Saturday, September 26, 2009

Travels to the North

Just got back from Ra. That's right, Ra. Do you know where Ra is? I had a vague idea, I mean I think my family drove through it once. Our car broke down, it was very exciting being in the middle of nowhere. Anyway, at the last Rotaract meeting I attended, they passed around a sheet of paper for volunteers to go on a sort of fact finding mission to a village called Navuniivi.

Basically, they're trying to set up a preschool there, and before we can get approval for funds and such the site had to be checked out, to see what the school needed in terms of supplies and such. So at 7 o'clock I was at Dolphins waiting to rendezvous with the 'tractors (they don't call themselves that, but they totally should). No one was around, so I had a quiet smoke, the city is very very quiet on Saturday mornings. There was just me and a couple of women throwing water on the wooden slats they use to close up Dolphins. At around twenty past, 'tractor prez Jacinta appeared from around the corner and asked me how long I'd been standing there. She was waiting at the coffee shop around the corner.

A lot of people who were supposed to come had kinda pulled out, but there were seven of us altogether who set off up the Kings Road at around 8ish. In three vehicles, two of them company cars, with branding and everything. We stopped in Korovou for breakfast. Korovou is...well I dunno, I don't think you can call it a town, it's kind of a road with some shops on either side and a small market. After that, it was off down the King's Road toward Ra.

'Tractor Prez Jacinta was under the impression that the road up to Ra was "sealed". After seeing her definition of the word sealed, I would hate to see what unsealed looked like. We all had a good laugh though, as we bounced along in the little Toyota Corrola. My posterior is very rattled, I'll say that much.

And then we were there. After calling her contact at the village, we turned off the "highway" and made our way down to a little landing on the water, there was a pig, a couple of dinghies and a some kids laughing and playing in the water on a hot sunny Saturday. The sea was also a beautiful tropical blue. All in all, it was very pleasant, calming even. It got better.

Old Fijian Man: You called Louisa?

Jacinta: Um, I don't know anyone named Louisa in Navuniivi, just Natalie.

Old Fijian Man: Oh, I'm sure she told Louisa you were coming, the boat takes about ten minutes to get here. Unless it sinks.

The boat arrived and all seven of us hopped in, I of course, managed to get the seat that would ensure maximum moisture. It seemed that every wave we met, even when the pilot slowed down, leaped over the side of the boat and slapped me right in the face. The bay though, the parts that I saw in between wiping my glasses, was gorgeous, with grassy hills and cliffs and couple of small sandy beaches.

Nestled between the hills and half hidden by the treeline was Navuiniivi.

We reached the village (the boat didn't manage to sink) where a young American woman was waiting for us on the shore. She turned out to both Louisa and Natalie, a situation that arose from her wanting to have a Fijian name as all the other Peace Corps volunteers were getting one. After she was told that there wasn't really a translation for the name Natalie, she asked if there was one for Louise, which is her middle name. Immediately, she was christened Louisa, which she likes because she gets to be called Lou by the villagers.

The sevusevu ceremony was great, the first one that I've ever been to, and is basically an offering to the village mayor to thank him for letting you into his village. We gave him some yaqona, which I had named Ken Kava. Ken sat next to me all the way down from Korovou, and I was a bit sad to see him go, but I'm sure he won't mind being put good use.

After introducing ourselves to the elders and having some grog (which was really good grog, which was nice) we had a look at where the preschool was going to be. They had a little room set aside underneath the village hall, with a blackboard, a little cabinet for art supplies and a table for the teacher. There were around fifteen to twenty children in the area who would be attending, and it's a really small room, but really full of heart, you know? Yesterday I was wondering if I could make a contribution to the project in some way, and I think something might be going through, I'll let ya know how that goes. After seeing the place though, I must admit. Small, warm, fuzzy feeling. Just a little one.

We had lunch in the village hall, the fish was delicious, and I got to know my fellow visitors a bit more. Also, this post is getting really long. I'm going to sum up now, I promise.

After lunch, we had a quick tour of the village, Louisa showed us the bure that the villagers built for her. It was funny, because there were all these houses made of concrete, wood and a few iron ones and hers was an honest to goodness traditional bure. It looked out of place, but was very very charming.

Then it was time to leave, I took my sneakers off and got ready to wade out back to the boat when Louisa said,

Louisa: Ya know, I've never seen shoes like that out here in the village.

Me: What, sneakers?

Louisa: No, chucks.

They still didn't save me from getting blisters. And I can't wait to go back.

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