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Making A Difference

This morning we traveled through miles and miles of coral reefs to one of the most amazing islands we’ve seen in Fiji. Kia Island is a beautiful little island about 15 miles from the main island of Vanua Levu. It’s a motor trip as there was barely a breath of wind when we left the anchorage. It’s another one of those mornings where it’s hard to tell where earth ends and heaven begins. The closer we got to the island and the later in the day it became those beautiful Pacific tradewinds began to blow and provide a wonderful breeze. Of course by this time we were nearly at our anchorage so we just continued to motor.
The plan was to anchor on the northwestern tip of the island, which is a bit remote and there is no immediate village so no need to jump off the boat and run to shore for sevusevu. A great reef surrounds the island but it is close to a mile and a half away so there is plenty of room for fetch to pick up when the wind blows here. About an hour after we had our anchors down the wind picked up to close to 15 knots and the fetch began to kick up as well. Before long we were rocking and rolling pretty good and the problem was that we were being blown into the shore, which is surrounded by a large coral reef. No, this was not a good thing so we called Lutz & Gabi on the radio and discussed the possibility of moving around the corner where we’d be more protected. Of course by now time was of the essence as it was 1600 hours and the sun was low in the sky. No one wants to anchor at night in a place like this so we jumped up and started moving.
SV SuAn led the charge as we rounded the corner. There is a small village on the shore and they moved in to take a closer look. They told us there was lots of coral and we were still getting some wrap around fetch and wind so we moved a little further south to the village of Ligau to see what we could find there. This anchorage still has a whole lot of coral near the shore but we could see expanses of beautiful sandy bottom in about 10 meters of water. Yes, it was scattered with some rocks here and there but it appeared to be the better anchorage so we called Lutz & Gabi and suggested we take this spot for the night. They agreed and headed our way.
It didn’t take long to find a good spot and before we knew it we were anchored down, having a beer and enjoying watching all the villagers as they came to the shore to see what was going on and who was anchoring in their waters. We all decided to spend the evening on our own boats and head to shore in the morning for sevusevu.
As we were sitting on the back of Dazzler enjoying our sundowners several fishing boats came by to check us out. Everyone was friendly as they waved and greeted us with their warm smiles and a boisterous “Bula!”. The first boat that came by had a gentleman in it who was rather nicely dressed in a colorful blue, bula shirt. For those non-Fijians out there you would probably refer to it as a Hawaiian shirt. This man introduced himself to us and welcomed us to the island. His name is Mare (I may not be spelling it right but it’s pronounced Ma ray). He was very sweet and we told him that we planned to come ashore in the morning and hoped that would be fine. He said it would and went on his way.
The next morning Lutz & Gabi picked us up and we headed to shore to do our sevusevu and hopefully get a chance to explore the island. I say hopefully because the fact is that here you need permission to explore these villages. While we’ve yet to be denied it, you can’t just expect it either.
As we neared the shore we saw a few young children playing on a fishing boat that was anchored near the beach. They were directing us where to go. Soon a man on shore began waving his hands and motioning for us to come through a particular path in the reef. It wasn’t long before we all had to abandon the dinghy and walk through the water to the shore. Once the dinghy was anchored safely we approached the beach and the man who helped us navigate our way through the coral.
The man’s name is Buki and he is tall and has a very pretty smile with kind eyes. He is a bit soft spoken but was very willing to answer all of my questions as we walked down the beach. He led us to the home of the chief’s brother, Ben. It was there that we presented our sevusevu as well as some gifts of Frisbees, beach balls, drink mixes and nail polish for the girls. Ben speaks very good English and was extremely welcoming to us. His home is a bit different from many of the island homes we’ve seen in our travels. It actually has some furniture. No, there was not a lot of it, just a few items to make it a bit more comfortable. Even at that we observe tradition and sit on the floor for the sevusevu.
Once we are all seated Dan presents our gift of Kava as well as the other items we’ve brought along to entertain the children. For the first time since we’ve been doing this we experience a more traditional sevusevu ceremony. While we don’t partake in the actual making and drinking of the Kava, Ben does do the blessing we’ve heard about. It was nice to see and experience the event even if we didn’t understand it because it was all said in Fijian.
Next it was on to the school. Ben, Buki and a few young children accompany all of us to the school, which is just a short walk from Ben’s home. Fortunately it is almost lunchtime so we won’t be interrupting their day. At least that’s what we thought as we headed across the field toward the two buildings that encompass the school.
When we near the buildings we see the kids all staring out the windows looking at the four strangers who have entered their village. There’s an actual vibration in the air as they start to move around like electrons bouncing off of each other in a microwave. You can see and feel the excitement in these curious young children.
As we get closer a wonderful man named Epeli greets us. He tells us the English version of his name is Abel. Epeli is the acting head schoolteacher and is very kind to us. He welcomes us and before long, the students seem to pour out of the rooms and envelop us like a cloud on a mountaintop. Each child is smiling and looking at us with a sort of wonderment in their eyes. Many of them extend their hands and ask our names and where we are from. There are so many that it feels like a great reception line in which we are the honored guests. Honestly it can feel a bit odd at first but once you embrace the gentleness of these intriguing and kind souls it becomes something so special it’s hard to explain.
These children want so much to know you and know all about you. They are thirsting for knowledge of the simplest kind. First they wanted to know our names and they used them over and over. They asked about where we were from, how we got there, what countries we have visited and so many other things. Many asked me to see photos of America, New Zealand and Tonga in my phone. They are so curious about the outside world that in one respect you want to show them every single thing you can but in another you are afraid of tainting their world with the ideas of foreign lands and things they may never see or experience.
Ben sat on the porch in one corner of the school and handed out the Frisbees, beach balls and other items we brought along. As Epeli showed us around the school we soon found two young ladies in one of the classrooms painting their nails with the polish we brought. They seemed delighted with the treat. Epeli told us normally he would not allow them to do this at school but our arrival brought with it a special occasion. We sort of felt a bit bad for disrupting their day as we had but he assured us it was good for the children.
The children seemed to gravitate to each of us for different reasons. The boys stuck tightly to Lutz and Dan while the girls followed Gabi and I around. We each seemed to have our own entourage of sorts as they grabbed us by the hand and led us around the schoolyard. Two exceptionally wonderful and outgoing young ladies made themselves my official ambassadors and showed me all around the school and its grounds. Something I found very special was their excitement and desire to show me their brand new library. It’s only been there for a few months and is unmistakably new with fresh paint and freshly stained floors. What was sad for me is the fact that there are lots of shelves but so few books. It is very obvious these children are thirsting for knowledge and reading. This is something Dan and I both felt and something that had a profound effect on us.
After an hour or so at the school we all decided we had created far too much ruckus and must move on. This is, after all, was a school day and while our visit may be a good disruption, it is a disruption that could go too long so we decided to say our goodbyes. This became an event all of its own. In fact, it took so long to say goodbye that I began to feel like I was back in the South again. You know us southerners are very longwinded when it comes to goodbyes. We typically start saying goodby about an hour before we plan to actually leave a place. It starts in the living room, then we make our way to the front porch and after more chatting we end up in the driveway. Eventually we are sitting in our cars and finally, after an hour or so we leave. Well, this was very much like that only it took place between the school and the athletics field as the children continued to follow us, shake our hands and say, “Moce”.
We eventually were able to kept moving as we left the children at the edge of the athletics field. They continued to wave to us until we were out of sight. Buki walked with us through the village showing us the church, his home and the brand new vorlo (meeting house) that was almost finished. In fact there was a man inside working on some of the finishing work as we passed by. Soon however, we were back at the shore and it was time for our visit to end. We thanked Buki for the wonderful tour before pulling the dinghy out of the shallows and boarding it.
We all went back to our boats to pick up some snacks and our snorkel gear. About an hour later Lutz and Gabi came by and we all took off again for a circumnavigation of the island. This time we took two dinghies in order to be safe. After all, if one breaks down we still have a way to get to safety.
We headed around the south end of the island first. The water was very clear but a bit choppy. As we rounded the northern tip of the island near where we had briefly anchored the prior day we pulled up to a beach to have a picnic. It was a very secluded little cove with clear, blue water and a coral sand beach. We found a log to sit on and Gabi spread a small towel on the ground where we placed our mismatched snacks of fruit, crackers, cheese and vegetables. Here we spent the next hour or so just chatting about of village experience, boat life and all of the adventures we’ve been so blessed to enjoy.
Until next time,
Jilly & Dan
P.S. This village visit encouraged Dan and I to put together a book drive for the children of these small villages. Soon we will provide you, our followers, with an address in the United States where you can send reading books for children in grades 1-8. We will gather the books and ship them to New Zealand. Next year when we return to Fiji we will distribute them throughout some of these small villages. Please keep checking back for more information.

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