Isa Lei

April 29th

Isa Lei, na noqu rarawa,
Ni ki sana vodo e na mataka
Bau nanuma, na nodatou lasa,
Mai Kavala nanuma tiko ga.

“Forget not, when you’re far away, precious moments…” the words of the traditional Fijian farewell song played through my mind this morning as I boarded the small fiber boat floating beside Kavala Village. I spent the last week on Kadavu Island visiting a fellow PCV who lives in this coastal village of about 200. I was officially on a “work exchange”, and though relevant work took place, “work” in the Western sense frequently takes the backseat to experiences worth sharing here in Fiji.

View of Kavala BayIMG_0293

My stay in Kavala was a chance to see what life could be like in a year; to observe the way my friend has become part of his community over the last eighteen months. It was encouraging to see the way that Brock, or Luke as he was fondly re-named after the biblical doctor, has settled into his life in Fiji. Our circumstances have many commonalities: small village size, ambiguous work with a light load, isolation from other PCVs and the main land.

In spite of the difficulties of outer island life (did I mention he kayaks to work?), it was immediately apparent that Brock has embraced his life on Kadavu. Having been here a year less than him I wondered, when did he finally feel content? What made him as accepted as he is? When did all the children and animals stop driving him crazy?!

Village life is no cake walk. (Unless you literally are handed cake while strolling about the village—this would be quite normal in Fiji.) Personal days are often interrupted. Work projects don’t always work out. People mosey through Brocks’ house constantly, asking to kerekere this or that, be it his matches or his attention.

One evening, as we began dinner preparations, the neighbors suggested that we all drink kava in his house. it was more a declaration than a question. My automatic mental reaction: Preposterous! Rude! Yet Brock shrugged his shoulders in acceptance, seemingly undisturbed by the sudden usurpation of his house. Kelevi soon returned and sat himself happily on the floor beside us, commencing tanoa set up as we cooked our dinner. My icy indignation thawed as he began to mix his kava, passing us busy chefs bilos as he passed time with talanoa (story telling). Was I really so travel-worn and crabby that I couldn’t handle being the slightest bit social? Oi lei!  Cut to about 6 hours later at the night’s end, and I may have wanted to be up dancing and chatting more than the neighbors who initiated the party!

gunu tiko yaqona
gunu tiko yaqona
Kavala crew! Lepani, Litia & Brock
Kavala crew! Lepani, Litia & Brock

What seems to have helped my fellow PCV to be so content is a mentality of going with the flow and not clinging to any fabricated expectations. Sure, an interrupted evening of peaceful cooking can be a bit annoying from the American perspective, but these same people also “interrupted” our days with unsolicited generosity and hospitality. These were the same people who shared their hard won fish and farm fresh bananas with a total stranger. The same people who brought us a giant tub of Vakalolo (think Fijian bread pudding, dalo style) the night before. The same people that made sure this foreigner felt her presence was not simply welcomed but appreciated. As these people bid me farewell this morning, insisting that I return as soon as possible, it felt as if I were a long lost cousin.

Seeing the way that Brock exists in his village exemplified the lesson that I’ve been trying to learn; one simply cannot expect to live the independent existence in a village that is possible in America. And if you try, you are missing out on the essence of Fijian culture. Sure you can hoard your expensive peanut butter and lock your doors at dinner time, but as my new friend Litia observed, “Good to stay alone, but then when you eat, no taste, eh? Better to eat together.” Being open to interruptions, to changes in your “plan” here in Fiji may mean initial frustration; but in the long-term assures that good company, laughs, and memories are never in short supply.

afternoon yoga with the kids

Malnutrition Counseling, our work exchange program
Malnutrition Counseling, our work exchange program

Our life story is endowed with meaning by each new connection. I was reminded of this as I boarded the return ferry this morning. I was in Kavala but a week, but have now added a layer of richness to my life here in Fiji; another intimate connection with this place. I have no doubt that Keresi, bulaqi nei Luke (Brock’s visitor), will decorate Kavala talanoa sessions for some time to come. Memories of my Nai Ta (Koro-Kadavu relationship) certainly will always bring me smiles. I’ll remember Emosi, the only man in Kadavu still making wooden boats. And Amalia, the kind young mother who genuinely declared from her mountain top home that our visit was divine providence.

Funny, as I type I can hear Isa Lei echoing from somewhere in this ferry cabin. Isa isa Kadavu, Nai Ta, vinaka na loloma. One week until my return to Nabasovi, and hoping that this morale boost will assist in re-adjustment after a month away.  Easy to talk to the talk as I sail away from Kadavu; now it’s time to return to full-time village living!

Vinaka na loloma, hospitality and inspiration Kadavu.  Isa Nai Ta, until we meet again 🙂

zipping across Kavala Bay where my ferry awaits
zipping across Kavala Bay where my ferry awaits
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