by: Tessa Voss
When most people think of Fiji they think of beautiful beaches and flashy resorts. They think of high class and luxury. They see dollar signs. Well, contrary to popular belief that is only a very small part of Fiji, and I would argue that it is not really part of Fiji at all. Yes, maybe these images can physically be found in parts of Fiji, but they are not part of authentic Fiji. The time we spent on Denarau was full of what I mentioned above, but the majority of our time in Fiji was rather the opposite extreme.
One of my absolute favorite parts of our trip was our time in Ligaulevu Village. We had the opportunity to be the first group from Auburn University to take part in a homestay. We spent our first couple of weeks on Vorovoro learning about Fijian culture and tradition and then were able to put what we had learned into practice in a real Fijian village.
Tuesday, May 30
This was our last day to prepare ourselves for the homestay. We presented our traditional meke to Tui Mali for approval and had our homestay prep meeting. During our prep meeting Wati and Nemani filled us in on all the need to know information. They reminded us how to properly enter a village and a home. They thoroughly explained proper table and meal etiquette. And they went over all of the things that are tabu, or taboo. When going through the prep meeting I could see the excitement that filled Team Fiji’s eyes. This was our time to make them proud and show off all that we had learned. Although our group was a bit overwhelmed and nervous Team Fiji was very excited for us. One of our fearless leaders, Nemani, told us that we were no longer students of Auburn when we step foot in the village. He told us that we were students of Vorovoro and represented Tui Mali and his family – yikes! Thank goodness for the immense grace the Fijians have. We were continuously reminded that respect was the key to our success in the village and no matter how bad we messed up if we approached the situation with respect and humility it would all be okay.
Wednesday, May 31
We arrived at the village late morning. We exited our boats and entered the village in traditional fashion. The men went first saying, “Ho. Ya.” The women followed with a, “Manavaduuu.” We then went to the community hall where we met the villagers and had a presentation of kava, a root crop known for being a gift of high respect in Fiji. We were then introduced to our host mothers and taken to our new homes. After being introduced to my host dad and welcomed into their home my mom showed me around the house, and then to my room. The house consisted of four rooms – two small bedrooms, a large living area, and a large kitchen/dining area. Eight people lived there. Is that not crazy? It was simple and very tidy. After that we started on lunch. She taught me how to cook potato curry and roti, a spongey tortilla type bread. She let me have a go at rolling out the roti and although I epically failed at rolling out perfect circles she encouraged me nonetheless and told me I was a natural – ha! The rest of the evening was filled with chatting, meeting the rest of the family (the six children staying in our home), a village wide volleyball game, church, and a late night of grog.
Thursday, June 1
This day I ate breakfast with my host mom and dad. This was the first and last meal he shared with us. My mom gave me a tour of their garden, and we then spent the morning as a village planting yasi, also known as sandalwood, trees. The significance in this was that yasi is worth a lot of money when it is fully matured, and when the original white people, the British, came into Fiji they stripped the country of this natural resource. By planting yasi, it signified that we were there in support of the people to help and work alongside them, not to take advantage of them. We then spent time cleaning up the village some in preparation for the big dinner that night. We were under the impression that we would all get to eat together, but then come to find out that was not the case. We ate first and then they ate what was left, because that is just simply the kind of people they are. They always put others before themselves. The night was full of washing dirty dished under the stars (it was the least we could do for them), church, meke, more grog, and lots of laughter.
Friday, June 2
Friday was our last day in the village. I enjoyed one final meal with my mom and then off to the school we went. They had a very special program put together for us consisting of meke of their own, singing, and an individual introduction of every student. We then introduced ourselves and presented them with new rakes and a weed cutter. After that we broke up into classes and spent time playing games and crafting with the children. We then spent late morning cleaning up the school yard followed by lunch at one of the school teacher’s homes. The rest of our day was spent playing sports with the children. Around two, we headed back to our homes to say our farewells to our families and then on to the shore for our final goodbyes. These were gut wrenching. The villagers lined up on the shore in two lines and we walked down each side and hugged the necks of every individual before walking out to the boats. Many tears were shed. On the way back to Vorovoro, we were soaked due to rain and rough waters. It was a very fitting for the mood we were in.
As we rounded the corner of Mali island though, we saw something incredible – a rainbow that connected Vorovoro to Ligaulevu village. I kid you not. It was there and it left us awestruck. What a perfect ending to such an incredible experience.
Staying in the village for a few days put a lot of things into perspective. It is one thing to hear and learn things, but a very different thing to see and get to practice what you have learned. While on Vorovoro we were constantly learning, but we were still in a little bubble. The homestay forced us out of that bubble, and out of our comfort zones. We were actually able to be a part of a Fijian family. I will not pretend that we truly got the full Fijian experience and lived as one of them, because in a lot of ways we were still treated as honored guests, but I think it is the closest you can get without moving to a village in Fiji. We got to see authentic Fiji and I genuinely feel sorry for those who do not know what is outside the boundaries of the resorts, because what we experienced was far more beautiful than the whitest beach in the country. It was a different kind of beautiful. The heart changing kind of beautiful.