Finding Family in Fiji

By Daisy O.

Our time in Fiji from start to finish had to be two of the most amazing weeks of my life. From the moment that I stepped into Nakuku, my village now, I was in love. Everyone was tired and sick after being on the ferry for twelve hours, then bumping through back roads. No one felt good but as soon as we stepped into the hall we were embraced by so much love and care that all of the pain in my body washed away. All of the men and women had the biggest smiles on their faces and the children all looked like they were going to explode with excitement at the site of fourteen new faces.

Even though we were a bunch of strangers, none of us had even spoken a word yet, I already felt like I was being welcomed home.

Women and children were smiling and waving while the men just sat in silence, only letting a few small smiles out. You could see it in everyone’s eyes, we were all instantly part of the family.

We met our Nana’s and Tata’s (our homestay Mom’s and Dad’s) and were brought to our new homes for the next ten days. I stayed with Cammie in our Nana Mela’s home. I really think that Cammie and I hit the jackpot when it comes to homestay families. Our Nana gave us the tour of her small home and continuously checked in on us to make sure that we were comfortable. She offered us tea and food and invited us out onto her beautiful porch to chat for a bit before insisting that we go to our room and rest. She was so sweet and even walked us to our room but I couldn’t rest.

Even though I had gotten very little sleep on the ferry, I couldn’t stop moving. I wanted to help with everything because I had already felt like everyone had done so much for me. I wanted to help cook and clean, I was ready to start on our service project that moment if that’s what they wanted me to do. But no one would let me help, everyone insisted that I go to my room and rest. That’s one thing that I learned very quickly, people in the village will not let you help. They’ll tell you that there’s nothing you can do or they’ll insist that you rest and try to take your tools from you so that you’ll rest.

I learned that in order to help you had to be stubborn, which was not difficult for me. During our time in Nakuku I took countless numbers of sponges away from women trying to do dishes, or knives so that I could take over what they were doing. I took shovels and wheelbarrows full of dirt away from men at the work site. At first, people fought me on it, insisting that they could do it, that they didn’t mind waiting to eat or working a bit harder. I would continue to stand my ground and eventually the other person would give up and give me a job.

One of the jobs that I was frequently assigned was making doughnuts in the mornings. One of the Auntie’s in the village, Auntie Vola taught me how to make doughnuts one of the first mornings. I was telling her about how I love to bake with my Grammy at home and that one of our favorite things to make was doughnuts. Auntie’s eyes lit up and she got all excited and said that she would teach me how to make her doughnuts. I got pretty good at it. I think I may have introduced doughnut holes to Nakuku, they called them “marbles” which I found pretty funny.

Every night before it was Auntie Vola’s group’s turn to cook she would come up to me and give me a time the next morning to be ready to make doughnuts. I loved having a job and being given this job opened up a lot of other jobs and opportunities to learn about the village.

Baking and washing dishes were two of my favorite activities in the village. It sounds funny but these activities provided the best time to get to know the women in the village. Baking at night and doing dishes after meals are like social hours. All the women gather and chat, mostly in Fijian so I didn’t usually know what they were saying, which didn’t matter to me. Sometimes they would translate what they were saying to English and try to teach me some Fijian words. Then when I would try to repeat the words back to them I would almost always mess up the pronunciation and they would start laughing all over again.

Cooking and cleaning were times for learning for me. I think I made some of my strongest connections in the village by always being in the kitchen, always being available to help. I also got some amazing opportunities this way. One morning when I was walking to the home that we were eating all of our meals at I passed Auntie Vola weaving a mat in a house nearby. I stopped and chatted for a bit and ended up asking if she would teach me how to weave. Without hesitation she said absolutely, we would start that night. That night there was a kava circle and instead of going down to drink kava with everyone else, I went down with Auntie and started to work on a mat. Every night after that I skipped the kava circle after dinner and headed straight for Auntie Vola’s house to continue working on my mat. Some nights we would take off and go bake at someone else’s house or just sit and chat with her family while the generator was still running and we still had light. Some nights I would stay past when the lights shut off and just keep talking and listening to all the stories that they had to tell.

Not very long into our stay at Nakuku Auntie Vola’s family became my family. Auntie Vola started calling me her daughter and insisted that I call her Nana Vola, not Auntie anymore. All of her children became my brothers and sisters. I got really close with three of her eight children, Paul (13), Losaline (10), and Sarah (22). I started spending every night at their house and getting walked back to my house by Nana Vola or Paul when it was time for me to go to bed. I went out to harvest with their family and we all got dressed up for church and special meals together. Paul became my own personal hairdresser and braided my hair every day before work and church on Sundays.

Nakuku became my village in an instant. I felt so at home and welcomed there. You could feel the love in the air, taste it in the food, and see it in everyones eyes. Leaving the village the other day was really difficult. I felt like I was leaving my family behind, just like I did at the beginning of Carpe Diem with my family in America.

I miss everyone in Nakuku very much and I have plans to go back soon, hopefully bringing my family with me next time. If that doesn’t work out though, I’ve made plans with my Nana Vola to come back to the village in five years to marry Paul so I can stay in the village the rest of my life and eat all the taro I want (sorry mom and dad).

Auntie Vola posing with her freshly fried doughnut.

Auntie Vola teaching me how to weave a Fijian mat.

This was my beautiful bedroom setup, fitted with a mosquito net that made my bed feel like a princess bed.

(From left to right) Me, my brother Jay Bee, and my sister Cammie all dressed up in our Chambas, bula shirts, and sulus for church. Paul braided my hair and Cammie’s for church that day.

Auntie Vola adding the “cula” or edge to my mat.

Doughnuts frying over an open fire. Most food in Nakuku is cooked over a fire.

Me at Nana Vola’s house getting dressed up for our farewell meal.

(From left to right) Daisy A., Viva, Nana Vola, me, and Losaline at our farewell meal. Daisy and I are dressed up in our Chambas with salusalu’s (garlands) that the women had made for us.

“We love Nana Mela
-Daisy and Cammie”
Carved into the footpath right in front of my home.

Everyone in the village gathered in the hall to say moce (goodbye).

Nana Vola waving us off.

Jenny harvesting taro leaves for our Sunday feast.

(From left to right) Nemani, me, and Losaline.

Me and Paul riding his horse to a neighboring village to harvest eggplant for our farewell meal.

Cammie and Nana Mela preparing breakfast in our home.

“Paulo + Daisy sisters forever” carved into the footpath that we helped with for our service project in the village.