The call caught for only a minute, but it was enough to transform the traces of apprehension into pure excitement. My phone began to ring as I sat on my outdated motel bed, watching cargo ships, passenger ferries and yachts floating side by side in the Suva Bay. Off-beat reggae notes bounced up the hill. Knock-knock-knockng on heavens door… the live band crooned.
The breeze this morning is the season’s finest. Slightly cool with a touch of sea spray, telling of the heat to come but remembering the promise of a cool night. To my relief, the sights and sounds of Fiji have enhanced my excitement to return. It’s only my silly brain (I’ll blame two months with reduced yoga and increased junk food) that creates doubts… Makes me question my imminent return to Koro… Will my village forgive me for leaving after the storm? Could they even want me around, another burden on stressed resources? How will I possibly make my return useful? The questions aren’t my overarching feelings about returning. But they’re like the early morning fog before a warm day; chilling my bones just a little.
My foggy apprehension vaporized at the sounds of Na’s voice on the phone this morning. I knew it was her the moment the phone rang. Keresiiii! Guess WHOOO?! she sang through the line; like the rays of tropical sun her words burnt up the fog and warmed up my heart.
It’s been nearly 3 months now since I left Koro, the morning that cyclone Winston hit. Why do moments like that always stick in a certain way? To me that morning feels like a decade ago, and yet ever present. I remember the moment that the 8 seater Fiji link flight left the slick grass runway on February 20th, shaking through the rain drenched winds of the fast-approaching cyclone. I gazed below, feeling my heart sink as the plane rose. The ocean churned and the palms thrashed. A trio of black birds hung to the west like an omen. This could be the last time I see Koro… But in my heart I believed I’d return, because I knew I had to. I’ve held onto that hope since that moment, and the time to return has finally arrived.
Home leave was wonderful. I went for rainy walks in the New England woods, took road trips to see friends, attended concerts and plays, laughed with my sisters and cousins, gardened in the sunshine, went to powerful yoga classes, cooked with my grandmother, made new friends… It was refreshing and rejuvenating. I feel blessed to have a home to return to where I felt welcomed and comfortable. I can’t imagine what it would have been like without the people who housed me, fed me, loved me… you special people know who you are J Yes, a few weeks back home was clearly good for my soul.
It was also clear though that now isn’t the time to be back home. I committed to seeing my service through here in Fiji, and over 1.5 years into it, it’s so much more than just “service”. I have a family and friends here, and (despite my silly nerves) I know what my return will mean to them. I committed to seeing my service through with flexibility, no matter the conditions or situation.
Following Winston, there is really no telling at this point what the remainder of my time on Koro will be like, what life will be like. What will we eat? Can we fish and farm? Where is everyone else living? How is our water supply? I do know that most are living off 3-month amounts of rations from the government, that my cell/internet provider won’t be going up anytime soon and that the only other cell service is spotty at very best (hence Na’s call cutting out after a few seconds). It’s also unclear what my work there will be. It will be whatever the village needs, but that could be anything; water filtration, village gardens, rebuilding, sanitation, power…
What I do know is that I can’t wait to see the familiar faces of Nabasovi. I can’t wait to hang out with all of the little kids in my house and make them popcorn. I can’t wait to wake up to a burnt orange sunrise over the ocean. I even can’t wait to sing on Sundays at church again! I love village life, and what I love about it has nothing to do with whatever our material reality will be.
In the one full day that I’ve been back in Fiji it’s already felt like a village reunion, like I never left. While in the market I ran into Vakatawa (village minister), who made fun of my ratty bag and and caught me up on village gossip. At the grocery store I ran into my “Na Levu” (aunt) for the second time that day, who insisted I take juice money because it was so hot out. These moments bring me right into the present; slapping me across the face and saying: Wake up and get out of your head! What the heck are you so worried about?! Yupp, no doubt about it; Fiji is home. I ready to return to Koro and for this chapter of my time in Fiji.
Until my ferry departs (possibly Saturday) I’ll be restocking life necessities in Suva, the capital. Buying dried beans and rice, a pot and a pan, a mat to sleep on, etc. I’ve forgotten how terribly loud and oppressively polluted this city air can be though… So I’m itching to get back to my village, where the stars cover more night sky than the blackness and the loudest sound I hear is kids fighting!
Friends and family back at home—there’s no telling how connected I will be to modern amenities on Koro, so keep those letters coming 🙂 It’s possible I’ll be off the map until a conference on the mainland at the end of July, but I’ll do what I can to connect with home. Until then, kalougata tiko & loloma yani… (sending you blessings and love)
PEACE (corps) OUT!