February 20. I was supposed to be my room’s wakeup call at 6:30am, but I actually slept through the loud and obnoxious sound that usually wakes me. Apparently everybody else slept through it as well… Yet, I was still blamed for our lateness. Erik yelled at us to get up at 7am (the time we were supposed to be leaving for the airport). We threw our belongings in our bags and raced down to the van. Not surprisingly, we ended up waiting a few stragglers. Staren, Olivia, Claire and I had a brilliant idea to grab a Subway breakfast while we were waiting. It ended up taking about 10 minutes too long. Everybody, yet again, blamed me for being 10 minutes late (instead of blaming the stragglers).
The drive wasn’t a long one. It was gloomy, yet exciting to say goodbye to New Zealand. I watched the landscape on the way to the airport, soaking in as much as I could before we arrived. As we unloaded our bags from the car, we were split into 2 groups. Claire, David, Ben, Jade and I were flying Air Pacific, while the others had connecting flights from Christchurch to Auckland and then on to Fiji.
My half got our tickets and headed to the gate. Little did we know that our flight had been delayed by 2 hours. While the others shopped (in order to kill time), I bought a combined book of the Lord of the Rings Trilogy, which was the answer to all my prayers. It’s over 1100 pages, and looks as daunting as a dictionary, but it will undoubtedly keep me occupied for some time. We ate lunch and settled down at the airline lounge. Finally, it was time to board the plane. As soon as it took off, I crashed. I slept for the entire 4 hours and only awoke when the plane roughly landed in Nandi Airport.
We were immediately greeted by singing and dancing locals and, after an hour through customs, we met up with our other half. Elise drove us to the Rustic Pathways base in Nandi, which is much more comfortable than the hostels we have lived in. We were warmly welcomed by the base members and one other Rustic student, Lauren. She is here for 5 weeks on a Gap for Good, which is what I will be doing in Thailand.
The culture shock was such a blow to me. On the way to the base I noticed how undeveloped this country is compared to New Zealand, and I wondered how I could transition to this lifestyle. I found that it wasn’t hard however; you just need to get used to little or no bath water and develop a fondness for trying new things.
We ate dinner, which consisted of rice, savory vegetables, and ripe pineapple. Then the staff announced that they would be preforming a Fijian welcome ceremony shortly. We were handed sarongs and taught what to say and how to behave during the ceremony. I was already sweating bullets in my jeans and I wasn’t eager to put on another piece of clothing.
When we all had our sarongs on, we sat in a circle for the ceremony. The head of the group, Oni, had a large bowl in front of him. He explained to us that we would be drinking cava in order to immerge ourselves Fijian culture. Cava is a root, grown on this island (Veti Levu), which calms the mind and body and makes your mouth go numb. To start making the cava, Oni took a substance, which looked oddly like dirt, and poured it into a strip of cloth. He poured water over the cloth, while Indae, his assistant, kneaded the dirt inside of it. It produced a muddy brown liquid, which Oni promised would taste like chicken soup. I was eager to give it a try after that statement. Oni grabbed a large bowl and dipped it into the cava. Indae clapped 3 times as he did this. Before Oni drank he said “Bulla!” (Which means hello/welcome) and chugged the cava. Then Indae clapped 3 times again. We were obviously supposed to follow suit.
There were 4 types of bowls that you could drink out of. The tsunami, the largest bowl, high tide, about the size of a cup, low tide, half a cup, and pussy, which is the smallest bowl. No one was foolish enough to go for the smallest bowl and, out of respect for their culture, most of us chose the tsunami. When it came to me I said “Bulla!” and drank deeply. I almost gagged from the taste. It was like eating dirt off the ground. I pretended to enjoy the drink as I handed it back to Oni. He smiled with a toothless mouth and I tried to smile back, but my lips were numb from the drink.
When everyone was finished Oni yelled “Taki!” My first thought was thank god, it’s over. As I was standing up to leave, however, I caught sight of Oni handing out the bowls again. I grimaced as Indae explained that Taki meant “Again!” The second tsunami made my tongue go limb. After the fourth there seemed to be a dull throb coming from my arms. I was about to throw up from the taste and I doubt that I could have drank another one. Before Oni could yell “Taki!” Elise jumped up and stated that we were all very tired after our long journey and needed a rest. I have never been fonder of a person than at that moment. Oni opened his arms wide and put on an understanding smile. He named us all honorary Fijian visitors and sent us off to bed with his unwavering grin.
We were led to our villas afterwards. Most of us are peeling off the clothes from our bodies before we take showers. I had to immediately write this down because it was the first real cultural experience I have had in ages. Even though it was an experience I hope to never encounter again, it excited me to learn more about a culture, which is what I set out to do during these 4 months. I wish I could write more about today, but my hands are slipping from the keys even now. The cava was more powerful than I expected.
You can look forward to some different, but no less exciting, blogs in the next 8 days. Please keep posting any comments, feedback, or questions that you may have. They are what keep me typing, even when my body is slowly becoming numb and useless.