Snippets of Fiji (5)

Where the first 4 snippets of Fiji were about life in Bavu village, in Nadronga-Navosa, this post focuses on the culture of the people, and also my last days in the village.

19th July 2018

1945 local time

The night began with a free and easy session with our foster families. The atmosphere was charged with tension, and everyone present felt it subtly. The inevitable was coming to pass; we were leaving Bavu tomorrow, making tonight our last one in Bavu. At the behest of the village elder, we all sat down. It was time to make peace with our foster families and the village folk. The tension that was felt slowly broke down as all of us did the same. Heartfelt words and tears from deep within poured out of both sides as we knew we had to part come dawn. I cried a lot. Compared to my life back in Edinburgh, Fiji seemed like paradise, and despite all its flaws, I had somewhere that I could call home away from home, and a foster family that I didn’t know that I loved until now.

With the tears and sadness out of the way for now, a grand feast was had for all present.

Now we’re setting up for the kids, too.

Our bellies filled and our spirits lifted, the villagers held a Meke (meh-kei) for us to commemorate our time in the village. For those who don’t know, the Meke is a traditional Fijian performance that focuses on the history of the people, the Fijian warrior spirit, and the beauty of the human spirit. A Meke group comprises of a band with vocalists, and a bunch of performers. The vocals and performers sing/dance to the tempo of the band, which can go from a leisurely 60 bpm to a breakneck pace of 160 bpm and above. The best part of the Meke is that the performance is actually audience-inclusive, which means that spectators can actually be invited/dragged up to dance with the performers. While the dance moves are actually relatively easy to pick up, an energetic performance and being in perfect sync in the performers gets difficult at higher tempos, but it almost always makes for a good cardio session. Personally, I enjoyed the Meke session, both from a musical perspective (Fijian guitars are tuned a half step lower than usual, and the songs revolve around strumming 3 barre chords) and a dancing perspective, where I made it a point to have tons of fun. Soon enough, everyone joined in and the session turned into a congo-line/dance off, making our cardio far more enjoyable.

Note: video will be uploaded in the coming few days.

Me and my Meke homies Maone and Esa.

Our bellies filled and our feet tired from all the dancing, we returned into the hall for our last kava sesh with our foster families.

Kava is a traditional Fijian beverage enjoyed during major events (weddings, funerals, celebrations), its name derived from the plant from which it is made from. The kava plant is native to Fiji, and is grown for at least two years before being harvested for its leaves (made into medicines) and the root which is ground into a powder and mixed into water to make the drink. Widely recognized as the Fijian alternative to alchohol, kava has a bitter taste that leaves a strange aftertaste and a slight numbing sensation on the tongue. While the taste might put many off, the beverage is known for its relaxing properties, with 5-6 bilo (bowl) being able to relax the entire body, 10 bilos and more inducing grogginess or even napping. Other side effects of kava include increased visits to the bathroom, as the beverage is also a diuretic, too.

Kava root sample. At 1 Fijian Dollar per 10 grams (0.47 USD, 0.37 GBP), kava is considerably cheaper than alchohol.
Taken from my foster father’s clan meeting. ‘Grogging’, as a kava session is also known as, is bound to have some people napping after 8-10 tsunamis.

There are rituals one must observe when participating in a kava sesh. The sesh is held around the central bowl, with the village elders and honored guests sitting at the head of the ceremony. You have three choices before offered a serving: low-tide, high-tide, and Tsunami, two of which are self-explanatory. While a standard bilo is palm-sized (shown below), a tsunami is easily twice the size of a standard bilo.

While this bilo may be slightly smaller than a normal one, I still take pride that I made this myself from a coconut in our backyard.

When offered your bowl, it is customary to clap once before receiving it, then shouting ‘BULA!‘ to acknowledge everyone around once you received the bowl. Then you chug it. Afterwards, three claps and an optional ‘maca!‘ (ma-tha) says that you’ve finished your portion and honors the ceremony.

Memories. Some of us in the background already grogged out.
While not a part of the ritual, a celebratory dab always adds an extra touch of cheekiness 🙂

And so the night went on and we grogged with each other for the last time.

20th July 2018

0700 local time

I never thought I would say this, but I miss the chickens going off at 3 am.

Our debriefing ride would be waiting for us at the village hall, leaving at 0730. Waking up after last night’s festivities felt like sobering up after a long dream, that the inevitable was coming to pass: we’re leaving Bavu today.

We’re leaving Bavu today.

I miss the roof, where Semi, Johnnie and I would go up to stargaze, or fix the TV antennae for the world cup.

Evening rooftop view.
Morning. It’s really not that far off now that I think about it.

I miss the living room, where we’d have our meals in front of the fridge.

Nice and simple, but forever homely no matter how I look at it.

I miss the open space in the front yard, where we’d horse around and take open air bucket showers in our underwear.

Buckets where we took our showers on the far right, just below the clothesline. The 3am culprits enjoying their morning rice. The grey toilet all the way across the yard. I miss them.

I miss our room, where Jamie and Johnnie would banter on for hours and where Semi would join in on us.

Good times.

Before we knew it, we were walking down the road that we came from 4 weeks ago, towards the village hall.

It just stretches on forever, but someday we knew we had to leave. (Jamie on the left, Johnnie on the right).

Dragging our feet, small talk amongst ourselves, the hall grew closer and closer with each passing moment. That familiar sight, where we normally played touch rugby and all manner of sports, now filled with villagers and volunteers, a blurry sea of people. Blurry? Something touched my face and flowed down it.

Wasn’t R&R supposed to be something to look forward to, after all the work we put into our village? Now only in the crowd of villagers and volunteers, steps away from the ride, I realized I didn’t want to leave. From the depths of my chest, a deep rush of emotion suddenly overcame me, like getting hit by a massive tidal wave, and I realized it. My foster mother realized it too. She looked at me, tears in her eyes, and I let the mine flow. Spasms wracked my body as I started sobbing uncontrollably, holding her tightly in our last embrace.

Vavai, Father. Lewa, Mother.

“I’ll miss you” was what I made out through our sobbing.

“I’ll miss you too, Tai.”

“Thank you for everything…”

“I’ll never forget you, Johnnie, and Jamie..”

“I promise to return someday, I swear it, I’ll be back, you hear me?!”

I don’t know if I can fulfill it, but I swore on it. I needed to come back home, to return to my other-family away from home.

Saying my final goodbyes to the community that showed me that I could be that 14-year old version of myself without any fear, to bring out my talent and help share it with the people around me, I let the flood loose. Fighting back more tears, I looked back at them as I stepped onto the truck.

We’re leaving Bavu today.

I remember the last sight of my foster family, standing behind the truck as they pulled away. Nothing but footprints and memories I carried with me, but a world of grief and hurt as I left home, possibly for the last time.

I miss them, and until then…



See you later.



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