I tapped this all up on a ‘note’ on my iPhone as I got in to bed last night. I thought it deserved a Brucie Bonus live blog update. Regardez!
Oh wow! I need to write this down. My experience of Fiji so far has blown me away. From being collected at the airport with a sign, to the incredibly warm welcome I received at the village.
Ana, my couch surfing host, had been taken ill during the day and was in hospital with cronic sickness and diarrohea. Her husband, Niko (explained to me, like the camera but without the N!) stayed at home to welcome me! Due to Ana’s illness I am staying with Fi and Api who are the more profilic CS hosts in the village, the name of which I must learn to pronounce.
Niko gave me a traditional welcome with some kava being prepared by his son-in-law. It’s a drink made from the roots of the kava plant. They are left in the sun to dry before being pounded to a fine soil like powder. This is then poured into little brown paper bags before being emptied into a cloth bag over a special bowl for the occasion. The bag is then ‘washed’ with water and allowed to drain into the bowl. The liquid is then mixed with the coconut halves in which it is served.
We all sat around on the floor in their modest home. There are two small living areas. Each lit with a single small flourescent tube. The one above us was flickering on and off, casting rhythmic shadows over the face of Niko. He just smiled and gave one of the children a few coins to run off to one of the neighbouring huts for a new bulb. It seems each resident has their own particular trade. Ana and Niko’s is cigarettes and alcohol. They are very popular! This explains the request from Ana for me to purchase 2 bottles of Bounty dark rum from the duty free, of which I was promised reimbursement. I’m tempted to offer them as a gift. In fact I will.
So, the kava. As this was my first time, I was instructed to clap my hands 3 times before accepting the coconut brimming with what can only be described as muddy water. I obliged, before being told to drink it down in one. I had already decided this was the only way to go! I downed the drink, trying my best to ignore the earthy taste and smell. I placed the bowl down and clapped twice again, as instructed. “Vinaka”, I said. Fijian for thank you. It wasn’t bad! In fact, there’s definitely something about it. It helped me feel a real part of things almost instantly. I can see why they use it as a welcoming ceremony. Prince Charlie had the same treatment when he visited the same village a few years ago. If it’s good enough for HRH, it’s good enough for GGW. “Taki”’ came the cry from Niko whilst banging the floor! I think it means ‘more’!
I was given another bowl, this time being allowed to forego the 3 claps prior to drinking. The claps afterward remain, copied by the pourer of the drink. It leaves a tingle in your mouth and eventually your tongue goes a little numb. It’s said to make you drunk, although there is no alcoholic content. I had 3 or 4 high tides before reverting to low tides! I don’t feel drunk, but there is a definite feeling of relaxation. Niko promises I will sleep well, with no dreams.
My name was proving difficult for them to pronounce, particularly Niko so I was given a Fijian name, Koli! I love it.
Shortly after the kava had started flowing and a few more cigarettes were sold for a dollar a piece, I was served dinner. Being a renowned ‘fussy bugger’, I had already negotiated this obstacle in my mind. These people don’t have much by western standards. I was going to suck it up and appreciate their generosity, whatever was put in front of me. It was chicken pieces, made with soy sauce and vegetables. It was served with locally grown grapefruit. I’m sure I’ve had grapefruit before, but maybe not. (UPDATE: I LEARNED THIS STUFF IS CALLED CASAVA AND IS TREATED THE SAME WAY WE TREAT POTATOES. THEY EVEN MAKE CRISPS OUT OF IT!) These chunks of fruit have to be the driest thing I ever tasted. I had a minor panic as my throat began to seize up as the thought of eating the rest of the plate so as not to offend careered through my mind. The only liquid on offer was the kava. That was until a bottle of orange pop fell from the heavens. I gulped half of it immediately. The chicken and sauce was good. I was provided with a plate for the bones, of which there were many. Oh, and no cutlery by the way. Proper Fijian style. I offered grapefruit to the others in the vain attempt to shift a few chunks from my plate. Predictably, my offer was politely refused with smiles all round. I explained that the portion was way bigger than I was used too. Mostly true. The remains were taken and shared amongst the children.
Niko heads up a family of 15 who all live in close quarters. Two of his daughters will give birth in less than 1 month. It’s a busy household.
Not long after dinner, Ana returned from hospital, an hour taxi ride away. She was accompanied by her 24 year old daughter, Lessa. Ana immediately dissappeard to bed for rest. Lessa came to join us and sat next to me. She told me of her life in the village and her education and career. Only a couple of years ago, she was hospitalised with a serious drink problem. As it happen, I’m pretty sure I spotted children as young as 5 smoking. There is a very different attitude to drinking and smoking. Niko has a strong belief that the Government just want to scare people with links of cancer to smoking. I guess it’s bad for business.
Lessa now works in a hotel where she serves behind the bar and also assists in the kitchen. It’s long hours for $90 per week, around £45.
At 8pm we moved into the next room. This is when I spotted the cooking zone and was glad to have already eaten. In the vacated room, a large thin foam mattress appeared and 4 or 5 sleepy children assumed the position. Vying with each other for a decent spot.
A few more neighbours stopped by. Some inticied by the cava and some by the curiosity of the Englishman. “Bula” all round. A welcome in Fijian. I began to feel sleepy and, after a brief broken conversation about bin Laden I thanked everyone and headed across the yard to my bed at Fi’s place.
As I look up, I see a few wooden beams resting on breeze block walls. Across the beams, sheets of corrugated iron protect me from the elements. The only element so far has been a hot and sticky one but, I’ve just heard a few rolls of thunder. Jit, my taxi driver, promised a clear day of sunshine tomorrow. That would be nice. Lessa has offered to show me around their historic village. The first settlement on the island over 3,000 years ago. Niko informed me that the first inhabitants separated and formed tribes and fought each other. The name of the village Viesiesie, means separation. The losers of the fights were more than just that. They were food! Gaaaah! Fortunatley those days are long gone (at least I hope so!) since Christian missionaries arrived in 1826, bringing religion with them and a better way of life.