October 5, 2011

Straddling Worlds

 When you take eight visitors and add them to a grade three class of excitable kids, chaos is the best term to describe the outcome. But it was a joyful chaos; one that came complete with smiles and hugs, and loads of giggles.
 The school at Gunu village is probably typical for isoalted areas in Fiji. With a handful of teachers, a small library and few resources it has an ambitious plan: to educate the children of these remote villages for free so they can successfully straddle the growing gap between village life and a rapidly changing world.

Even our visit is a sign of this change—not that long ago (think the era of Brook Shields and the Blue Lagoon—which was filmed on a nearby island) the very occasional visitor to this village needed government permission and needed to carry adequate supplies of food so they didn’t overwhelm the villagers. These days they get several yachts each year and a small tourist boat stops in three times a month for a traditional village visit—complete with a lovo prepared by the men (using the tourist boat’s own food), entertainment and a handicraft market. They even have cell coverage, which works when it’s not raining.

That said this is still a subsistence-based traditional village. From the moment we land the dinghy we are hosted. We are walked to where ever we wish to go and are honoured guests where ever we stop. It’s truly a strange to be treated this way as we discovered when we showed up at school and threw the entire building into chaos. The children surrounded us and peppered us with questions.
Lewa's home
 Because English is taught in the schools we were able to share a big pile of books—many were ones Maia used in school last year and several that she grew out of this year. On our walk back through the village we discovered that if you stop and visit when a Fijian family is getting ready to eat or drink you become family—and are expected to eat and drink with them: Which is how we found ourselves having lunch with the chief and his family. Actually, we ate and they watched.
Lunch at the chief's home: Bill and Lucy and their four daughters are amazing hosts
 Tonight we return to shore for our lovo. Our gracious host is a lovely young woman named Lewa—she lives in a simple hut with her mother Vinny, father Peceli and four siblings. They don’t have running water, electricity or even windows and doors. But she’s taking a post secondary course in Nadi—in IT. And the next time she’s able to get online we’ll become facebook friends.

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