Americans would probably consider most Fijians to be well below the poverty line. However, they don’t have the same view of wealth as us western capitalists. Instead, their way of life doesn’t require dollars; many can live very well by farming and fishing. Many Fijian men can still provide for their family without a paying job.
And more to my point, Fijians don’t really care about money in terms of status (which is great, I think). They’ll be happy for you if you have it, but being wealthy won’t make you a “better” person.
Now, you’re saying to yourself that you feel the same way. Ah, but you don’t; you only think you do. Wait until you get here.
The other day I started thinking about what would elevate someone here. Being a Chief would, I suppose, but that only goes to the traditions still followed very closely by most Fijians. For the most part, everyone’s equal. And everyone gets treated with a hospitality that would put most self-labeled Christians to shame. Most Americans, me included I suppose, would say that they try to be giving to the poor, the sick, the needy, etc. However, Fijians do it daily.
I’ll give you an example. Most families eat next to an open window, and as people (strangers and friends alike) walk by they get invited in to share the food. Genuinely.
“Oh, you need a sulu to wear? Here’s mine.”
However, the topic of women’s rights and Indo-Fijian discrimination must be considered.
If asked, most women will say that things are much better — they feel like they’re treated equally and given equal opportunities in the workplace. And then they’ll go in the other room and wait for the men to eat first.
Culture and equality are an interesting pair.
On the flip side, in America for example, I’ll hold a door open for a woman and wait for her to walk through it first. And to me that only is an aspect of courtesy and hospitality, and in no way reflects inter-gender equality or status.
So when viewing other cultures you must try to not have the perspective of your own paradigm.
I’m not going to claim that I understand the culture here, but I know enough to say that I can’t judge it against my own.
Anyway, it’s a beautiful day here — seventy-something degrees, clear skies, and there’s an ocean outside my window. So … see ya later
A cousin and I (well, a friend, he’s not actually related, but I call his dad uncle), anyway, we went to church today.
Church is a big part of everyone’s life here. In fact, one of my uncles — who, in reality, is my 2nd cousin once removed — is a pastor at an Assemblies of God church down in another village on the main island. I stayed with him and his family the first few days that I was here, so I thought it would be nice to visit his church. And he is a great teacher, I must say. I enjoyed his service much more than the LDS branch we went to earlier that day. For one, he would use English now and again just to make sure I understood. And he was a very engaging and dynamic speaker.
Anyway, all in all it was really fun visiting his church. I’ve never been to an Assemblies of God service before … in fact, I can’t really say that I have a lot of church variety under my belt. I do, however, plan to visit the Methodist church on Bau next Sunday.
I’m very interested in faces here. They are all very striking. Many people have wonderful facial features that are quite remarkable.
I was at the bus stop (the bus stop of death) the other day and I started taking photos while waiting for our bus.
There’s this episode of West Wing where a reporter joins the White House press corps. He comments how he was just in Fiji. CJ asks him about it and he describes how he impressed the Bauans by showing them that he could predict the weather with his smart phone.
However, I will say that I’ve used my laptop to show several different people the Google Earth view of their house, and my goodness — they were blown away.
In fact, I was visiting a village today (back on the main island; not Bau), and it came up, “Hey, you didn’t bring your laptop to show these people their village on Google.”
All Fijians speak Fijian and English, but usually Fijian.
If you’re with Fijians, they only speak English when speaking to you. Even if there are only two of them with you, they’ll speak Fijian to each other until your needed. They don’t do this to be rude, but rather because it’s just so much easier to speak Fijian.
This has it’s advantages, kind of. See, another aspect of the culture is the small-town effect — everyone knows everyone and everyone’s business. If you’re with a Fijian, they’ll innocently expect to know everything you’re doing and why. Now, for people who know me well know that I can be wonderfully elusive about topics that I don’t want to discuss. You could say I’m a private person. However, it’s not a problem because if they’re speaking Fijian, then I’m at no obligation to pay attention to what they’re saying. So, for as much as the village people talk, just the right amount of conversation is sent my way.
Although, I will admit that not being able to speak Fijian has many disadvantages. One of which is the discouraging aspect of seeming like you’re a high school drop-out who didn’t finish learning all of the languages he should have.
Ah … but wait, I know small and otherwise insignificant phrases in other languages. I know enough Spanish to order a burrito from Filiburto’s. And I don’t know French, but I’ve seen Eddie Izzard enough to repeat that bit (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JpVBxgXL59I).
Alas, I am saved from the despair of being the only single-language yokel on the island.
“Dinner was excellent. Muy bien. …. Oh, do you not know what that means?” I smugly reply. “Well … I guess I’ll have to explain it to you.”
I’ve made a very important scientific discovery.
As many people know, Fijians are very laid back and easy going, and all of the children mind their parents. I think there’s an explanation for this.
See, here the lines on the road (if there are any) are taken more as gentle suggestions than boundaries meant to keep people safe.
What’s even crazier are the buses in which all of the students use to go home from school. In Nausori, a large town near where I’m staying, the kids all take city buses to get home. Children from all over town make it to this one big bus stop area that is like a giant empty lot, usually muddy. There’s no marked areas for either buses or people. And students just walk in between buses whose drivers aren’t really looking for them. Buses pull in and then back up with no way to see behind them.
I’ve therefor concluded that everyone in Fiji is laid back, easy going, and mindful to their parents through pure natural selection.
There used to be tons of hyper, disobedient children here … probably.
“Oy, you’re only thirty-five?”
“Ya … wait, how old did you think I was?”
“At least over 40.”
“Your … uh …” she said, with her hand doing a stroking-motion over an imaginary beard.
“Oh … right.”
Well, one of them anyway. The other one is in the Methodist church of course.
My people were cannibals, if you didn’t know. Really good ones, too.
My great-great grandfather, Luke Senigasau, was 9 years old when Seru Epenisa Cakobau converted to Christianity, much to the delight of the missionaries that weren’t eaten. The previous ones, of course, were.
The year was 1854, and up until that point cannibalism was all the rage.
To be fair to the cannibals, they didn’t just love eating people; there was a reason. One of those is effective political campaigning. Imagine, if you will, a commercial staring Samuel L. Jackson, “Fijians. They’ll ******* eat you!” And then there would be a soft, woman’s voice over, “Brought to you by the Bureau of Fijian Warfare and Conquering.”
It’s been raining a lot lately. Or at least while I’ve been here.
There are a lot of important traditions on Bau. One that I think you’ll find odd is that no one wears hats or anything over the shoulder. Now, in the chief’s area of any village, this would also be the case. However, Bau is the chiefly island. As soon as I arrived, someone quickly offered to carry my backpack for me. Also, people who visit will usually dress up for the occasion. Even the carpenter I had over today mentioned he always changes into his best sulu when going to Bau.
I’m sure there’s a good story that goes along with it. I’ll have to find out.
Anyway, what you don’t see is to the left, just outside of this photo’s frame, there was practicing Bau’s rugby team. The actually had a club game scheduled for today. I was planning on going to cheer for my island team, and a cousin that I had playing. However, the rain cancelled all club games today.
Coming and going to Bau is fun. It’s a boat ride that takes maybe 5 minutes. There is a landing where buses and taxis regularly go, and then there are boats that regularly go back and forth. There’s no schedule for the boats, but usually it’s not a problem to as boats come and go quite regularly. It costs $7 for the boat to go one way. It seems as though that if the boat is full, then everyone just pays $2.
Oh, and they have $2 and $1 coins here — something I wish America did. And no pennies. Many other countries don’t have pennies. (Go here for a delightful explanation on the topic — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y5UT04p5f7U).
Anyway, ya … Bau. It’s great.
On Bau island we have about a half acre with three houses on it. The one my aunt lives in (and that I’m staying in) is pictured here. I would say it’s “beach front” but there are no sandy beaches here; just coral.
We also have some a few hundred acres on two other islands, but the thing you need to realize is it’s not real estate in the American sense of the term. I couldn’t sell it if I wanted to. I could lease it maybe, but not sell it. Basically it has to stay in our family in one way or another. And If we all die, then … I’m not sure.
There’s a lot of history on the wall. I’ve really enjoyed seeing old photos of my dad, grandfather, old chiefs long gone, and a drawing of my grandfather that my mom (who is a very good artist) drew about 35 years ago. It’s pictured below.
Aside from the roof there’s a few issues: the power and water were both off. After I landed I spent two days doing the proper ceremonies. I’ll explain more about that later. Anyway, after those two days I’ve spent every day since just trying to get the house repaired and the utilities running again. That, in itself, was an experience. Let’s just say I’ve had way more fun at the DMV than dealing with Fijian utilities. Things are coming together, though, and so I can’t complain too much. Everyone that I’m staying with has been very helpful, and there’s no way I could have done anything without their help. Help isn’t even the right word; everywhere I’ve gone I’ve had one to three cousins with me everywhere I went.
One of the biggest problems that I keep running into is the language barrier. So even though everyone speaks English I often find myself turning to my best-English-speaking cousin to deliver a message to someone using Fijian so that I don’t have to repeat myself three times.
Anyway, home repair. So I spent all morning with a carpenter/contractor that will be doing/organizing the repairs for me. He’s a great guy, and I think I can trust him to continue on other repairs after I leave. But the only regret that I have is that it took me the better part of the week to get to where I am now — which isn’t even close to where I hoped I would be. I mean, the repairs will maybe start Monday and hopefully be completed before I finish.
And even though I’d say that this is the main reason I came (as well as family history and relationship building, which is also coming along nicely), I’ve had almost no time to myself to read a book while sitting on a beach. I haven’t even gone swimming once. All in good time, I suppose.