“The use of traveling is to regulate imagination by reality, and instead of thinking how things may be, to see them as they are.” – Samuel Johnson
I´ve thought a lot about how to sum up my time in Fiji. I finally came across the title of a well-known book and movie named Eat Pray Love, which tells the story of a woman who goes on a journey for one year to three different places (Italy, India, Bali) to discover the three different elements of Pleasure, Devotion and Balance. I have not been to any of those three countries in the last couple of months, but I´ve been to one country that combines all those elements. Or let me put it differently: It combined all those elements for ME. I can really sum up my stay in Fiji with those three simple words Eat, Pray and Love. And this is why:
Fiji, just like many other islands in the South Pacific, truly values food. Eating does not only have a traditional and cultural background as it brings people together and creates some kind of solidarity and togetherness. Eating also means enjoying life to the fullest as it is seen as one of the highest pleasures one can have. The main things I learned are that cooking for other people is the way to show hospitality and that not finishing food, which had been cooked for you, means you didn´t like it. That´s actually the reason why people here are used to eating so much. Apart from that it´s remarkable that people here mostly eat carbohydrates, sugar products and very few fruits and vegetables even though there are so many exotic fruits to be found in a country like Fiji. Anyways, I´ve had a lot of food since my first day in Fiji and I´ve had a lot of opportunities to try different foods throughout my time here. Since there are two very different cultures living in Fiji – Fijians and Indians – I´ve also had the chance to really discover the meaning behind pleasure of eating and I finally understood why eating is a priority in the South Pacific culture. One phrase you will quickly pick up when you´re here is “Sotale” (Have some more). Without exaggerating I´d like to state that I´ve never before eaten as much as in the past three months even though I kept saying “Au sa sinai” (I´m full) when they were suggesting me to have more. And at some point, I really came to telling myself that I just didn´t care about putting on weight. I just wanted to enjoy it like the Fijians do. And I´ve never in my entire life enjoyed eating so much as in the last three months. I enjoyed the different foods and ceremonies – Roti, Lovo*, several rice-dishes, fish, all kinds of meat, fried things – the entire cooking of my host father – and of course: Kava! I enjoyed the different tastes and spices – Indian and Fijian. I enjoyed the company while eating. I enjoyed the eating rituals we used to have. I enjoyed the get-togethers and parties we celebrated just for the sake of eating. It was amazing and for me definitely a thing that made Fiji different from other stays abroad.
Another popular method of cooking, which is still used today, is the lovo which is an earth oven — a fire made on in a pit in the ground lined with heat-resistant stones. (…) When the stones are hot, food wrapped in (banana) leaves, is placed in the pit, covered with soil and left to cook before being exhumed and eaten. Dishes cooked this way include palusami, parcels of taro leaves saturated with coconut milk, onions, and sometimes tinned meat. (c.f. Wikpedia)
Pray does not literally mean praying. For me in this context, it means devoting myself to someone or something. I’m religious, I´m Christian, but I´m open to different religions. I´m open to different point of views that people have on god, on the bible, on living with or without a faith. Fiji, as well, gave me an opportunity to open my mind even more and to discover faiths far beyond mine. I went to a Catholic orthodox mass, I participated in a Buddha meditation, I visited an Apostolic service, a Methodist church, I got to experience a Hindu Ceremony and I taught at a strictly catholic school, in which we had to pray with the kids 5 times a day before school, after school and before every single break. Together with one of my roommates, I took part in a Diwali celebration ceremony, in which we had to sit on the floor struggling to stay awake while listening to an Indian guru, who was preaching in Sanskrit to some humming Indians for two and a half hours. All of those experiences were special and completely new to me. Some of them were extremely boring and I felt as if I was in the wrong place. Some of them surprised me because they were totally fascinating. Some of those ceremonies/services were absolutely worth the visit just because of the music (e-guitar and drums in a Catholic church… or traditional Hindu music), however, some of them had an interesting sermon, which you would never expect to hear in a church. I’ve always been interested in the Asian culture and its religions since in Europe one does usually not get an insight into those religions. So my stay in Fiji really gave me a perfect opportunity to get to know and learn about those faiths.
I see love as a general word in this context. Firstly, I got to know all the different sides of Fiji. I learned that Fiji does not only mean BULA, beautiful, white, sandy beaches and crystal-clear water, but there are negative sides as well (e.g. the primitivism of life or some aspects of the educational system), which, together with the positive sides, form a country that I fell in love with. Secondly, I got to meet so many new people. People who were strangers to me in the beginning and now became good friends – Specifically, I´m talking about the other volunteers and especially my roommates, who have lived with me for months, as well as many locals here in Fiji. I´m so glad I got to meet these people because we learned from each other, shared our stories, were there for each other when we needed someone to talk to. Apart from those guys, I also met people who cared for me and other volunteers and were there for us 24/7 when we needed help or advice – A big grateful shout-out to my host-family, who are just the most loving family and who treated me as their own daughter and to the Projects-Abroad staff in Suva. (Thanks for all your efforts!)
I´d also like to add that I loved my projects and especially the summer school project was an amazing experience for me, which will hopefully help me deal with some similar situations throughout my life. Apart from that, I hope I was able to make a difference to the kids’ life and hope they will remember some of the values and thoughts I shared with them, because those were things that no teacher here would teach them and I consider those few things to be very important in their lives.
There´s one more thing I would like to mention in this context. The last year was challenging for me in many different ways and I kind of lost my own balance throughout the year, which was one of the main reasons why I wanted to go abroad and why I wanted to go as far away from Germany as possible. The plan was to be far away from everything going on there so that I could focus on myself and try to find new balance by adjusting to a completely different lifestyle that doesn´t remind me of my life back home. I can now proudly say: I did find my balance again and I hope I´ll be able to keep it up and intensify this balance during my stay in South Africa in a month’s time.
The other day I was reading through my travel diary again – As a conclusion to this last Fiji update I´d like to share the most significant things with you:
(In almost chronological order):
- Go to another country for more than 3 months and forget to bring towels.
- Talk in accent of country you are in – start saying set instead of okay and become the best foreign English-with-Indian-accent-Faker amongst other volunteers.
- Skip along beach, deliriously happy.
- Together with travel partner develop totally bizarre back-story for couple staying in the same resort…
- Say publicly that you have overcome fear of cockroaches then freak out over one crawling in bed.
- Let yourself go. (Regret immediately).
- Dance on table to song you would never dance to in home country.
- Adjust to music of country you are in – Op op op op…
- Give up trying to order in language of country you´re in and revert to colloquial English. (E sega ni macala – vaka lailai ga vakaviti!)
- Write postcards and never post them.
- Make children in school become obsessed with Faber-Castell-products, esp. Grip 2001 pencils.
- Celebrate birthday on the other side of the world.
- Establish Advent Calendar in Fiji.
- Ask kids in school to teach you proper dance of Oppan Gangnamstyle.
- Sit on palm tree mid-December wearing a Santa Claus hat and wonder how surreal it is.
- Win crab-race and name winning crab Forest.
- Make way to one of three possible locations to stand on the international Dateline.
- Celebrate Xmas with 46 bottles of beer, 3 chickens and half a pig.
- Feel like Tarzan and swing yourself in the pool of a waterfall in the middle of a rainforest.
- Feel proud after having cracked a coconut open like a castaway.
- Go partying almost 4 times in a row during last week of stay and decide it´s best not to go to bed at all on last day, then show up at work fresh and awake while everyone else is hung-over after 2hrs of sleep.
- = achieved.