It was odd seeing Garrett in such sour spirits on the road. The intense foot infection he contracted sapped him of his usual energy. I had no idea how to make him feel better. He needed a breather from the project and to relax in Suva for the days between doctor's visits, but meanwhile, the kids were looking forward to more innovation and games in the afternoons. I returned from our medical trip to Suva (where I learned I had at least two bacterial infections battling my body, as well), the same day we left the village, to a very empty house.
The Nakavika Project - 1
Living Alone in a Caldera
Explaining Garrett's condition to the villagers was difficult, and many reacted more strongly than I expected. When various people told Garrett he and his throbbing foot would be "just fine" prior to our excursion, those same people hung their heads low at the thought of Garrett cooped up in a hospital room. It didn't really matter that I said, "He's not at the hospital. He stopped by once and has another appointment on Thursday. He's at a hotel."
For two days, I boiled rice and dhal for meals, invited the kids in for tea, conducted English lessons through art classes, led two seminars on nutrition to the adults, and organized the details of our project for its hopeful future. Abel came by often to restock my firewood and pretend to like my sad attempts at open-fire cuisine. However, every other waking minute he spent at our house, he was in training.
Our ultimate plan for The Nakavika Project was to bring volunteers to the village for two weeks:
- ...to live with families,
- ...to get in touch with the community and lifestyle in the mornings,
- ...to conduct classes in the afternoons,
- ...and to provide invaluable resources and materials to the school and dispensary.
And since our project needed a local representative, we decided Abel was not only the most aware of what we wanted of that representative, he was by far the most enthusiastic about the entire mission.
The Nakavika Project + a new one
Doubling The Workforce
Garrett rang the village the day after we parted to report he was feeling incredible, that the infection was nearly gone, and that he was heading to The Uprising in order to meet our first Nakavika Project participant: Jackie Knowles. Jackie was a former STA WTI applicant and a new travel friend in Indianapolis. When I told her about our impending journey to Fiji, she found herself utterly compelled to book a ticket and rough it with us for a month, using her jovial nature to bring the kids a little happiness.
I walked through with Abel how to take care of the volunteers if we weren't there to help him out. We set up a host family for Jackie's stay and informed the kids of a new TNP member coming to play with them. The village began buzzing with the news, and they started to see our project a little more clearly. It wasn't easy to explain it to them at the start.
When Friday came, we commenced with our delicate plan.
- Abel and Lindsay (2) board the carrier to town at sunrise
- Garrett and Jackie (2) assemble themselves at The Uprising in preparation for our arrival
- Abel and Lindsay go to Pacific Harbour to meet Garrett and Jackie (2 + 2)
- All 4 hit up the grocery to stock Jackie and her new host family for two weeks
- All 4 take the carrier inland at 1:00pm in time to have a late afternoon welcome class with the kids
But, our simple plan unfolded with a little help from fate and misfortune.
A Really Big Subtraction
As we were unloading Jackie's bags from the carrier upon arriving at the cavern crossing, thirteen year-old Mary leaned into the emptying carrier to whisper something in her mother's ear, who then leaned over to Abel and whispered the secret. Without even asking for help, every single box and bag of Jackie's disappeared over the cavern on the backs of children and men.
Abel hung his head low.
Walking slowly up the hill behind Jackie, Garrett, and the caravan of bags, Abel said, "Something is very wrong." After many talks with him about spirits and superstition, I could tell this conversation was one to be taken more seriously. "Tell me when you're ready," I put my hand on his shoulder.
We walked in silence for a kilometer.
We arrived to a very quiet village, unusually somber, especially on a day everyone was anticipating with excitement. No kids came running to greet Jackie. Instead they coagulated around Anna's house, barely looking up to see us wander down the path.
The entire community of Nakavika is one family - an intricate web of families all related somehow. One hour prior to our silent arrival that January 15th, 2010, one of their members dropped dead of a heart attack on the exact spot where Abel noted the wrong air of the Highlands.
At that exact moment in time, 300 people lost a beloved relative - 8 of which were minus a father.