Being third cousins mean we share a great-great grandfather. Being second cousins once removed mean that we share the same great-great grandfather, only they would call him a great grandfather. So, “once removed” describes a generational layer difference.
Layer may not be a genealogical term, but you get the idea.
In Fiji, if you’re a respected older person, you’re called uncle. I call both my actual aunt aunty, and my second cousins once removed aunty. My third cousins once removed (which are the children of my third cousins) call me uncle. Or at least that’s what their moms tried to get them to call me; the best we could do was get them to wave at me.
I also refer to close family friends of my aunty and father as aunty and uncle. Their children are my cousins. Sitting next to me in the above photo is my Uncle Cegu — no blood relation, but he’s very close to our family (and a wonderfully nice guy).
My children have fourth cousins, which are the closest relatives they have (of their generational layer) on my dad’s side.
On my wife’s side of the family, she being someone who has siblings, they have first cousins. They also have second cousins through my mom’s side of the family, if you were wondering.
What’s nice about Fiji is I was received like the long-lost son who finally returned to the motherland (or literally, the father’s land in this case). Anyway, everyone there made me feel overwhelmingly welcome. And after a few weeks of being back, I still miss them all very much.
But then again, tourists have a lot of faults.
I realize that I’m somewhat of a hypocrite in that I’m pretending like I’m not partially a tourist myself or at least that I didn’t start out as one (like someone who just lost a lot of weight that then started making fun of other fat people).
Anyway, on my last day in Fiji (which had many awesome events that I’ll post about later), I ran across a group of Australian tourists at the Bau Boat Landing ready to head out to their resort destination. And I also sat next to a group of American tourists on the plane back to the U.S.
Without going into detail, I resented a lot of the conversations that I overheard.
Tourists don’t really take time to experience the culture. Instead, they go straight to their hotel or resort, and expect that things are up to their standards. They see shows in order to experience the culture much like men watch Army movies to experience military life.
What a wasted trip for them.
The hotel they’re in is maybe slightly different from the one they were in last year when they went to the Caribbean or Hawaii or whatever. But what they don’t see is that beyond the resort walls is a whole country that is nothing like the life they’re used to. Fiji is a wonderful place that has stayed strong in its traditions and has a fascinating history.
And the difference for me, I think, is that when I left Fiji, I didn’t leave behind a vacation; instead, I left behind people that I care about in a place that I now feel truly connected to.
I’m both sad and happy.
This was never a vacation trip. Instead, there have been a lot of meetings, projects, and lots of learning.
When it comes to experiencing a new culture, it’s the little things that stand out the most. The small differences in language, in manners, and in day-to-day living.
One thing I discovered (that the guide books didn’t tell me about) is that I’ve needed Americans to help reconnect and reflect. I met a Peace Corps worker here (Reagan!) who was tremendously helpful in helping me understand the small things.
I suppose my situation is unique — I’m traveling alone, away from my wife and kids, for a long time, in a place where I have deep roots and family that I’ve never known. I’m glad to have connected here, though. Don’t misunderstand me there. And everyone here has been so helpful and kind.
I’ll be honest, these people are the nicest people I’ve ever met.
If you asked me if I had a good trip, I’d say, “Yes.”
If you asked me what the hardest part has been, I wouldn’t know where to begin.
I will say that I feel like I’m leaving too soon. As though the things I need to do here are unfinished. But in my fast-paced life Fiji will remain running as it always has — on “Fiji time.”
And it’ll be here when I get back.
Things are going great. The new roof is on, and the kitchen and bathroom have come a long way.
The last two nights I’ve been hanging out with the village elders drinking kava.
There weather has been great. And the fish have been tasty.
Today I walked around the island with the father of the host family I’m with. I should explain that they look after my aunt, and so we go over there for meals and they’ve been taking care of me while I’m here.
Anyway, we walked around the island together and it was great to see the other side of Bau.
I’m on the east side, if you’re wondering; I hadn’t been to the west side yet.
Now, in the center of the island there is this tall hill and on top of the hill is a mausoleum. You can see it from almost anywhere on the island, and it’s incredible and ominous. It’s like something out of the TV show LOST.
I’ll post pictures later.
Oh, and I found out today that every house in Fiji has a name. My house’s name is Warucu.
This is the island of Bau, and to the left of it you can barely see a palm tree just off the island a bit. That tree is on it’s own tiny island. Any by tiny, I mean it’s like the surface area of a living room floor, but with a palm tree.
Anyway, the tree island is directly out from our family property about 200 yards, and my dad told me a story about how he used to swim to that island. So I thought I’d give it a go.
For this trip I was going to take it easy. I used a snorkel so all I had to do was float face down and swim slowly forward.
As I was swimming I started thinking about how I didn’t really tell anyone that I was going swimming, and even if I did I was still all by myself.
It was going very well, and then about half way I started breathing a little faster (as one does while exerting oneself). And the poorly designed flap on the tip of my snorkel start to close on me when I breathed in. Now, you may not be family with snorkels and their anti-splash devices, but you’re probably familiar with breathing. And breathing in is fairly important.
I’m not one to panic, and I quickly realized that I need to slow down my breathing and stay afloat. The snorkel kept failing me, and thus my system for easy swimming. So I stopped using the snorkel and just tried to take easy strokes back to the shore. After stoic determination (and okay, a bit of panic). I made it to a point where I could stand. Thank goodness.
I was exhausted, though. My whole upper body felt like it just spent an hour in the gym.
What was supposed to be an easy swim turned into a very difficult swim, but I’m still alive.
Here you can see where the tree hit the roof, which then made it leak, which then damaged the walls. It’s been nearly ten years since the cyclone came through here and did this damage.
This is the only bad side, though, the other side of the house is in really good condition.
It’s a clear day, which is good for repairing a roof. Well, replacing in its entirety is the more accurate description of what we’re doing. Anyway, no rain today, but that makes it very hot (on top of the already high humidity).
It’s been quit the project to get this all fixed. Aside from the damage to the roof, the subsequent water damage to the floor and walls, and the bee hive, getting materials here is a project unto itself. Only 20-foot and 30-foot boats go between the main island and Bau Island. So, the materials have to be picked up, driven to the landing, and shipped over (hopefully in one trip). Luckily the boat can go right up to near the house.
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.