Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Also Island & Cawaro Village

July 18th – 26th

Location: Dalice Bay, Also Island
Position: 16°13.22' S 179°50.15' E

Also Island


Jim and Kyoko sailed to Cawaro Village about three years ago.  It didn’t take long for them to fall in love with the village and Fijian lifestyle.  In return for Jim’s help fixing the village’s only outboard engine (which provides their only transportation to the larger “city” of Labasa), the chief gave them an island just off the village.  It became known as Also Island (Jim & Kyoko’s yacht name is Also II).  Jim & Kyoko now lease part of the land and have started a boat building & repair ‘business’.  They are also in the process of starting up a coconut processing plant.  Both ventures assist Cawaro village by providing jobs and supplies.  We heard about Also Island & Cawaro village through Jim’s SSB Radio Schedule which he hosts every morning.  The island & village sounded great, the winds were right, so we went for it.

It was a beautiful sail over from Rabi, one of the few times I’ve actually enjoyed being underway! Anchoring in the thick, soft mud was a challenge (the hook wouldn’t set), but we finally managed by daisy chaining two anchors together.  The area reminded us a bit of the Lau group, with mushroom shaped islands & rocks, only instead of limestone, these mushrooms seemed to be formed from white & beige sands, weathered into intricate designs.

Palagi: The Fijian word for a person from overseas.  While it technically describes any overseas visitor, it is typically only used for white visitors.

Our first visit to Cawaro (pronounced Thawaro)

Jim took us & Shadowfax over to Cawaro to present our Sevusevu.  As we turned into the bay that fronts Cawaro we could spot a number of children anxiously watching our arrival.  Looking up the hillside into the village, we could see more children and some adults, eagerly looking out to see who was visiting.  We weren’t even out of the boat before the older children began waving, smiling, & yelling out BULA!  As we clamored up the muddy banks we shook hands and said hello to the excited children.  The younger children shyly smiled and didn’t say much, but they wouldn’t let us out of their sight.  And so the parade began.  Like the Pied Piper we made our way up into the village, more and more children gathering (and following) behind us as we went.  And it wasn’t just the children who were so intrigued by the Palagi's.  Every house we walked by the adults popped out to greet us and shake our hands.

We finally made it to the chief's house.  We dutifully presented our yaqona (kava root) and after some small talk made our way out to see the rest of Cawaro.  It seemed that just about EVERYONE was waiting outside to see us.  More and more people gathered, smiles radiating from all around us.  Even now, months later, those huge smiles are still prominent in my memory.  Our parade continued even as we made our way back to our boats.  And as we motored away the children remained on the bank enthusiastically waving goodbye!

There are very few places in the world where you’ll find people so welcoming, friendly, and sharing.  In the Fijian culture it is a huge deal to make visitors feel welcome.  They want to shake your hand, learn your name, and invite you into their homes.  Trust & friendship is instant instead of earned.  They are a community that look over not only each other but anyone who might be stopping by.

 A visit to the school

Not ever village in Fiji has a school.  Cawaro village has one of the larger schools we’ve seen, largely due to the fact that it is a boarding school.  The district contains both primary (years 5 - 12) and secondary (years 13 - 18) schools. Children from neighboring villages are boated in and dorm on the school grounds, returning home for breaks & some holidays.  Some villages might only have a primary school, and therefore the children aren’t sent off to school until they reach the secondary level.  As in the States, the schools are divided into classes.  This particular school had about 4 primary classes and 4 secondary classes.  The average class size appeared to be about 12 students, with the largest class being primary class 1 (the youngest) which had about 20 students.  (Picture to left is the view looking out from the school, not bad eh?)

Kyoko had arranged for Eagle Dancer to visit the school, and since we had arrived invited us along.  Not knowing what we were getting into, we agreed to go.  It was on the way that we learned she wanted us to speak (yikes) to all the classes.  And we were even more shocked when we learned that we wouldn’t be going as one big Palagi group … we would split up and visit the classes individually (or by yacht anyway) .. it would be just Chris & I, alone, talking about who knows what!  I played up the male dominant culture and let (‘er made) Chris do most the talking!

We spent the morning visiting the four secondary classes … babbling away for about 30 minutes in each class.  Using a little blow up globe we traced our route from America to Fiji.  We were usually able to drag a question or two from the shy children – we got a lot of questions about the schools in America (what are they like, are they like the Fijian schools, etc).  We also got a lot of family related questions (do you have children, how many brother’s and sister’s do you have, etc).  Our family sizes must seem puny compared to their families of eight and more!  We got a few general questions about what America was like … what we found difficult was trying to convey what a great thing they have in their small village.  How special their community & family ties are, and how so much of that commitment has been lost in America.  It must seem foolish to them to see these two people who look to have so much (materialistically),  expressing how great Fiji is and telling them how lucky they are to live here!  We talked a bit about what it was like to live on a boat and sail across the ocean, alone so much of the time.  In one class, after realizing that they were studying mathematics and that the current problem they were working on dealt with coastal navigation, Chris used the white board to do a simplified demonstration on how celestial navigation works ...  He got a lot of grins and laughs from the children as he use the whiteboard to sketch out the basics!

After lunch we returned with Shadowfax to hit the Primary classes, this time opting to stay together to help speed things along.  The primary students don’t speak as much English (class 1 & 2 really don’t really speak any), so we did less talking and more smiling!  If you ever wanted to try out your comedy act, come to a Fijian school.  It seemed that no matter what we said (in both the primary & secondary classes), we could get the children laughing away.  Maybe we just look goofy!  We did get stumped by one of the younger classes, when we asked for any questions and one little boy stood up and asked, “What’s the capital of California?”  We were so surprised by the question that it took us a few seconds to even spit out an answer.  The entire class erupted in laughter as we [briefly] stood their dumbfounded.  Luckily we did get it right (even if delayed)!  We were a little faster on the draw when he followed it up with “What’s the capital of New Zealand?” … but after that we stopped asking for any more questions!

I think we pretty much closed down the primary school when we arrived.  Seeing us, the children ran to the windows to peer out, rapidly talking in Fijian ... we could make out the word “Palagi” quite a bit!  By the time we were visiting the last class, there were more children outside, peering through the windows to watch, then in the class itself!  Talking with one of the teachers, she said that the children would remember our visit “forever”.  That when they returned to their villages we’d be ‘the talk of the town’.  That it was indeed a very special event for the kids.  I hadn’t really thought our visit would be a big thing for them … even now it’s hard to fathom.  I wonder if they realize the impact they have/had on us!

After each visit the students would sing us a song or two.  I was just about tackled in the youngest primary class when I played back their version of “Wheels on the Bus” on our video recorder.  As with photos, they love to see themselves ‘on screen’!  All in all it was a terrific day!  We were quite impressed by all the teachers, their respect for each other and the students, and the respect the students showed not only to us, but the teachers.


Sunday did not start off so well.  Chris & I were both lacking good sleep due to the gusty winds the previous two nights.  It wasn’t so much worry over the boat or its safety, but rather the sudden swing followed by the subsequent slam as Billabong tacked from side to side, abruptly stopping at the end of the chain.  This, along with the sound of a high speed train barreling through the rigging caused by the 40 knot gusts that were blasting through, made it difficult to sleep.  We decided to move the boat around the corner to a spot that we thought would offer protection from the tunnel effect [of wind] that we were currently getting.  To add to the fun it was pissing down rain.  Getting soaked, we motored around the corner and were quite pleased with the somewhat calmer conditions.  Pleased until our fourth attempt at anchoring, and the hook wasn’t even grabbing the tiniest bit … no matter how slow we backed down the anchor just dragged along in the soft muddy bottom.  Even daisy chaining two anchors together didn’t help a bit.  Finally we ‘gave up’ and motored back around to our original spot.  By now it was nearing 10a.m. and we were supposed to be heading off with the other boats to attend Church.  Normally we would’ve just skipped out, but Tokasa (one of the locals) was expecting us, and was preparing our post-church meal (a big deal in Fiji).  Chris took the helm while I ran below to change.  He then threw out our anchors while I backed down.  Of course, it didn’t hold, but Chris figured we were good enough for him to handle the rest alone (better for only one of us to cancel on Tokasa then both of us).  I couldn’t believe how much it was pouring down.  There was no way for any of us stay dry on the ride over to the village … we were quite the soggy mess when we finally arrived.

Even the rain didn’t seem to dampen the local’s smiles though.  Quite a few people (children especially) still came out to greet us and escort us in.  The service felt a bit long, when you consider that it was a muggy day, we were sitting there soaking wet, and the service was in Fijian!  But the singing, as with most of the South Pacific, was terrific.  We were honored by an official welcome and a little introduction, and after the service we stood inside the little alcove shaking everyone’s hands.  We made our way to Tokasa’s house where she had laid out a Fijian feast.  Like in Tonga, when you are invited to a meal, you will usually be eating alone (or with the other guests).  The hosts serve you and then sit aside and watch you eat.  It didn’t seem quite as awkward this time around since there were six of us eating (Patrick from Eagle Dancer, Karl & Julie from Shadowfax, and Jim & Kyoko, plus myself) … much more comfortable then the time in Tonga when it was a family of 10 staring at just Chris & I!!!  There are no tables & chairs, rather the meal is set out on a woven mat (along the floor) and everyone sits crossed legged around the “table”.  For the most part they eat with their hands, although they do tend to put out a fork or spoon for their Palagi guests!

Fijian village food is not my favorite.  Cassava, a potato-like root crop, is their staple … dry &without much flavor you can get it down, but it’s not entirely pleasant (although it is filling).  We found the key to Cassava is a lot of salt!  Cassava is also used for dipping and soaking in the more fluid dishes (coconut milk especially) … this too helps to mask the dryness & blandness of cassava.  Taro and Taro leaves are another big item, Taro leaves are a bit like spinach, and in my unofficial cruiser poll it seems to be about 50-50 as to who likes it or not.  The leaves might be cooked in coconut milk, or tuna, mackerel or corned hash might be added to it.  While the flavor is okay, it tends to be just a bit too mushy for me.  Sometimes, especially for guests, they’ll try to catch some fish, or in this case clams.  The fish tends to be pretty good, usually cooked & served in coconut milk.  Whether you like it or not, you tend to feel a bit obligated to eat a fair amount.  After all they went through a lot of effort to put the meal together, and when you realize how little they have and what this meal is “costing” them (monetarily or in pure resources), you feel almost guilty.  You know they need the food more than you, and if something special (like fish) is served it just adds to the ‘guilt’.  I don’t think it's even crossing their minds though … they give & share without a second thought as to what they might be giving up.

Tokasa and her family are a real joy to be around.  She is always laughing and smiling, although she can be a bit ‘violent’ in showing affection (roughly hugging you, punching your arm, or shaking you around).  Bruised or not, you can’t help but laugh & smile back!  She lives with her husband, two daughters, and three grandchildren … all in a two room house (basically a kitchen & a living/sleeping room).  After dinner hot tea was served and we all sat around lazily talking and resting.  It was still pouring down rain.  Jim wanted to get to the island to make sure they had their rain catcher going, so he and Karl took off, while the rest of us opted to try and wait for a dry spell.

Kyoko took Julie & I to the women’s meeting (occurs every Sunday after Church).  This meeting is also in Fijian, so we felt a bit awkward just sitting there staring around.  A few small children also attended the meeting (w/ their mothers) and so Julie and I took to making faces and waving at the children.  Two of the little girls actually came and sat right in front of us (facing us) and just sat and stared … and stared … and stared!!!  When the official part of the women’s meeting was over, more children showed up and we could finally play some games!  We covered Thumb Wars, This Little Piggy, The Itsy-Bitsy spider, arm wrestling, Motor Car, Head – Shoulders – Knees - & Toes, and more.  Thumb wars seemed to be the biggest hit – for all ages.  I especially seemed to bond with the two little girls who had originally been staring at us.  They were climbing all over me and loved all the new games we tried.  Nau (pronounced like “now”) was like a little parrot, only four years old she didn’t know much English, but should could mimic just about anything you said.   I would say “Hi, how are you?” and she’d respond “Hi, how are you?”.  “My name is KT” … “My name is KT”, “No what’s your name” … “No, what’s your name”.  It was hilarious … and impressive (even if she didn’t know what she was saying).  By the time Jim finally came back to get us (and thankfully the rain had stopped), we had about 15 children laughing and playing and were having a great time.  As we went to leave I couldn’t get Nau to let go of me … no matter what I tried she just kept hanging on.  One of the ladies said “Oh, you can just take her!”.  I kind of looked at her and laughed thinking I had misheard or misunderstood, when Nau’s mother said, “Yes, you can have her”.  Well I just laughed it off and made my escape … not sure if they were serious or not.  In the Fijian culture children and family are very important.  If one has a brother or sister who has not yet had children, then they might end up ‘giving’ one or more of their own children to that brother or sister to raise.  They can’t fathom that people would choose to NOT have children … and it is even a bit strange to them that Chris and I say we want children but are “waiting”.  I have read of an occurrence (albeit in 1980 or so) where a Fijian family did truly attempt to give a cruising couple one of their children, because that cruising couple had no children of their own!  I wasn’t sure if I had said “okay” if they would’ve really let me ‘have’ Nau, but I wasn’t about to go there (no matter how cute & adorable)!!!


Nine days after our arrival at Also Island & Cawaro Village, we felt it was a good time to move on.  Besides the above, we had enjoyed quite a bit of time hanging around with Jim & Kyoko on Also Island, eating lunch or having tea with them and some of the workers (from Cawaro).  I had kayaked a bit.  And Chris & I had enjoyed a lovely hike.  The last four days had been wet & windy, and finally the weather was looking better.  We headed to the village with Shadowfax to say our goodbyes.  First stopping at the school to hand out a few printed photos from our previous visit (which the LOVED), and then walking over to the village.  It seemed that EVERYONE in the village came out to say goodbye.  We gave out our address (or rather our parent’s addresses!) to some of the older children who wanted to write and, as with our arrival, shook a lot of hands!

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