Congregating in front of the church before services with baby Margret, James, Kevin and Koli.
Fijians are not known for their punctuality, and even less so for showing up early, but alas, Koli was at Shannon to pick us up for church by 9:15 AM. He had told us 10:00, but the tide was going low so it was easier for him to come out earlier. I made him a cup of tea while he waited for us to get ready. At least he didn't make us come in for the 6:00 AM service.
Donning my finest sulu and my least frumpy shirt - I didn't even think to pack any nice clothes - we got into Koli's fishing boat and headed into shore. Koli was wearing a dress shirt, tie and blazer with "Lombati Methodist Church" embroidered on the pocket. As we walked through the village to his house I noticed all the kids wearing their finest clothes - sulus, dress shirts and ties for boys and men, frilly dresses for the little girls, and brightly colored dresses for the women.
When I asked Luciana to teach me how to tie my sulu in the proper Fijian fashion, she went rummaging around for a proper sulu (I guess mine is not "proper") and I ended up wearing one of her heavy, long skirts all day. After being appropriately dressed, Koli took us down to the church. The church is a simple cinder block building with rows of pews, an altar adorned with plants and flowers, and a tapestry of the Last Supper on the wall behind the preacher. I was relieved not to see a bloody Jesus on the cross or depictions of Hell or scary stuff like that.
The whole service - about an hour and a half long - was almost completely in Fijian. At one point a woman stood up and welcomed Kevin and me in English, and Kevin stood up to say a little speech about how thankful we are to be here, Aloha. But by far the most impressive part of the service was the singing. I do not know what it is about islanders, but they have the most incredible voices - both individually and as a group. They sing in 30 part harmonies, their voices filling the church to the point that I could feel the vibrations through my body. I didn't dare sing along for fear of marring the perfection (plus I didn't know the words, even with a Fijian hymn book in front of me).
After the service we went back to Koli and Luciana's house for lunch. Once again, when we got back to the house a cloth was spread out on the floor with place settings for each of us. Koli is a carpenter but explained that he never has time to fix his own house, which is why the floor boards sag when you walk across, some of the steps are missing out the back, and there are some holes in the wooden walls. His house, unlike many of the others I have been in, has four beds with mosquito netting around the walls. Still, life takes place on the mats on the floor.
Lunch and Koli and Luciana's house.
Lunch was another two ramen noodle dishes. The first was ramen noodles with curried taro and the second was ramen noodles with some sort of leafy green and canned mutton. Yummmm. There was also a plate of huge chunks of taro. Taro, when cooked, turns a purple-greyish color, has almost no taste, is super dense and has a sticky, starchy texture. It kind of reminds me of a cross between a potato and an unripe banana, but it really is not that bad. I liked the curried taro with noodles, but eating taro with a side of taro is a bit much for me. It is so heavy and filling, I was thoroughly impressed to watch Kevin eat about a pound and a half of it. He loves the stuff.
Lunch finished, we sat around on the mats drinking tea. I brought out my ukulele and a neighbor, James, showed up with a guitar and we jammed for a while. His two kids played around on the floor and ate leftover food while Luciana washed the dishes and Koli smoked cigarettes. After a while Luciana said, "Ok, now you sleep. One bed for Kevin, one bed for Koli, and one bed for you." I didn't really want to climb in somebody else's bed to take a nap in the middle of the afternoon in a mosquito infested hut, but surprisingly, after a huge lunch of taro, it sounded kind of nice. I got into a bed and Luciana put the mosquito netting down around me. There were three giant mosquitoes flying around inside the netting and I sat up to try to kill them but Luciana said, "You lay down now." Yes, Ma'am. Luciana is very kind but not the kind of lady you argue with.
When Luciana left to go back to church I went on the prowl and killed the three mosquitoes in my netting, each leaving a huge blood splat on my hands. I kind of hoped it was my blood but kind of didn't... But in the village everything is shared. From clothes to beds, food and cutlery, as well as bodily fluids - I am pretty sure Kevin and I have swapped spit with all the men in the village by drinking kava: slurp your kava out of a coconut shell, pass it back, same shell dipped out of the bowl and passed to the next person. I like to think of it as an Olympics for my immune system.
Fortunately we were able to rest up before the Sunday night kava session. After Luciana went to church the village got very quiet, a cool breeze flowed through the hut, and the rustling of the coconut palms lulled me to sleep. When I awoke a few hours later Luciana was back from church and already preparing dinner. I had not moved more than 20 feet or so in the past five hours, and was already sitting down to another heavy meal - the same noodles and taro - but nobody was complaining. As a token of our appreciation Kevin and I brought in a whole, unopened jar of peanut butter for Koli and Luciana, and Luciana made us peanut butter and crackers to supplement our taro and noodles.
A pre-dinner jam session with Jone (Johnny), a plate of taro and a bowl of canned mutton and ramen noodles.
It also seemed like more and more kids showed up at the door around dinner, and some were given plates of food to eat in the house, some bowls of food were passed out the door, and other kids were very happy just to get a PB cracker. I am not sure exactly how eating and sharing meals works around here, but it seems to be communal. I must say there is not much cuter than watching a little boy wolf down a sticky mass of taro with gusto. And Luciana encouraged all of us to go for more, saying "Kane, kane," eat, eat.
After dinner we played a bit more music and then headed down to drink grog (kava) with the men. I tried to help Luciana with dishes but she would not have it. We walked into another hut with a bright kerosene light burning and maybe 15 men sitting around a kava bowl. Once again Kevin and I were given places of honor next to the chief and the kava bowl at the far end of the room. It seemed like we were kind of put on display, with everybody facing us and the light shining on us. But maybe that was just me. I would have loved for somebody to take a picture of the whole scene, but was too shy to ask, and even then I am not sure it would have captured the mood.
A few bowls of kava deep, Koli took out my ukulele and handed it up through the crowd to me, insisting that I play for everybody. By this time there were more than 20 men in the room - all staring at me - but I managed to play a little tune and they all seemed pleased. "Vinaka, vinaka," they said. Once again I didn't dare sing because in comparison to their godly voices I sound like a squawking hen, and a bowl kava does not give one confidence in the way, say, a few rums does.
After 6 or 7 bowls of kava I was done, and Koli kindly took me back to the boat. Kevin - the party animal that he is - opted to stay and drink kava until 2 AM. Needless to say, it was quite a day.