Wednesday, March 11, 2020

March 11th – School Visit in Lautoka

For many people, the highlight of a visit to Fiji is its wonderfully warm and friendly people – today confirmed why.

On a morning of rainstorms of biblical proportions, we visited a small village to learn more about village life and to visit a school. Somehow the incessant deluge didn’t detract from what was a really enjoyable day. 

We first went to a kava ceremony in the village hall, which started off with the atmosphere  a solemn ceremony, and soon turned into the atmosphere of a jolly drink up, as our hosts plied us with gulps of muddy-looking kava. Kava is a mild narcotic that the locals say relaxes them – our guide said if you have 10 or 15 cups you’ll be in a stupor, but after only two my tongue was already beginning to feel numb.

We were meant to be doing a walking tour of the village, but seeing as Noah was assembling animals two-by-two, we decided to turn it into a driving tour. As this wasn’t going to be very exciting, I persuaded the guide to invite a group of 6 ladies onto the coach to get them to sing to us. It was brilliant! The women were so joyful as the belted out some songs from the back of the bus – it turned out that it was the first time that they’d been on a posh air-conditioned coach, and every time they passed one of their friends peering out from their verandas they went crazy. Their happiness and joy was more infectious than coronavirus.

Then we went to the rain-sodden school. The plan had been for the whole school to come out to sing to us, but we had to make do with just Year 8 squeezed onto a porch. The kids started out shy at first but as they sang their songs and interacted with us they came out of their shells and as curious about us as we were curious about them. It was heart-warming to be a part of, and it was lovely of Silversea to donate two boxes of supplies to the school. If all Fiji’s children are as intelligent, engaged and polite as these kids, then the country has a very bright future.

In the afternoon, the rain finally lifted and we went into Lautoka – Fiji’s second largest city. Being a mainly modern home to a huge sugar mill and a large flour mill didn’t make for the most exciting of urban environments, but it was a pleasant enough place. Like Suva, the people were really friendly and the colourful market was the main sight, but the main difference to Suva was that Indians (or Indo-Fijians) made up a much higher proportion of the population. In Fiji as a whole, Indians tend to dominate the retail trade, but there were more Indo-Fijians out on the street, in what seemed like a fairly harmonious place.

Our three days in Fiji have been really enjoyable – not just because this was one of the few Pacific countries to welcome us in, but because it’s a beautiful country inhabited by some lovely people.