I began my Fiji volunteering trip in Nadi. Before beginning our traditional village homestay, a local named Joe taught us some key Fijian concepts. He taught us the importance of the word ‘Bula’ – the equivalent of a Hawaiian ‘Aloha’. The word means ‘hello’ but you shout ‘Bula’ with enthusiasm at every person you meet. ‘Fiji Time’ is where things come at a slow pace, based on their laidback lifestyle. He introduced us to a few cultural things we needed to learn before going to the village. For example, women had to be covered from the knees down in a sulu (sarong) and wear a shirt that would cover their shoulders. When drinking kava, a native Fijian grog, we have to clap, put your hands out for a cup, say ‘bula’, skull it, and hand it back and say vinaka (thank you).
Next we took a 5-hour bus ride to the Nabukavesi Village on the eastern side of the island (where it’s rainy!). The beginning of the bus ride displayed rural and baron parts of Fiji. As we got closer to the village, it got more green and mountainous. The hills were enormous green mounds covered in thick, untouched vegetation. When we arrived, we carried our heavy backpacks up a muddy hill. We were introduced to the village. Joe (one of our leaders) lifted the mataqali with kava root and told the village about us. This was called the sevu sevu ceremony. This is the most important traditional ceremony for guests participating in a village homestay. Here, we were accepted as a member of the village and are considered equal as if we grew up in the village. We then drunk kava, or should I say skulled the kava. The traditional plant-based grog tasted like a strange water and had a numbing effect on both the body and mind. My village family told me that tall trees take six years to mature, then are crushed into powder. The powder is then placed in a towel and soaked in a big tub of water. They start drinking kava at 18 but learn how to make it from age 16. I was sitting at the front of the ceremony so I was targeted and given three cups of plant water.
My volunteering team (the 42 of us) introduced ourselves to the village individually and then had a feast for lunch. It was a beautiful mix of fresh fish, noodles, curries and daro (potato). Eating daro was extremely strange experience, it looked and felt like potato but it tasted bland. We ate everything with out hands as there wasn’t cutlery which was great for me.
It was only the beginning of a unique cultural experience.