February 23. The day before, we finished up the night with another kava ceremony. After a dinner of delicious stir-fry, made by Oro’s mom, and pineapple, the family built a large bonfire. It kept the flies away while we sat in a circle, wearing our sarongs, and kept us warm throughout the ceremony, for the night was surprisingly cool. Oro taught us the finer rules of the ceremony, telling us that men were supposed to sit cross legged, while women sat with their legs to their sides. Lauren, who was a professional at this already, didn’t need telling twice, and helped us when we slipped up in our manners.
She has already become part of our group. Her cheerful, polite, kind and quiet attitude blend in perfectly. I expected as much. I haven’t met one person this month that I haven’t liked immediately. She has been craving American contact for 3 weeks now, and it has made me become wary of the Gap for Good I will be doing in Thailand. I know I will be able to make friends in the areas where I will be going to, but I don’t know how it will feel to go from a great group of kids, to practically isolation. I do, however, have a group of 3 kids in China. That could be a comfortable transition into the Gap for Good.
The Fijian culture, in these highlands, is not so far from modern society. They have no electricity and only go out into town once in a while. Yet, they eat cereal and snack foods, love listening to modern music, and have a fond liking of brand name clothing and sports jerseys. The women still must wear sarongs most of the time, and even the girls in our group must wear clothing that covers their shoulders, but they are surprisingly well developed for such an isolated area. They do, however, carry their own water from the river for drinking, bathing, and washing and most of them still hold to their ancestral traditions. Kava is almost their life force here. Almost every Fijian starts drinking it when they are at least 22 and most love the taste, though I don’t see how they can. They also still grow their own tobacco, which their descendants grew and smoked as well. They say it is healthy, but I’m skeptical. The leaf is pure, laced with no chemicals, but they do wrap it in newspaper. Also, smoke entering your lungs is never healthy.
After the kava ceremony, I felt rude not taking some and could only go for the tsunami, I was ready for a good night’s sleep. We dragged our half numb bodies, filled with warmth from the fire and an abundance of kava root, out from the circle and tried to find our way back to our huts. Stumbling through the doorway, we crawled into our sheets. I was asleep before I hit the bed.
I woke up naturally the next morning. No alarm clocks, no yelling leaders, and no obnoxious nature noises. It was a blissful experience. Even when I arise undisturbed I am the early riser in the group. The river looked inviting, so I took an early morning bath and brushed my teeth. By the time I climbed the stairs to the surface everybody had awoken and I ready to have breakfast. We had no change in diet, and I was slightly disappointed. I have developed a habit of trying new foods here and would have loved to taste a native and distinct breakfast food.
Our original plan was to hike to a waterfall today, but due to the overcast weather we changed our schedule. We decided to build a river raft today. We would build it out of bamboo, which we would cut down from the forest, and string which we would cut from a local string plant. We were given each a machete and trudged off into the wild. We walked for about 10 minutes before stopping at a large bramble of bamboo trees. Oro’s cousins began cutting down the trees, showing us exactly how to cut them safely. We cut down 25 trees, slipping and sliding through the mud because of the downpour of rain. I underestimated the sharpness of the wood and cut my hands several times. We had to lug each tree, which was about 15 feet long, back to the road where we began our hike. It took around three hours until we had all of the wood. The girls, meanwhile, had cut down the string for us and came back with wide trunks of flexible plant. Covered in sweat, water, and blood, we took the materials to the edge of the river, where we would raft down until we came to the farm.
The Fijians were already experts at making the rafts and informed us that we would only hinder their work if we tried to help with the actual making of the raft. So, without anything cumbersome to occupy ourselves with, we skipped rocks by the lake and climbed trees to jump down into the water. I, at least, constantly glanced at the progress of the job, however. It was usually to see them stripping the string plant into long, thin strips to make the string or to see the bamboo being pulled together to make the long and skinny raft.
When it was finally finished, we all jumped onto it, nearly sinking our days’ work. Oro led our group down the river while we pushed each other off and capsized multiple times. It was relaxing and satisfying. Every day is an adventure, whether we are in the car for 8 hours or working to build a crude river raft, always we are having fun and learning something new about everyone. As we floated lazily down the river, Oro’s cousins threw us fresh guava from the surrounding trees. We munched happily for a long while, cherishing the fruit of our labor and the fruits in our hands. The raft came to a halt abruptly and we realized that we were back at the farm.
The rafts were left on the bank of the river and we climbed up to the top of the cliff towards the farm. Andrew and I nearly sprinted to wolf down our dinner. We hadn’t really realized how much time had passed and how hungry we all were. Breakfast seemed like an age ago. It was, yet again, another delicious meal of rice and veggies (they eat meat very sparingly).We are all satisfied at the moment, except for Andrew who eats like a tank, and we are sitting in the living room. I pray to the man who invented the card game of president, because it has made some potentially boring moments, like the next hour, into some great and fun times.