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Sunday, October 7, 2012

Sunday Lunch with Joe and Tiesla, Suva, Fiji

September 25th 2012 Sunday Lunch with Joe and Tiesla Suva, Fiji Cruising requires a great deal of planning and we gather our information from a variety of sources. First there is the big scale planning: deciding where we want to go and what time of year is best for our passage there, what paper charts we will need and which chips we need to buy for our chart plotter. Then there is the rest, the micro scale of information gathering that for us is usually being done underway right up to the moment we make our next landfall. For that we turn to cruising guides and compendiums, information from other cruisers, Lonely Planet and Moon travel guides and locally published visitor guides. We spend hours on passage pouring over information and now that we are traveling internationally my favorite part of the research is learning the local customs of the country we are about to visit. I usually end up spending a few hours during our passage pouring over a Moon Guide. These popular travel guides give a good overview of each country from Customs clearance and Visa requirements to how long we can stay and how long the boat is allowed to stay (which oddly is almost always different from how long we are allowed to stay ) along with a list of formalities for checking in and out and for any movement within the country. There is always a section covering the countries history, politics and religion(s.) They chart out the seasonal climates including temperature and rainfall and list information about the flora and fauna of the regions. The country is then further divided into regions for travel. The generally have a good section on what to do and see when we travel with a section on restaurants, farmers markets, grocery stores and other shopping, how to ride the local buses and use the local taxis. If there is a movie theater in town the books even let me know if we will find movies in English. My favorite part of every Moon book is always the section on local customs and culture. The Pacific Islands have been rich in cultural differences. In Samoa we needed to know that our choice of clothing needed to be modest, that the local churches were a huge part of life there and that is would be considered rude to walk down the street eating or drinking anything. In Tonga we were told we shouldn't take people pictures without their permission and that again the dress was to be modes and also that if we wanted to go swimming in view of the locals we would have to do it basically fully clothed. Here in Fiji we learned about the custom of presenting “sevusevu” -a gift of kava root- to the chief or mayor that gains ones access to the village, its anchorage, roads, beaches or reefs. We also read about the customs surrounding being taken under the wing of a Fijian family and the process and pitfalls of gift giving. We had been warned that if we were invited into anyone’s home we needed to be careful about admiring anything because it would be quickly offered up as a gift. We had read that it was common for Fijians to ask for things that we would need to be careful of being put in a position of giving away things we really can't live without like binoculars, our VHF radios, our outboard motor and even the line off of our boat. Despite the write up and warnings we were still amazed at how quickly we we adopted into our first Fijian Family. We met Joe and Tiesla as we stood in line at the DigiCell kiosk waiting to buy a SIM card and a data plan. Joe struck up a conversation with Bill and literally in less than five minutes we had plans to spend Sunday lunch in their home the following day. From the moment we met it was obvious that Joe was thrilled to have found us and was excited to be our “first Fijian friends.” They took their new job quite seriously and immediately abandoned their own Saturday plans to accompanied us through town and back and from one cell phone shop to the next until we had both a working phone and up and running internet too. Once that was completed Joe squired us back through the city to find a doctor -on a Saturday - to treat Bill who now had his own version of my Tongan skin infection. The tropics are tough on skin and we have now both had abscessed skin infections that required antibiotics. Joe especially took his new job every seriously. On the way to the doctors office we stopped a the bus depot so he could point out the correct bus to take the next day and then at the doctors office he gave us another round of instructions on catching the bus. He kept explaining and we kept reassuring him but no matter what we said Joe seemed pretty sure were were going to get lost. The fact that we had made our way halfway around the world didn't seem to have left us much credit in his eyes but eventually he left us there at the doctors in order to meet Tiesla at the market so they could do the shopping for the next days meal. His eyes were filled with joy when we parted saying “now you will come yes?” On Sunday morning he called again -we were in town again at DigiCell to try and fix a glitch- to check on us and ask if we could come an hour earlier! When we finally arrived at the parking lot of their home church he bounded up to us and quickly bundled us into a cab and off to their home to meet the family. The family of five live in a modest neighborhood on a street with rows of carbon copy houses. Theirs is a two room, half of a duplex on a street filled with families walking home from Sunday services. Tiesla was already inside and busy preparing our Fijian lunch while Joe introduces us to Susanne Collins, 8, Joe Jr, 6 and Meme, 4 along with Nana #1 and Nana #2. There home was tiny but neat and tidy. The main room was roughly 10'x16' and held a single table, three chairs, a small refrigerator, a two burner stove and a separate one burner stand alone cooker, a single counter with a small sink, two wooden hutches one filled with dishes and utensils the other with family photos and boxes of papers and other bits of family life. There were woven mats on the floor and the standard south pacific centerpiece -a large flat screen. We were formally ushered into two of their three chairs (along with Joe) while the rest of the family sat on the floor and spent the next several hours as their honored guests. We visited and talked and asked questions back and forth while Tiesla finished preparing the meal. She served us fish cooked in coconut milk, a local green similar to spinach, fresh cucumber slices and a chicken and veggie noodle dish. When we were first served we sat quietly watching for clues to try and avoid any social blunders. We waited for the others to begin eating but soon realized that it was only to be the two of us and Joe. Our meals came with spoons as did Joe's which I think he was using as a show of solidarity but he soon abandoned his for the local custom of eating with his fingers. Tiesla and the two grandmothers sat quietly watching us while Joe explained the local custom: everyone else would wait until we had been served, then the children were served and finally we were offered seconds, “please eat you're fill.” Only when we had declined seconds did the women take a plate. Guests get first dibs on everything and if we had eaten every bite they would have gone without. The three kids were well behaved and also obviously catered too, especially Joe Jr. I brought along a batch of brownies which were a huge hit especially with little Joe who was on fourths or fifths by the time the rest of us finished our meals. Afterward we talked about their lives here and asked questions about the language and then practiced our Fijian. Susanne Collins taught us our numbers and apparently my attempt at twenty something made some hilarious reference to my feet! We learned about their church, the church's new primary school, the fund raising efforts to build a secondary school and bits and pieces about their lives and their customs. Tiesla's mom, Nana #1 comes every week by bus on Wednesday from Nadi -a five hour trip across island -to stay with the family. She stays through church on Sunday and then returns to her home again. The other grandma is actually not a blood relative. She attends the family's church and though she has three grown children of her own in Suva she spends her family time with Joe and Tiesla. The afternoon had barely begun when we started to learn our own lesson in Fijian gift giving. Shortly after we had arrived Joe stepped into the second room to get out of his go to church suit and came back out with a mans shirt in his hands. He came to Bill and instructed him to take off his shirt -how do you react when someone stands in front of you and says take off your shirt? Bill did as he was asked and stripped off his own shirt and received as a gift one of Joe's prized button down Fijian dress shirts. He explained that with this shirt hanging in our closet we could never forget him. A few minutes later Bill decided to try to reciprocate the gift. The weather had been cool and wet and he had packed his only pair of still decent Levi's in his backpack as a just in case so he pulled them out and offered them as a gift. At first Joe acted reluctant but beamed and then soon had them on and was strutting around the living room fashion show style showing them off. A few minutes later Bill pulled out a baseball hat that was also tucked in his pack and it too was accepted and worn amidst giggles and grins but then quickly taken off and placed high on the top of a shelf. We later remembered that we had read that as palage (off island white folks) it was considered rude to walk through a village wearing a hat or sunglasses and then realized that in our days wandering around Suva we had not seen anyone wearing a hat. After our meal we watched rugby, -Suva won, Nadi lost- and gave balloons to the kids. We drank tea Fijian style with milk and sugar and ate “pancakie” a deep fat fried pancake served with a dusting of sugar and nibbled on a typical Fijian snack made up of dried salted peas, peanuts and little crispy noodles similar to the canned Chung King noodles from home. We learned a lot about Fijian life and Joe explained about his plan to buy a piece of property in the spring. He hopes to build a bigger house and start an export business growing and shipping Fijian produce. He said he knew there was a growing community of Pacific Islanders in the states and Australia whom he was sure would buy up all that he could grow and ship. He invited us again and again to come back any time and told Bill he could help with the farm. We could too if we wanted, build a home of our own so we could come and go to the boat and our travels but then would always have a place of our own as part of his family when we return to Fiji. Then Joe mentioned how nice it was going to be when we all returned to our boat for a little trip. Uh oh, I hadn't prepared for guests or planned any food. Plus our outboard was not working very reliably and ferrying everyone out might be a challenge. Worse, it had been raining with thunder and lightning off and on all day so maybe not the best day for a trip out with the family. No problem, they will wait until the weather has improved and we will all go out for a little turn in the bay. Eventually it seemed like it might be time to go but it was hard to tell. Were we expected to stay all day? Had we overstaying our welcome? Finally it was explained that it is custom for the guest to ask for release from the gathering. OK time to say our goodbyes. There were short speeches of appreciation from Joe and modest thank you's from Tiesla and finally a tear filled speech of gratitude from Nana #2 before it was time to make our way back to the main road to catch a bus back to the waterfront. The grandmothers stayed at the house, waving and crying and waving some more while the rest of the family walked with us through the neighborhood -apparently showing us off- and back to the bus stop. At one point on the way Joe said to Bill “let me see that shirt you had on.” So Bill obligingly opened his pack and pulled out the shirt he had worn to lunch. Joe told him how much he would like to have it so that he would never forget us. OK, one shirt, one pair of Levi's and one baseball hat. A few moments later Joe's flip flop broke when Joe Jr stepped on it and poor Bill instantly looked down at his own sandals with a flash of wonder as to just how he was going to make it home barefoot. What a nice way to spend a lazy Sunday and wonderful to now have someone we know in Suva. We will wait for the weather to turn dry again and then make an afternoon of burgers and chips aboard Island Bound -after we've decided on some appropriate gifts and hid away the things we cannot live without. Kat

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