Billibilli & Cava

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20120707_122406Saturday was our day for being tourists and learning a little more about the culture of Fiji. One of the important things we learned was the concept of “Fiji time”. Our itinerary said that we would be picked up at 8.30am so we were all waiting at the end of the drive at 8.30am! We were still waiting in the hot sun an hour later despite phone calls to the tour operator and were feeling frustrated and overheated, all ready to complain and ask for some recompense. However, when our drivers arrived they were friendly and smiley, telling us stories of life in Fiji and pointing out places of interest along the way. They charmed us all and as the day went on we realised that we probably just had to accept that Fijians live their lives to a different rhythm.  Our driver pointed out the high security prison which has no fences, flood lights etc that are the usual signs of a place that houses a country’s most dangerous criminals, and explained about the  experiment i n providing the prisoners with training and educuation to reduce recidivism which has been a huge problem in Fiji.  Lack of educations and opportunitis is als othe biggest root cause of criminality (apart from addiction to cava, which you can argue is the result of not having a job or any prospects of one.)  That is linked to the chauvinistic heritage that the man earns a living and the woman stays at home and looks after the house and family)  In more recent times the economy and trade has meant that there are plenty of jobs for women in the low paid service industry and factory line manufacturing and little for men.  So men have essentially become disenfranchised and have lost their sense of self-respect and pride.
We soon reached our destination and were kitted out in lifejackets before climbing into the long, narrow dugout boats.  These were powered ny an outboard motor – very similar to the ones in Vietnam we crossed the river in.  The local boatman revelled in racing up the river, the spray from the water as the boat cut through it going upstream soaked us but it was all part of the fun.  It is a wide river with lush vegetation on either side but unfortunately many of the native trees seem to be being strangled by bindweed which is rampant.  Our guides told us that the local community are fighting a losing battle against it and are worried that indiginent wildlife will disappear as the flora does.
We soon came to the “Village” – a tourist village which tries, like places like Whakarewarewa in Rototua to preserve the ways of the past for posterity.  A so-called living and working village where we were treated to the traditional Cava ceremony – welcomed onto the whare, offered cava and became part of the community.  Cava is a strange brew – maybe I don’t have a discerning palate, but to me it tasted like muddy water with a kick.  After that we were taken on a tour and shown the “traditional” school, shop and local crafts where we were encouraged to part with as much money as possible!  I am being rather cynical; the tour was informative and interesting and the people were very welcoming, but, at the end of the day they just wanted to tyake our money off us!  And why not?  As long as it was going to the people that needed it and not into the coffers of the already well-off!  I bought some trinkets and Christmas presents which were very pretty to send back to the UK. 20120707_120108

Then we carried on upstream to the waterfall; an opportunity for a bit of a walk – it reminded me of the Waterfall Walk in Ingleton; it was a relatively roughly made track that led along a tributory to the river up the valley for about 10 minutes to a waterfall.  The water dropped from about 40ft into a brown pool.  We were assured that the water was clean despite the murky colour which was due to the recent rain.  Since it was hot and humid we decided to dive in.  The girls were keen to sample the water and Jo, Jill and I follwoed them in.  I swam out to the waterfall to recce it for the girls and ascertained that it was okay, kept a close eye on them as they swam out and shepherede them all back to the rocks at the edge of the pool where they splashed around until our guide beckoned us out of the water to go back to the boats. 20120707_140936

On the way back downstream we had the opportunity to go on the traditional “Billibillis” – basically a few thick bamboo poles lashed together to make a raft that is punted down the river.  We all piled onto a large, very stable Billibilli but we saw young boys and girls on the river in crafts made of just 3 or 4 bamboo poles which looked very lightweight and not a little dubious!  I was disappointed that we were transfered back onto the boats for the rapids – I had secretly hoped that we would have had the excitement of shooting the rapids on the Billibillis!  But then, I guess safety comes first!

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Fiji Day 3

Moving Day!  There is paint to be bought so Jill and I set off to catch the bus.  We took a roundabout bus tour all around the houses before going back past St Christopher’s 20 minutes after getting on and then another 20 minutes on to the paint shop! Never mind, we had plenty of time to chat and look out at the houses and the people.  One of the things that I like are the mottos on the schools that we pass.  The one for Nakasi High School I think is particularly down to earth and simple; ” In all things be human”. It made us reflect on the “striving for excellence” that many NZ schools have, including Dio.  Very laudable, but have we lost sight of what education and learning is all about? Strive to do your best, yes, but your best may not necessarily have to be achieving Excellence as a grade.  Anyway, what is “Excellence”? – a benchmark set against some given criteria that can, at times, be fairly arbitrary! 

Anyway, by the time we got back, Jo and the girls had sorted out all the toys, books and clothes we were taking to Ovalau. A quick lunch and soon we were all aboard the bus en route for the ferry. When I say “soon”, I mean in the Fijian sense of the word.  I love the laid back pace of life here; it is too hot to do anything fast and so the bus came when it was ready which was about half an hour after we were!

As we drove north the terrain changed; much denser bush because we left the built-up areas.  Taller trees with splashes of red at their crowns started to dominate after the scrubbier areas with banana groves and coconut trees.  Many of the dwellings were much poorer, more ramshackle, corrugated iron and wood but set in their neat little parcels of land planted with cassava, vegetables and flowers.  The mountains looked impressive and I was filled with a longing to get out and climb.  I wonder if there are treks in them thar ‘ills?  The trip across on the RO-RO was very pleasant; the islands dotted around the ocean are bright splodges of green in the dark blue of the water.  The ferry manoeuvred it’s way out of the port through the shallows where little mini islands of mangrove stand proud. We basked in the sunshine and it almost felt like we were on holiday as we chugged across the sheltered stretch of water to Ovalau. The bus drove us straight off the ferry and on to Bureta village where a welcoming committee awaited!

The village is nestled in a valley surrounded by hills – not very big but they look like they might be limestone – I must check – maybe there are caves?!  We were taken to the house of one of the main families who were to be our hosts for the next two days while someone went to find Marama who is our main contact here. Jo and Jill were welcomed as old friends as they had visited last year, and the rest of us were warmly welcomed and introduced.  We were relieved to learn that we were all to stay in the same house (apart from Jill, who was chief guest and had the honour of staying with Donato and Vany) which belonged to Marama’s nice who was also called Marama.  Dinner was lavish – the women had clearly been hard at work all day preparing a feast.  There was soup, which was delicious, home made bread, chicken curry, chicken stir fry with veg and noodles, rice and taro – a root vegetable which is the staple diet of the islands. It is a strange fibrous vegetable with not a lot of flavour, but eaten with the soup it was quite palatable. 

It was rather unnerving and a little uncomfortable as our hosts did not eat with us but waited until we had finished. Nevertheless, we ate heartily as we were hungry and the food really was excellent. We stayed and chatted for a while and they asked to see the things that we had brought for the kindergarten.  It was funny because Sola, one of the young boys (probably around 19/20) who had been helping in the kitchen and was very chatty and friendly, ended up sitting on the floor with the girls eagerly unwrapping the boxes and playing with the toys we had brought!  Donato  is the main man of the house, is wheelchair bound and he is apparently the main driver of the village and instrumental in getting things like the kindergarten built. He will not be able to get to the kindergarten tomorrow so wanted to see the toys this evening. 

So we are all now in bed; I can hear the gentle snores of the girls next door as they sleep marae style on mattresses.  Jo and I have our own rooms although my bed is as hard as aboard!  Outside I hear the clicks of the geckos and the rhythmic hum of the cicadas.  There is also the steady thumping of the village men pounding the cava roots.  Tomorrow promises to be busy so I guess I should try to sleep  a little too before the cockerels start!