Thanksgiving! In Fiji? Now how does that work… Well pull up a chair, grab your mug of cider, and let me explain my friends.
I decided that instead of spending Thanksgiving alone on my little island, that I would travel to Viti Levu, to the city of Lautoka (the Sugar City in the Burning West) to spend it with about 20 other Viti Levu volunteers. Alicia and Megan, 2 of the Lautoka volunteers sent out adorable Turkey Day invitations about a month ago about our potluck style dinner and so naturally I said yes!
Thursday (actual Thanksgiving day for us out here, you guys all celebrated it on our Friday) I left at 4am to catch the bus that heads to the ferry. Got on the ferry at about 6am, reached Viti Levu at Natovi landing around 7 and got into Korovou town around 7:30am. Waited for the transport up Kings Road to Lautoka (stopping in various places along the extremely treacherous nearly washed out road from all the rain) we stopped in Rakiraki town and picked up Livia and Kim who were headed up that day too, and then another few hours to Lautoka. All in all it took me 9 hours to reach Lautoka from my village. Looong travel day! Once in Lautoka we went out for lunch and caught up and then headed back to Alicias apartment. Well naturally being 4 girls, we decided to have a psuedo spa night. We read magazines (courtesy of Alicia’s family), made face masks out of yogurt, oats, honey and virgin coconut oil (which we all commented was like putting breakfast on your face…), used Crest Whitestrips (once again courtesy of Alicia), burned a delicious smelling candle, and painted our toenails. I hadn’t felt so feminine in 6 months… we even put cucumbers on our eyes. Now that is something I have NEVER done before but I highly recommend it to all of you back home! On a sadder note, I found out from my “family” back in the village that my baby chicken Zazu died. Isa Zazu.
Friday- we went to the movies in Lautoka and the market to pick up all the materials we would need for our cooking extravaganza the next day. The four of us staying at Alicia’s skyped home to our families which was quite wonderful. I got to talk to my aunts and uncles, grandma, some cousins and parents. That was the real Thanksgiving for me, being so far away in a country whose only idea of Thanksgiving is what they see of dysfunctional families in movies really makes you appreciate the real people back home that love and support you. That evening we went over to Megan and Janis’ house to celebrate early Megan and Dave’s birthdays that would be on Monday. There were a lot of people there and we made roti pizzas. Roti is like a tortilla but made with flour and usually served with curries… but it makes quite a delicious pizza :) We topped them with tomato paste and various veggies… now, this ain’t sayin’ much… but that’s the best damn “pizza” I’ve had since being in Fiji.
Saturday- the day of our Fiji-fied thanksgiving. We spent the morning preparing our dishes and headed over to Megans where the celebration occurred. It was utterly fantastic. We had SO MUCH FOOD. Here is the menu run down… im sure I have forgotten something but this gives you the jist.
○ Chicken (we don’t have turkey in Fiji so we settle for second best. Doesn’t really matter to me because I don’t eat meat)
○ Mashed potatoes
○ Kumala casserole (kumala is the Fiji version of a sweet potato)
○ Mac n’ Cheese
○ A bucket salad. Don’t let the name confuse you, it was literally a bucket of salad!
○ Stuffing- brought straight from the good old US of A
○ Cranberry sauce- see above
○ Pasta dish with tomato sauce and tons of veggies
○ Rolls with cheese on top
○ Stuffed tomatoes
○ Some sweet cooked dish, not really sure what it was
○ Kumala, pumpkin, raisin and coconut cream soup which was AMAZING
○ Fruit Salad
○ Pecan Pie (pecans brought back from USA)
○ Pumpkin Pie
○ Peach Crisp
○ And naturally plenty of beer, wine and rum
We had such a blast. Everyone was cooking until about 6 or 7 when we all gathered around and heard a lovely speech about why Megan was thankful for all of this happening especially in Lautoka, and then we got down to business grubbin. We ate outside on the veranda sitting on ibe’s (woven mats) with special lighting from lights from Diwali. After dinner we played a round of Jeopardy and had a dance party. It was such a special event to have all the volunteers gather together and celebrate such a wonderful holiday of giving thanks with each other. I am thankful for my Peace Corps family, I am thankful for my real family, thankful for this opportunity, for these people, for my village, for Fiji.
Sunday- since nearly everything everywhere in Fiji is closed on Sunday we had a relaxing day. Kim and I went to the movies to watch Arthur’s Christmas, that new one which is actually pretty cute and made me miss snow a whole damn lot. Then we walked around town and went to the market where I bought a few Christmas lights for my house, a pitcher for tea, sirracha sauce, a water glass, chickpeas and some towels and a baking dish. Basically all the things I cant normally find on my island, at least for cheap. After that we went out to lunch and said goodbye to some of the volunteers that were leaving that day. That evening we went back to Megans and watched a few movies, hung around the house, and made brinner. That’s breakfast for dinner for all of you who don’t mix your meals haha… we had eggs with veggies, bacon (real bacon mind you, not the weird half ham stuff they usually sell here) and bagels. They also don’t sell bagels in this country so Janis made bagels for us and they were absolutely stellar. We also had some of the leftover soup from the night before. We went to bed early on Sunday, just kind of tapped out from the week.
Monday- I left to come back to Ovalau. Left Lautoka at 8am and got back to my village at 6pm… just reverse the above trip and youll get it. On the bus from the ferry to my village this guy next to me kept looking at me like I was a crazy kaivulagi that had no reason for being on this island. Well as fate would have it as we got about 3 miles from my village there were kids doing various work for their families like gathering firewood, coconuts, or fish bait and they started recognizing me on the bus and yelling out my name. The guy on the bus was floored. Most people on the bus stay on it until they hit Levuka, the town about 30 minutes up from my village and so when I pulled the string to get off in, shock and awe, a VILLAGE, his jaw about hit the floor. He was just as shocked when I asked him in Fijian to please move so I could get my bag. Rock on. I was stoked. I got back into the village and put my bags down at my house, locked it up again and went out to the ocean where the boys were playing rugby, well it just so happens that the Chief and the Pastor were drinking grog at the bus stop so naturally I sat down and had a few bowls with them telling them about my trip and essentially what Thanksgiving actually is. It was nearing sundown, so I parted from that group and decided to take a short walk before it got dark. Well I didn’t get very far… just on the far side of the village I ran into a group of my friends outside that asked what I was doing and I said just taking a stroll and they invited me in for grog. Well, I had never drank grog at this house and decided tonight was as good of a night as ever. It turns out this is actually the house that I presented my sevusevu in when I first got to the village. Well I sat down next to my friends Samu, Tui, and Cookie…. Yeah everyone actually calls him cookie… hes a really wonderful singer as a side note. We started talking about village events and I learned 2 fairly shocking things.
○ Well on Wednesday before I left I was charging my phone and it was nearing 7pm so I turned my lights on. Only to realize… none of the lights in my house were working… I mean granted I only have 3, but they werent working,, and I had just replaced the bulbs last month. How could this be? Well Ben was walking by so I called him over, which led to Joeli, Vuki, Momo Vuki, Tawake and Naca coming over to check out the issue. Essentially all doing the same thing, walking into my house, turning on the switch, readjusting the bulbs, going to the back of my house to check if there was electricity credit left on my recharge for my meter box, upon seeing that there was still 6.44 MHz left, they would flip the breaker on and off and then tell me to go inside and check. Well the weird thing was that my electricity outlets would work, but my lights wouldn’t… Well Naca is the one that wired my house so he eventually figured out that someone had stolen my fuse. Really, someone steals fuses? Not going to lie before coming to Fiji I couldn’t have told you what a fuse was but know I know and people are stealing them? So they went to the Turaga ni Koro’s house to tell him and he said to grab the fuse from the electricity in the community hall and install it on my house. So then my power would work to both electricity and lights. So odd. Well the TK’s solution to this whole mess was to tell the kids and youth (people who are 20-30) not to come around my house. He essentially banned people from coming on my compound. ?!?!? Really? That doesn’t seem like an effective solution to me, because now I’m really lonely. People are afraid of coming over because they don’t want to get yelled at. My compound is Tabu. Isa. Well, he had good intentions. He doesn’t want anything to happen to me and he said that “I don’t know what is going on inside people, something might be… off. Not right. Not good. I can’t see that in their eyes. I want you safe. Here. Not having Peace Corps take you away.” good intentions. Lonely reactions.
○ Since I had been gone, there had been a death in the village. As soon as I heard that I started racking my brain through all the village elders, counting who I had seen and hadn’t (in the short 2 hours since I had been back) but its hard in a village of nearly 500 people. When they kept talking they told me that it was the wife of Samu, a different Samu than my friend, but a pregnant 31 year old woman. She has 5 kids, the oldest of which is 12, the youngest is 1 (nearly 2). She was 9 months pregnant and went to Suva to give birth, well complications arose and she wasn’t properly taken care of and both she and the unborn child passed away. I couldn’t believe it. Coming from the “Western World” where occurrences like that are very rare it was just shocking to me to learn that it happens on a more regular than it should basis out here. I guess she went to Suva on Tuesday last week to give birth. Called her husband on Thursday to say she wasn’t going to be able to make it, and passed on Friday. Thanksgiving. Isa was the only word I could mutter. The funeral is on Saturday and her body will be coming back on the ferry in the next few days to be buried here on her husbands land. I can’t do much, but I will be there with the family. Its just such a shock to us all.
So that has been my last week. Once again a culmination of ups and downs, work and play, struggles and triumphs, misunderstandings and realizations. As goes life here. I am happy to be back in my village around the people that care for me and back in my comfort zone in my tiny area. Glad to be back to work and thankful for the people I life and work with and for, life here just wouldn’t be the same crazy ride it is without them.