The rugby field of Qalikarua village.
Kevin and I were just cleaning up our breakfast dishes when Koli's fishing boat full of people - to the point that it looked like it might capsize if hit by big enough wake - pulled up to Shannon. Koli, his wife Luciana, six other men and a bunch of little kids were piled in the boat. "Are you sure we can fit?" I asked Koli. "Ah yes! No problem, jump in!" he replied.
Kevin and I grabbed our lunch, a bundle of kava, water and rain jackets, but no hats or sunglasses. In traditional Fijian culture wearing sun glasses is considered rude or shady, and the head is sacred so wearing a hat is reserved for the chief. Of course if I had worn either a hat or sunglasses nobody would say anything, but nobody else wears these things, either.
We hopped in the boat, were given the best seats, and set off around the island. Kevin and I had absolutely no idea where we were going, we were just along for the ride. After about 20 minutes of a rather interesting boat ride - it was beautiful cruising over the turquoise water and bright coral patches but scary in that I thought we would capsize or sink because the boat was so full - we arrived at a village.
I went to jump out of the boat but Tui, the guy sitting next to me said, "No, we go around to the other side." One kid carrying a huge bundle of kava got out of the boat and three huge rugby players walked up to the boat. You are kidding me, I thought. We were already cruising so low in the water every small wave we hit went into the boat, not to mention the leaks in the hull. Nobody else seemed to mind, and the three guys got in, carrying their rugby cleats around their shoulders. Space was made, and we were on our way once again.
After another hour or so we arrived at a bigger village. Whereas Lomati has about 50 inhabitants, Qalikarua has about 90, and is the biggest village on the island. Kevin and I, being somewhat of a spectacle, were taken to the community house right away to present our sevu-sevu to the chief, who is Luciana's brother. Once again I was the only female in a large room filled with 40 or 50 men. The men always insist that Kevin and I sit at the front of the room right next to the chief and the kava bowl, and you can imagine what it felt like to be one of two palangis (white people) and the only girl, with all the men of three villages watching us. In spite of being incredibly out of place everybody was very kind to me, introducing themselves and serving me kava second only to Kevin.
The sevu-sevu concluded, everybody went outside to the veranda to watch the rugby players warming up. Koli took Kevin and me on a tour of the village. I was asked to take pictures of the rugby teams, people's houses, their kids, and the nursing station. I promised I would print out some pictures and send them to the village when I get back to the "mainland" (Viti Levu).
Finally the rugby game started and the whole village came out to watch. The rugby field is a huge grassy area right up from the beach, palm tree lined on one side, the community house at one end, the nursing station at the other. The goal posts are made of long wooden sticks and the field is uneven and full of prickles. It seemed like only the VIPs sat on the porch of the community center to watch the game: the chief, the older men, Kevin and me. No women or kids. I walked around and chatted with people as the game went on... a very long game. In the end our local team won, although I am pretty sure everybody was local, and everybody left in good (albeit mellow from drinking kava all day) spirits.
There was only one rather awkward moment during the rugby match when the chief of the village grilled Kevin and me about why we were not married. We said that we were "planning to get married soon." The chief seemed pleased and said, "Ah yes, I think you will find Fijians better to you once you are married." I couldn't imagine people being nicer or more open with us, but apparently they were a bit scandalized that two young, unmarried people would travel around together. Like I told Kevin later, we blew it by not telling people we were married in the first place. "Yea, well we don't have any rings!" was Kevin's response.
After the game Koli invited Kevin and me to eat lunch with him and Luciana. We gratefully accepted as all we brought for lunch was peanut butter, nutella, and crackers. Luciana had not been at the game and I assume she was cooking, as when we arrived at the kitchen shack there was a cloth on the floor with a big pot of food, plates and cups set out. We all sat on the mats on the floor and Luciana served Koli, Kevin and me ramen noodles with canned tuna, and big chunks of cassava. The food was surprisingly good. I mean, ramen noodles are hard to make bad, and after a long day we were starving.
I pulled out the peanut butter and crackers and apparently peanut butter is Koli's favorite, so he was very pleased. He told us that the supply ship, which comes to Matuku "once a month", was out of peanut butter the last time it came so he has not had any in a long time. Thus our meager contribution to the meal was more appreciated than it would be most places.
As for cassava, it is kind of like a cross between a potato and something stringy... not the greatest food but certainly sticks to the insides. The Fijians love their starchy foods and I had better be careful eating all that cassava and taro, otherwise I will be filling out like them. Even Koli mentioned it: "You eat lots of cassava and taro you get fat like my wife! Ha-ha." Luciana just laughed.
Kevin and Sikelli playing after lunch.
After lunch, cookies, lemon leaf tea and being absolutely massacred by mosquitoes and no-nos, we went down to the beach. I was very ready to head back to the boat after a long day in the sun, drinking kava, and hanging out with the locals, all of which were fun but exhausting. After one more gathering in the community hall (all men except me, again) there was a speech, a bit of clapping, and we all disbanded. As we climbed in the boats I heard squealing and saw a pig being loaded into one of the boats. I was just happy it was not in ours.
On the way back to Lomati we stopped at the same village we picked up the rugby players from in the morning. Much to my dismay Koli said we would be stopping there for a while to rest - although I think he wanted to show Kevin and me off a bit - and after walking around the village a bit I parked up on the grass. A woman with her baby came out, introduced herself, and offered me a coconut. We chatted as I drank the sweet water of the coco. These Fijians live some of the most simple, subsistence lives I have ever personally encountered, but are also the most generous, open and friendly people I have ever met. Isn’t it ironic that often times it is the poorest people who are the most generous?
We finally made it back to Shannon around sunset. Before we got out of the boat Koli told us that he would be back at 10:00 AM to pick us up for church in the morning, and that we would have lunch with him and Luciana after. Never mind going snorkeling, we wanted a local experience and now we are getting it -- to the max.