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Monday, February 28, 2011

No More Kava

                February 24. After breakfast today we took a hike into the village where we met the chiefs and had a proper kava ceremony with them. It was a 30 minute walk (in our sarongs) to the village and we had to cross rickety, skinny logs that were makeshift bridges in order to get there. I wasn’t looking forward to a hike today and distracted myself in talking to Olivia.

The high school clique started to fade when we arrived in Queenstown and by now our 2 groups have merged. I have gotten to know Claire, Ariana, and Olivia more than I had and they are all great people. Claire is incredibly confident and is hilarious because of her disregard for what people think of her. Ariana is a down-to-earth girl with a genuine kindness and a dorky, but positively upbeat personality. I have already stated that Olivia is kind, friendly, and a great conversationalist with a slight attitude (which brings a change to the conversation, but never a negative one). Yet, I’ve recently noticed that she is adventurous, relatable, and blunt (she speaks her mind freely and confidently).

                When we finally arrived at the village, we were greeted with enthusiastic “Bulas!” everywhere we walked. The village seemed undeveloped, but pure in its culture. Here, they take nothing for granted. They use every material they can get, which makes their houses look more like squatter-homes. We entered the chief’s home with relief, for it had started to rain during our hike. It was a simple home, but one of the more luxurious ones. It had several couches, mirrors were placed oddly around the room, and there was a curtain that divided part of the room to make a sleeping area. The chiefs were 2 withering, old men who were already sitting in their perspective places for the ceremony. One of the chiefs looked eagerly at us, clearly enjoying our visit, while the other gazed lazily outside, seemingly bored with the events. Before taking our seats around the “Mother Bowl of Kava” we introduced ourselves to the chiefs. They shook our hands, one more energetically than the other, and introduced themselves as we introduced ourselves.

                We sat down and began the ceremony. There wasn’t much difference between the other ceremonies than this one, except the chiefs were served first and were the ones saying “Taki” as we finished our first rounds. The chiefs were relatively quiet throughout the ceremony, only displaying their presence by laughing at a Fijian joke or clapping before someone had drank their kava. The mother bowl was enormous and took several “Taki’s” to finish the kava. I fought back a look of revulsion during my first high tide, but everyone in the group saw right through me and laughed. Then something much worse happened.

                They brought out a bowl roughly the size of a human skull. It replaced the tsunami and was about double its size. Andrew bet me I couldn’t drink a bowl of it. I had to sustain my dignity, for Claire, Olivia, and David had already had one already. I asked for the bowl and Oro’s face broke into a grin. He handed me the bowl and turned to watch (he knew I hated kava). It took about 10 seconds for me to gulp down the entire bowl. It was 10 seconds of repulsion. The bowl was so daunting I had even forgotten to clap and say “Bula!” before I drank, but nobody seemed to mind. Andrew looked impressed, but another ruthless expression crossed his face as he asked me to do another. So, I did another and one more after that because he had bet me again. It was a good thing that the mother bowl was empty at that point, because any more kava and I would have probably thrown up.

                My mouth felt completely numb as I said goodbye to the chiefs, each giving me an approving smile. I walked out while the others teased if I was even able to walk straight. Surprisingly, it was only my mouth that had become numb and even that wore off within minutes. The walk back was enjoyable enough. Most of us just talked about the ceremony.

When we got back to the farm, it was time for a quick lunch and then off to pack our things. I wasn’t reluctant to leave the farm. It was fun, but I was ready for a proper shower and a day without becoming completely dirty. We said our farewells and jumped into the trucks (I made sure I was in the cushioned truck for a change). We stopped for a while in Nadi where I was able to buy souvenirs for home. Then we rolled back to the eco lodge outside Nadi.

We spent the rest of the day in the pool and showers, happy to cool off and get clean. I’m really looking forward to tomorrow, we are going to a beach comber island for our last few days, just as a vacation (not like this entire month hasn’t seemed like a vacation).

Hollow Rafting

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.