After being declared villagers by Jim, we are released to enjoy a snorkel on the pass between Wayasawa Islands. We push Grin off the shore, still feeling a little woozy from our Kava. Then, we head over to the pass to enjoy our snorkel. There, we find pretty white sand, shells, red coral and a GIANT snail nestled in some grass.
As we get ready to go back to Sonrisa, we hear someone calling “Bulla! Bulla! Bulla!” and waving their arms over their head from the patio of a house nestled against a hill on the other side of the pass.
“I think we are being ‘bulla-ed,’” I say to Andrew.
We pull Grin back on the beach and walk past three friendly dogs to reach a little farm. “Bulla!” Introductions are made (Abraham), and we are offered some papaya and a horseback ride if we like. We take the papaya, but decline a horseback ride. The sun is going down, and so we head back to Sonrisa.
The next morning, we met Jim on the beach. We are taken straight away to visit the Kindergarten. Jim indicates we should go in and meet the little kids. As we peek our heads through the door, the little ones are busy folding finger painted paper into the shape of canoes. When they see us in the door, they all jump up and rush over to touch our legs or clothes, hold our hands, and inspect my camera. They are dressed in red and blue checkered cotton - girls in dresses, boys in short sleeve button downs with shorts. One thousand “bullas” emanate from the crowd of small children. We are invited to sit upon their teeny-tiny chairs.
Soon, the teacher instructs them to sit and be quiet, and miraculously, they do just that. I begin polishing the fingerprints off my camera lens. The teacher explains these children are in the 4-5 year old age group, and that today they are studying “maritime vehicles”. She explains to them that we are visiting on a yacht, and the kids all smile knowing from their recent lessons that we arrived on a sailboat.
“Ready…okay!” The teacher tells the kids they can stand up and soon we are being serenaded with both an English and Fijian version of “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star,” “If You Are Happy and You Know It” and one Fijian song we don’t know. We sing along with the songs we do know, and clap at the end. The kids add their share of pizzazz, clapping and nodding vigorously to demonstrate their happiness and twinkling their little fingers above their head during Twinkle Twinkle.
When they are finished, the teacher asks if we would like to take a picture together. So, Andrew and I nestle ourselves amongst the group. The kids wrap themselves around us, touching our hair and our faces. I put my arms around a crowd of children, and they nestle in tightly for the picture.
The teacher calls our attention to the front: “Say ‘Bulla!’”
“BULLA!” We all cheer, and she snaps a picture.
“Okay,” the teacher says, and this is again our cue to leave. We thank her for letting us interrupt her classroom, we thank the kids, we give and receive high fives all around, then around again.
Outside, Jim is waiting, ready to take us on the hike. We follow him up a grass hill until he says, “Okay” and this is our cue to keep hiking on our own. He indicates we should follow a ridge line up “don’t go down either side, just stay on the ridge line to the top. Just go slow, the grass can be slippery.” So, we hike. It is humid and sunny, very hot. We are tromping through stiff golden grass as tall as we are. We can’t really see where we are going, other than “up,” and the trail is little more than a line through the grass where another human or a goat may have gone ahead. The grass is smashed beneath our feet, and Jim was right; it is slick.
“BULLA! BULLA!” We look across the ridge and see a woman standing on the other side, tending to a farm built on the steep, sunny side of the hill. She is waving her arms above her head to say hello. We wave back. She does this climb every day, to keep the village fed.
As we go up and up and up, the view is stunning. We reach the crest and we can see down the other side of the island as well.
On our way down, we hear a voice guiding us through the grass. “No, no, not that way. Come! Come!” We cannot see the person, but we know he is there, just a bit below us. Soon, we see his head peek up over the grass. He is barefooted, carrying a machete and a bag of cassava root.
“Bulla!” He smiles a big smile and tells us his name is Job. We shake his hand and tell him our names. He asks us if we went to the top to see the view. “It is beautiful, isn’t it?” He asks us, and we agree.
“Let’s take a picture!” He takes a picture of the two of us, then he gets in the photo with Andrew, then he tells Andrew to swap and Job gets in the picture with me. “Do you need some water? Come. Come.”
He leads us down this very steep path. I slip and slide on the loose dirt and the very slick grass, but he seems to manage very easily with his bare feet. He digs little stairs in the dirt for us as he goes, using his machete. At the bottom of the hill, we stop at his house and he goes inside with two mugs to fetch some rainwater out of a container. He returns with a smile and offers us a drink.
Then he gives us a grand tour. There are two rooms, one bedroom and one other room. The bedroom has a line of photographs of people, in descending order of age. Grandparents, parents, a sibling who is reported to be in England in the British military. There is one tiny bed, but I suspect that most of the people who live in this home sleep on the floor. He explains he lives here with his mom and dad, and sisters. “One mom, different dads” he explains, but we don’t quite understand. There aren’t really “multiple dads” available here unless he is talking about his father’s brothers, but each of them have their own wives, so that seems unlikely, too. He introduces us to his father, father’s brothers (among whom is Jim, the Mayor), then a series of women he introduced as his mother and sisters. Three little children playing on the beach were also introduced, twins age 3 and another younger girl with very concerned eyes. All of these people were somehow family, but the familial identifications given were all confusing to us.
From reading and previously asking questions of friends like Freddie in Tonga, we know Polynesians don’t distinguish between parents, aunts and uncles, children, nieces, nephews or cousins in the same way we do. We try to ask enough questions to clarify, but in this village, they do not understand the way we designate family relationships, so there is no way for Job to explain other than using the terms he knows. I think if we had a week here, we might be able to sort it all out.
Job sits with us on the beach while Jim prepares ten green coconuts for us to take with us at Andrew’s request. The three kids sit and watch Jim chop away with the machete. Soon, tiny child with concerned eyes begins playing with one of the green coconuts.
“No, leave it. Leave it.” Job tells her. She looks up at him with her concerned expression, then continues to play with the coconut. Job finds something to give her, a distraction from the coconut. To me, this new object looks very much like a rusty, straight edge razor blade. She takes it from him, and indeed it distracts her attention. She holds it in her palm, cupping its two wide edges with the folds in the bends of her fingers. It couldn’t possibly be a razor, could it?
Job seems satisfied with her attention drawn away from the coconut and returns to his conversation with us. The child shuffles away through the sand, new toy in hand. No blood is being shed as far as I can tell. The three little ones go to play around Grin.
We bag up the coconuts. Now, the ladies bring out their handicrafts and lay them on the platform they were previously napping on. “Take your time, look around, Fiji Time!” They tell us. Job points out pieces he likes. I choose a few pieces of jewelry crafted from shells and seeds of the island.
We tell them thank you, and that now we must be moving on. We have to meet Prince Diamond in Musket Cove by the end of the week to retrieve our spear gun, so we have to keep moving.
“Can I come out to see the yacht?” Job asks.
He has been so hospitable, giving us his grand tour that I feel we can hardly say no. So, he carries the coconuts for us and joins us in Grin. We motor out, put the bag of coconuts on deck and then all three of us clamor aboard. Job climbs aboard and sits in the cockpit with a big smile. “Nice! So nice!” He says. He touches a bundle of rope hanging from Sonrisa’s stern railing, then he touches her genoa sheet (rope) loosely wound around the winch. Strong rope is as valuable as gold. “Can I look down below?”
We tell him yes, and he goes below for the grand tour. I hear him asking Andrew questions about the GPS screens and radios. He asks where we keep food, and Andrew shows him the fridge and freezer. “A freezer!” he says.
He arrives back on deck and pulls out a tiny flip phone cell phone. Speaking with his friends in Fijian, we don’t understand much of what he is saying and it crosses my mind that he is planning some sort of Sonrisa thieving coup, but then I gather a few words of English in the mix and put together the gist of what he is saying: “I’m sitting on a yacht and it has TWO bedrooms!”
He hangs up. Relaxing back in the beanbag he says to us, “Someday, when you return, I will take you for a picnic, and you can take me sailing.” Then, he thinks for a minute and smiles, “You can take me sailing and we can go to America!” He laughs, and we laugh; everyone knowing that will not actually happen. At least I think everyone knows…
We take Job back ashore, ready Sonrisa, and sail away. Andrew looks at me and quotes: “Stop playing with the $2.00 coconut; here, have a razor blade.”
“Oh my god!” I said, “I thought that was a razor blade! Was it really a razor blade?”
“Yeah, It was a razor blade.”