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We’re Celebrities!

SV SuAn leaving Navatu Bay

After meeting the people of the village in Navatu Bay we were excited to visit more of these island villages here in Fiji. This is, after all, why we travel in the first place. So, this morning we hauled our anchors and set off to Nadi Bay which is just a short 20 miles or so away. We motored the entire way because there wasn’t even a whisper of wind. In fact it was so calm that it was hard to tell where the ocean stopped and the sky began but still it was a beautiful trip as we snaked our way through the treacherous reefs. I must be getting used to this whole reef business because the sphincter factor remained a cheery yellow the entire time. Either I’m getting used to it or I was so calm because SV SuAn was leading the charge and I knew that as long as we followed them they would hit the reef first. HA HA HA

We arrived in the bay shortly after noon and dropped our anchors in about 8 meters of very good holding sand and mud. There is a large reef that extends out from the shore so we had to anchor further out than normal which will make the ride in to the village take a bit. The good news is that it should keep the mosquitoes away from the boat. Most mornings and evenings we’ve had to put our screens in the companionway to prevent those nasty pests from attacking. We’ve been warned of Dengue Fever. Apparently in Savusavu they currently have 28 cases. For those who are asking, yes, you can get vaccinated against it but when we were in México and inquired about it we where told the shot would cost something like $1500 USD per person so we decided to take our chances.

Anyway, here we are in this most beautiful anchorage with a large village set on the northern shore of the bay. After enjoying a couple of anchor down beverages we set off to shore. As we approached the village there were several men in the water. One was riding a horse in the water and others were attending to a small fishing boat that was moored there. Everyone smiled and waved as we made our way to the beach.

Once on the beach we were greeted in a most grand fashion. There must have been fifteen young men in their twenties all waiting to greet us. Each shook our hands and told us their names and they all gave us such warm and welcoming smiles. One young man barely let us get on the beach before he was asking to have his picture taken with us. Yes, believe it or not, he had a smartphone and couldn’t wait to take a selfie with the Kepelangis. Of course we happily obliged.

One dear young man took the lead and led us up the narrow, muddy path to the village. This village looked much like the one in Navatu. The houses are made of corrugated metal and are small with openings for windows and doors but few actual windows. There were lines and lines of drying clothes and people milling about as well as the obligatory dogs. Each person we passed stopped to shake our hands and welcome us to their village. They all told us their names but of course we met so many people we can hardly remember them.

The young man led us to the home of the Chief. We are greeted by a very pretty woman dressed in blue floral clothing. Her skirt is navy and pale blue flowers and her top is white with royal blue flowers. It’s very common here in the islands for them to mix up the prints. She was very well put together with a pretty matching necklace and earrings and she asked us to come into their home. Another woman in her late twenties or so with two small children was also inside. We can only assume she is their daughter. She was so excited to see us that she was literally beaming and jumping about giddy with happiness.

We were instructed to sit on the floor as usual and Lutz was told to place our Kava offering in front of the woman in blue. Suddenly I thought we may be in one of the rare villages where the Chief is a woman but we were then told she is the Chief’s wife and that the Chief is out working in the farm but would be home later.  After some Fijian banter back and forth between the Chief’s wife and the young man who brought us there she tells us he will take us through the village to meet the Taraga Ni Koro. He’s the Chief’s first in command who will give us a tour of the village.

We were offered a Mango flavored juice. This put each of us on edge a bit as we were told by the Health Officials when we checked into the country that we should always drink bottled water. I watched as the young woman put a powdered mix into a used plastic coke bottle and then filled it with water from their sink. Unfortunately it is almost impossible to say no to these people and quite frankly it would appear rude so we all drank the orange colored drink and prayed no one would get sick. 

We learned that the village has around 260 people in 48 homes. There’s a school here that has 130 students of which many come from nearby villages. There are eight teachers at the school and from what we saw, they are mostly men. They have solar power as usual but they are only allowed to have power from 1900 to 2200 hours each evening unless a family can afford to pay for power. Most cannot afford it.

And while we asked many questions there were two that we asked that revealed rather shocking answers. We asked how many boats come into their bay and how many of the boaters actually come into the village. Shockingly we found that so far this season fifteen boats have anchored in the bay yet we were the first cruisers to actually come ashore to the village.

As I discussed in the last article, there is a custom that should be adhered to here in the islands. That custom dictates that as visitors we are to go ashore with a gift and ask permission from the Chief to anchor in their bays. The gift is typically Kava root but could be just about anything from sugar, flour, tea and rice to books or school supplies. The point is that you don’t just come here with this entitlement attitude. This is their country and their rules and customs should be followed. Furthermore, what is the point of cruising and visiting other lands if you don’t actually take time to get to know the people there?

The fact that so many cruisers come here expecting to take and do whatever suits them is not one that sits well with any of us. It, in fact, makes us all look like rude, selfish tourists. We’ve already seen in Tonga how this has made many of the Tongans not like the cruisers at all. Our request from any cruisers making their way through the islands is to please take the time to do what’s right and customary for the locals. They are kind and welcoming and you owe it to them to respond in kind and follow their customs.

After spending fifteen or twenty minutes with the Chief’s family we were led back out through the village with the young man who had led us up from the beach. As we walk through the village we eventually meet up with the Taraga Ni Koro. He welcomes us with a big smile and handshake. He tells us he will take us up to the school. Along the way each and every villager stops what they are doing and comes out to greet us. It’s hard not to feel like some sort of celebrity as we walk along.

Just before we reached the fence at the edge of the schoolyard we stop and they show us a small greenhouse filled with saplings from a tree of which, I apologize, I can’t remember the name. They grow these trees for the seeds they produce. These reddish purple colored seeds, when crushed, produce an oil that is used in perfumes. This, along with fishing is what supports this village.

The next stop is the school. It sits on the top of the hill and is rather large compared to those we’ve seen in other villages. Of course with 130 students it has to be large. As we enter through the gate the first thing we see is a large field used for athletics. To the east end is a very torn and ragged volleyball net and it’s just near that edge of the field where there is a small building that houses the kindergarten. This is where we are led first.

The teacher here has twelve students who come to school from 0800 to 1200 each day. It’s a very small building but she has it nicely decorated for the children and just as you’d see in any school anywhere, there is artwork on the walls that was created by her students. There are three children there who are excited by our presence and begin coloring for us.

Top Left is the kindergarten teacher with three of her students. To the right the men sit outside of the kindergarten discussing the village. Bottom left is Lutz, Gabi & Dan with some of our wonderful hosts. The man in blue is the Taraga Ni Koro.

The children from the big school are let out for recess as we are at the kindergarten. Before we know it there are children covering the field. The boys are playing rugby and the girls are playing volleyball. All of them are constantly stopping to stare at the four white people at the edge of the field. Along the way up to the school Dan stops to play a little volleyball with the girls. They all giggle as he and the Taraga Ni Koro join in their game.

Further up the hill is the main school. Here we are greeted by two very nice gentlemen. One is named Mac and again, sorry, but I don’t remember the other’s name. By this point we’d met well over fifty people. We spend a half hour or so talking with them about the village, schooling and the challenges they face. One of their biggest needs is books for the children. These could be any sort of books, dictionaries or textbooks or even books meant for casual reading. They asked if we have anything like that on board which unfortunately we do not. We did tell them, however, that we will be coming back this way next year and will do what we can to bring supplies and books to their village. After all, they have all been so kind to us. If we can bring some supplies to help them, we would be honored to do so.

After our school visit we head back down through the village. Once again the villagers stop what they are doing to come out and talk with us. They are really too kind. Just as we are about to the end the of the village tour we come across their vorlo (meeting house). It is brimming with activity. Women are scurrying about like ants and it’s obvious something big is taking place. One woman asks me to come inside and take some photos and wow, what a treat! As I walk through the door of this long building there are women sitting on the floor on either side of the doorway. In front of them are several very large pots. Each is filled with some type of food I’ve never seen before. The only thing I recognize is fish and it’s small fish approximately six inches long. It looks just as it did when it was fished out from the ocean. It is whole and their glassy eyes are looking a bit frosted over.

The women at the pots are scooping the food onto plates and passing them to others who are then placing the plates on the long mats. It’s a well-oiled machine even though it appears a bit chaotic to an outsider. Around the edges of the room there are men sitting and even sleeping on the floor as they await the feast that is about to be served to them.

Back outside a mob of school children have found us and are all clamoring for our attention. They all want to have their photos taken. Once you take photos they immediately want to see them. I’m not sure if it is the feast about to be served or the spectacle of us but more and more villagers begin to arrive. We met one particularly well-spoken man, Benjimi, who has been in the village for several days. He and his group are evangelists there to preach to the villagers. He asks us to join them in their feast, however, the tide is dropping quickly and we need to get back to the dinghy and get out before we have to carry it across the huge reef so we thank him but politely decline.

The young lady in blue is Gracie….my helper!

It’s time now to leave these wonderful people so we are led back down the hill to the shore. When we reach the muddy, somewhat slippery part of the path I comment to Dan that I hope I won’t fall. Before I know it a lovely young lady, Gracie, about eight or ten years old, grabs my left hand and begins to escort me down the path. She looks up at me with her beautiful brown eyes and infectious smile and says, “Don’t worry, I won’t let you fall.” It’s at this moment that I realize I have reached the age where children actually think of me as elderly.  Thankfully I’m too happy to dwell on that fact now. I’m sure there will be plenty of time for that later.

By the time we reach the shore there are probably twenty-five children and a half a dozen men there to see us off. They help us to push the dinghy out and we say our goodbyes and thank them all for the wonderful visit to their village. As we pull away the entire crowd is yelling, “moce”and waving. It is a scene I don’t think we will ever forget and I wonder as we are leaving if the cruisers who just anchor in these bays and refuse to visit the villagers really know what they are missing. 

How could you not want to come ashore and visit these amazing people?

Until next time,

Jilly & Dan

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Meeting Chief Lepani

Traveling to foreign lands is about much more than seeing the sights. It’s about meeting the people and today we met some very wonderful people on the island of Nasonisoni which is located in Navatu Bay just off the southwest end of Vanua Levu.

If the Chief is around when you take the sevusevu to shore then there is usually a big ceremony that occurs where one of the villagers will grind the root and mix the drink. It is then served first to the Chief who will approve of the mixture. Once he drinks it his guests will be served. Unfortunately on the day Lutz & Gabi took our sevusevu to shore the Chief was not there so they left it with his first in command, called the Turago ni Koro (Prounounced too-ranga nee koro).

We arrived in Navatu Bay two days ago. Our friends Lutz & Gabi of SV SuAn arrived just a few hours ahead of us. They immediately went to shore and presented a sevusevu on behalf of all of us. What’s a sevusevu? Well, I’ll tell you. This is typically an offering of Kava that is presented to the Chief of the village to ask for his blessing to allow you to visit the village and anchor there. Kava is the root they grind up and mix with water to make a very muddy looking tea. It tastes like I would imagine old socks would taste but they drink it here. It has a mild sedative affect, which I suppose helps keep the villagers from getting too restless.

Today we all decided to take a trip into the village. Lutz & Gabi picked us up in the dink and we headed to shore. We were greeted there by two women who were relaxing near the water. They did not appear to speak much English but we communicated with our limited Fijian. After a few moments we headed up the narrow concrete path into the village.

The homes here are made from corrugated metal and all look pretty much the same. Some have doors and windows and others have only openings. All have curtains made of bright, floral fabrics. These same fabrics are used to adorn the walls. The grounds around them are amazingly well manicured. I say amazingly because when you know how little they have you wonder what tools they actually use to keep things so neat and tidy. There are deep red, muddy trails in the bright green grass that lead off of the concrete walkway to these tiny homes and everywhere you look you’ll see laundry hanging out to dry and dogs running around.

It didn’t take long for our presence to be known throughout this tiny village with women calling out “Bula” from their homes. It’s almost as if they are warning the rest of the village that there are Kepelangi (white people) in the village. Before long we had a complete entourage of young children following us, holding our hands and smiling the most beautiful smiles you’ve ever seen. We get the impression that few cruisers actually stop at this island and we are somewhat of a novelty to them.

Lutz & Gabi brought lollys for all of the children and they were very excited to receive this sweet treat. As we continue to walk through the village taking photos and greeting the villagers our little welcoming committee follows along. Soon we are greeted by a woman named Ma’a. She’s probably in her forties and has a wonderful and engaging smile even though her teeth show a lack of dental care.

Ma’a leads us to the vorlo ,which is their meeting house. In some countries they call it a fale but they look the same and serve the same function wherever we’ve seen them in the islands. As we arrive at the doorway we take off our shoes before entering. There is no furniture, only large woven mats on the ground where we are instructed to sit. Men are to sit with their legs crossed and women with their legs bent and off to one side. We are dressed properly with our shoulders and knees covered and it is expected that our knees are to remain covered. At my age sitting like this and trying to keep my knees covered for a long time is very difficult but somehow I managed.

Within moments the Chief arrives. His name is Chief Lepani. He’s 70 years old and has lived here his entire life. He’s about six foot tall and is wearing a t-shirt that has the sleeves cut off. As he enters the hall he is wrapping his sulu (sarong) around his waist. He greets each of us with a big smile and asks our names and where we are from. He then tells us to take a seat on the floor. The men gather at one side and us women and all of the children are off to the other side.

The children, oh the children. They are so delightful and curious about us. They can’t seem to get close enough as they keep inching their way closer and closer. Ma’a introduces us to another, older woman also named Ma’a. This woman turns out to be the Chief’s wife although we did not know it at the time. She is so sweet and insists on kissing us each on the cheek. She sits down between Gabi and I and the entire time we are there she touches my arm, kisses my cheeks and fans me with her fan.

We learn that there are roughly 160 people who live in this village in 24 small hut-like homes. The small children have school in the vorlo each morning while the older ones are taken by boat across the bay where they pick up a bus which is actually a large truck with an enclosed back much like a military vehicle. The “bus”  takes them to the next village over for school. We’ve seen them as they all wave and yell “Bula” when passing by Dazzler on their way to or from their pick up point.

While we are visiting our new friends more and more villagers begin to come into the hall to meet us. It’s almost as if we are some sort of celebrities here. Before we knew it there were probably thirty people, adults and children, all milling about and asking us questions. Chief Lepani sent one young boy to his home to get his world map. It’s a laminated map of the world that is filled with little cartoons and icons for the different countries. He unrolls this large map and asks Dan & Lutz to show him where we all are from. The children hover around the map watching and listening as the men speak. We asked the Chief if it would be okay for us to take some photos and he agrees so Lutz, Dan and I all snap some pictures to memorialize our visit. The younger Ma’a asks me if we can bring back some printouts of the photos to which I told her I would try as our printer ink seems to dry up rather quickly out here.

We stayed there for about forty-five minutes or so but because the tide was going out we decided we needed to leave so that we don’t have to carry the dingy out to deeper water. We graciously said our goodbyes and thanked everyone for their hospitality. Of course our entourage of children accompanied us back through the village to the bay. Several of these delightful children even insisted on helping us push the dinghy out. We actually had to tell them to stop because they kept walking as the water continued to get deeper. These little darlings waved and waved while calling out “moce” (Pronounced mothay which means goodbye) as we pulled away.

On the way back to Dazzler Dan decided that since Chief Lepani loves maps so much he would bring back an old chart we have of Fiji and the surrounding countries and islands. Lutz & Gabi dropped us off and Dan went about searching for the chart while I got the printer out and created several collages of the photos we took and printed them to take back. With our gifts in hand we headed back to shore.

Of course the moment the children heard we were back they were right there to escort us with their beautiful smiling faces. Ma’a (the younger one) showed us where the Chief lived and he came out to greet us. He asked us into his home. His home, of course, is a bit bigger than the rest of them. I counted four rooms. A kitchen with a wood-burning stove that was more like a raised pit with large wooden pieces that crisscrossed the fire. There were three very old metal pots sitting on top. In the next room which I guess would be considered the living area, there was no furniture, just large woven mats to sit on. The walls were adorned with various, colorful fabrics that were hemmed using a stapler. Through one curtain I could see the bedroom. I guess since he’s the Chief he gets the good stuff and the bed in there was raised off of the floor on a wooden frame. There looked to be a nice mattress on it and it had a navy blue blanket covering it. This is the home of the island Chief. No, it’s nothing much but it is a step up from the rest of the homes there.

Dan presented him with the chart and he seemed very pleased. As Dan was showing him the different places on the chart his wife, the older Ma’a, sat beside me kissing my cheek and putting her arm around me. She was so sweet and kind that I wanted to give her a small gift so I took the flower from my hair and put it in hers. It’s a silk flower I had added a wire to so I can wear it in my hair. She absolutely loved this very tiny token of my affection and smiled brightly while again kissing me on the cheek.

Since our visit was unannounced we stayed only for a few minutes before saying goodbye to our new friends. Ma’a walked us out and allowed Dan to take a photo of use before we left. As we turned to walk away I saw her walk to the other Ma’a’s home showing her the flower and telling her it was from her Jilly. I couldn’t help smile thinking that my little gesture made this woman’s whole day.

The children accompanied us back to the bay. Along the way they were yelling out “moce” to their families as if they were leaving with us. It was absolutely adorable! Again they insisted on helping us to push the dinghy into deeper water. Of course that was after they all took turns climbing in and on it. Dan allowed them their fun for a few minutes and then told them we must leave. As we drove away they all waved until we were almost out to the boat.

Today was a very wonderful and humbling experience. When you meet people who literally have nothing and you see how happy and friendly they are to complete strangers, it brings a wonderful, warm feeling to your heart. I’ve not doubt we will never forget these lovely souls or our time there.

Many thanks to Chief Lepani and the people of his wonderful village who welcomed us so warmly.

Until next time,

Jilly & Dan