My Holiday Plans:
A very different Christmas. Unlike any other Christmas, I have spent the last week in shorts relaxing by the sea. Overall, it has been an amazing week at site… It is very relaxing being the only teacher on the school compound. I am fortunate to have many many visitors from the village. I have been given fresh fish and mangoes, coconut-husking lessons, had plenty of help refilling my water buckets, and spent a large amount of time with the village members. I feel a part of the community already. At home, this integration would take a very different form and would be very challenging to achieve in such a short time. I am so grateful for the open arms, hearts, and the genuinely great people here in Yalobi. Thank you for welcoming me into your homes and your community! In fact, it is completely overwhelming because all the families invite me home for lunch and to drink tea. Sometimes, I wish I could be in multiple places at once so I don’t have to decline any of these offers! This past Sunday, I could’ve eaten at least ten different lunches if I had accepted all the offers. Even without the snow, I am slowly starting to feel the holiday love and the Christmas spirit thanks to the generosity of the people here in Yalobi.
Speaking of Christmas, I am headed to the island of Malolo in the Mamanuca island group to spend Christmas with my Vuci village language instructor, Tila. Her village on Malolo Island is called Yaro. I have been told countless times by the people of Yalobi (who live on a white sandy beach themselves) that Yaro is a very very beautiful village. They all get very excited for me when I tell them I’ll spend noqu siganisucu (my Christmas) in Yaro. From my understanding, the Christmas tradition will consist of drinking kava, eating food from an earthen oven, attending church, bonfires on the beach, singing, and dancing. Christmas is a great time to be in the village because everyone who works in the cities returns and this means: Lots of people, lots of partying, and lots of fun!!
After spending about 5 days in Yaro, I plan to head back to my host family in Vuci village for a New Years celebration. Several of us from my training village will be returning during this time. I am looking forward to seeing my fellow PCV friends, my host family, and holding my namesake again. Baby Martha will be 2 months old on Christmas Eve! My time in Vuci will consist of plenty of kava drinking, plenty of singing, going to the beach, and I am sure there will be plenty of dancing.
Here is a note about family in Fiji. It is very important to understand family relationships here especially during the holiday season, because these relationships are deeply valued, and interactions with certain people in one’s family are defined by these relationships. For example, it is forbidden for Fijians to interact with their parallel cousins (your mothers brother’s kids or your fathers sister’s kids). If these parallel cousins see each other, they barely look at one another and will not say hi. This is out of respect for the each other. On the other hand, your main goal is to spoil your joking cousins (your mothers sister’s kids or you fathers brother’s kids). For example, on New Years Eve, you throw your joking cousins in the mud, dump water on them, pelt them with water balloons, and harass them in any other way. I have already picked my target joking cousins who I plan to throw in the mud at midnight… Let’s just hope that I get to them first!
I have talked a lot about kava circles, so it is probably time that I do a little more explaining. In Fiji, kava is attained from a root crop, pounded into a powder, and drank in a very traditional way. It is very significant to Fijian culture. For example, before being pounded, the root can be used for a traditional sevusevu ceremony. A sevusevu (the root before it is pounded) is presented to the chief or the village headman (taragua ni koro) and used to ask for permission for something or out of a sign of respect. When we first came to Fiji and arrived in the village of Vuci, we presented a sevusevu to the village headman to essentially ask for permission to stay for the next 8 weeks. I did the same thing when I arrived at site in the village of Yalobi. When we go back to Vuci village, I will present one to my host father because I have been away for about 2 months.
When Fijians drink kava, the circles follow a very strict structure to respect the culture. I have found that even the less formal circles still follow the very basic rules. Everyone sits on the ground cross-legged behind the tanoa (kava bowl) except for the chief or the oldest male who sits in front of the tanoa. Women are to sit at the very back- behind all of the men. The youngest male serves the kava, so he will sit directly behind the bowl facing the chief. A coconut shell is used to serve the kava. First, the chief is served. Before taking the bowl of kava, each person will clap one time and say “bula!” after finishing the kava and handing the bowl back, you clap 3 times. Some also say “maca” (maa tha) or finished. After the chief drinks, the order of drinking starts with the respected men and ends with the women. The very last to drink will be the youngest male who is serving the kava from the tanoa. After about 5 minutes of stories, jokes, and laughing, someone (typically the chief or an older male) will say “taki!” meaning serve. Everyone, in the same order, will drink again. Kava doesn’t have a particularly good taste… To me, it tastes like muddy water, and in fact, even the Fijians chase the taste of kava with mangoes, papaya, candy, or lollies. If enough kava is consumed, you begin feel a little drunk, but it mostly makes you tired and relaxed leaving your mouth and tongue numb feeling.