Fiji 2012

Early, early start on a freezing Waikato morning. Scraping ice off my windscreen at 3am is not something I want to get used to. However, I did manage to sleep in the minibus on the way to Auckland airport along with the rest of the party once the initial excitement of finally getting away wore off.
I am one of three teachers and ten students heading to Fiji to provide support – moral, spiritual, physical and financial – to St Christopher’s Home in Nasaki, Suva and Bureta village on the tiny island of Ovalau.
Travelling is always exciting, especially when it is the first time you have visited a place; the anticipation and the curiosity – will it be what you imagined? What will the people, the landscape, the buildings, the food and the culture be like? The hanging around in airports, checking baggage in, eating aeroplane food, being squashed in tiny seats is not quite so exciting but it is all part of the journey and we make it what we can. It was good to have some time to get to know the girls – I don’t teach any of them and so they come to me as blank canvases which is great. It was also good to grab a coffee to boost the system. Teenage girls will be teenage girls and after much dilly dallying around we found ourselves walking more briskly than we had planned to our gate for our flight. I snatched a welcome hour of sleep during the flight before we arrived in Fiji and felt almost human! The warm air hit us as we stepped off the plane – in some ways it was welcome and very pleasant as it seeped into a body that had spent the previous 48 hours deeply chilled. The novelty soon wore off as we queued in a packed immigration hall which large slowly turning ceiling fans struggled to keep cool. However, by the time we made it through and out into the “fresh air” we realised just how much work the fans had been doing! We were met by the Sisters of St Christopher’s and Rev Jill was whisked away by them as Jo and I clambered aboard the bus with the girls. Air-con in the bus came in the form of open windows and doors – the breeze was welcome as we bounced along the road from Nausori to Nasaki. I had already glimpsed the verdant countryside of Fiji from the plane as we flew in. Now I could see just how lush the land is even here in the city. Banana trees, coconut palms, wide green leaves and gardens full of flowers flashed by and I was amazed too by the size of the river we crossed. Interesting also that the Rewa Bridge spanning the river was jointly funded by the European Union and the Government of Fiji.
I am curious about the number of car wash stalls I saw on the way – is there a huge demand for clean cars? Or maybe it is an indication of high unemployment? Car washing is an easy business to set up and I guess money would be cash-in-hand. I was also amazed by the number of Grog stalls and just as in Cambodia and Vietnam the were plenty of roadside stalls selling fruit and vegetable, sim cards, phone top up cards and mobile phones. There were also quite a lot of second hand car lots and yards selling car parts. We entered “Rugby Country” – huge hoardings celebrating the Fiji 7s team’s victories and a rugby stadium that appears to be an uneasy assemblage of ironwork; not sure I’d like to be high up in the stand! The houses were an assortment of styles and sizes; some were made of concrete blocks, some wooden and others corrugated iron, all painted in an aray of bright colours. They nestled higgledy-piggledy in dips and hollows or stood proud on brows of hills, each surrounded by generally well-tended gardens. It seemed that the more well off lived cheek by jowl with the poorer as ramshackle corrugated iron houses were mixed in and amongst the more expensive looking concrete ones. We soon turned off the main road and into a smaller street where we came to the, quite imposing, gates of St Christopher’s Home. My first impressions was that this was a reasonably wealthy establishment – the large gateway with the name in wrought iron above it leads down a driveway to the main building which had beautifully tended gardens around it. A §2 tip meant that the driver unloaded our luggage for us. We were immediately greeted by a little huddle of wide-eyed children from the pre-school who had waved enthusiastically at us as we drove in. “Bula” is the greeting used at all times of the day and we quickly learned to use it as everyone in Fiji greets everyone else – it is considered rude not to say “Bula” to anyone you cross in the street or in shops or buses.
The Home is quite extensive and as I already said it seems to be reasonably affluent, whether this is because people like us bring goods and donate money or because the church is well off, I don’t know. I was struck by how well-maintained the beautiful gardens are – brightly coloured flowers, tall coconut trees, banana trees and veggie gardens. The guest accommodation – The Light House – is basic but comfortable. We were glad to put our bags down and get changed into something more appropriate to the heat and humidity. First stop – local supermarket for some basic supplies for breakfast as we were all starving. Jill also needed to go to Suva to get the ferry tickets to Ovalau.
After an interesting walk through the locality to the supermarket we ate lunch and then the girls were keen to go into the nursery to play with the children. Some girls helped in the garden and we sat and weeded and talked to one of the ladies who worked there and we found out that the numbers 1 – 10 are almost identical to those in Maori. She also told us some other words in Fijian but, unfortunately, I can’t remember them. Hopefully later in the week I can find them out and learn them again. Her daughters Filo and Nani arrived back from school and we chatted to them for a while and then one if the girls excitedly pointed out a boy climbing a coconut tree! This, of course, is probably an everyday occurrence in a country where there are so many coconut trees, but it is a complete novelty for our girls from the Waikato! It turned out to be the son of the lady we were talking to and he was soon high up in the tree and dropping down ripe coconuts which one of the men expertly sliced with a dangerously sharp looking knife and handed to us to drink the sweet coconut juice inside. I am not a great fan of coconut milk but fresh from the tree it is refreshing and sweet.
By now the older children from the Home – apparently it used to be called an orphanage but the preferred term now is Home – had arrived back and our girls went to meet them and help the younger ones with their homework.
After dinner we joined the children and the Sisters for prayers and singing which turned out to be quite an event. All the students sang beautifully – ours included – and they clearly enjoyed themselves. Our girls taught the St Christopher’s children action songs and the St Chris children delighted our girls too and they came away with a new repertoire. Wonder if they will remember them when we get back to school? We were all amazed by te prayer and psalm recitals – all in English, long and complicate language and repeated parrot-fashion. I wonder how much of it they understand?
It has been a long day and we are hot and tired. Cold showers are actually quite welcome – just as well since there is no hot water! – and time for bed.

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