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Published: November 27th 2015
The wind finally settled down, the sun came out in full force, and Mango and I got to experience a 'typical' day on Ono Island. Typical here is a relative term, as we started our day in the calm clear reef just off of the resort, then traveled about a mile south to the nearby village where over half of the Resort's staff and their family live and were about to celebrate their children's graduation.
Snorkeling was very chill. We kayaked about a half a mile from the shore and then donned our masks and fins. It was a little uncomfortable getting in the water since we didn't really know what was down there, but as soon as I faced the ocean floor, Bob Marley started playing in my head, "three little birds, sits by my doorstep, singing sweet songs..." Between the fish and the coral, the entire color spectrum was represented. Though it seemed like purple was the dominant color, marking up the starfish, loads of coral, and sparkling off the tiny trigger fish. And everything was moving in Fiji time.
After an early lunch, we joined Johanna, her husband Joe, her daughter Dee, and the rest of
the village for a pre-school graduation ceremony. You might recall this was the same village we passed through the other day on the way to the waterfall. As we landed the boat along the jetty, the details of the village became more pronounced. But it wasn't until we started walking through that its real personality came to life.
Yes, many of the buildings along the perimeter were aluminum shacks. Some were even straight up camping tents. The two churches, one on either side of the village, first appeared to be the only buildings that were kept up. But in the middle, the piece de resistance, stood a colorfully painted school. And inside the one-room palace stood some of the most adorable little kids you ever saw, decked out in bright button down shirts, long skirts for most of them (boy or girl), and intricately woven leis for each of them. The leis were almost as big as each kid, but they all wore them well. And these kids smelled like fresh flowers, perfectly matching their bright smiles. We walked into the school and sat down on mats that resembled tatami, although they were probably woven from palm rather than bamboo. Mango said, "bula venaka," and all the kids in unision replied, "bula venaka." We were so excited to be able to give them some gifts, but decided to hold off until after the ceremony, since they would likely take the toys and disappear. So, we all proceeded to a nearby hall; essentially one really big room with more palm-woven mats.
With Fiji time on our side, the ceremony started only about 30 minutes late. That gave most of the villagers a chance to take some hits of Kava, the local "drug," which I still have yet to understand what it is or does exactly, and will not be finding out on this trip since I have a job to keep back on mainland. But everyone seemed to gather around the Kava bowl, and absolutely no one looked happy after taking their requisite gulp from the coconut cup. As their heads tipped back with Kava trickling down the sides of their jawline, their countenances turned to a cross bitter beer face meshed with the face of that kid who never drinks but decided that today is the day to give it a try. The only thing it seemed like I was missing out on was a helluva hang over the next morning. And with a double clap for the last drop, the ceremony began.
Though the entire ceremony was in Fijian, I think I've been to enough graduations to understand the gist of what was going on. And when the village pastor got up to pray, and pray, and pray, I felt like I was getting as much out of his sermon as all the others in the room; none of the adults actually focused their attention in the pastor's direction, and the kids were 5, so what can you reasonably expect from them!? Amen! The major highlight of the ceremony, though , was when me and Mango were respectively asked to come up and hand out awards to the children. I handed out prizes to some of the top students while Mango handed out diplomas to some of the younger kids.
After the ceremony concluded, pastries and hot cocoa were handed out for everyone to enjoy. It was humbling to be offered food and drink, so I had enough not to offend. But after being in a room filled to the brim with swirling flies and hovering wasps, my appetite was not at its daily peak. But all the food was recognizable as treats that our Resort chef, Ame, had made for us, and I had just recently been reading our Divers Alert Network book which coincidentally had a chapter on what to eat and what not to eat when in remote locations - go figure - so I knew with some confidence that bread and boiled water were our best bets. Just after eating, we handed out toys to the kids -little safari animals- and played jungle book with them for awhile.
Johanna happened to bring a portable speaker and was blasting some Fiji reggae, when the wife of Chobit, our boat captain, came up and asked Mango and me to dance. We conga lined, danced low, and shimmied our way across the floor, receiving uproarious applause along with laughter after every major dance move. I figured everyone was laughing at us, but just in case we had even a shred of dignity left on the floor, we kept dancing. Mango moved away to film and the two of us kept cutting it on the floor. As I instantly recalled dancing salsa in Tokyo as a way to share cultural experiences, it seemed appropriate enough to take my moves to Kadavu. Even though only the two of us danced in front of a room of probably 30 adults and 15 kids, it was a comfortable place to be. But after two songs, I was in desperate need of fresh air. So Mango and I walked around the village, escorted by two little guys who wanted to hold our hands and show us their home.
Getting to share a typical day in an authentic Fiji village was anything but ordinary to us. And it seemed like we were able to make it a unique day for the villagers, too. Apparently, the kids were bragging that they got special graduation gifts from us. While this kind of experience was not what we first came to Fiji to do, I can't imagine coming here without going to see how our new friends live. Venaka!
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