from the village, most of which were byproducts of moments with the young ones we came for.
Any comments or questions? Ask now, before I carry on with the next story of when The Nakavika Project parted ways.