By Chandler

On my way to Fiji, I didn’t really know what to expect. I hoped the people I would come across would be nice, and welcoming, and helpful. I hoped that my upcoming time in the village would be an amazing experience. I hoped all these things, but I really didn’t have any expectations.

Little did I know, what was to come were life-changing moments and memories. In New Zealand, we learned to call these moments “flashes,” something that changes your perspective on life.

We first arrived in Nadi and were picked up by our first contact, a man named Nazil. He was in charge of getting us to the ferry in Suva. The best ways I can describe our days of travel are quick and hectic. We stayed our first night in a hostel in Nadi and our second travel night in a hotel in Suva. Nadi was very beautiful and peaceful, while Suva was very big, packed, and fast-moving. Both were very neat, new experiences I am glad to have had. After our night in Suva, we took an overnight ferry to Savu Savu, where we would meet our next contact, Kali, who would transport us to the village of Nakuku and be in charge of handling transportation while we were in Nakuku.

We were welcomed on to Nakuku with a traditional Fijian welcoming ceremony, which was where the immense feeling of welcomeness and love began. We were introduced to our homestay families and brought up to our new houses. The immediate feeling of welcomeness I felt brought about an even greater feeling of optimistic excitement. Our week started off with the work we were assigned with for our stay: making a new concrete footpath for the village.

The work was actually a lot of fun, even with the scorching heat. I found myself wanting to do work more and more everyday, just to try and do as much as I could to pay back the people of the village for the love and knowledge they continually shared with us. Each day, relationships I had with some individuals in the village grew more and more.

A couple of the talks I had late at night with some of my new friends will last in my heart forever. The ways I was cared about, the ways I was talked to, the ways I was treated like family, all while just having met me, really blew my mind. It will have a permanent effect on the way I treat anyone I come across for the rest of my life.

I also won the birthday lottery this year! My birthday was on November 3rd, so I got to celebrate it in Fiji. I was granted the unbelievable pleasure of a traditional Fijian birthday celebration thrown by the village. I was dressed in a celebration “sulu” which is used for someone being celebrated in the village. The people in the village also prepared a “lovo”, which is a traditional feast prepared from the ground. It was a huge, huge honor to receive a celebration and a lovo. I felt so much love and gratitude, it was most definitely a birthday I will never ever forget (Sorry Mom and Dad: I got a buzz cut).

Leaving Fiji and the connections I made in Fiji behind is a very sad feeling. I am so grateful to have made the friendships and to have learned the things I have learned from my new Fijian family, but it is such a bittersweet feeling to be leaving a family I got so close with in such a short period of time. I love you Fiji, you will be in my heart forever.

When we were on our way to Fiji, I didn’t know exactly what our stay would be like. Really, the biggest thing I knew about Fiji was that they had tasty bottled water, which is like their standard bottled water here. I knew that it was tropical and that it had sunny weather and rainforests, but that was about it. I wanted to know what Fiji was really about: what lay within those vast rainforests, and upon those beautiful beaches.

Our first day was hot and dry, which was a big change from what we’d been experiencing in New Zealand. No more sweats and sweatshirts. We met our first contact, Nazil, and he brought us to our first hostel, “Tropic of Capricorn.” It was right on the beach, so the first thing we all did was jump into the ocean which was really warm. It was a really beautiful and peaceful place to just sit in a hammock and watch the sunset.

The next day, we traveled with Nazil to Suva, the capital of Fiji, where we would stay the night. It was a very packed and bustling city. The next day we got on the overnight ferry to Savusavu, where we met with our second contact, Kali, who would be bringing us to the village of Nakuku for our welcoming ceremony. At first, I was uncomfortable, not because of how things were, but just because it was a whole village of new faces. It was a bit overwhelming. But as the days went by, I felt myself connecting to many of the villagers, especially many of the kids, who would always be asking us if we could play volleyball with them.

After the first day of getting settled in, we began working right away on the footpath. The days were full of hard work but didn’t feel that way because all the while we’d be cracking jokes with all of the villagers working with us.

I found that I grew the closest to them during the time that we were working because we were all helping each other to reach the same goal. It was very special to gain that connection with the people that were hosting us so generously. And I always felt welcome in any of the houses, whether it was my own family or a different one. They would always ask me to come inside and have tea with them.

The day I left Nakuku was a sad one. There were tears shed from both sides, and I didn’t want to leave so many people that I now would easily call my friends. So many special memories made in such short time. So many lasting relationships formed from such a brief encounter. To the people of Nakuku, I say vinaka! And to Fiji, I say that I will never forget you.