Today was for sure the best day here in Fiji, in every way. First of all, yesterday was our LPI, so finally getting that out of the way would have made today awesome no matter what. The language test is basically a personal interview done completely in Fijian by one of the training staff, Filipe. Although there were a few questions that I was capable of answering better, I feel pretty satisfied with how I did. I was asked for my opinion on the causes and possible solutions to the diabetes crisis in Fiji though–such an involved question threw me off a bit! It honestly is incredible how much Fijian we’ve learned in six weeks. It’s a really interesting language and I’m having fun learning! I’m able to give a solid amount of information about the weather, myself, what I do for work, my home/family in the US, and my home/family here in Fiji. That’s on top of every day conversation. I can even tell you how to make curry or explain to my village chief why I was late to a meeting… critical skills to have here in Fiji, I promise.
Now that our language test is over, we’re free to focus on more cultural learning for the next two weeks… finally! Our days since we arrived have been totally consumed with language and technical training. We’ve learned a lot, but I’ve been eager to learn more about fijian culture and traditions first hand. In other words: I’ve been anxiously awaiting a chance to run off into the bush for the day 😉 I’ve been wanting desperately to learn something useful about the flora and fauna of this beautiful land!
Lucky for us, our village goes above and beyond in everything that they do for us. They were aware that we’ve been wanting to go out into the bush to gain some genuine Fiji survival skills, so today they organized “Jungle Based Learning” day. Yup, you heard me—jungle based learning!
We took off for the bush, or veikau, around ten in the morning. We were equipped with our jungle based learning notebooks, so beautifully prepared by our LCF, and led by a few Fijian family members. We were a bit confused, because we’d heard several other people would be joining us, and they were nowhere to be seen. People often “Fiji yes” you, which means yes I’d love to but I probably won’t… so we expected a small turnout.
As soon as we were out of site of the village it was good-bye sulu, hello freedom! Into the veikau we went. Tom & Carly’s (PCVs) aunt taught us about a plant that helps stomach aches and another that clots blood. Later in the day someone cut themselves, and I knew just what to use. It was exciting to use what I’d just learned, and it helped! We also learned about the day-to-day uses of different plants, such as bamboo, and the names of several fruit bearing trees. If I ever get lost in the bush, rest assured I won’t starve.
A few minutes into our bush trek, the path turned past a huge bamboo growth and enormous dalo-like plants big enough to be an umbrella for 4 (and we did use this tactic later when the rain came). We came upon an opening beneath a massive ancient Ivi tree, and there we found the people that we were missing! Turns out they had went to the bush early to set up for the day. They had made three sturdy bamboo benches and covered the ground with jurassic-looking palm fronds for sitting. Our families had also brought out plenty of bush knives for chopping coconuts and plants, as well as pots and pans for a jungle feast! I was stunned and ecstatic.
Many tasks of the day were organized by gender. Given how excited I was to learn absolutley everything I could about surviving in the Fijian wilderness, I was reluctant to stay put in my gender role. It can be really frustrating to feel very capable of doing a certain task, yet still be told to stay back simply because of my gender. It’s eye opening for sure. Our village kind of gets a kick out of us kaivalagi women wanting to do things for ourselves though, so I’m learning to just speak up when appropriate. I went ahead and scaled the ancient Ivi tree like a monkey to prove a point, and I think I earned some bush cred for that move 😉
We were very busy the entire morning preparing for our feast in the wild. There were at least 15 of us, and everyone had a job to do. I helped collect fire wood, ota (river fern) and rou rou (dalo leaf), common women’s work. We also took a look around our friend Asala’s plantation deep in the veikau—he’s literally a modern day Fijian Henry David Thoreau. We talked for a while about the value of living simply in nature and the abundance that is around us, literally providing us with everything we need to live well, if only we have the right perspective. He built a lovely little bure in the back of his farm, and he said he plans on building a studier one in the coming months. What a life! He loves to read, so I told him I’ll give him my copy of Walden. Can’t find a better bush read than that!
After our quick field trip to Asala’s plantation, it was time to cook. The rou rou and ota were to be cooked in lolo, so we collected a bunch of coconuts. Another young man scaled the vuniniu (coconut tree) and tossed down 10 bu (raw coconuts). We also collected niu (ripe coconuts) for making lolo. As the Fijians would say, I am “smart in opening coconuts” now. I can shuck, open and scrape the ripe coconut, which is used for making miti and lolo. I can also chop open the green coconut and make a straw from grass for drinking its refreshing water. No better hydration than that!
Walking around foraging through the veikau was refreshing for my soul. After cutting open my own coconut, making my own straw, and sitting myself under the ancient ivi tree, it took everything in me not to cry out of pure joy. Back at home I spend so much time in nature, I’ve been desperately craving today. I feel so much more connected with my new home now. Part of the delay in our village taking us out to the bush is old superstitions about dangerous spirits living there, and also the idea that it’s a man’s place to go. Now that we’ve proven ourselves capable though we have the green light to walk through the bush. If anyone can’t find me, chances are I’m napping in the ancient Ivi tree 🙂
Once we’d foraged for all of our lunch supplies, we finished cooking lunch. While a bunch of us were out collecting ingredients, people stayed back to roast the tavioka and uto in the fire. When we returned they finished our feast by cooking the rou rou with fresh tomatoes from Asala’s plantation, and cooking the ota in lolo.
Our lunch was hands down the best I’ve had since I got to Fiji. It was so satisfying to have a big plate of greens that I had spent all morning foraging, collecting and cooking with my family and friends. Gathering, preparing and having a meal with ones community feeds more than your body—it truly feeds your soul. Having our lunch in the covering of the ancient Ivi as the rain misted through the canopy to cool us off couldn’t have been more perfect.
I can see why in times past cooking and eating was done with such ceremony. So much goes into preparing a meal when you are using your environment and relying on the skills of your community. I learned so much about the skills of my community- fire building, harvesting, tree climbing, bure construction, herbal remedies… and plenty more. It is also really humbling to go out in the wild and forage for your food. It was a reminder of how much nature provides without human interferance. It also made it evermore clear how the human race is losing their intimate connection with nature, and how much we have to learn before it’s lost.
With that, I really hope to learn as much as possible about the environment while here in Fiji. Most Fijians still have a connection with their natural environment, something that globalization and western influence is quickly chipping away at. With climate change and peak oil rapidly approaching, this knowledge will soon be just as important (or more so) as it was hundreds of years ago.
We all had a part in putting together our meal today, and eating was just the final culmination, the communion. I’ll never forget this day, laughing and bonding with my fellow true-landers, learning from and appreciating the generosity of nature and my new family. We lose so much connection and true nutrition when all of our food is fast and packaged by people we don’t know, from places we’ve never been. As my Fijian grandfather, a life-long farmer, tells me–when food is grown and harvested with love, there is something else that you get from it that is just as important as the physical nutrition.
Jungle based learing was a success in every sense! I feel refreshed and blessed, and am hoping for many more days like that to come 🙂