Saturday, 25 June 2016

Makogai and Yadua - Lots of catching up, and Happy Fathers' Day


Had I sent this a few days ago when I was drafting it, I would have said, "Happy Fathers' Day from Yadua!" Ironically, it was Fijian Fathers' Day when were here in September, and we were back this week for the North American celebration :)

I will back up a bit ...

We were in Makogai for just over a week, helping Sea Mercy ( with the restoration of the village after Cyclone Winston. Two volunteers (Ian and Wendy on "Outsider"), having made several trips from Port Denarau to the island (as early as a few days after the cyclone) to deliver supplies, are now leading a three-month re-build project. They are currently being assisted by other cruisers, (folks like ourselves who stop in to help for a few days or a few weeks) and they will be joined soon by a group of Sea Mercy volunteers who will fly in from overseas and camp on-site for the specific purpose of helping with the project. While we were there, the group's main efforts were to make water, clear the space for the reconstruction of the concrete school (now on hold due to structural weakness in the remaining concrete), repair a floor near the school in preparation for the rest of the rebuild (all that was left of the original structure and will become the new school), and to clear out and make habitable a home near the beach.

The anchorage at Makogai was quite a distance from the village. On many mornings the "school bus" (aka fiberglass "long boat") came around to pick us up, offering a much faster (and more exhilarating) ride than we would have had in our dinghies; on the first morning, one of the men wore a wetsuit because he was used to getting so wet! Thankfully, the winds and seas became unusually calm during our stay, so it became easier to use our own dinghy. We had a few adventures during our commute: one morning, we were part-way there when our outboard stopped short. Being closer to the anchorage, we elected to turn around (much to the surprise of the Exodus dingy which was ahead of us with Johnathan onboard), and with full throttle and full choke, Max was able to get us back to Fluenta where he spent the rest of the morning clearing the carburetor of debris. After he had it back together, he found that it was now leaking: the drain nut, which had never been adjustable, was now completely corroded away. He coated the whole business in epoxy, and we crossed our fingers. The following day, as we were returning to the anchorage after a day in the village and a successful "road test" of the repaired outboard, and just as I was asking Max what it would be like if a fish bit on the lure we were trolling, we hooked a fish strong enough to pull the yoyo right out of my hands and out of the boat! At first, I thought it was just that I was a weakling fishing assistant (and that Max should have had Victoria or Johnathan with him), but when I saw the bent hook and the piece missing from the lure, I was just as happy we hadn't landed the creature :)

A highlight of the week was the visit to Fluenta of Richard Hackett, the president of Sea Mercy USA. He is in Fiji for several weeks while the immediate response settles down and the re-build projects get underway, with donated supplies and volunteer labour. The organization had just launched a landing craft/barge, and their maiden voyage was from Port Denarau to Makogai. With eight people, a load of supplies, and a high-capacity watermaker onboard, they set out early on Sunday morning with the expectation of arriving in the lagoon during the mid-afternoon (to give plenty of time to set everyone up in the tent site). Unfortunately, the journey took an additional 8 hours, and they arrived cold, wet, and tired late that evening. The whole fleet happened to be gathered at Exodus, so it was easy to organize billeting: Ian had hardly told us about the situation before there was a chorus of "I'll take one" / "I'll take two" / "I'll take three" from the group. Since Miriam had left the previous morning, it was easy for us to "take one" and our "one" was Richard. Not only was he a delightful guest, patiently answering my (many) questions, and generous with his insights on the ups and downs of starting a charity, but he was also a published author who gave a copy of his book to Johnathan and graciously spent some time talking with him seriously about heroes & villains, plot development, and other things to bear in mind when writing a book.

The barge spent all the following day off-loading equipment into the long boat and making water at the government dock. Max and the kids were able to have a look around - there's not much in the way of creature comforts, and it was hard to picture the group of eight bashing into the often-steep waves of the Koro Sea - but it should be a big help in delivering supplies and making water in the remote islands.

Max divided his time ashore between working on the new floor for the school by pulling nails out of old boards, hammering nails into different old boards, coaching junior tradesfolk on the use of a hammer, and fixing the two Sea Mercy watermakers. For once plumbing really was his favourite job: he got to work on a system he was familiar with, and he got to do it in the shade! Sea Mercy had obtained two "watermakers in a box" which were the land-versions of our Spectra watermaker aboard Fluenta, mounted into big waterproof shipping cases. The primary system had been set up in a shed above a well of brackish water, and one of the local men had been told that if it was sunny (and therefore the two big solar panels were churning out power), he was to turn the machine on. When we arrived, one of the pumps was making a funny sound and the other system wasn't working at all. When I asked him about the "Fix", Max told me that in true "Sea King" helicopter fashion, he had made one system work by putting all the good parts into it and putting all the faulty parts into the other. Once the primary system was working, he then spent the next day resurrecting and pickling the other system. It seems that our trials and tribulations with Fluenta's watermaker prepared him well...

It wouldn't be an anchorage with other boat kids without at least one sleepover. In this case, there were two: on one night, Victoria stayed over at Carpe Diem to watch "Annie" with six-year-old Sadie, and on another night, Johnathan stayed at Exodus and all the boys slept on the trampoline. I think Victoria enjoyed her role as the "big girl" with Sadie - she spent many hours with her, making braids, beaded bracelets, and other crafts. Johnathan commented at one point that he liked the routine the kids had developed: they went ashore to work (hard) all day in the sun (he, especially, seemed to relish the physicality of moving lumber, clearing trail and carrying heavy loads), they came back to swim from Fluenta (we had rigged our spinnaker pole for jumping overboard again), then they all dried off and played Minecraft until dinner.

I had a rather profound experience on our last afternoon ashore. I had become friends with a woman in the village who had a tiny breastfeeding baby. We had gotten talking the previous day, and when the subject of the cyclone came up, the tears were pretty near the surface for both of us, especially as she described the wind, the noise, and the sound of her five children crying out for her, while she worried about the baby she was carrying in her belly. I have been learning about "Tapping" for the last few years (in a curious but totally amateur / theoretical way), so after some reflection, both on my own, and in conversation with Wendy (Outsider) and Hannah (Carpe Diem), who will be staying on when we leave, I decided to be brave and introduce her to the technique. I went over to see her after lunch, told her that I had been thinking about our conversation since the day before, and that I knew something that might help. The play-by-play of what happened next would be pretty long, but suffice to say that I showed her the technique, she zeroed in on her strongest feeling from the Cyclone (being scared), we tapped on it together (using some of her words from our conversation the day before), and when we were done, she asked me if it was "Magic": she felt so much better that she couldn't believe it. Wow. We chatted for a bit longer (about how it could be considered energy, prayer, meridians, etc, but not magic - there actually was a scientific explanation for what was going on; how it could help her family and her community; and how she could tap at any time of the day or night). We eventually invited some children who had shown up on the porch after school to come and sit with us, and together we showed them how to tap. I spoke in English and my friend translated into Fijian. Their strongest feeling was also one of being scared. We showed them arms wide apart to mean lots of fear, and palms together to show the fear gone. I wasn't entirely sure of what was happening because it was all in Fijian, but there were intent looks of concentration on the faces of the children who were participating (some were just looking at me and smiling) and when they were done, the first girl who spoke put her hands together at her chest and also asked if this was "Magic". I don't know if anything more will come of this, but even if nothing does, it is gratifying to think that I might have given them a tool to help ease their post-cyclone suffering even a little bit.

With the days flying by, we decided to leave Makogai for Yadua (about which we had heard nothing post-Winston) on Friday afternoon, 24 hrs after our friends on Exodus left for the same passage. We had had no wind all week, and it was just beginning to fill in; this meant that we had a lovely, flat, calm sail, straight downwind, on flat seas. This is my kind of passage!!! Better yet, it is likely to be our last overnight passage for a while. The moon was finally moving towards full, so we had moonlight all night, and all we needed was the genoa to keep us moving along at 3-4 kts straight downwind.

Shortly after 0830, we anchored in the bay near the village, in almost the exact same spot as we were in last September. Once again, Exodus was the only boat with us, and they were in their familiar spot as well. We had a certain sense of deja vu :) As we were contemplating the possible schedule for the day (sevusevu? spearfishing? sleep?) a longboat from the village came by with both the headman and the minister onboard. Their message: no sevusevu on Saturday, as they were going fishing and they were in the midst of a one-week fasting period (no Kava, no smoking). We could stay in the anchorage (going ashore, etc) as if we had done our sevusevu, and then we could come to the village on Sunday afternoon for the formalities. This suited us just fine: spearfishing was on :) (In fact, not only was it on, but it was successful: Max shot his first snapper). We confirmed the timing of the church service the following morning, with some intention of attending, but when we realized that the tide would be too low in the morning to approach from across the reef, we decided to have a lazy brunch on Fluenta instead, and we went ashore in the afternoon for our sevusevu.

When we arrived, afternoon church was ongoing. For some reason, the chief's wife wasn't attending, so she invited us in for tea. When the chief arrived we made a bit of small talk, then we actually had to go search out the spokesman to do his part in the sevusevu. With the formalities completed, we were free to walk in the village. I was glad that almost immediately I ran into a lady I had really enjoyed meeting last September (Vinniana). She invited me into her sister's house for another cup of tea, so while Max and Tim enjoyed their first round of grog (kava) in a long while, I drank tea, ate scones, admired another newborn baby, and met most of her extended family. Benjamin was with me, and once he got the first bite of food into his tummy, he was quieter than he had been all afternoon. (In fact, when I tried to convince him to be quiet during the sevusevu, he replied vehemently, "No mummy! I no be quiet". Even nursing hadn't helped, and all I could do was hope that the usual Fijian patience for small children would apply. Of course, Benjamin had been hungry, and I was just out of practice in packing snacks!) It was well past sunset when we headed back to the boats, with a promise to return soon to look at some wiring (Tim and Max), to fix the Chief's spearguns (Tim), and to see Vinniana's new house (me).

Monday turned out to be too windy (+/- 30 kts) to comfortably leave the boats for the village, so we invited Exodus over for dinner instead. Victoria had been planning the menu for some time - she wanted to make parmesan puffs with choux pastry (like she had made for our anniversary dinner), sweet & sour meatballs with rice, and pumpkin pie. We had bought ten pumpkins in Savusavu, so we had plenty to make pie!! I eventually gave about half a dozen of them to the village, as I couldn't see eating them all in the next week! During the afternoon, the kids went ashore to build a fort in the mangroves and Max and Tim went spearfishing to test the the repairs to the Chief's spearguns. Max shot a nice sized sweetlips. With all this activity, dinner was a bit late, but no one seemed to mind, and everyone was full by the end of the night :)

We returned to the village on Tuesday. Given that we wanted to sail around to the other side of the island that afternoon for the more protected anchorage, we went ashore after breakfast for a "quick" visit before the tide would be too low to return (read - no snacks, Victoria stayed on the boat to bake bread, and we thought we would come back within the hour). Instead, it took Max and Tim several hours to troubleshoot the solar power system, by which time the tide was at its lowest ebb, so what was there to do but drink tea, drink grog, and wait for the tide to come back up?? After the solar troubleshooting reached its final assessment (bad panels - no fix without replacing them [Max adds: at that point we were told that the panels had been recovered from the beach following cyclone Evan...]), the headman's wife made us some fried cakes and some tea to tide us over. Their house was at the top of the "new" village, which had been reconstructed since our last visit. [We all got a different story/understanding, but we think that the village was destroyed by Cyclone Evan several years ago, and the +/- 18 houses were reconstructed through a government programme]. This was one of those days when I was glad that we had been flexible in our schedule: it seemed best to accept the proffered hospitality and push off our move until the following morning. This meant that we could relax and enjoy our visit in the headman's house, Deanne and I could drink (more) tea with the Chief's wife, sister, and daughters while the men accepted an invitation to drink grog, and I could visit my friend Vinniana's new house. Vinniana also showed me the worship space that is under construction beside her new home. It turns out that she is a Lay Minister (Methodist) who has studied in Lobasa and Suva, which explains some of her ease in dealing with visitors and speaking English. It was fun to find something in common with my new friend, as I had done some of the training to be a Lay Minister while we lived in England many years ago. I asked about the new minister in the main village, and she was very positive about how they were working together.

Tea drinking deserves a bit of a mention in its own right. We have been offered tea in most villages at one time or another. It is usually made one cup at a time by pouring a big kettle of boiled water through a sieve full of tea leaves, and it is generally pretty strong. I think they open bags of tea to fill the sieve. Fijian cane sugar is generally available, and sometimes we are also offered a jar of milk powder. We always sit in a circle on a woven mat, usually around a tray or floral table cloth. Men sit cross-legged, and women sit either on one hip with their knees to one side and their ankles to the other, or with their feet straight out in front and strong old toes sticking straight up, or (less often, but more comfortable for nursing) cross-legged. Tea is often accompanied by something tasty, which may be Breakfast Crackers spread with a mixture of jam and butter, or fried cakes, scones, or bread & butter. Everyone drinks tea together, from the spoonfuls offered from mothers' cups to toddlers, through children getting their own milky cups, to old people dunking entire crackers and jam. Grog (kava) is the famous drink in Fiji, but tea seems to serve as a close second for building community. Unlike the grog drinking (which can have a bit of a party atmosphere but more often is done with minimal conversation), there is generally lots of laughter and conversation while tea is being shared. It must be said that we often seem to provide a source of great mirth and entertainment, although we rarely know what is being said :)

After our day in the village on Tuesday, we motored around to the other side of the island on Wednesday, and this is where we are now. This has to be one of our favourite anchorages in Fiji - easy to get in/out of, nice beach, no fetch, snorkelling and spearfishing, minimal reefs (all of which are at a respectable distance from the boats), and plenty of space for swinging room. It is kind of the polar opposite from the other anchorage, which was tight, rolly at high tide, full of reefs & bombies, and tricky to enter/exit! This anchorage does not have the stunning beauty of the previous one, and it is a three-hour hike to the village from here (which we did last year for our sevusevu), but it sure is nice to sleep through the night without waking to check the anchor, snubber, radar, etc (of course, this was Max's experience - I only seem to wake if it has to do with Benjamin!)

We celebrated our arrival at an anchorage with a beach by digging out some of the multiple packages of frozen hotdogs that I had bought in NZ and building a bonfire over which to cook them. I provisioned as if the kids would be camping ashore all the time like they did last year, and this has been the first suitable spot. Oh well. We will have lots of hotdogs between now and when we fly home:) The beach reminded me a bit of our cookout site in Tahanea in the Tuomotus, as it was sheltered from the wind, enclosed by lots of trees for firewood, and when we went ashore, we even found wooden 'tables' made from wooden poles laid over a frame of forked sticks. All four big kids jumped at the chance to stay ashore overnight, and their camp went up pretty quickly after we gave them our permission, even though it was already dark. Given that neither dinghy had been left ashore, I didn't expect to see them today, but around mid-day we looked out when we heard their shouts of laughter to see that the four of them had constructed a raft of sorts, and they had swum it out, first to Exodus and then to Fluenta, where they picked up hotdogs for lunch, before swimming their rig back upwind to the beach.

A highlight of staying at Yadua is the spearfishing. While we were at the village anchorage, Max and Tim went out a couple of times, and they wasted no time today leaving for a reef well-offshore (but closer to this anchorage than the other one). We enjoyed the fruits of their first trip this evening, covered in herbs, wrapped in foil, and cooked on the fire; walu from today is chilling in the fridge as I type.

Now that the moon has gone past full, it is pitch dark after sunset. We took advantage of this period this evening to experiment with the telescope my parents brought for the kids in April. It was a bit of an effort to make a somewhat sand-free space to set up the tripod and to keep Benjamin away from the evolution, but it was worth it and everyone got a chance to look at the stars. It will take some practice (and some research on what we are seeing), but it will be fun to become a family of stargazers :)

We'll stay here another day or so, and then start heading for Nadi to prepare the boat and ourselves for our trip to Canada.

Love to all,
At 2016-06-12 7:34 PM (utc) SV Fluenta's position was 16°48.96'S 178°17.06'E

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