Wearing my jazzy harem trousers, I attempted to heave my travel bag onto my back. It was a struggle. Imagine a gangly blonde girl, lacking any upper body strength, sitting on a bed with a heavily stuffed backpack, and trying to stand. That was me and it was pitiful. With difficulty and a few dishevelled grunts I moved the bag to the car and began my journey.
Fiji was my destination and for a month this summer I’ve been volunteering with a company called Think Pacific. A couple of days at the beginning were spent in a resort for briefing and team bonding (there were 8 volunteers and 3 leaders) and a few days at the end were left aside for rest and recuperation (partying!). For the main three weeks of the project we lived with families in little Nabalabala, a village in the Ra district and they really did become our families.
I lived alongside fellow volunteer, the lovely Cat, and my Fijian family: Ta (Dad), Na (Mum), Nau (Grandma), my sister, Sanele, and brother, Semi. They looked after us and cooked for us and made us feel so welcome. My Nau even made Cat and I matching outfits for our final evening! She spent the whole day sowing away on her old Singer sowing machine until the light began to fade. They do have electricity in the village but only one feeble, orange-hued light lit the home (the house was made up of a main room, two bedrooms partitioned off with curtains and a kitchen) and we saw her beginning to struggle, her eyes squinting in the poor light. We handed over one of our head torches and she gratefully stretched the headband over her Afro and carried on her sowing, the beam of light following her stitches. It was a funny sight, this little old lady with a head torch, making clothes in her living room. Yet whilst it was funny I was also humbled to see my Fijian Grandma take such delight in the basic item. Now when I absentmindedly flick on a light switch I try and think of her and hope that the head torch is continuing to serve her well, perched precariously on her curly-haired head.
Likewise the children were so undemanding and easily entertained. Several evenings I spent with them playing the simplest of games. Jigsaws were popular but their favourite game required only bottle tops and involved players attempting to flick their caps into other peoples. Their giggles would ring loudly in the corrugated metal home and I found myself hoping that my own future children would experience the same joy in simple living. Eating with my hands was strange at first before I realised how natural it felt. And washing in the river may not have been particularly hygienic but rinsing shampoo from my hair alongside swimming children and rolling hills was pretty cool. Village living was so pure and relaxed and natural I know I’ll long for it when I’m back at University, writing essays in the library or doing a supermarket shop, or having to catch a train to see family. The Fijian children don’t grow up watching television and eating crisps but they have something so much better: an appreciation of the little things, a strong community bond and the countryside for a playground.
I have so much more to say about Fiji I’m going to have to do another post!
I’ll leave you now but speak soon xx