Monday 4 July 2016

Giving back

Monday, July 4th 2016.

As I write this I am on a plane bound for Canada, and the kids and Mark on still onboard Amelie. The way I see it, after spending 27 months together, Mark and kids deserve a break from my cooking!!! Oh, and also this gives me a chance to go and spend some time with my mom, my siblings and lovely nephew and nieces. 

As you’ve read from Meg’s blogs, we have been busy in Fiji for the last month and a half. 

It was Mark’s idea to join Sea Mercy after Cyclone Winston and it was a GOOD idea! When we arrived in Vanua Balavu in the Northern Lau group,at the end of May it didn’t take long for us to see from the ravaged landscape how hard they had been hit. Gone where the rolling green hills lush with coconut trees we’d left behind last September... The hill tops that greeted our return were dry and brown with matchstick-like tree stems standing naked without their palms. 

The usually lush vegetation has been decimated

No tires?  No Problem !
Cleaning the Day's Catch !

The Ladies insist that we have some yummy watermelon (J-P from MV  Domino and Meg)

The make-shift Church

The villages we walked through were littered with debris, most roofs were gone and what remained of buildings lay lopsided under crumbling foundations. In some of the hardest hit villages, all we found were Unicef tents. No houses had survived. The churches; the heart and soul of the people, gone. The schools, gone. In one of the villages, MuaMua, tarps had been used to create makeshift shelter so that they could have a place of worship. 

Kids crowding around Meghan and her camera…they all want to see their photo !

Thomas giving the ladies a lift  to the village garden

The brackish water well in Avea

Greetings when we arrive. Photo by Tessa Irvin

Photo by Tessa Irvin

The main source of income in these remote islands is Copra (Coconut), and there were none left! We were told it would take up to 5 years before the trees would recover and start  producing as they once had. Not only had their homes been shattered but their very livelihood had been crushed as well. 

Photo by Tessa Irvin

 Immediately after the CATEGORY 5 Cyclone hit in February the Army (Fijian, Tongan and New Zealand), together with Unicef and other non Profits organization were the first responders in the Lau group. They gave the people food, water and shelter (Tents). But by the time we arrived it had been over 3 months, and our role was to provide follow up help. In our first week “Needs Assessments” were done. The crew from the 9 Sea Mercy boats were divided up into teams and each went to visit with village heads and then report back to the group as to what the needs of each villages were. Orders were then made and materials were shipped over to us by ferry. (Goods were also carried by us on our boats from New Zealand) 

Travelling in Style !  (With 2 goats and 2 pigs!)

Once we had delivered the goods to each village, we were able to tackle some “on the spot” projects, like boat repairs, debris removal (chainsaw work), fence building, and the vital water supply replenishment. While the men tackled the heavy work, the ladies started a gardening education program which included creating natural pesticide against caterpillars (which had been decimating the crops), composting and helping with general gardening practices.

It has been very rewarding to work together with the Fijians to help rebuild their lives. We were greeted with open arms and gratitude. On more than one occasion we were invited to feasts, Kava ceremonies and church celebrations.For me the most rewarding as always, was the time spent with the children. Nothing quite compares to the smiles and enthusiasm of the children of Fiji. They are a real joy to be around. Meg and I broke open the puppet bag and did quite a few shows for them. What a blast we had !  At first, I was not sure if this was the best use of our time, but seeing the happiness on the children’s face took away any doubt. 

These are the boats (2) that Mark, Norm, Matt and Chris built.


School Rules ! (My Favourite is Number 7!  Oh, and the weather: COLD !)

When we first arrived, we visited a school, and a little girl of 5 or 6 spontaneously started to cry loudly when she saw us arrive. We were told by the headmaster that children sometimes associate “white people” with disasters such as cyclones. Because that is when the “white people” all arrive: right after such events! This little girl had been traumatized and upon seeing us all arrive, she was reminded of the terrible day of the storm...or perhaps she’d feared the worse: another cyclone !

For many of the people of the Lau group, Cyclone Winston, the largest cyclone ever experienced in the South Pacific, was a surprise. They had not been prepared, some of the villages had no idea it was even coming, and the residual effect is still obvious, especially in the children, some still react in fear when ever there is a sudden gust of wind, or fast changing weather. Some of the villages had do deal with fatalities, caused mainly by the flying corrugated iron coming off the roofs  in the 300 ++ km winds ! 
Within the month we spent amongst the people, there were instances were we saw dramatic changes in the mood of a village. When we first arrived, some of the people, who must have been still in shock, seemed apathetic, and numb. By the time we left, it was as if they had  been energized by our efforts and with a renewed boost of energy, they were enthusiastically working on the gardens and rebuilding their community hall. I think that they finally realized that they had not been the forgotten victims. That is one of the great advantages of Sea Mercy: We come with our homes, (there are no hotels, no tourist houses, and no visitors accommodation of any kind in the Lau group), and our own provisions which means that we can stay for extended periods of time and provide consistent help and follow up on progress. 

Getting to know the rest of the Sea Mercy crew was a fantastic experience for us. Our group hailed from the UK, US, Australia, New Zealand and Canada and with so many different skills. We worked side by side with doctors, engineers and other health professionals. 

I think that Mark enjoyed the challenge and satisfaction of not only fixing the long boats for one village, but also building a brand new rowboat for another village which had lost all of its boats (and ability to go fishing) in the cyclone. Meghan enjoyed helping out with the gardening and spending time with the kids. MC felt good about leaving each school with a variety of digital resources she had put together and Matthew simply enjoyed the love and attention that he received by the villagers, he blossomed in the freedom of the universal acceptance he felt there. 

Speaking of Matthew, a funny thing happened a few weeks ago:
Matthew hitches a ride in Fiji: It all happened on the Island of Vanua Balavu the largest of the Islands of the Lau group. The kids and I were walking along the sandy road with Jen, Mark and Conrad (SV Perry). Matthew was, as usual, walking a good 150-200 feet in fron of us. A white pick up truck came up from behind and stopped to ask if we wanted a ride, as often happens here.  We said no thanks as we were out to strech our legs, but then he slowed down a little further up the road to ask Matthew the same thing. imagine our surprise when Matthew wordlessly jumped in the back and the driver drove off!!!  before we could do or say anything. I guess Matthew wanted a ride!  In another 10 minutes another car came by and I flagged it down, asking for a ride to the next village (Lomo Lomo). When I got dropped off there was no sign of Matthew, but after I enquired with a couple of villagers if they’d seen a white pick up truck they told me that he had gone further to the next village, so I started walking in that direction wondering what would happen if the driver stopped and asked Matthew if this was were he wanted off...Matthew might of just jumped out and start to wonder around the village. Mercifully, I never felt any real panic, as I knew that he was in no danger what so ever the good people of Vanua Balavu had all been exceptionally kind and caring towards Matthew everywhere we had been. I just thought that there would of been a bit of confusion follwed by a funny story. Eventually, after a good 20 minutes. I spotted the white pick up truck driving back in my direction .I waved my arms and the driver stopped. I mumbled a quick explanation as to what had happened and he nodded emphatically...I think he had figured it out as well at some point during the 30 minutes Matthew had been with him. I never did get anything further information from him, just a sightly embarrased smile.The same smile which I had on my face, no doubt ! Ah Matthew !  You are always full of surprises and the source of most of my good stories !  

Our time with Sea Mercy is done for now and its been a privilege to have worked with such an organization. The were plenty of days where the team had hard days of work, but that never stopped the Sea Mercy crew from getting together on one of the boats in the evenings to make plans for the next days and, perhaps just as important, to share the stories of the unique experiences of the day.  

I would like to leave you with a couple of stories written by Catherine Kimber, from Australia onboard S/V The Southern Cross .The first is an unfortunate incident of a young father killed by a wild boar and the second mentions Mark and Matt (SV Perry) working as carpenters for a day. I thought it would be an interesting read, for those of you who are interested. But that's all from me, so I shall sign off for now.With loads of love, 4Ms Afloat

 Vanua Balavu Island as seen on the approach to Loma Loma

Cicia Island, Fiji: Children in Need
Written by Catherine Kimber. SVThe Southern Cross and reprinted with her permission

‘On this island, there are seventeen children under the age of five, who suffer from malnutrition,’ said Lepani, the nurse practitioner on Cicia Island.  My husband, Peter, and I on board our boat The Southern Cross were visiting this remote island in the Northern Lau Group of Fiji.  We were collecting information regarding the impact of Cyclone Winston, under the umbrella of Sea Mercy, along with the crew of two other vessels. Cicia Island is home to 1,100 people.  Food crops, both above and below ground, as well as their cash crop copra were destroyed.  There is no money coming in without copra to sell and there is not enough food to last them until their newly planted crops start producing.  

‘One of the babies who is severely malnourished has a particularly sad story,’ continued Lepani.  ‘The baby’s father was killed last week by a wild boar when he was out hunting for food for his family.’

The following day, Peter and I, along with Matt from the sailing vessel Perry, visited two other villages.  We were transported by truck along the island’s perimeter track.  Our driver Singa showed us photographs of the wild boar’s victim.  
‘You can see he lost a lot of blood.  The wild pig’s tusk got him here,’ he said indicating his groin and femoral artery.  ‘We heard that this man was late home, so we went out searching for him.  But it was too dark, so we had to wait till the next morning.’
‘That’s where we found him,’ said Singa pointing across the valley.  ‘When men go out hunting they take their dogs with them.  That’s how we able to find him.  His dog was still standing guard.’
‘Did he have a gun?’ asked Peter.
‘No, only a knife.’
‘How old was he?’ I asked.
‘Only 28,’ said Singa shaking his head. ‘Only 28 and two young children.’

Before we reached the village of Lomoji, Singa stopped the car.  ‘This is where the young man was buried five days ago.’  Singa pointed to a highly decorated grave which sat nestled beneath cyclone ravaged pines. 

Through the kindness and generosity of strangers Sea Mercy is assisting the people of Fiji, including the community in which this dead man’s two little children live.  People living on islands ravaged by Cyclone Winston need help to obtain proper nutrition until they can recover from this disaster.

The grave of the 28-year-old victim of a wild boar attack

John searches for Jesus and finds some Cruising Carpenters
Written by Catherine Kimber, SV The Southern Cross and reprinted with her permission. 

‘Today I didn’t go to church because I believed I would meet Jesus here in the village,’ said John, the head teacher of Tarakua, as he shook my hand.  Tarakua, home to 175 people, is the capital village on a remote island called Cicia (pronounced Thithia) in the Exploring Islands in Fiji.  My husband, Peter, and I along with two other families were in Tarakua on Sunday 29 May 2016 as part of Sea Mercy’s mission to bring aid to the people of Fiji following the devastation of Cyclone Winston.  Our Australian flagged catamaran, The Southern Cross, bobbed on its anchor alongside fellow Sea Mercy volunteer vessels Perry from the USA and Amelie IV from Canada.

Tarakua Village School provides education for 40 children aged from three to 13 years of age.  There are five teachers, including one teacher for the kindergarten.  John showed our small group of four adults and two children, around his school.  
Tarakua school, damaged classroom

In the middle of a row of three classrooms all the school desks were pushed to one side.  The other side of the 60 metre square room was unsafe and unusable.  Planks of timber were loose, some were missing.
‘The piers supporting the joists appear to have collapsed,’ said Peter.
While Peter brainstormed ways of fixing the floor with fellow boaties Mark and Matt, I thought about my own son and daughter and how grateful I am that they were able to attend schools in a country that could afford basic upkeep on school buildings.

John pointed to the desks and chairs.  ‘The students struggle to do their school work at these broken desks.’
‘The desks appear to be circa 1960,’ remarked Peter.
‘The chairs aren’t designed to go with these desks.  It must be hard for the children to focus on their work while they are so uncomfortable,’ I said.

With pride John showed us the post-Winston constructed outdoor classroom built with local materials and local labour.  Beneath the thatched roof with open sided walls it was cool, with views of blue, blue water partly obscured by two large blackboards.  John said, ‘Once our students reach the age of 14 they continue their education at the largest village on this island, Mabula.  Our island has the highest grades for students across Fiji.  Children attending this school are future doctors and Ministers.’

‘And lastly, this is the school’s amenities,’ said John pointing to a concrete block building with wide cracks which reached from ground to ceiling.

‘When the concrete floor is wet it is slippery.  It is particularly dangerous in the dark, for our high school students who use the school buildings at night for their study.’
‘Don’t go in.  It is too dangerous,’ I was told.  Too dangerous for me to enter.  Nonetheless, the village’s budding scholars have to use these facilities on a daily basis.

Mark and Matt fixing the desks for Tarakua school, Cicia
The following afternoon Mark, Matt and their young families returned to the village school with a bag of nails and screws, epoxy glue, screwdrivers and a Sea Mercy funded hammer.  Eight desks were repaired in the shade of a tree while the school’s youngsters played cricket on their large well-kept ground.  When the desks had been mended and John, the head teacher, had finished coaching cricket practice, John was presented with the hammer, along with a couple of Sea Mercy LuminAID pocket sized solar lights.  

Perhaps there was some truth in John’s statement about meeting Jesus in the village that Sunday.  Jesus was a carpenter.

Friday 1 July 2016

Sailing with a greater purpose

Meghan on Amelie July 2016

Bula once again from Amelie IV from down here in Fiji. We spent this entire month down in the Lau Group where we have been helping out the villages in need after Cyclone Winston that hit Fiji in February.  As I said in my last blog, we are here with a disaster relief program called Sea Mercy.
 Sea Mercy is simply just a group of volunteering cruisers like us who are sailing to disaster-struck areas and don't mind helping out villages where we can and "sailing with a greater purpose" as Sea Mercy's motto says.

We and seven other boats in the Sea Mercy organization headed directly to the Lau Group which are Fiji's most remote islands that are located in the eastern part of Fiji.  We have been all going off to different islands to do needs assessments in all the villages. 

In other words, we visit lots of towns, explain to them what Sea Mercy is, ask them what was damaged and what they need, report back to the Sea Mercy organizer, and then talk as a group and decide what should be done.  

We have been given some supplies by Sea Mercy to distribute out like clothes, water purification tablets, food, machetes, and school supplies but if they require bigger things like water tanks, longboats, outboard engines or large building materials we can only report this back to Sea Mercy who will then pass the information on to Fiji's main town, Suva, who can send what is needed out on the next barge or plane that comes to the Lau Group.  Sea Mercy has also provided us with lots of tools and chainsaws so we can help repair damaged things or cut trees down trees that are dead and in the way of a road or path.

Mark and Norm investigating a crack in the school’s cement water tank. Only one our of these four school water tanks has water in it ! 

Unloading goods at the dock

School visits, Mark and Matt repair school desks

A grief-relief program working with the people of Boitaci who lost 4 lives during Cyclone Winston
(and it's a very small village)

One of Mualevu's roofless classrooms under a tent 

Nayau as we passed it at sunset

In the Turaga Koro’s hut (The chief is the man in the blue undershirt at the back)

The first town we stopped at was Loma Loma on the main island of the Lau Group: Vanua Balavu.  We stopped at Vanua Balavu last year but it was on the other side at a village called Daleconi.  Vanua Balavu was one of the hardest hit islands during the cyclone.  It shows because when you look up on the hills, almost all the trees are either gone or they are just sticks standing with no palms or leaves on top!  Loma Loma suffered five deaths but are actually doing okay now.  I could tell that pretty much every building had lost its roof but clearly, they have had lots of help in the last few months because most roofs have been replaced and the houses that don't still have a big tent beside the home or foundation of the home (if the home is no longer there) as a temporary shelter before they can re-build. 

 The town is also doing better because of the optimistic villagers who are able to live with the situation at hand and try to repair damage that is done.

The next island we went to was called Nayau.  There was a reef surrounding the island meaning we could not get in with Amelie so my mom and Matthew stayed on the boat and drove it around (because it was too deep to anchor outside) and my dad and I, as well as a couple of the people from the boat Dreamcatcher (who was our buddy boat for that day), were picked up by some of the villagers in their longboat and they took us into town.

When we got to the village of Salia, we were welcomed into the Turaga Ni Koro's hut, that is the village headman, where we offered him a kava root, which is what we are supposed to give him as a gift for letting us stay in his waters and walk around his village.  We actually met the chief instead because the headman was out fishing.  When we gave him a solar powered blow up light, which we were given loads of by Sea Mercy to distribute out, he was so overjoyed and was awed by it as if it were a technology brought back from the future!

Nayau hadn't suffered too badly from the cyclone as far as the land and houses go but they did have a water shortage (only about 25% of their water tanks had water in them) because the underground water had turned brackish (salty), it hadn't really rained since the cyclone (they collect rain water), and a few of their tanks were actually cracked.

The school mistress (kind of like the principal or head of the school) told us that she was pretty sure we were the first boats to stop here and come on land in a year!  We explained to her that it was probably because no boats as big as us could actually anchor there and so that makes it very difficult to stop.  It does make me want to help this island even more now that I know they almost never get help and so we have reported their shortage of water to Sea Mercy so hopefully they will be able to bring water to Nayau somehow in the near future.

After Nayau, we sailed off to another island called Cicia (pronounced thi-thia) where we joined up with SV The Southern Cross and our old buddies SV Perry.  Once again, Cicia had not suffered very hard from Cyclone Winston but still needed help at the school anyways so we stuck around for a few days to help.  The school desks seemed to all be around 60 years old so a lot of the hinges were broken and some even had nails sticking out the top so my Dad and Matt off of SV Perry decided they should help out with that.

The school had a beautiful location on top of the hill and also had some nice hibiscus trees growing in the yard.  The day where the men repaired the desks, the school had a short cricket match which was interesting to watch and also gave me a chance to talk with some of the school children, which I always love doing!  

At one point, I asked them to all get in a circle so I could take a picture of them.  They all gave me their lovely smiles and I will never forget when they all crowded around me afterwards to see the picture, oooh-ing and aaah-ing at the sight of the image on the digital screen.

Now that we have good Internet, we are all able to post all our blogs we have written in the past two months so if you are in the mood for doing a blog reading marathon, now is your chance!

But first, here is a quick guide to how Fijians pronounce some of their letters and what some Fijian words mean so that you know a bit more about the Fijian language and know how to pronounce the names in case you come here one day:

-"bula" is the best known Fijian word and means "hello" ("bula vinaka" is a more polite way of saying "hello")

-"vinaka" means "thank you"

-"moce" means "goodbye"

-"c" is pronounced "th" (eg. moce is pronounced "mo-thay")

-when a vowel comes before a consonant, there is an invisible "n" or "m" afterwards (eg. Nadi is pronounced "nandi" and Lakeba is pronounced "lakemba")

-"levu" means "big"

-"vanua" means "tall"

I hope that helped you all and now, stay tuned for my next blog all about more adventures with Sea Mercy in the Lau Group.


Vanua Balavu
After we left the island of Cicia , we sailed back to Vanua Balavu where we heard they had lots of villages that needed the most help.  We and the seven other boats spent about 4 weeks all around this island helping out seven of the villages with various tasks.

Only in the South Pacific: our taxi service to the different villages
was either the back of the hospital truck (aka: ambulance), the back of the police truck
or the back of a truck where we were sitting with two goats and two pigs! (top
photo taken by M/V Domino)
Kids all around Vanua Balavu

We anchored near three villages, one of which we visited last year: Daleconi (pronounced da-leh-thoni).  We came here with our guest Nathalie in September last year and I remember the town was absolutely gorgeous.  Although it still has the wonderful people, it does not have many trees at all and the village and beach are now cluttered with debris swept there by the cyclone.  It was also quite sad to see the school yard.  The school had three longhouses last year and now the only one that is standing has no roof and is lopsided (in other words, unusable).  As I was looking at it, I realized that on the cracked and weak porch of that school house is where we did our puppet presentation last year when we came.  Now, the school houses have been replaced by tents (donated right after the cyclone by UNICEF and the Red Cross Society) which will be their classrooms until the houses can be rebuilt.

Damaged homes all around Vanua Balavu

Daleconi school yard

The school of Mavana town and Mualevu town are in pretty much the same state as well.  We walked through what once was the school library of Mavana but all that was left now in the roofless (and almost wall-less) house was one shelf and all the books strewn across the ground, most of which were either soaking or torn.  Mualevu still had most of their buildings standing but since they didn't have roofs but they had their walls, they put the UNICEF tents inside the building so they could still use the chalkboard and be on concrete flooring.  I was sad to hear though that Mualevu's school lost practically their entire library as well, including a big English Encyclopedia (which are probably very hard for them to get).

Mavana's school

Mavana's school library

Here is a list of all the aid we have given out and the tasks we have helped out with all around Vanua Balavu (I have put a *star* beside the ones that at least one of us 4Ms have taken part in):
  • Needs assessments in six villages around the island *
  • Put together a 64 GB file of digital school resources such as educational videos (for all the age groups) and Wikepedia offline for all the schools around the island (as well as some of the other islands as well)*
  • Chain sawing work*
  • Ordering building materials from Suva city*
  • Built a pig fence around the garden in Boitaci to keep the greedy pigs out
  • Repaired a damaged longboat in Mavana *
  • Built a wooden rowboat from scratch for Boitaci (they had lost all their longboats in the cyclone)*
  • Started a community garden (or helped out with it if the village already had one) in six villages around Vanua Balavu (Daleconi, Muamua, Malaka, Boitaci, Mualevu, and Mavana) *
  • Set up a compost site with the locals in each village where all villagers can dump their food scraps everyday which will decompose and form richer garden soil *
  •  Built a scarecrow in Mualevu because their crops were being eaten by birds *
  • Taught the six gardening villages how to make their own natural pesticides to stop the local caterpillar infestation *
  • Donated some children's clothes and games to Mualevu school *

Photo taken by S/V Arianna

Blow up Solar-Powered lights distributed around the Islands


Offloading aid from the ferry in Lomaloma and sorting
through it on S/V Chez Nous (top photo taken by
S/V Arianna)

Mavana villagers are starting the rebuilding stage

The two pictures on the left are the rowboat in Boitaci being built
The one on the right is the boat in Mavana being fixed

Everyone hard at work in Boitaci garden

Daleconi garden: first compost pile gets dumped, women are
selling the freshly picked cabbage to us, and I sit with a toddler who
can't speak English yet but liked to draw pictures in the dirt with me

 Marie off of M/V Domino and I teaching the women
of Daleconi and Muamua how to make their own natural pesticides

Top: Catherine from S/V The Southern Cross and Mark from S/V Perry
showing the kids from Mualevu school how to build a puzzle
Bottom: Me and Mark playing snakes and ladders with some of the school kids  

Avea has definitely been my favourite island in the Lau Group and I think one of my favourites in all of Fiji.  Just as far as people go, they've given me an amazing experience while I was there.  Everyone in Fiji is out-of-their-way friendly but Avea's people were even more than usual and, trust me, that is saying a lot.

First of all, the minute anyone landed their dinghy on the beach, there was a welcoming clan of a dozen children who came (unless it was school time) and pull the dinghy up on the beach.  There were so many of them that we don't even have to pull yourselves!  When we came on shore for the first time, they all want to know our names and they actually remembered them (I did not remember theirs!).  When we came back to Avea a second time a week later, they all started running down the beach yelling all of our names as the dinghies approached one by one!

They are all so outgoing and would always invite me to play sports with them after school.  When we played soccer, they all wanted to pass the ball to me.  I think they thought I had some magic move or something!  They also loved to answer my questions and answered them in very well spoken English too.  When I asked them if they liked school, not one of them said no or even hesitated to say yes.  When I asked them what their favourite school subjects were, most of them said math!  Fiji really is on the other side of the world from North America isn't it?!  All the kids had been to Suva, Fiji's capital city, but none had ever been outside of Fiji.  When I asked them if Suva was a big city, their eyes would grow very large and they would nod.  Just to give you perspective, Suva has a population approximately 2000 less than Red Deer, Alberta.

In the bottom right picture, you can just barely see me in the middle because all the kids are crowding around
me to see the pictures I took of them

A washed up TV and a broken chainsaw are the definition of fun for these kids!
We performed our "Oh Canada" puppet play here in Avea and, as you can see, the kids loved the puppets
(photos by Tessa Irvin)

Also, all the kids loved Matthew.  We told them to go up to Matthew and ask him for a high five and so every time they'd see him, they'd yell, "Matthew, Matthew!" and hold out their hand.  Matthew would smile and tap their hand making them all laugh.  When Matthew would run too far on the beach, I would run after him calling, "Matthew come back!".  Apparently, that caught on quick because before I knew it, all the kids were running after me yelling, "Matthew come back!".  For the youngest kids, that was one of the only sentences they knew how to say in English!  After a while, I didn't even need to run after Matthew myself because the kids would simply notice when he had gone too far, would bolt after him, and shepherd him back.  Matthew simply loved having a whole bunch of running partners!  Unlike many other kids, they never asked me why Matthew acted this way or what was 'wrong' with him.  They accepted him the way he was and embraced his uniqueness.

The kids wanted me to take a picture of them all with Matthew

There is a grown man who lives on the island who seems to have a disability similar to Matthew's.  Everyone in the village calls him Boy.  Boy was always smiling and was always the first to be helping the men carry heavy things or helping out with the chain sawing work.  Everyone in the village seems to love Boy and they are always passing him and calling, "Hey, Boy".  He would always come up to my dad and pat him on the shoulder saying, "Pulagi".  When we asked someone what pulagi meant, he told us it meant "white guy"! (I think it technically means "foreigner" though)

Boy watching our puppet show!
On our first day, I joined a few of the other ladies who had also been working on the gardening projects and we went to see Avea's garden.  The local women took us there by longboat.  There were about 13 of us in the boat and it was very choppy and there were often waves that broke over the bow and got us all wet.  Instead of screaming or moaning about it, the women decided to break into song.  The minute one woman started, all the others joined in forming harmonies as they went.  I didn't understand a word of it because it was in Fijian but it was, quite literally, music to my ears and filled my heart with joy.  Of course, no one thought of bringing their drum on a gardening trip but that can't stop the Fijian women from using instruments: some of them took sticks and started banging on some old, beat up pots or machetes they had in the boat to keep rhythm.  And did a rocky boat stop them from dancing?  Nope!  In fact, they got us all to dance!

When we were approaching the beach landing near the garden, we asked them if now, we had to all jump out of the boat and swim to shore from there.  We meant it as a joke but they said yes and some of them meant it!  A couple of women bailed out, fully clothed with sarongs down to their ankles, while we were still in 10 ft of water!  Once we got to waist deep water, the other women jumped out and started pulling the fiber ashore, trudging through the crashing waves and all.  We, the cruiser women, offered to come out and help but they told us to stay put.  I really admire the women of these islands and their strength and independence.  In all of these islands, most of the men have gone to the city of Suva to get special Visas from the government to pay for their damaged homes.  Because most are still not back, it is mostly women running the villages now.

Two pictures of women singing taken by Tessa Irvin

We have had several other experiences with Fijian singing during our time in Avea.  One evening, we were invited for after-church tea and biscuits and we were given a surprise song and dance entertainment from the children.
Avean priest making a speech at church

On Sunday, we are almost never allowed to go into the villages because they have church all day (no really: they start church at 5:30 in the morning) and it would be disrespectful.  However, they let us come in if we join them for a church session. The singing, of course, was phenomenal.  One thing I love about Polynesian singers is that they sing with all their heart as loudly as they can and they are able to form beautiful harmonies as they go.  We were able to record several of their songs and I think my mom is currently working on a slideshow with the recordings as the background music.

The cyclone tore away the last 20 metres of  beach on the end of the
island meaning that half of the school is now underwater at high tide!

The men testing the water maker we set up for Avea so that they can now
make fresh water from salt water

After the outgoing and dynamic people in Avea, it was a bit of a shock to meet the people of Susui.  It's not at all that they weren't nice, they were just a lot more humble and quiet.

Offloading 400 litres of water off of Amelie to give to the village

They gave us a wonderful Fijian feast one night and the men took part in a three hour kava ceremony where they drink the liquid form of the sacred kava root.  This is one thing I cherish about this time we got to spend in the Lau Group.  These kinds of activities like the traditional feast are not organized to simply entertain tourists; this is the everyday life of the villagers here which I am so grateful they let us be a part of.

The women and children had dinner while the men drank kava!

Susui school kids

So since school bus turns into longboat in Fiji, I guess school
bell turns into this log drum!

We are now back in Savu Savu since we are running low on supplies. However, we managed to go without stores or eating out at restaurants for 50 days! That is a new record for us.

We also came to Savu Savu for my mom to fly out of. She is going on a little well-deserved vacation back to Canada for a few weeks. During that time, my dad, Matthew, and I will stay on the boat and explore more of Fiji until she comes back.

It has been such a privilege to be able to be part of the Sea Mercy organization.  I got to meet incredible people and learn about a really great culture.  I also learned a lot about gardening and how to use only natural remedies for your garden.  I know that these people are so thankful to us for helping them but I am just as grateful to them for giving me all these amazing experiences and perspective.