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Monday, January 7, 2013

2013, 01-04 A visit from Barbara and Trip to Yalobi Village, Waya Island

     After cyclone Evan we were ready for a little R&R. But between settling in to our new Fiji home and the cyclone we had not strayed far from Vuda Point so when my great friend Barbara flew in from Seattle for a visit it was time to step out and do some exploring. Despite the long flight she was up for tagging along so off we went on a bus ride to Lautoka for some groceries and her first real look at Fiji. Then with the promise of a cooling breeze and a dip into warm blue water when we arrived she was even up to setting sail for Malololaili's Musket Cove anchorage. We spent two nights at Musket Cove then had a great sail north to the island of Waya where we would all get to experience our first real outer island village.

     First on the agenda when we arrived at Waya was a trip into the village of Yalobi. Before we could tour the village or set off to snorkel or fish we needed to meet the island chief and present our sevusevu. Sevusevu is a gift of kava -or yagona as the local Fijians call it- respectfully given to the village chief. Armed with the name of the village chief from friends back at Vuda we landed the dingy and asked directions to Tai Toms bure (Grandpa Toms house.) As we walked along a well worn path through the small village people were up and about and busy with the days work. The path took us through lines of bures and past the village church towards the high hills that rise behind the village proper. We were surprise by how green everything was despite Evans recent rampage especially since the trees around Vuda were stripped almost completely bare. Once near the Chiefs bure our guide went to alert the chief to our arrival. After a brief wait nearby we were ushered inside his small house and instructed to sit down on the woven floor mat that took up most of the small room. We were introduced to Chief Tai Tom who is chief of the largest of the five clans on Waya Island. Once settled on the floor we passed over our sevusevu which Tai Tom accepted and then paused to say a prayer over the kava. Once the gift was excepted he answered a few of our questions and told us who was in the photographs that lines ceiling edges of the bure. Then with a nod and a smile he welcomed us again and gave his permission for us to freely walk the village and to enjoy the island for the rest of our stay and stated the rest of our visit was free.

    The village was wide awake and at work getting ready for the evenings New Years Celebration yet when we stepped out of Tai Toms bure we were immediately invited into the home next door for tea. This home seemed to be the main bure for Tai Toms clan and quickly filled with other clan members and a gaggle of kids. After introductions all around we were invited to settle once again onto the floor mats for tea and bread. The ladies of the clan had been busy preparing fresh baked breads for the celebration and there was a line of platters along the mat heaped to overflowing with scones and slices of buttered bread along with tea cups filled with boiling water and the leaves from something they grow locally. Everyone present welcomed us and asked questions while passing around the breads and a big bowl filled with sugar for the tea. The room filled up around us as other clan members came in to say hello and then slowly emptied again as our celebrity status faded into the more important duties of the upcoming party. Finally as we headed out the door to venture further into the village we ere heartily asked back for lunch and dinner and of course church.

     After excepting the invitation for lunch we set off through the village to explore. Every person we met offered a hearty bula! And everyone seemed eager to stop their New Years preparations and visit a bit. We left a trail of balloons for the kids as we worked our way along the village paths and stopped to talk with a couple of preteen boys who were playing with their pet iguana who seemed happy to rest atop one boys head heartily chowing down on hand fed hibiscus blossoms. Next we were invited into another home to peruse some goodies offered up for sale and Barbara had her first chance to shop for souvenirs. We came came away with a salt cellar shaped like a kava bowl, a handmade rag rug, a green shell bracelet and a cannibal fork. Human flesh was -for some unknown reason- not to be touched with ones hands. Go figure. I wish I could be there to hear the conversation at her next potluck dinner when she brings out the new serving piece.

     Next stop the dispensary where the new island nurse was settling in accompanied by the district doctor and the outgoing nurse. The nurse was on day one of a three year assignment and Barbara being an emergency room ARNP helped lead the walk to the village dispensary. Next stop was a visit with a couple of older gentlemen who were sitting in the cool shade. Simmi and Api chatted us up for a few minutes while more kids were lured in by the balloons. Interestingly Simi leaned in and whispered his wish for three balloons for himself before suggesting to Bill that they would be happy to teach him how they fish if Bill would be willing to pick them up in our dinghy the next morning for a bit of fishing. With a time set up to meet for fishing the next morning we walked on headed for the islands elementary school.

     The boarding school was currently empty -closed down for summer break- but normally is filled with 150 of the islands elementary aged children. The school is a great asset to the village as most school in Fiji comes at a price. The governments have been promising free education for years but apparently the only place that promise has come true is in some of the islands outer islands. The city folks of the two big islands still must find a way to afford tuition, books and uniforms along with room and board for those who must travel. Unfortunately for we were trying to cross the beach to the school at high tide and had a choice of wadding in up to our belly buttons or trying back another time. We decided to stay dry and instead headed back to the boat for a quick swim before lunch with Tai Toms clan.

     We had been told that lunch would be from 12 to 1 which evidently meant that it would begin sometime between 12 and 1. We arrived back at the clans biggest house at about 11:45 where we found no one seemed to be remotely ready for lunch or for visitors. I managed to committed an obvious faux pas by peeking in the door way and stepping in when we saw a few of the people we had met that morning. We had returned with a bowl filled with orange slices and a jug of juice to share and so I stepped inside with a friendly smile and outstretched hands. No one spoke and then I noticed the look on Tai Toms face. There were no words to understand but the look was obvious, a major faux pas. I should not have stepped inside so we whirled around again and out the door. We stood there a moment sort of shuffling our feet and trying to interpret what we had just done. It caused a tiny ruckus and soon we were escorted across the grass to a nearby home and instructed to sit on the porch with a one legged man who was sitting in the shade watching the village go by.

     We waited there on the covered porch sitting cross legged on a mat with our back up against a pile of lumber waiting and chatting with the man whose porch we were apparently occupying. Eventually lunch began to appear and clan members turned up. The women began bringing out big pots of food and someone brought a table cloth nd spread it out in front of us then brought plates and silverware. Eventually serving dishes of food appeared. We all three just sat there trying to read what was expected of us until I couldn't stand it any longer and went over to offer up the juice and the fruit and offer to help. Reluctantly they allowed me to carry over a plate of food and then we were encouraged to serve the food around. Evidently we were eating with the one legged man and everyone else would be eating across the way under the porch of the clan house. We were served smoked fish, rice, curried potatoes with tinned fish, creamed taro leaves and stems and lobster in coconut milk. Eventually a few other men came and set at the end f the porch but their only real interaction was to ask Bill for a jug of diisel to fuel the village generator “to pay for our nights at anchor.”

     We left lunch feeling a bit awkward but with another invite to attend the 4pm church service which it was our intention to attend but back on the boat we swam and rested from the heat and hemmed and hawed over whether or not we would go back for church. The night before while at anchor we had heard the church service in action. The village generator was cranked up to power a microphone and the resident pastor was in high form. Between periods of lovely singing the man spent several hours yelling and screaming at his flock and quite frankly we were all inwardly hoping to come up with some excuse for not attending. So once the subject was open it became clear that since no one had their hearts set on attending we would quietly sit this one out. We all swam, I managed to whip up some pretty authentic chicken khorma with rice, roti and chutney and Barbara had a bit of time to break out her drawing pencils and get a bit of sketching in. Yes I'm sure the services would have been an experience but it was one we just couldn't throw any enthusiasm into.

     At eight the next morning Bill set off to pick up Simmi and Api for some reef fishing leaving Barbara and I drinking our morning caffeine and happily chatting away the next few hours while we waited for the dinghy to return so we could get in some snorkeling. The fishing was going to take some logistics though with first a pick up of the boys in town then a trip back for a tour of the boat and some orange drink some fishing gear and the gift of a baseball hat for Api. Surprisingly the guys didin't return for several hours but they had three nice fish with a fourth set aside for bait. We took a fillet off the walu (Spanish mackerel) put the bait fish in the fridge and sent the rest home with Simmi and Api with plans to meet again at dusk for more.

     Barbara and I were off to snorkel s soon as Bill returned from dropping off the boys and we were in or a great treat. The snorkeling at the pass between Waya and Wayasewa was the best I had seen since Fakarava. The fish were abundant, the coral was alive and colorful and the visibility was decent despite Evan kicking things up. I have been surprised and alarmed at the state of most of the coral reefs I have seen during this trip. I am no scientist and have little to make comparison other than Bill and my 2003 trip to Tahiti where we were enchanted by the colorful coral gardens. But everywhere we have been the majority of the reefs have been dead or dying. At times it felt like the whole worlds ocean are nothing but a giant dust storm of gray covering reefs and rocks. Fakarava being the one exception. Even the exact reefs we experienced in Tahiti ten years ago didn't hold a candle to the memory we carried of them. Some of that might be faulty memory. We remember the Tahitian islands of Huahine and Raitea being gardens of color swimming with fish. Were they really that much better then or have we just experienced more of both great and not so great reef diving and snorkeling? Perhaps some of both but Fakarava and now Waya renewed my belief that there is still some amazing places to see. On the other hand sadly it means that our worlds reefs are being wiped out at an amazing rate by nature -such as cyclone damage- and by man from pollution, over fishing and too much contact. OK off my soap box. It was great snorkeling there even if we didn't see a single reef shark -much to Barbara's relief.

     That evening after fish tacos Bill gathered up his fishing gear careful to search out a few lures and flashlights he wasn't going to regret leaving behind. Simmi nd Api were showing him how they reef fish but as most Fijians they were not shy in asking for things as gifts. So he packed up some gift lures he felt we could live without, a couple of flashlights (torch in Fiji) we could spare to loose and measured out the gas to be sure we would have enough one for a final morning snorkel trip and set off to pick up the boys. With torches in hand they set off to the outer reef at seven and didn't return until ten! They had a bag full of fish and Simmi and Api seemed happy as Bill ferried them back to the village with new flashlights in hand and all the fish. A long day for everyone so we were all off to bed with plans in mind for a final 8am snorkel then back to the boat to weigh anchor for our five our trip back to Vuda.

      The next morning suddenly our plans were changing -as plans often do. A bleary eyed Bill climbed out of bed to go to the loo and was astonished to see Api sitting atop an odd plastic kayak/raft. It was 7am, Barbara and I are both still in bed ( I have been awake aproximatly 90 seconds now) when I heard Bill say “ummm do you want to come aboard?) Api it seems was on a mission. He was patiently waiting outside for us to wake up so he could ask a question: would we be willing to take Lucy back to the mainland with us as she needed to return to work in Nadi. No problem. But almost before Bill could finish saying yes to Lucy coming with us for the five hour passage he was asking if we could also bring her daughters. OK, change of plans.

     Now for any of you who don't know all that well I am NOT a morning person. I have been known to become a little ….umm...grumpy when changes are thrust on me. So here I'd been awake for about 90 seconds thinking first that company was suddenly coming aboard and then hearing that we are taking strangers on as crew for the passage home.

     A five hour passage in Fiji is pretty much paradise for us: but it can be hot, really hot. We would be sailing for five hours in the blazing sun with just so much shifting shade available and no groceries put in for the trip and no juice, no soda, no plans period for doubling up our crew list. OK, it took me a moment or three but I can get on board with this but OK, regroup, new plan.

     First on the list our snorkel trip: a bit shorter maybe but one last chance for Barbara to experience our Fiji home with mask and fins. Then back to the boat to gobble down cereal and complete a rush job on preparing for passage while Bill heads in to the village to pick up our passengers where surprise, surprise, Simmi has decided he would like to come along too.

     I now have four extra guests for the day none of whom have ever been on a sail boat and all of whom are soon lounging comfortably in the cockpit. Simmi settles in with an air if it is his castle. He takes one of the two cockpit cushions and stakes out the shadiest bit of cockpit where he stayed while we got underway. Once the getting underway work was done -boat tours for all, lessons on flushing the toilet, dinghy on davits, ladder up, fenders up, anchor up, everyone settled, gates closed and sails up- I sit down on the combing with the sweat dripping down my face while Simmi turns to me and informs me that Lucy needs to be in Nadi by 3pm for work. But it was 11am and we were still four hours away from the marina and another hour by bus away from Nadi. I explained that I was sorry but it would be a five hour trip and that there simply wasn't anything we could do about the timing. He frowned and scowled and explained that the power boat the villagers usually make the trip on only takes an hour!

     With no shade left in the cockpit I retreat below to the dinette to cool down and stretch out on the cushioned dinette seat while Simmi sits staring down at me through the companionway. Once I cool down it's time to try to pull something together for lunch. An hour or more of passing things up and down to the cockpit commences as I begin by pouring cups of orange drink, peeling and cubing a pineapple and making up a platter of tuna salad sandwiches. Poor Bill must have winced when he innocently asked me if we had any of those brownies left while I was trying to juggle the line of dishes returning to my sink, refill the drink glasses, clean up the pineapple juice on the counter and grab the last half a tuna sandwich while the sweat poured into my eyes and I began feeling the telltale signs of being seasick wash over me. I barked at him and told him the brownies were going to have to wait I needed to come up for some air!

     After lunch (and brownies) I looked down to see Simmi stretched out on the cushy dinette seat below. No problem one less body in the cockpit was a good thing. A bit later I went below for another lesson on toilet flushing and Simmi informed me while wearing his own baseball hat and holding on to my last remaining custom embroidered Peterson 44/Island Bound baseball hat that he would like a baseball hat of his own since we had given one to Api. I explained he couldn't have mine it was special to me but scratched one up for him from our cabin. He accepted it with resignation then napped while I moved outside. After the nap I found him staring at me again and went below to find out what he was up to. He explained that he would also like to have one of our solar panels so he wouldn't have to rely on the village generator for light. At this one I almost laughed but he went on to explain that since we were heading for Vanua Levu and the town of Savu Savu in a few months he would like a ride there with us and we could perhaps bring the solar panel then.

     Now first let me explain that when we leave the island of Viti Levu after cyclone season it will be our first opportunity to explore Fiji's other big island. When we go we will want to explore the parts of the Yasawa Group we can't make it too this season and the northern end of Viti Levu and so will meander our way to Savu Savu over weeks. Sorry Simmi you're not coming with us. I will also state that I have no problem sharing with people and in fact we came to Fiji prepared for this part of their culture. But as I found myself making a mental inventory of what we had given away in Yalobi and wondering what I was really feeling inside about the gift giving experience I started to understand the fine line between the Fijian normal of asking for gifts and those who take it far past that norm.

     That inventory? Two baseball hats, the 2L pitcher I took to lunch filled with juice, a Rubber Made collapsible bowl, 4 lures, 2 torches, a tank of premix (plus two tanks for fishing,) all the fish save for one fillet, lunch, a pan of brownies, five packets of juice and four free rides to the main land. Plus he asked for the solar panel and the extra dinghy we have stored on deck. Simmi had the whole thing down to an art and simply asks for whatever catches his eye expecting and knowing that if he keeps asking eventually something is likely to trickle down. I explained that since the panels are special marina panels and couldn't easily be replaced we simply couldn't do without them. He pouted and went back up on deck. None of the things we gave away could we not live without. And yes we were able to say no when we needed. On one hand it felt good to be able to give something to people who we know do not have a lot. In fact we had planned for it with purchases of rice, canned goods, school supplies, hooks, soap, laundry powder, lolly pops and balloons for the kids purchased just for our time in Fiji. But when the fine line was crossed giving to Simmi began to feel..........creepy to use Barbara's term.

     We made it back to Vuda without incident and grabbed the center buoy instead of our spot at the quay so we could offload everyone via the dinghy to shore. We were worried that offloading people and bags over the bow to the quay would be too difficult since it often requires tightrope walking and some pretty big jumps or climbs. SO pictures all around and lots of waving and they were off to find their way to Nadi.

     Honestly the day turned out to be an adventure. And in between conversations with Simmi it was a grand opportunity to ask questions and learn more about Fijian life and village life particularly. All of our guests spent at least part of the trip napping in the heat (they explained they had all been up late drinking yagona for New Years the night before) which opened up time to talk one on one with everyone at least a little bit. Lucy explained that she likes living in Nadi and would never consider moving back to her home village. She likes being a city girl and being able to flip a switch for alight, watch tv and shop whenever she wishes. Her daughter Tupo lives with her mom in town, works and has her friends on the mainland. Both explained they grow bored after a few days in Yalobi. Maggie was most interested in knowing we were hoping to go to the Lau Group in the spring which brought tears to her eyes as she explained she hadn't been back to her village in over ten years. She gave me the names of people we can look up when we arrive which will be a great way to break the ice there. Simmi I could do without seeing again but since we are likely to go back to Yalobi I will have to learn to love.

     At dinner a few nights later our friend Grant on Lochiel shared his own experience in Tonga: he had been asked to take one man to the mainland and maybe one of his friends but arrived to pick him up to find 12 giant Tongan men waiting for him. They were so big he had to take five trips to his boat to get them all aboard! I just hope the next time there is no one floating around our boat for an hour in the wee hours of morning waiting for one of us to stumble to the loo. Kat


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