Updated: Jan 30, 2018
By: Sarah Brown
Family. What an odd concept. People assigned to others to keep in contact with one another and to always love each other because of shared DNA. Why is it that America has deemed family as only those of similar blood? Of course, there are people who are extremely close with a family, but when it comes down to it, most aren’t invited to Christmas dinner. Why do we live in such exclusivity? Why don’t we include all instead of few? These are the questions I began to ask myself while in Fiji.
Fijian family is vastly different from American ones. Not only does Fiji consider family as those of blood, but they include everyone who walks past their door as family too. In Fijian culture, when a family is inside their house having tea or a meal and they see another person walking by, they will ask that person to come in and have tea or that meal with them. They are so quick to include others. They are so quick to care for those who don’t biologically belong to them.
While being on the island for only a few days, I was referred to as a sister by one of the Fijians – Bale. He had claimed me as his. I had been initiated into this Fijian family without even knowing it. From then on, the inclusivity multiplied. We were all considered family to the Fijians, especially to Team Fiji. Misi constantly called me sister, and Wati would always answer me, “Yes, my daughter?” Team Fiji was so quick to extend their hand in bringing together both teams. They wanted us to feel welcome in their home. They wanted us to feel like family.
While staying in Ligulevu, my host family immediately accepted me into their home and family. My Fijian mother Paula introduced me to each family member as my sister or nephew or father and then their name. They proved the importance that, above all, I was family – I was accepted. This inclusivity and love that they showed me was beyond anything I’d ever experienced. They genuinely accepted me as their own. When we left Ligulevu, there were many tears; not simply because we were sad to leave our new friends, but because we were heartbroken to leave our new family members. They continually told us that we were welcome back anytime and always had a home in Fiji.
Leaving Vorovoro altogether was immensely heartbreaking as well. We had grown so close to the Fijians. I love them dearly, and my heart shattered to see them leave. These people had become closer to my heart than my own family. They loved harder, the cared deeper, and they accepted me. They showed me that family is a choice. A choice to open your heart to another and let them in completely or to stay closed off. I experienced this decision while I was there. Would I close myself off and keep the Fijians at a distance because I know I’ll leave soon and it’ll hurt, or do I open my heart to them and accept them as they have accepted me? Praise the Lord I opened my heart.
Through this decision to open my heart, I was able to befriend the most special man I have ever met in my life. At the beginning of the trip, I had no idea who Bogi was. He is extremely quiet and stays out of the way, so he stayed under my radar for a while. Eventually, I heard him say something hilarious, and I knew we had to be best friends – and that’s exactly what happened. Our friendship continually grew while I was in Fiji. We got to know each other; we laughed together; we loved each other dearly. After leaving Fiji, I missed Bogi fiercely. I longed to speak to him again. One day I got a call from a Fijian number. I answered it and heard a familiar voice on the other end say my name as only one knows how to say it. It was Bogi. He went through the trouble of finding my number and calling internationally which can’t be cheap. He did all that to talk to me. We hung up and then proceeded to talk through Facebook video chat for hours. We caught up on life and enjoyed finally speaking to each other again.
I’ve continued to keep up with Bogi since being back in the U.S. Honestly, Bogi and I have talked more than my own dad and me. Bogi has continued to show me love that I’ve rarely experienced. He makes me a priority. He continually chooses me to be in his family – even when I’m halfway across the world. All of Fiji and, more specifically, Bogi has shown me what true family looks like. They showed me that family is not simply through blood. It’s not through obligation. Family is a choice, and they chose me.