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Fiji Islands Building Community (Session 1)

July 1, 2019

After a long day of travel, we landed in Fiji and met with one of our group leaders, Craig. We exchanged our money for Fijian dollars and then headed towards a local market. There was a vast, colorful variety of fruits and vegetables, most Native to Fiji. At the market we bought Kava root, which would later be used in a Sevu Sevu welcoming ceremony in the village of Nativi. After tasting a few new snacks, we were off to the Wailaloa beach resort where we would be residing for the night. Next, we headed down the beach to our lunch destination for a pizza feast. Post lunch we did some team building activities, wherein we got to know each other and our group leaders. Following the team building, we were a group on a mission to acquire sulus (a traditional Fijian sarong) to wear in the village. We headed over to dinner right afterwards and some of us tried our first Fijian meals. To conclude our day, we debriefed with a group meeting to discuss our trip and general Fijian culture. Finally, we all said “goodnight” and went to sleep.

~ Anya C.

July 2, 2019

To start the day, we awoke at the Wailoaloa resort and ate a hardy breakfast of oatmeal, sausage and toast. After breakfast, we loaded into the van and headed to Nativi Village. Along the way, we stopped at a gas station for both snacks for us and the car. Next, we stopped for lunch in Rakiraki. The group had an array of Indian-fusion foods spread out in the table. After a meal of noodles, fried rice, curry and fruit juice, all eaten over good conversations and laughs, we began out final journey to Nativi. Along the road, we admired the mountains, trees, and natural scenery. Upon our arrival we put on our sulus and went to the community center. We asked for permission to enter in Fijian, then sat along the wall to begin out Sevu Sevu welcome ceremony. The back wall held the women and children, in the middle of the room sat the elders and facilitators of the ceremony, and our group was at the front, along with the chief, Joshua. The ceremony began with prayers, then the facilitators proceeded to mix the Kava, a drink made from the root of a pepper plant that we had bought earlier in the trip. The coconut shells were placed in front of us, one clap with clapped hands meant that we were receiving the gift. Finally, we all had our two servings of Kava, and we were ready to meet out host families. In pairs, we each stood up and were presented with necklaces, mixes of leaves and flowers. We were then walked to our houses to visit our families and present our presents from home. Following the meeting of our host families, it was time for afternoon tea, where we enjoyed donuts and lemon tea. We thanked the cooks by saying “Vinaka Na kana” and proceeded to help clean. After tea, we met with the children of the village and played until dinner time. At dinner, we enjoyed chicken, rice, fried cabbage, and cassava. Again, we thanked them and helped clean. Then, it was time for bed after a long and exciting day.

~ Clio B.

July 3, 2019

Today was our first day of work in Nativi Village. We woke up at around 6am to the alarming yet humorous sound of a rooster. We said “bula” and “good morning” to our host families and then met the rest of the group for a homemade breakfast of bread and coffee. Then, our work began. At first, it was hard to know what to do. How should we help? It seemed like everyone was either too polite or to shy to tell us what to do, and we were far too nervous to ask. As we started to get more comfortable, we found it was easier to work with confidence. We even started to laugh together as the Fijians taught us simple phrases and words. By the end of the day, a few of us could count to ten in Fijian, it was a simple feat, but so rewarding, especially because when we made it, out loud, through all ten fingers. There was always an eruption of applause and laughter from everyone around us. As we worked on building the kitchen, the future owners of it and their families sat around to support us and watch their building rise. During breaks we spent time with the families, cuddling and playing with their babies. Though we were doing hard manual labor in the hot sun, I couldn’t stop being happy. Laughing with the Fijians made the work fun. By the afternoon, we had finished our work for the day. Before dinner, we entertained more than 20 local kids between the ages of seven and nine. I loved how we could all have so much fun playing games like Duck Duck Goose and Ring around the Rosie. We played these games over and over until dinner without getting tired or bored. As we ate, the children poked their heads through the windows of our building and waited to play with us again. To end the day, we discussed our self and social identities in regards to travel and then went to bed. I can’t wait to wake up tomorrow to pick up where we left off.

~ Sophia B.

July 4, 2019

As we woke up to the sound of screeching roosters and kids laughing during our third day in the village, we began to feel immersed into the routine of the Fijian lifestyle. It began to feel normal to be greeted by “Bula!”s from smiling faces and to be followed by an army of friendly children who follow us everywhere, holding our hands and gazing at us from outside the community center as we eat. As we sat down this morning for breakfast, the children peered in through the window trying to get as close as they could to their new American friends. Grace, an 8-year-old girl who claimed me to be her best friend was among the children who giggled and waved to us from outside. During the trip we have spent almost the entire time with each other or the kids from the village which has been incredibly fun, but also draining at times. This morning during free time, I decided to go on a walk by myself. It was the first time all trip I had been alone for more than ten minutes. I sat down on a rock, watching the children run around in the distance; I listened to the birds chirping and the wind howling. I smelled the sweet scent of ripe papaya. I looked up at the perfect blend of sun and clouds in the sky and the arching, green mountains. I felt a sense of peace and satusfaction as I enjoyed the nature that surrounded me. This moment contrasted the night before when I saw a gorgeous sunset spread it’s wings over the mountains; I was so caught up in my friends and the children that I was playing with that I wasn’t able to appreciate the sunset to its full potential. It was after that moment where I made the goal for myself to not be so caught up in this adventure that I can’t slow down for a minute to take a few deep breaths and be aware of my magical surroundings.
After dinner, we were called into the community center. We waited as the people from the village entered, brining in the kava drink as well as cups. We then did another kava drinking ceremony as we all gulped down the earthy tasting water. Suddenly, music started to play and all of a sudden we were on the dance floor as the Fijians watched us and clapped along. Some of the elders got up and danced with us. One of the oldest women had a dance battle with Sophia and busted out in dance moves like she was in her 20s. The crowd went crazy.

~ Leor H.

July 5, 2019 

In the morning we arose once again to the loud, Fijian Tao (chicken) and children playing. We made out way to breakfast in the community hall, where we met with the rest of the group. At this point, we had become used to the Fijian lifestyle. After eating an amazing breakfast in the community center, we began to head back to the kindergarten, where we read to, played with and sang with the Fijian children for an hour. After hanging out with the kids, we made out way to the worksite and were greeted with familiar smiles and “Bula”s! by the Fijians we worked with to create the kitchen. Then we began to get to work and started creating cement for the kitchen floor. Then we began to get to work and started creating cement for the kitchen floor. After working hard with the Fijians, we took a break and headed back to the community center for lunch. After lunch we played with the children a little but more and then made our way back to the worksite. The the worksite we continued to make cement, then chilled out for a while and admired the absolute beauty of the Fijian mountains. Then we walked back to the community center again for afternoon tea and crackers. After we finished our tea, we went to the field and joined to Fijians in games of volleyball and rugby. Then we sang song and played with the children. After we ate a delicious dinner we went outside and watched the warm vibrant colors of sun fade beyond the mountains. After we played card games with the kids and relaxed. Later we all left to go back to our homestays to get ready for bed.

~ Payton K.

July 6, 2019

Today was officially our last full work day. This time though, we worked to accomplish a different goal: planting cassava. Cassava is an edible root similar to a potato that Fijians rely on heavily in their cooking. Since we’ve been here, we’ve eaten it for at least one meal every day. Fijians here in Nativi use to to cook with and also to sell. It is very important in Fijian villages, which made it all the more relevant and exciting to help plant it. Once we finished planting, we relaxed and played on the other side of the river. Almost the entire village was spending Saturday with us in the field across the river, watching a rugby tournament, playing volleyball, socializing, playing clapping games with kids, and hanging out with babies. A couple of us got our hair done in twists and braids by 4 or 6 tiny hands all at once. It only hurt a little bit 🙂 I loved to look across the field and see an entire village coming together as a community. After a delicious picnic lunch, we all headed down to the river to swim. I was hesitant at first, but soon I found myself in a laughter-filled splashing fight with a little girl named Lolo and a boy named Watson, they completely soaked me, so I figured I may as well jump in. We took turns leaping into the water, splashing each other and giving each other rides on a bamboo raft called a Billie-Billie. As we played in the river, I didn’t feel like a foreigner, or even a babysitter like I often do here. I felt like just another kid. The rest of the day was spent playing around the village and chasing chickens, a perfect way to spend this Saturday.

~ Sophia B.

July 7, 2019

After a long night of stargazing and music, we began our Sunday with a refreshingly late start, waking up 30 minutes later than usual. For the village, Sunday is a day of rest. After a leisurely breakfast, we made our way back to our homes to get dressed for church. We wore these funky Hawaiian-esque buttoned t-shirts along with black or brown skirts. We were polite and quiet when joking about what we looked like. Church was a long experience. Even though the singing was beautiful, most of the two hour long service consisted of the pastor speaking to the congregation in Fijian. It was interesting to see how the Fijians practice their religion, but it was a slightly different spiritual experience for me. However, the playful children on our laps kept us entertained.
The early afternoon was slightly uneventful. The people of Nativi remained in their houses for the day of rest. However we were still able to enjoy ourselves by playing cards and freestyle rapping in the house.

As we were getting settled down in the late afternoon, preparing for our nightly meeting, one of the local Fijian men called me over from across the dirt road. At first I was hesitant to approach him, because our trip leader Christina was trying to gather us together. I went over to him anyways, interested in what he had to say. He told me that he was going on a hike up the hill to watch the sunset. I sprinted back over to Christina’s house, and she let us go with him. I convinced Jay and Bryce to follow us on our adventure. As we began our hike through the slippery, red mud, I lost my balance and slipped off the road. I was not hurt, but Bryce and Jay found it hilarious and hysterically laughed for the rest of the hike. We finally settled down on the hills, receding into the distance, the colorful landscape and what appeared to be a small village. Looking up we saw the stunning fluorescent lights illuminating the sky, transforming it into a peach color. The sun peered back at us from behind a cloud, leaving sharp rays of color shooting in all directions. As we were looking in every direction, it seemed as if the sun had placed small streaks of pink, purple and orange in carefully selected places. It was an incredible experience. After we hiked back down, we made sure to go to sleep earlier than usual so we could wake up at 5:30 the next morning to watch the sunrise on that same hill.

~ Leor H.

July 8, 2019
This morning was particularly hard for me. After an amazing stay with the kids and people of Nativi, we finally had to say our goodbye. This morning started with another wonderful breakfast of bananas, papaya, coffee, hot chocolate, warm bread, cake and a new chocolate cake. All deliciously filling and climactic, being this would be our final breakfast here. I walked back to my host family’s house slowly, realizing that this might actually be the last time I see them again. Barely accepting this reality, I went into the house and started packing my bags. “Bula!” Solomon, my host father, came in yelling through the door. The rest of the family, Joanna (host mother), Sam (eldest brother), Watson (middle brother), and Eli (the youngest brother), followed him. We exchanged hugs and pictures and edited them all we would never forget them. After, we walked to the van and were greeted by the rest of the Nativi families. I was blown away by a beautiful thank you and see you again song performed by the men, women and children. We then all have our hugs and tears and waved goodbye to the people that have left imprints on our lives. It was only until I left Nativi that I understood how much I really missed them. After a long, almost silent ride, we arrived at the scuba diving site. We entered the resort, met our instructors and went to work learning how to dive.

The first thing we did was grab our tanks, which weighed a ton. We buckled our scuba vest and jumped in the pool, ready to receive our long lesson. We practiced using our air tanks, “Breathe deeply and slowly,” our instructor said. Soon enough, we were ready to go to the ocean. We got to the beach front and walked into the boat. Even before taking two steps into the boat we saw small fish extremely close to the shore. We got on the boat and zoomed away. When we reached our destination, we put on our goggles, tanks and vests and were ready to jump. I took two deep breaths and stepped off of the ledge of the boat. Soon as I got in the water, I was rushed with a fleet of jellyfish. My eyes lit up in amazement as we floated through coral and swam with the amazing creatures. We swam back up to the shore and soon were in our way back to shore, never to forget the things that had gone on in the water. After, we got out of the boat, changed, ate lunch and drive off in a van towards our next destination.
~ Bryce M.

July 9, 2019
Today was our first day at Takalana. I woke up to a beautiful rainbow and ocean view. After, we ate a breakfast of rice, cereal and fried Fijian bread. After breakfast, we returned to the room and enjoyed the beautiful view while talking about the trip and life. Next, we loaded onto the boat. After an hour of boating, we arrived at the reef to see the spinner dolphins. The dolphins were everywhere, as we anchored we were surrounded by them. We watched them swim and occasionally surface for air. After we watch the dolphins play, we made a short trip to a shallow reef to swim. When we arrived I jumped in to the water; it was cold but refreshing. After a long day on the water, we came back and ate fish, rice and chicken. Next, we took a long walk on the beach as the sun set. We got snacks and talked about the water quality in fishing rivers. We returned to Takalana and ate dinner. We had fish (that Bryce and Craig had caught!), rice and spaghetti. After dinner we briefly met before going to our rooms. Finally, we showed and prepared for our last full day in Fiji.
~ Jeremiah H.

July 10, 2019

We all woke up a little tired from the previous day. We got up, ate breakfast and got ready for our hike to the waterfall near our resort. The walk there was gorgeous and the trail was wet and slippery. Some people struggled (and complained) but Leor thought the hike was pretty easy. At the end of the hike, we all jumped into a small body of water at the bottom of a waterfall. It was very refreshing and relaxing to swim and jump off the rocks into the water. The water was deep and cold. We all swam and after a while, adapted to the temperature. It was like something out of a movie- a fresh spring in the middle of beautiful nature. After a long and refreshing swim, we started back to the hotel. When we got back to the hotel, we ate dinner and learned how to make coconut toffee from the women who work at Takalana. Then we got ready for the bonfire. We all sat close to the powerful blaze and shared stories of the things we learned while on our trip. We watched the fire grow dim and recognized that it signified the ending of our adventures here. We walked back to our rooms, packed and fell asleep.
~ Bryce M. and Leor H.