Seems like it has been a while since the last time I wrote, and as always a lot happens in the village every week!
Some highlights before moving on to an explanation of a grog session… I played with a snake that someone caught up at Sevo’s plantation… it had to be at least 5-6 feet long and was still alive when they brought it down to the village. Someone chopped it up and ate it for dinner, all I heard was “So sad you’re a vegetarian… it tastes like chicken.” I think I’ve heard that line too many times to believe it…
I think I met my favorite kid in the village so far. Koli is Tomasi’s cousin (tevale) they are more specifically joking cousins which is a special relationship in Fiji that basically allows them to be asses to each other, to joke around endlessly and play pranks on each other. Koli is 12 and brilliant. The first night we met I was drinking grog at my Yaca’s house (Tomasi and Kathys mom) and he came by and we started talking about animals like lions, tigers, cheetahs, coyotes, wolves, bears etc. all sorts of things that they don’t have in Fiji and he started telling me about the state flower of California and all sorts of things like that… it was really fun talking to him. He quizzed me on my Fijian and he kept telling me things to say to Tomasi to make him angry. It was all in all, a really fun time.
The PCVs on this island (all three of us…) have found our favorite restaurant in town, which couldn’t possibly have been very difficult to do as there are only 4. The Whale’s Tale is a small restaurant next to the one internet café in town and is kind of amazing. The people that work there are really sweet and every time I go in I try to speak to them more and more in Fijian. Moreover, it’s a common place for people from the village to pop into and grab a cup of tea and a “scone” and tell stories, my friend Bobo who I met my 3rd day on the island is from Rukuruku and calls me the “bad luck lady” because when I went to watch our villages rugby game, they lost. He always comes in, kisses me on the cheek, and talks about life in the village and what I’ve been up to. The reason the PCVs love it SO much is because they have an entire bookshelf of old National Geographic magazines that we pour over every Saturday when we meet up in town to do our weekly shopping, checking the mail, and other various things. They also have a really incredible fruit juice that is blended up papaya, banana, oranges, lemons, and any other seasonal fruits that happen to be around. Its amazing. Last week we all met up and had lunch there too. I had (as usual considering its one of the 2 vegetarian options on this island) veggie stir fry which was so much better than at any other place in town, Aliki (the other veg stick on this island) got Ratatouille (which was also AMAZING- tomato sauce is like gold here, its costs like 7-8 dollars to buy a bottle of pasta sauce in the market), and Tina got a club sandwich. Its nice to sit down with other people who share a similar background with you even though we are all from opposite corners of the country (Me: CA/WA, Aliki: FL, and Tina: NH/MA). Its nice to be able to just talk, be sarcastic, and have people understand it. I usually get into town at 830 or 9 in the morning and head back at around 1 on the carrier.
On Monday of this week I took a special extra trip into town to pick up a care package from the post office. The customs officers only work during the week, so when I got the notification in my box I had to wait until Monday to pick it up. WOW. My parents did me good, haha. I got all sorts of wonderful “American” stuff that is just nowhere to be found around here, mentos, fruit leather, dried fruit, sunflower seeds, SPICES, sauce mixes, velveeta (which I never ate in America, but it’s the only cheese you can actually keep here- real cheese goes bad in about 2 days so unless you want to go on a cheese binge, velveeta’s where its at), a rash guard, ziplock baggies, Dr. Bronners soap, Burts Bees chapstick and soap, hair clips, almond butter, raspberry jam, sharpies, gummy bears, reese’s pieces…. I wanted to cry when I opened it up. I don’t think I realized until I got that package how different things were here and for the first time I actually felt homesick. If you haven’t gotten the fact that I was ridiculously excited, I ate a whole roll of fruit mentos before the packages were even unpacked…
The bananas that I got on my hike up into the bush last week are finally starting to ripen, and since I have 2 bundles of about 30 naners in total, I’ve been eating like 4 a day for the past few days. I think people in the village think I’m a little crazy because they will ask what I had for lunch, “Iko kana cava kei na vakasigalevu?” and when I answer “E va na jaina” (4 bananas) they kind of just look at me and laugh a little.
This week I have been the recipient of much goodwill… I have been brought tons of food from different people, cassava, kaveti (bok choy), weleti (papaya), moli wi (lemons), dalo, rourou (dalo leaves), paikalei (like a pancake) and dovu (sugarcane)! I have also been invited over to my yaca’s house for dinner and lunch a few nights, and man its so nice to have a night off from cooking! I loved to cook and bake in America, but it’s a lot of work here to cook for one person when there is no means of food storage… Anything will mold or go bad before I can eat even 2 or 3 servings of it so I usually give away what I can or just set my mind to eating the same thing for 2 days straight.
I found out this week that my parents back in California are selling our house and moving to a smaller place that’s more fit for just the two of them. Now that my sister is married off and I’m, well, off in Fiji I think they are getting a place more suitable for two people instead of a bunch. It will be sad to come back in a few years to a new place, but I (and I think they) realize that I will never live back at home so they are staring to make decisions that are best for the two of them which is good. Its just odd to not have that place anymore.
On last Friday, a few of the girls from the village (Una and Magi) came over and we cooked coconut biscuits… really quite delicious. And handed them out to a lot of people who came by to say hi that afternoon. It was a good day to just sit around teaching them a new recipe, drink tea, and listen to Bob Marley at my house.
Saturday evening around 5pm the power went out and I (stupidly) never bought a set of candles from the shop to be prepared. So when darkness fell , I was really relieved that there was a bright moon and plenty of stars to see around a bit. Amini came over at about 7 with a candle because he rightly assumed that I didn’t have one. The power was out until late Sunday evening, good time to just sit around a read and visit.
On Tuesday I went up to Tomasi’s plantation about a mile and a half away at the next village and learned how to plant dalo. It was pouring rain for the whole walk there, the whole time we were there, and finally a break on the walk back. Tomasi’s plantation is stunning. Its located just off the main road behind a home and another plantation, up the side of a steep (extremely muddy) small cliff and across a small river/waterfall. I was really sad that it was pouring rain and that I couldn’t bring my camera- but sometimes forgetting the camera just allows me to enjoy the beauty of a place. We were up at the farm for about 2 hours planting dalo and exploring around the place a bit. I tried vara for the first time, I don’t really know the best way to explain what vara is but it’s a type of coconut that doesn’t form a hollow interior filled with water, instead the entire interior is like a semi soft/spongy textured-coconut flavored flesh. It was pretty good, but I think I prefer regular coconuts. We ran into Luisa and Koli as we were coming down from the plantation and walked back to the village with them. After I took a shower and had a cup of tea, I went over to my yaca’s (namesakes) house to have lunch which was dhal soup with cabbage and cassava. We had a grog session with the band from the next village over to celebrate my first plantings of dalo which I can harvest right before Christmas. I think we drank grog for like 8 hours or something like that… it was fairly ridiculous. As the time passes and the night gets older, more and more people show up at whichever houses are hosting grog presenting their small sevusevu’s (gifts of grog) to the hosts. Now that I have been in my village for about 5 weeks, I go out more frequently to grog and talanoa (tell stories) with different groups of people.
Grog (Yaqona, Kava, Piper methysticum) in individuals homes is typically a very informal event starting in the early afternoon (or morning for some people…) and lasting until sometimes 4 in the morning. People come and go, transitioning between different peoples homes, or just stopping in for a few bilos (bowls) to say hello. Most people use a buoy that has been cut in half to hold the grog that sits upon another cut out ring from the buoy to keep it upright (although in formal ceremonies a tanoa is used). Even in informal sessions, there is some level of “ceremony” or presentation there. There is one person who sits behind the tanoa and mixes the grog. Usually next to the tanoa is a basin of pounded up grog (yaqona root) that participants’ sevusevus are added to as the night progresses. There are 2 people, one on each side of the person mixing the grog that accept the sevusevus, add the grog to the fabric pouch that is used to mix the yaqona with the water, empty out the pouch when the tanoa is nearly empty from that batch, and distribute the kava to the participants. Everyone else is basically just a drinker with no specific role other than to drink and talanoa all night until they are mateni (drunk) or dope as the Fijians like to call it. People will typically ask, “Are you dope yet?” if they speak in English or, “Iko sa mateni tiko?”. The person sitting behind the tanoa will mix the pouch of pounded up yaqona root with water. At the beginning of a grog session someone will call “Lose” which means “Ready/Mix the thing”. First there will still be a small amount of grog left in the tanoa from the last mixing, but the “assistant” will pour water into the pouch from a larger bucket of water that sits on the side using a large bilo (coconut shell cup) after which the mixer will fold up the top of the pouch, roll it down a bit, and squeeze out the water, then more bilos of water are poured into the tanoa all the while the mixer is essentially massaging the yaqona filled pouch. After he thinks that all the kava-goodness has been extracted from the pouch he will swill the grog in the tanoa with a bilo, and then pick up a bilo of the grog and let it fall from about a foot above back down into the tanoa. An elder, or respected individual will be asked how it looks, to which they will either respond, “Wai” for more water, or “Vinaka/Set tiko” for its good. After the right mixture has been achieved the mixer will say “Saqai lose oti tu na yaqona” “The grog is mixed”, the mixer and the assistant will use the larger bilo to pour grog into the smaller bilo which will be passed around. Grog is distributed (typically) in the same order all night. So if you get the first bilo the first round, get ready to be first all night. In order to receive the bilo, the person obtaining it cobo’s (claps but with your hands convex to form a hollow area in the middle- makes really loud claps- try it sometime!) slightly lifts up the bilo and looks at someone in the room who is either new, a visitor, or someone of higher status and says “Bula” then drinks down the grog in one big chug. After you finish, someone from the group will say “Maca” for “empty” and everyone cobo’s three times (although this last part isn’t always done, eventually it gets annoying to hear people cobo-ing all night). The mixer typically asks me if I want “High-tide” (a full bilo) or “low tide” a 1/4-1/2 full bilo. When I first got here, I would be served low-tide only with about 2 TBSP of grog in each bilo I got which ended up being really frustrating for a while. Then Aliki the PCV from Bureta came to visit for a grog session and said, give her high tide! To which they happily agreed. From then on, its been my decision how I’d like to spend the evening! After everyone in the group has been served for the round, everyone sits back and stretches their legs (vakadodo) because its considered very rude to have your legs outstretched while grog is being distributed, talanoa, and smokes (basi- literally means “bus” and its when one person lights the cigarette “waqa na tavako” and then its passed about a group until it’s gone, or there is kavu- which means half, so one person lights and smokes half and then its passed to the next person). The next round is started by the call of “Taki” or “Talo!” which mean pour, or next round! And the rounds start all over again. I usually sit somewhere in the middle of the group, but on Tuesday I moved up next to Samu who was mixing the grog. I decided to be a bit cheeky and told him, “Solia vei Tomasi e dua na bilo sinai.” Which means give Tomasi high-tide. Tomasi was mateni already from drinking and smoking and had switched to low tide for a bit so it was funny. Oh, another interesting fact. If someone isn’t drinking, or has already been served that round but a bilo was already poured for them, that bilo of grog will not be redistributed to another person, instead it will be poured back into the tanoa, mixed up and then a new bilo poured for the next in line. When the grog has run out the mixer will say “Saqai maca tu na yaqona” or “the yaqona is empty”. Formal grog session are pretty different because there are certain sayings and actions made in a certain order and the grog is distributed to specific people and specific times in a predetermined order, but more on those types of ceremonies later.
Well, now its Thursday and I was lucky enough to talk to Kayla (one of my best friends since 4th grade) back home this morning! It was really nice to talk about things and to hear a familiar and reassuring voice. It makes me realize how lucky I have been so far in my life to meet such wonderful people who support me no matter what crazy adventures I decide to embark on!