For the past ten days, we have been staying in home-stays in a rural Fijian village, Nakuku. This has opened our eyes to new ways of life, community engagement, and cultural immersion. Throughout our time here, we have had time to reflect on our past experiences and dive into a something that might be a little harder compared to life in New Zealand. This was the first time on this trip that many people experienced culture shock. By being in engaged with the community, we were able to learn about village life, creating footpaths, living off the land, and Fiji time.
While in the village, we had a daily routine that was dictated by meal times instead of the clock. We would wake up in time for breakfast. Then after we would eat, we would get to work. Our main job was creating footpath, which involved getting gravel from the river, cutting pegs to hold up the frame, creating the frame and rebar structure, mixing concrete, and smoothing/designing the footpath. Some days we had different activities to highlight what life is like in the village on a daily basis – making coconut oil and trying to weave baskets. When we made coconut oil, it was cool to see the whole process from retrieving the coconut to seeing the final product. Another skills that we tried to learn was weaving baskets. We used coconut tree leaves and there were two types of baskets- the grandfather and women baskets. This is very much a learned skill. The chief jokingly said that for a girl to get married they need to know how to weave a mat and a basket. By that measure, none of us will get married any time soon. We also spent time working in a garden to plant beans at the mayors house. For actives that were not considered work, we were going swimming at the river, going to the local school and participating in kava circles. When going to the river, it was a lovely time to relax and cool down after the concrete work. Once they even put up a rope swing and made a bamboo boat for us to use. We had the chance to go to the local school and donate gardening tools and help out in their garden as well. During that experience, we walked for an hour to get to the school and it allowed us to see what it was like before the school bus became free. One thing that is quite important in the village is kava. Kava is used in kava circles and they use the root of the plant. It is something that has been a tradition in the Fijian village for a long time and has many ties to their ancestors. We felt very honored to be part of the circle. For Nakuku, Kava is their biggest export. The plant takes three years to mature until the root can be harvested. To create kava for drinking in the circles, it is pounded and strained with water to create a murky looking drink. Kava circles are used for welcoming and community building. Everyone uses the same coconut shell and it is passed to you from a central bowl. The circle creates community by having open conversation and it helps relieve the stress of the day.
Something that really hit home for a lot of us was the aspect of community. In most of our daily lives, we might not know our neighbor or would feel uncomfortable about borrowing a cup of sugar from our neighbor. That is just not the case here. The community thought it was funny that we would ask to have people over, because in Nakuku everyone is welcome. They really enjoyed having a bustling household full of people, especially when the rugby would come was on. When we were creating the footpaths for the village, many member of the community came out and help us learn how to make the forms and mix concrete. It was truly an exchange in the community. They let us in with open arms to their homes, daily life, and meals. One aspect that is quite important and scared to them is their Christian faith. They were very passionate on letting us attend their church service and had a mini sermon for us in english, which was very thoughtful. We were able to dive deeper in the community though interview some members, weather they were our homestay parents, the chief, the mayor, or some of the younger members of the village. This allowed us to get a great understanding of the workings of the village when we are not here. It was cool to heard how the community bands together on maintaining the village as their home through delegation of jobs weekly and the community meetings.
One major joys of the day were the meals. Many of us agree that this is the best food we have eaten on our trip so far. The village women would take turns cooking the meals and we could have a meal all together, some days we were extra lucky and got afternoon tea. They were so welcoming at meals and encouraged us to eat big and get fat or vinaka kana levu. We would take turns helping to clean up and wash dish and helped in the meal preparation when we could. The village grows most of there own food like breadfruit, cassava, papaya, coconuts, and taro. One of our favorite dishes is taro fritters, which consist of taro leaves, garlic, flour and a few other seasons that is fried together with tomato sauce. A new thing for many people is cassava root, which is another fave favorite. There is a huge importance on meals here. We all eat together and we finish together. That was something that I would like to bring back in my life at home.
Throughout our time here, we are so thankful for the village of Nakuku for accepting us in to their lives which just grace and joy. We cannot thank them enough for their wonderful hospitality, amazing food, and willingness to teach and learn. This is an experience that will be so hard to forget and something that will be cherished long after we are gone.
Vinaka kana levu,