Nasikawa Vision College & Navola village, Fiji
It’s not every day you come home from school and find yourself sitting on the pandanus-matted floor of a two-room concrete house drinking Fijian-style tea (that is, lemon-leaf tea with at least a heaped spoonful of raw sugar) while watching a VCR recording of the Wallabies playing the All Blacks. Being neither a habitual tea-drinker nor a rugby fan, I was feeling a little out of my depth, though rather enjoying the ride.
It was my first afternoon in Navola village. I was travelling in Fiji on a mission trip as part of my gap year with Year 13, and thus wherever I went, about 40 other people went as well. Our busload had arrived at Nasikawa Vision College at 10 that morning, Fiji time (i.e. just before 11). We were to spend the next few days running scripture lessons and chapel at the school, and staying in the students’ homes after school finished each day.
So, on that first day, my homestay partner, Brodie, and I walked home to Navola, just across the road from the school, with our host, Anaina, and had our first experience of Fijian family life. This experience began with a large number of Anaina’s cousins dropping in to meet us, and progressed to the aforementioned strange combination of rugby and tea.
Anaina’s house, where she lived with her aunt, her uncle (the head man of the village) and an assortment of cousins, had no running water (though the neighbour’s place did, and we were welcome any time if we needed to use their toilet), no chairs or tables (traditionally everyone sits on the floor), and no television reception (hence the VCR). In no way, however, was this home lacking in love, faith, or welcoming smiles. Brodie and I were given the best of everything. A special dinner was prepared in our honour. One wall of the house was adorned with a Bible verse, painted in large letters directly onto the concrete: “’For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future.”
When we’d finished watching the rugby we walked down to the beach – a two-minute stroll through the village. The beach – not quite displaying the white-sand beauty Fiji is known for, but littered with shells of amazing colour and size – was crowded with village boys playing rugby. I was beginning to detect a theme. We wandered along the beach collecting shells as it began to rain gently.
That evening Anaina’s aunt and uncle returned from work, met the two Aussie teenagers who would be inhabiting their house for the next few days, and insisted, with typical Fijian warmth, that we call them Nene (Mum) and Tako (Dad). Then we had more tea.
Our visit sped past. Every waking hour seemed to be full of people, keen to see us, happy to feed us, wanting to find out about us, and sharing their lives with us. Each morning, when we arrived at the school, we made a beeline for the library, which had temporarily been transformed into Year 13 headquarters, where we had a chance to relax without being surrounded by over-excited schoolkids.
On our final morning in Navola, Nene cooked babakau for us – a delicious Fijian food, perhaps best described as fried dough cakes, but tasting like a combination of donuts and doughy pizza crust – which was accompanied by the inevitable tea. Anaina had made us leis from leaves and flowers – a traditional gesture of welcome or farewell. We said our many goodbyes to the residents of the village. Needless to say, we were late for school.
That afternoon, a Year 13 versus Nasikawa touch football match had been arranged – fortunately someone had worked out that if the strapping Fijians took on our bunch of Aussie boys in real rugby, someone Australian was going to get hurt. The entire school turned out to watch, crowded on the grassy slope overlooking the oval. The match progressed in a very entertaining fashion, people slipping and sliding everywhere on the muddy field. In an outburst of Aussie dad-ishness, Andrew, Year 13’s director, stood on the sidelines with a tray of oranges at half time.
At the end of the match, following much general cheering and congratulations, the mud-splattered players and the remainder of the Year 13 team packed onto the bus, ready to move on to our next destination and our next adventure. Brodie and I waved out the window to Anaina and her cousins as the smaller ones ran along beside the bus, waving back to us fit to burst.
We never did work out who won the footy.
Year 13 is a Christian gap year program run by Youthworks College in Sydney, Australia. Nasikawa Vision College is a Christian high school located near Sigatoka on the south coast of Viti Levu, Fiji’s main island.