I opened my eyes as if they'd been closed for only a few seconds. Stains decorated the holey mosquito net, which now ensnared a circling bunch of blood-filled bugs. Though I've never been physically beaten up, I imagine the next morning would have felt akin to how I felt there, in that bed, feeling the bed springs scratch my skin, every muscle upset and tense from a terrible day prior.
I don't feel good here anymore.
Only actually sleeping for a couple of the eight hours that just passed, I arose from bed to look outside at an already bright and cheerful morning, feeling no cheer at all but rather...displacement. Regardless of the hundreds of villagers we still loved and were in good standing with, not to mention the great kids and youth members we were there for, we no longer felt wanted in Nakavika.
Eggshells and Emotions
I'm a passionate person with the inability to stop oncoming tears. If I well up, the drops inevitably must fall. Therefore, the fact that I cried a lot in the village isn't all that shocking. However, when at home, my tears only come about once every couple of months - a periodic spring cleaning of my ducts, if you will. The fact that I cried virtually every day in the last month in Nakavika did represent something I had to address.
Garrett had been struggling with a feeling of discomfort for a while, distressed about making mistakes and not being accepted for who he was. Especially with all the trauma of the recent events, he dreaded the daily eggshells he had to traverse in order to not offend anyone but still be himself. Being the man in our duo, Garrett felt it was his duty to stick up for both of us (since my similar speeches weren't acceptable as the female), and the battle of misunderstanding slithered deep underneath his skin.
The previous night's antics, the screaming, the rash behavior, the slapping of the head (once again, we weren't on either end of these actions), led us to feel truly uncomfortable in the building we once inhabited and cared for. And the verbal attacks by our neighbors made us irrevocably paranoid and fearful of a chance meet-up and subsequent scream-fest. We cowered in Vita's house, sipping on our morning tea, and watched as one opposing individual stared us down and pointed at us while chatting with another man.
We didn't come to Nakavika to cause troubles. We desperately tried to avoid them at all cost. How on Earth could we have known our mistakes except in hindsight?
The Shameful Switch
Ever since we met Vita and saw the love she exhibited to Jackie and our project, Garrett and I wished we could take her up on her offer of moving under her roof. Of course, upon suggesting a switch-a-roo to Abel, he instructed that it would be a very bad idea, a shameful moment for our previous host parents (even though they hadn't lived in the house for a month while Fane was visiting her family in Vanua Levu).
We decided to stay put time and time again in order to avoid shaming anyone unintentionally, but when we no longer felt safe or welcome in Fane's house, we decided to move houses anyway, hoping to explain convincingly that we just wanted to have the three of us together.
Sunday morning's church service had the entire village occupied, or so we thought. The three of us approached the house for the first time since the blow-out and packed our stuff. When both our hosts appeared from the kitchen, Garrett calmly explained we wanted to join Jackie in hopes of being more productive with our project goals and alleviating them of our burdensome presences.
Garrett thanked them for all their hospitality on behalf of both of us and told them we'd be by often. Fane was ashamed of herself and pleaded we stay put. Weiss needed Fane to translate our actions and started ranting in a terrifying tone. It was not going to be an easy break.
Jackie helped us awkwardly lug all our possessions out of the house, and upon our departure, Weiss spoke up to Garrett:
Gah-ret-tee, are you leaving?
Yes, Weiss, we're moving to Vita's for a couple days, so the three of us can be together before our trip is over.
No, you can't move.
The decision has already been made. We appreciate everything you've done for us.
Then, you must pay rent.
Pardon me? The Turaga ni Koro told us we didn't have to pay rent. You were there and agreed with him. We worked for our rent.
No, you pay rent.
No, Weiss. That's not fair. We all talked about this months ago and reached an agreement.
Then you have to leave the village.
Fine. We will leaving tomorrow.
The look in Weiss' eyes was frightening. How could we have stayed in that house to avoid shaming them when we felt Weiss could pop at any moment? How could we have bridged our misunderstanding and left without causing a horrible issue between us? We appreciated all the kindness of the previous months, aside from the mounding issues in recent weeks that we tried to hash out. We gave them gifts, helped in the kitchen, washed dishes, kept their house squeaky clean while they both were gone. It didn't matter. It was an awful situation.
A Very Sad Day-Long Meeting
There was no doubt in Garrett's mind he wanted to leave the village the following dawn. Jackie was equally determined to follow the change in plans. Being Garrett's partner in this whole endeavor, I had no choice but to back his decision, even though I wanted to stay longer to wrap things up with the kids. At that point, I felt like there was a fine line between tenacity and self-flagellation, but I was willing cry a few more times before calling it quits.
After sharing the game change with Vita upon her return from church, she placed her hand on her heavy heart and implored us to stay, if we could put the past behind us. She represented everything we loved about the Fijian lifestyle and mindset. She was the reason we thought the project had a chance, albeit minuscule, of success.
As we stacked our seam-stressed luggage in the corner, little Anna came to the door to deliver a note. The Turaga ni Koro (village spokesman) was finally ready to discuss our project agreements, unaware of our current situation. We scribed on the bottom of the note and sent it back with Anna to his hands:
We'd actually like to talk to you about a different, very urgent issue. We will come to your house now.
Regardless of the stress we were experiencing, I couldn't get over how much I loved the Fijian trend of note-passing.
The three of us sat, cross-legged, in a row facing the Turaga ni Koro (and his many children rolling around doing homework). Weiss eventually entered the house and sat against the wall. Garrett began explaining the situation starting from the fundraiser to the morning's encounter. I bawled silently next to him, my head hung low so the tears could fall straight to the woven mat between my feet. I felt utterly defeated.
Weiss and Turaga ni Koro (named Mario) spoke for a moment - apparently he still demanded we pay rent - but his efforts came to no avail. Garrett turned to Weiss to apologize, but Weiss wouldn't meet his eyes. Mario stated his position as government representative in the village, therefore his diplomatic status, and took our side as the advocate for his visitors.
Abel entered the room later, unaware we were leaving, which he found out through the conversation. He nudged me to explain ourselves, but I continued to bawl. His face hit the floor.
Mario knew this would be a long day, and he invited us to lunch, which I ate while involuntarily doing my best Eeyore impression. Pulling out the big guns, Mario fed us succulent pineapple, three kinds of delicious meat, and encouraged us to go swimming with his lovable children, some of our favorite personalities in the community. Unfortunately, wading in the teal water with splashing kids on all sides, Garrett and I couldn't find the joy we once couldn't contain for this beloved pastime. Our souls were tapped.
When we arrived at Vita's to shower before the second installment of our day-long meeting, the house was filled with the youth members. They told jokes, talked with us, and begged us to stay for the friendships and the children. After all the dramatic events and dissonance, it was absolute refreshment to hear our boys standing behind us. We really had made friends and been contributing figures in the community. They were proof.
Upon entering Mario's house once more, we were instructed to drink massive amounts of lemonleaf tea, nibble on some boiled cassava, and attend their committee meeting, a three hour all-Fijian event we ended up sleeping through while children ran Tonka trucks up and down our backs.
When the conversation finally opened up to include us, we realized they had been chatting about how to make us stay. Passionate about our passions, supportive of our efforts, the committee dedicated to education and village improvement implored us to stay, each man speaking his piece at a time.
You cannot leave. We want you to stay until the 14th when you were supposed to leave.
We're very sorry, but we no longer feel safe here, based on a couple people's feelings toward us. When it comes to our safety, we have to act in our best interest. We appreciate all your support, but we'd like to alter the project to be run remotely.
You cannot leave. You can stay with the Turaga ni Koro and be his guest. I signed the paper saying you could be here until the 14th.
I know you want us to stay, and we appreciate that, but the decision is absolutely final. It is our time to go.
At first their rebuttals sounded like they would sooner form a human barricade or steal our passports than allow us to leave, but they were actually speaking through their emotions, knowing very well we were able to leave if we needed to. Hours of this passed before Vita fetched us for our last supper, a special final feast she spent all day preparing.
The Sunrise Departure
Once again, my stained ceiling stared back at me, the net entrapping a slew of swirling suckers. It was time to rise and depart. Our addresses scribed on a clipboard of Vita's, she hugged us like children and saw our backpacks into the dark morning. It was a mournful liberation.