Fiji. What an adventure. The best experience of my life. Every day in the village I wrote an A5 page of my journal to document this once in a lifetime adventure. Enjoy!

14/07/2022 Meet my family

I was actually really sad about leaving Crusoe’s Retreat. It was amazing there. In no time, we were off on our way to the village. We stopped in Suva, the capital of Fiji, for some lunch. The journey was amazing – the views were extraordinary and every single village we drove through people waved and shouted Bula! One particular school field was full of people and everyone stopped playing and shrieked with joy as our bus went past. We finally got into the province of Ra and the coach dropped us off. We all then piled into the rickety truck. I was right at the back sandwiched with all the bags and suitcases. That was a fairly long trip and then we arrived. We were welcomed by the star-stunned faces of all the beautiful children. The village was amazing. A kava sevusevu (welcome ceremony) and a lovely buffet of food laid out for us all to enjoy in the community hall. Then we were introduced to our families and we went home to spend the rest of the evening. Me, Ania and Kasia are so lucky to have Mereani and Waissea as our parents. The loveliest and happiest people I’ve ever met. Vinaka x

15/07/2022 Settle in to village life

Mereani (Na) let us sleep in this morning but we all woke up at 8 to an amazing breakfast. Pancakes (Parley), fruit and Weet-Bix if we wanted it. Spoiling us already. At 10am we had a little village tour and then we all got changed to go down to the river. Everyone had to wear t-shirt and long shorts for the river. A very muddy walk down and we arrived at “DreamWater”. It was stunning. Epeli (our brother) brought his horses in to wash and cool them. We went back and did a few team exercises with the ThinkPacfic leaders and then all went to go play volleyball with the village. They were incredible at volleyball, I won so many games without even needing to touch the ball! I had a shower just before dinner. A big bucket of water, a tap and a bowl to use behind a plastic curtain outside. I was so scared that someone was going to walk in on me! We had dinner and then at 6pm Sabbath started. Nukulau is a seventh-day adventist village so Sabbath begins at 6pm Friday and ends 6pm Saturday. When Sabbath began, we all had to be quiet and no games can be played so the children started to teach me some Fijian words. Day 2 and I can already say the numbers 1-20, my name is…, I am 20 years old and I am from England, all in Fijian!

16/07/2022 Sigatabu Vinaka!

Happy Sabbath day! We woke up quite early this morning as we had to eat breakfast at 7am. We sat on the floor to eat as there was a lot of us. We then all hopped into Ta’s car (my dad owned a car for his job) to drive to Nasukamai (one of the nearby villages) for church. Nasukamai is my Na’s home village. We spent 4 hours sat on the floor in church listening to Fijian pastors. My back was killing! We were all definitely ready to leave at the end. We travelled back home to Nukulau and we were all exhausted. We ate lunch and all had a nap. I woke up at 6pm and Sabbath was over. We had tea and then all the kids came over to our house as “you like to learn Fijian words”. We sang songs all night, Fijian and English. One of my favourite campfire songs called BINGO, they all knew it! I couldn’t believe it!

17/07/2022 Day trip?

Our day trip to the caves was cancelled due to the really bad rain that fell all morning. Instead we chilled at home with our families until 11am and then all gathered at the village hall for the morning activities that the leaders had organised. We created team relays that everyone had to join in with to try and earn some team points. Sai Russi (our cousin) and the beautiful little girl who lives with the leaders were great additions to our team! I became very competitive in the team games – I hate losing! A very energetic morning. In the afternoon, we played cards and once the rain stopped we went outside to play volleyball. That night, I showed my family pictures of my family in England and told them my story. They loved it and so did I.

18/07/2022 1st day of the build

We got split into 2 groups and I was in the morning build group. We got hard hats, a Hi-Vis, a hammer and a measuring tape. We had the easy job of measuring and levelling out the ground so the afternoon group could dig the holes for the foundations. We all had lunch together in the village hall as all the Na’s had made food and created a buffet. It was all delicious. In the afternoon, I had the introduction session to the culture sessions. We learnt all about the traditions of the highlands of Fiji like… years ago, if a woman wasn’t married by the age of 21 then she would roll a lemon and whichever man had the lemon at the end would be her husband! Fighting may or may not have been involved! That evening Holly, one of the leaders, joined our family for dinner.

19/07/2022 Day 2 of the build

Today we were all building all day as the village funeral is tomorrow and we’re not allowed to do anything as a sign of respect. Today’s job was to cement the log posts into the 16 holes that were dug yesterday. We had to get the gravel, mix with cement, mix with water and then mix mix mix and then fill the holes. Proper hard work. I was filthy by the end of the day. The Fijian men all seemed impressed that I was doing it (mixing the cement was seen as a man’s job). After the build, I washed my clothes traditional style. “No washing machines in Fiji”. A big bowl of water and a scrubbing brush. That night our house hosted quiz night so all the volunteers came round. My team came 3rd, out of 4 🙁

20/07/2022 Village funeral

The leaders made the decision that us volunteers were not to attend the funeral. I would have liked to but it is what it is! Na and Ta didn’t go to the funeral either so we spent a nice morning with them as they explained what happens at a traditional Fijian funeral. As part of the occasion, 2 cows are slaughtered. Right on the grass, right outside my house. Didn’t think I’d see that in Fiji! We went round to Megan and Mina’s house to socialise with all the volunteers for a couple of hours and then went back home for lunch. We played cards and games all afternoon with the kids from the village. I’ve learnt a new game called Donkey – it’s hilarious.

21/07/2022 Day 3 of the build project

I decided to get up early this morning to wave all the kids off to school. I’ve never seen kids so excited when there the driver for the bus didn’t show up. 2 minutes later, they’re all back on the bus on their way to school! I was in the morning session again for building. We measured out where need to cut the foundation posts to hold the joists. Then the chainsaw decides to not work 🙁 So we all decide to start sawing away. It would have taken us hours. Then our “saving grace”… 2 more chainsaws appear out of nowhere. Hallelujah! In the end, we actually made really good progress. In the cultural session in the afternoon, we made ‘sasa’ – a sweeping brush made out of palm leaves. So fun and therapeutic! Played volleyball and then had a shower before going up to John’s house for dinner. Really lovely to have food at someone else’s house, we’ve added all their family on Facebook! We then enjoyed a little kava ceremony that night at one of the villagers houses.

22/07/2022 Day 4 of the build

I was in the morning group for the cultural sessions today. Weaving mats, which I was really excited for! Turns out it was so difficult. Every time I thought I was doing well, they came over and practically started the whole thing again! By the end of the session, my mat looked great just probably not because of me! In the afternoon, we fixed the back frame onto the building. That didn’t take long at all. Then we all piled into the truck to go and get some gravel to replace what we had used for the cement. I grabbed a shovel (there were only 4) and all the men looked quite concerned. Then the tyranny shouts “Girls go swim in the river, the boys will do it quicker”. I refuse to give over the shovel and shovel gravel as if my life depended on it. I made a point, whilst taking the side of my finger off. Not that I told anyone as I didn’t want to stop making the point. That night the leaders came round to our house for a lovely meal before Sabbath started.

23/07/2022 Sigatabu Vinaka!

We went to church in our village this morning. Kasia stayed at home as her stomach was dodgy 🙁 Turns out all the boys have gone down with the bug. Me and Ania decided to join in with Sabbath school as our Na was the teacher! After church we went home for some lunch and Na breaks the news that she wants me to sing in Fijian in church this afternoon. So all afternoon we practise and practise and practise. Next thing I’m up at the front of church singing in church. Worst part is Megan videoed it all!

24/07/2022 Caves today? Nope

Not the caves afterall! We went to the beach instead. It was about a 2 hour ride. A bumpy ride. Where I nose butted Orlando’s shoulder, ouch. We got to the beach and it was stunning. The weather wasn’t the best. It was windy and cloudy but I still ran straight into the sea and played volleyball with the Fijian boys that came along for the day out. Then they said “Nada, do you want to play touch rugby?” So obviously I said yes. It was not touch rugby. Not at all. I was fully getting tackled to the floor! Then it started to rain, and rain and rain. With the nice mix of wind and a lot of it. We all rushed under the shelter, everyone was freezing. I’m glad I brought a jumper to change out of my wet clothes. Epeli (our brother) bought us an ice-cream (a Blitz, the best ice-cream in Fiji) and we got home to a lovely warm dinner prepared for us by Na.

25/07/2022 Day 5 of the build

I was in the morning group for the build. All I seemed to do all morning was saw piece after piece of wood! We had lunch altogether in the community hall again and then I had the culture session in the afternoon. Today we finished our weaved mats by adding some colour. I thought the weaving the other day was hard. How I was wrong. This was on another level of difficulty. My grandma did it all for me! I had my weekly meeting with one of the leaders and then went home to nice warm lemon tea and cake. We played Loka which is my new favourite card game. So competitive.

26/07/2022 Day 6 of the build… oh no wait

It was meant to be day 6 of the build but the weather is the worst its been. It did not stop raining all day. We had the culture session this morning where we learnt a Fijian Meke (traditional dance) and learnt how to grate and drink green kava. I had a go at grating the green kava and then I had a go at drinking it! The afternoon was very chilled, we had to do a few games with our groups to try and earn some more points. Funny story incoming… my Na comes in to the village hall with a very serious look on her face. She asks the leaders if she can grab us three for a quick moment. Everyone looked confused and slightly concerned. We all had no idea what was going on… We get outside and she starts to laugh and says “Ta has brought us ice-cream from town!” We all howled with laughter and quickly ran home for some delicious ice-cream! Even if it was raining. The rain turned into a thunderstorm and poor John had to walk down to our house as he was coming to our house for dinner. We taught him the card game Loka and he taught us spoons.

27/07/2022 Day (6) of the build

We woke up beautiful sunshine this morning! Finally! We were all on the build project today and I was glad and we needed to get a move on! And we all wanted to be outside in the gorgeous hot sun. We were split into 3 teams, which was a great idea as we were a lot more productive. Each team was given a task to do, I was part of the window team! We had to cut all of the boards for the windows, make the frames, paint them with pink primer and then hang them up. We worked like clockwork and got the job done quicker than expected so I joined the flooring team to finish the day. Our family decided to do a Lovo for dinner (the traditional way of cooking food underground). The food was exceptional and well needed after a hard days work in the sun. Quiz night again at our house. Bula Brigade is back in 2nd place overall! Come on team!

28/07/2022 Day 7 of the build

Another full day on the build today. The building is starting to take shape with all sides up and the roof nearly finished. It’s looking good! Yet again I was in the windows team as the side walls needed 2 windows each side. The job would have been a lot easier if all the tools weren’t always out of charge! This evening, Issie and Lexi came round to have dinner with our family. They seemed to have a lovely time and so did we. Then everyone came round as we hosted games night as our house has turned into the local entertainment venue! Bula Brigade is still (amazingly) in 2nd place. We’ve just had a blackout (the solar power has shut down) so I’m currently wearing my headtorch to try and get ready for bed!

29/07/2022 Film crews and Nasau!

Another busy day building! With the strange addition of a film crew! Think Pacific had chosen our project to use for the promotional videos that will be used in future years. A few photos to trying to look glamourous while sawing wood in the heat was not easy. Then Stan the cameraman asked if I would be happy to do a personal testimonial video. Kitted out with a microphone and everything! Hopefully my answers were ok! Despite it being Sabbath this evening, the tyranny had given us permission to leave the village and go visit another village called Nasau for dinner and dancing! We all had an amazing night: dancing, kava and a warm welcome! Nasau is where the local school is so all the kids knew all the children from our village. Kasia was having lots of fun dancing and then… sprains her ankle 🙁

30/07/2022 Sigatabu Vinaka!

Ania woke up not feeling very well and Kasia woke up not being able to walk. Na insisted she wrapped Kasia’s foot in leaves; the leaders insisted she goes to the hospital in Suva. 2 nights away from the village, poor Kasia. I go to church with my family in Numbamakita. The service was very long but we did get to watch some river baptisms and then had a lovely lunch in one of the local houses. We then returned back to Nukulau and I was shattered and fell asleep for the rest of the afternoon. I woke up, had some dinner, played some cards and then Paji (my best friend, my 12 year old cousin) had a sleepover to replace Kasia!

31/07/2022 Building on a sunday?!

This morning we had to build as we’re quickly running out of time as the opening ceremony is in 3 days time! We made some good progress! Then this afternoon I sat with my Na and the other Nas of the village and watched them create our beautiful sulus that were going to be our leaving presents. A gorgeous navy blue sulu with an inprint of a Fijian fan and the words “Nukulau” underneath. It made me quite emotional at the thought we really haven’t got that long left. One of the men in the village was celebrating his 70th birthday this evening so my Na took me up to see the celebrations. Next thing I’ve joined the kitchen team and I’m helping to plate up all this wonderful food. I had the easy job – 2 pieces of cucumber and an orange on each plate. I ate back at home and then came back up to join in with all the dancing! There are some very very good dancers in Fiji!!

01/08/2022 August already?

A mad rush today to get the build done. And the rain really wasn’t helping. We had to keep going in and out of the shelter to try and keep us dry. In the end, me and Kasia gave up and started to dance and sing in the rain. We were having a great time and then got quite cold so we decided to come to our senses and go inside the building with everyone else. We then used one of ThinkPacific sulus and used the paint to each put a handprint on. We then will write a message underneath when its all dry. Only issue is there was no white spirit left so everyone had 1 hand full of paint and no way of getting it off! 1 hour later and the issue was solved but I was freezing! Went home to a beautiful mug of lemon tea and my jumper and fell asleep as soon as my head hit the pillow!

02/08/2022 I was doing so well…

Breakfast ended in tears as Na gave us such a lovely speech on how sad she is about us leaving. We were all so upset but had to get us selves together to make sure we could all enjoy the last 2 days! We had another hard day working on the build site. The mood is getting quite low and emotional as everyone knows we’re near the end (and no one wants it to be). I stayed behind after to help finish off the last bit of painting, and started to feel quite run down. I went back home for a shower and then quickly got ready as we were having a little party and Issie and Lexi’s family were coming back round. One look at the food and… disaster. I won’t give the details but let’s just say I was up all night throwing up. Na rubbed my back at every hour in the morning as I was bent over a toilet. So gross but so lovely that she would do that for me. I finally stopped at about 3am in the morning and fell asleep wrapped in a huge blanket and slept next to my Na, Ta and brother who all stayed up worrying about me.

03/08/2022 The last full day

So I woke up not feeling the best as you can imagine. I was so upset that I was feeling bad on the very last day. I knew one thing though, I was not going to miss the opening ceremony, no matter what. I decided that I would miss the morning activities to stay in bed and try and get better and then wake up hopefully feeling good enough to enjoy the opening ceremony and the party. That’s what I did and it seemed to work a treat. I still wasn’t feeling great but good enough to have a nice time. The doctor arrived in the village and cut the ribbon to a great round of applause. It was such a proud moment. Then we had a night full of dancing, eating, singing and taking lots of pictures with everyone! I was so sad but so happy at the same time.

04/08/2022 The End.

I woke up early to wave all the kids up to school. What a mistake. I was crying my eyes out as they all left. So so sad. Went back home and got all our things together to leave our beautiful house. We took a few final pictures, danced a few final songs and then headed to the community hall for our send off. I didn’t want to leave. Not one bit. Everyone was crying. It was awful. And then we drove off…

My time in Nukulau was the best experience of my life. Vinaka vaka levu to my family and everyone in the village. It is not a goodbye (Moce), only a see you later (sota tale). Loloma levu, Nada xxxx

Volunteering in Fiji – Summer 2022

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