Last I left the tales of this Fijian adventure, there was a major event that happened - one which led us to doubt the possibility of our project coming to be. After issues were resolved (in the eyes of the elders), we asked the Turaga ni Koro (village spokesman) to hook us up with a ride down to the coast for a few days. We needed some space to figure out what to do.
Drinking in the Pessimism
Luckily for us, the Rivers Fiji company was scheduled to have a business meeting in the village, and they drove their own 4x4 vehicle. We sat in on the business meeting, which unsurprisingly revolved around kava drinking and lots of Fijian talk infrequently translated into a few lines of English. We got to witness the tension, the patching up of issues across cultural borders, and most importantly speak with the company representative, Geoff, about our project.
An American, a weathered expat of many countries, and one very familiar with not only the Fijian mindset but the specific individuals we knew and dealt with, Geoff had the insight we needed to hear. After hitching a ride to The Uprising with him, we invited him to dinner as a thank you and an opportunity to chew the fat.
Explaining our frustrations and tactics thus far, Geoff stood behind our passion to do good; however, he wished us best of luck at the uphill battle we were waging, sure to inform us that our idealist mindsets would leave us disappointed. After all that had happened, it was a struggle to remain as hopeful as we tried to be. Geoff confirmed out worries; it very well won't work out.
But an idea struck me:
It's not supposed to be easy to help those in need. If it were, obviously there'd be much less poverty and problems everywhere. This is supposed to be a struggle of the soul-sapping kind.
Laying the Final Project Groundwork
After rebooting our bodies and minds and developing the promised video of the funeral footage, we returned three days later to a village that was preparing for the upcoming start to the school year.
With limited time left in the country and new determination to get things done, we decided to nail down some fundamental alliances and deals with the village in order to make the project a reality. Since Fijians love paperwork, we developed written agreements to sign between ourselves and the Turaga ni Koro, as well as one with Abel, our soon-to-be on-site coordinator. Unfortunately, just because things are on paper doesn't mean they are made solid and observed. We made copies, distributed them, and awaited the inevitable haggling session on various points of the contracts.
The time had finally come to meet with the headmaster of the school, now that he had returned from the break. Our walk to his house, illuminated by the full moon, and subsequent meeting proved fruitful, as he established his support in our cause and quickly became that person we desperately hoped existed: the one who could bridge traditional Fijian understanding and progressive, global, academic thinking. We discussed the needs of the school and identified those steps for improvement that were in our power to take.
One of the most salient situations we noticed while meeting with the headmaster and teachers at the school was the stellar resource they had but didn't know how to use: a library. An entire wall from floor to ceiling, lined with bookshelves and English novels, instructional books, encyclopedias, etc. - it proved too daunting a task to figure out how to monitor the children in the setting, not to mention organize the hundreds of resources.
There seemed to be so much promise: a strong alliance with the educators, obvious improvements we could affect, and children who had already shown us they were capable of learning and applying themselves.
Our Final Fijian Outings
Though still feeling a little guarded, it seemed necessary to continue with our Fijian excursions to further train Abel in hopes our alliance would be sealed. Having already experienced the rigors of local farming, Garrett and I felt like lending humorous, moral support rather than joining Jackie in digging holes. It was obvious our help wasn't really needed, so we joked around with Mario and Abel and recreated our fantasies of comic book action sequences in the Highlands. It was worthwhile work.
The next day, we took off in our flip-flops in search of the hot springs that flow into the Luva River. Having been there seven months prior, I thought I knew what we were in for, but a steep downhill trek through the jungle in slippery sandals wasn't the memory I had. Though we were struggling, dripping with sweat, clawed by plants, and stressing the construction of our footwear, it was a very cool jaunt. Having enough of the slow struggle, Garrett leaped off the path into the exposed mud from a Cyclone Mick landslide.
Regardless of the emotional trauma we were enduring, the setbacks with the project, or the inability to blend our mentalities with our hosts, we were still very aware that every moment stomping around like Indiana Jones was truly awesome. Braving strong currents and painful rocks under bare foot, we made it to a mysterious hot spring, which had been further exposed by an adjacent landslide.
Easily 95°F and smelling of sulfur, the Japanese miners in the nearby hills were hoping to turn the springs into a 24 hour power source, most likely an attempt to schmooze the village heads for mining rights.
The Early Morning Routine
We arose around 7am to assist the headmaster in the regular exercise of teeth-brushing. Garrett took centerstage, making sure every child had a toothbrush to work with. Some kids tossed their brushes over the shoulder to get a shiny new one from the bag. The rest stood poised with their bottles of water over a gutter in the ground.
The headmaster yelled each of the twelve steps one by one, the children following his instruction. Their frothy mouths becoming neat beards like Mr. Miyagi's. The clouds rolled in the village valley, setting the children in a background of mist. Soon, everyone's pearly whites were once again shiny, and Garrett went to the drawing board on his improvements for the routine.
At the completion of the hygiene routine, the rambunctious children we had known for the last two months got into formation and displayed their compliance with school order. From smallest to tallest, separated by grades, color-coordinated with those in their sports group after school, they became vessels for incoming knowledge, though the military stances couldn't take the smirks of their faces.
We watched with smiles, feeling so hopeful for the next two weeks of school collaboration. It finally seemed like we could make something happen that would stick. It wasn't the parents we should work with, it was the school and those who attempted daily to strike a balance between traditional mentality and academic excellence.
Little did we know this would be our last school day in the village.