Monday, 21 September 2015

Father's Day Church Service in Yadua, Bua Bay and Coconut Point

Hello,

It is hard to believe that I am going back in time nearly a week to bring you up to date ... I had such intentions of writing on so many occasions in the meantime, but I must admit with 3G in our new anchorage, I have been getting my Internet fix instead of writing emails to send over HF. Now we are briefly in a place with frustratingly intermittent internet, and leaving tomorrow for a reef with no internet, so it seems like a good time to catch up :)

After staying awake into the wee hours last Saturday evening wracking my brain for something tasty and suitable to bake to share with the village when we went ashore for church, I woke last Sunday morning to the sight of Victoria on the counter baking her daily batch of bread. She had it going shortly after 6:30 am, and a huge cinnamon-roll loaf was out of the oven by 8:45. Problem solved! The bread sure cooled quickly when I sat it on the aft deck box in 20+ kts of wind :)

Part of the reason that I found myself after dinner trying to figure out what to bring in the morning (besides genetics...) was that Victoria, Johnathan, and I had had an enjoyable walk with Deanne, Tim, and their boys on the tiny beach near our beautiful but tiny anchorage during the afternoon, when I might otherwise have been baking. Tim had spotted an open area behind the beach in the satellite photos, and it turned out to be the most amazing mangrove stand: it was muddy but firm underfoot, with large open flat areas with nothing growing. We found out later that the villagers come there to harvest the coconuts that grow interspersed with the mangroves. While Tim, Deanne, Victoria, and I were exploring this other-worldly landscape, the boys were busy climbing the rocky cliff near the beach. Meanwhile, Max was monitoring Benjamin's nap on Fluenta ... it was nice to get off the boat without an extra 20+ lbs to carry! After our beach walk, we had a nice time socializing on Exodus, followed by dog-tooth tuna sashimi dinner, which led to my late-evening contemplation of my cookbooks :)

By 9:15 on Sunday morning, we were on our way in two dinghies towards the village for church. We were dressed in our Fijian "bula gear" but covered with Canadian rain jackets because the wind was whipping across the anchorage. Thankfully, we were mostly dry on the way there and didn't get very wet until the way home. The chief's family hosted us for a cup of tea and a plate of sweets before church (Victoria's bread was a welcome addition) and we walked together to the church at exactly 10:00. Now that I have been in Fiji for a while, it feels like I am starting to get a sense of the routine. Most of the village ladies are awake early on Sunday morning to prepare the mid-day feast, then they have a bath and freshen up before church. With ten minutes until the service, I realized that our young hostess (Joanna, who had come with her husband to Fluenta when we got the ride home after sevusevu) was still sitting with us, presumably feeling obliged to keep hosting us at the expense of getting ready. I wondered aloud if she needed a few minutes to prepare, letting her know that if so, we would be fine; with a huge smile of relief, she left us to our own conversations so she could freshen up and change. It felt like a bit of a gift to give her the time she needed :)

It turned out that Sunday was Fathers' Sunday in Fiji. This meant that after we were welcomed to the service (in Fijian) by one of the ladies, almost all of the men offered a short sermon. One after the other, they stood up and left their pew and headed to one of three lecterns/pulpits/tables. Max found out later that they had been working on their sermons as a group all week. We were seated in two rows in the middle of the front of the church (visitors front and center) with the four big kids in the front row and the four adults and Benjamin in the second row. I was really proud of how still the kids sat for the two-hours-plus service. The singing, as ever, was lovely, but it took a certain amount of creativity to keep Benjamin occupied. At just over the hour mark, the man sitting behind us (who had had a quiet little girl of about 15 mos on his lap for much of the service) invited Benjamin to go outside with him to see the chickens. A half hour later, our consciences got the better of us, and Max volunteered to go find them. There was still a good 20 min to go of the service! Although we were all a bit relieved when it was over, I was impressed by the fact that the villagers all sat and listened reasonably intently to almost two-dozen mini sermons, some delivered with quite a strong dose of Fijian fire and brimstone :) Even the village children, who were all sitting in a group even further to the front than we were, paid attention (while filming the proceedings with their cell phones!). The Elder with a stick hardly had to walk around flicking them to keep them facing towards the front, even with the distraction of a visiting toddler in the front row...

After church, as we walked back towards the chief's house, we were surrounded by villagers who wanted to smile at us, pinch Benjamin's cheeks or legs, or say Bula! At one point, I even found myself demonstrating Benjamin's carrier that I had used for the 3-hour hike from the other anchorage, only to find myself taking it off so a Fijian lady could carry Benjamin instead! At the village hall, we were welcomed as members of the Chief's extended family at the Father's Day feast. I learned that my new friend was called Viniana, and that she had never married, and had no children (both of which are unusual in our experience of Fiji). Warm and welcoming, and with very good English, she was delightful to talk to; both Deanne and I found ourselves curious about what her story might be.

The Chief's clan probably numbered 60 adults with a couple of dozen children as well. The women had worked together all morning before church to prepare the feast of fish, noodles, casava, yams, curried soup, and probably other delicacies that I have forgotten, which was now laid out on three table cloths on the floor, carefully covered with gauze panels to keep the flies away (picture a head table across the short end of the room with two more long tables down the sides). I sat beside a man called Sepu, and we talked about the contrast between living in the city ("it is expensive to live in the city - people even pay for their fruit and their fish") and living in the village ("everything in the village is free"). There was a definite order to events: men, guests, and children were seated and fed first, then as the men and children drifted away, the ladies washed up the first round of dishes and shared their meal together. I joked with Viniana that this made a lot of sense to me: the ladies fed the ones who would be noisy and complain first, then they ate their own meal in peace and friendship :) Deanne and I stayed with the ladies while they ate and gossiped together. By this time, Benjamin had fallen asleep in my arms, but Deanne moved to sit beside Viniana and help with the washing up. I think they really appreciated this gesture, and there was a lovely feeling of community in the room. All the ladies were especially impressed when they found out that the chocolate chip cookies Exodus had brought had been baked by 14-year-old Alex! As I looked around the room, where the feasting traditions go back generation upon generation, I had a sense of being in a "thin place": a place where those who have feasted and gone before might be lingering not so very far away at all, enjoying the camaraderie. There is a mystery to family, and community, and feasting, and welcoming strangers, and it was a mystery in whose warmth I felt enfolded on this Fijian Fathers' Day.

On the other side of the hall, Max's conversation had been a bit more pragmatic. At the last minute before church, we had unlashed our printer and laminator (yes, we bought one of each before we left), figured out how to use them, and printed photos of Max and Tim presenting their huge walu to the villagers the day before (it was the biggest walu they had ever seen, let alone shot with a speargun). The photos ended up being passed all around the room, and the spokesman (Mele, who had visited Fluenta) wanted Max to print some photos from his phone. How would we transfer Mele's photos to Fluenta? On his teeny-tiny micro-SD card from his cell phone, of course! Max brought me this precious item, wrapped in a slip of paper on which was written the numbers of the photos Mele wanted us to print, and we carefully found a home for it in a compartment in the the diaper bag (yikes!). We decided that, rather than staying for the 3pm Fijian church service, we would all go back to our boats, print the photos, and then return with a small contingent for kava in the evening. Thankfully, we made it to the boat and back without incident, and Mele seemed happy with the photos. It looked like it might lead to a stampede of villagers looking for prints, but nothing came of it.

Deanne offered to keep the big kids and feed them supper, so Tim, Max, Benjamin and I formed the kava team. Some of the villagers were still in the village hall, drinking tea and eating yummy "pancakes" (much more like deep-fried donuts than anything resembling a pancake in Canada) amongst other sweets when we returned. The strong tea was made by briefly pouring water from a kettle through a sieve of tea leaves, then filling up the cup with straight water. The boys wandered off for the kava and I stayed for a while with the ladies. My friend Viniana had left, but Joanna took me under her wing. Benjamin discovered that the Breakfast Crackers had butter on them, so instead of eating the crackers, he just licked off the butter. This delighted the ladies, and soon he had a plate of licked crackers in front of him! One of the little girls (Lamba) got up the courage to ask me if she could take him outside, and that was the last I saw of him for a while :) It gave me the chance to watch a very funny conversation with the ladies: some were telling the others about my nursing top that I had been wearing earlier, which brought great guffaws from everyone, especially when an older lady demonstrated with charades how it worked. In general, I had a strong sense that I was the source of their merriment, but I had no idea what the joke was. It felt good just to laugh and enjoy their company. As the sun was setting, Joanna took me back to the chief's house, where the men had gathered for the kava drinking. It began with a sense of formality (the Chief and several elders were sitting together along the front of the group) but as the evening wore on, the atmosphere became more relaxed. I can't say I love the taste of Kava, but I don't mind it either. We participated in a few rounds (watch for your turn, say Bula and clap once with cupped hands when the bilo (half coconut shell cup) is offered, drink the kava in one go, return the cup with two hands, saying Vinaka and clapping three times with cupped hands after you do so, catch your breath and chat to your neighbour until it is your turn again). Thankfully, I had Joanna beside me throughout, so I had a source of conversation and insight. She left her own village at the age of 19 when she met her husband, and now she is 24. We haven't had a "proper" kava evening in a couple of months (Matuku?) so it was fun to be part of a village again. I had understood from the ladies that they would be coming, but according to Joanna, they wouldn't be coming until they had fed their families their dinner. As it turned out, after we dragged ourselves away from the kava circle (knowing that we had a bouncy dinghy ride ahead of us) the evening was still young, and we stayed visiting on Exodus until well after cruisers' midnight (9pm). This evening of friendship formed a wonderful end to a rich and beautiful day.

On Monday, there had been some talk of going spearfishing with the villagers, but this didn't come to pass, so Tim and Max went to a closer reef by themselves. They did not come back empty handed, and we enjoyed two coral trout and a sweet lips because of their efforts. As for me, I spent part of the day crafting my weekly school learning reflections, which were one day late due to the kava and socializing on Sunday; however, thanks to the international date line, our learning consultant got them right on time! Victoria made the morning bread, and I made evening bread so we would have something easy to eat on our short but lumpy passage from Yandua to Bua Bay (on the SW coast of Vanua Levu) the following day.

On our passage on Tuesday, we caught 1.5 walu: when Max was returning the line to the water after the first fish, it got really heavy, and then quite light... when he pulled it in again, we had the front half of a walu that had lost the rest of its body to a shark! We had caught it on our current go-to lure (a rapala) so we were grateful that we hadn't either caught the shark or lost the lure :) Johnathan did a beautiful job of filleting both fish when we arrived in Bua Bay (he did his own biology lesson as well - "Look Mom, here is the eye; look Mom, here are the guts"). This bay was the antithesis of the previous anchorage - it was huge, flat, easy to enter, sheltered from the swell, and almost benign. It even had (weak) internet!

On Wednesday, we moved across the bay so the kids could go ashore and stretch their legs (except for one tiny beach, the entire coast of the bay was mangrove stands, some of which Max was able to explore on his paddle board). We stayed a couple of days while the wind blew itself out, and then we moved about 15nm down the coast to Coconut Point to wait for weather to head for Namena Barrier Reef (another 20 nm or so from here). Although it was windy when we got here, the winds calmed down, and since we are anchored really close to Exodus, the kids have been able to swim back and forth between the boats.

Here at Coconut Point, we have been entertained by the ferry/cargo dock about 400 feet away; just after we arrived yesterday, a huge barge full of dirt or gravel docked, and for the next 6-8 hours, we listened to the sounds of the gravel being transferred to dump trucks for transport around the island. This morning, shortly after the barge left, two ferries docked in quick succession; there is not a lot of room here, but they handled their vessels expertly, and kept their distance from us.

When the wind died completely this afternoon, Victoria, Johnathan, and Brenden tied a long floating line between the boats, and used it to ferry each other back and forth on paddle boards. They played at Fluenta for a long time, jumping from the sides and the bow. I love to hear their shrieks of laughter as the come up with new games :) Besides acting as the paparazzi, my job was to use my speedy stitcher to fix several seams on our dodger that had let go in the huge waves [classic wind against tide] we went through yesterday. Wait til you see the photos :)

The plan at the moment is to head to Namena right after breakfast tomorrow morning. We don't expect to have an internet connection again until we get to Savusavu mid-week.

Love to all,
Elizabeth
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At 9/18/2015 7:52 AM (utc) SV Fluenta was 16°59.53'S 178°41.04'E
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At 9/20/2015 7:30 PM (utc) SV Fluenta was 17°06.61'S 179°05.77'E

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