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Photography teacher with an incurable case of wanderlust. Easily excited by film cameras, lattes, a great song, old people, puppies, and making meaningful connections with my students.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Natokalau: Part 1

Our Nat Geo leaders, Lisa and Brett, gave us a very helpful “Village Etiquette 101” talk before leaving for the village, so we would know what to expect. Villages still operate under a chiefdom system, which means that in order to enter a village you must present yourself and be approved by the chief. Upon arrival, visitors are greeted by the entire village, a “meke”, or traditional Fijian dance is performed, introductions are made, and kava is served. When accepting your half shell of kava, you clap once, drink it all in one gulp, then clap three times. Men and women must wear sulus, which are similar to sarongs tied around the waist. The women in the village have to wear them at all times, but the men only have to wear them for ceremonies. The village has been preparing for our arrival for months, as we are the first westerners to stay with them.  
We got to Natokalau at night in the pouring rain. The villagers were immediately welcoming, and helped us with our bags. It was easy to tell they were excited to have us there. We all sat under a shed for the ceremony. (This shed would be used for meals and other gatherings, as it was the biggest are to accommodate a large group) Some teenaged village boys performed a highly entertaining dance, and small children performed as well. Everyone in our group was presented with a handmade flower necklace, pretty much a Fijian lei. A sweet girl named Janet shook my hand and put mine on. We all introduced ourselves, drank kava, then ate a huge feast that had been prepared for us. The girls slept in Angie and Leone’s house, the boys in another house, and Holly and I slept in a small building used as a health clinic that had been cleared out for us. Sleeping on the floor was easy, as we were all exhausted by the end of the night.

Due to the ceremonious nature of the night, none of us had our cameras out. But here's a picture of me holding puppies the next morning, just for kicks.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Bouma Waterfall and Lavena Village

We took a day trip to Bouma Waterfall. Note: If it’s sunny outside on Taveuni, don’t be fooled into leaving your rain jacket behind. It will always rain. Then it will rain again. And just as you’re feeling dry, it will rain again. We made the short walk to the waterfall, and swam for a while. Angie and her husband Leone, who are giving up their house for us to live in while we’re in Natokalau Village, joined us. 

Our next stop was Lavena Village, where we sat and ate lunch. Most of the group took a 3 hour walk to another waterfall, but Holly, Alex C. and I decided to stay behind and hang out with people in the village. The lady at the visitor’s desk invited us in to shower and change, and made us tea and cake. It was just what I needed after spending the morning soaking wet. They drink lemon leaf tea, which is just what it sounds like. A few leaves from a lemon tree soaked in hot water. I might plant a lemon tree when I get home, just so I can make this tea. (Okay, I’ll ask Jay to plant a lemon tree when I get home.) The kids in the village were playing hop scotch, and looked surprised when we knew what it was. I talked to a nice woman named Toufa, who asked me to take a photo of her with her son Sammy. She asked if I would mail the photo to the school in the village when I got home, so that’s on the top of my to-do list. We ate dinner in the village once everyone returned. They prepared our meal in a traditional lovo, or earth oven. I watched them take it out of the ground. We also played with kids on the beach as the sun went down. These kids are so good at entertaining themselves with the simplest things, and all of them seem to be so happy all the time. There was a sweet dog with 2 different colored eyes that followed me around ALL day. I went from a “no dog touching” rule, to a “one finger only” rule, to a “YOLO, I’m cuddling with all these dogs” rule in a matter of minutes. Oops. 

Rugby and Kava

Our first full day on Taveuni was spent at the primary school rugby tournament in town. We arrived to a field full of kids and cheering adults. There were several games going on at once, so we split up and explored. The local kids loved having their photos taken and everyone was super friendly. We ate a picnic lunch that Noa and Elizabeth packed us, and hung out for the entire afternoon. There was a beach across the street from the field, so some of us spent time hanging out with some of the younger local kids that weren’t playing rugby. 

That night, we had an amazing dinner at Nakia, a resort owned by an American woman named Julie who also runs a local dive shop. When we got to Nakia, there were several dive shop employees sitting down, playing guitars and drinking kava. We sat down and all tried kava for the first time. (The kids were SO excited) We ate a decadent meal, listened to music, and drank kava all night. Alex L. even pulled a harmonica out of his pocket and joined the musicians. I’m kicking myself for leaving my camera behind, but the kids got some great shots.