We are on our last leg of the close of service process and nearing the final day in Fiji. The last few days have been a blur of goodbyes, celebrations, long talks, excitement, sadness, paper work, frustrations, travel, sickness, tears, laughter, and sentimental thoughts.
It started with the celebrations in Kioa prior to departing. Coming in was somewhat low key so I figured going out would be similar. How wrong was I! The first celebration was the Sunday before we left. It was also the Choir’s anniversary day so it technically wasn’t for us but the goodbye theme was still in the air. Unfortunately, I should say fortunately, the speech parade was cut short during the celebration on account of weather. Although we were in the community hall, the rain was coming in horizontally through the windows and pounding the tin roof so loudly nobody could hear himself think much less speak.
The next party was the office lunch with several councilors, Janice, and Mamao. It was similar to the community hall functions except for the buffet style serving and chairs. After that the choir held an evening feast for us. This was a more energetic affair with several fatele’s following the speeches. We both joined in with the dancers and the choir gave us sulus and a beautiful traditional Kioan mat with many bright colors. Next was the village going away party on Thursday. This was the grand finale and they pulled out all the stops. Another Peace Corps volunteer from Viti Levu, Lydia, was traveling with her parents on Taveuni and came over to see the traditional feasting and dancing. A random German couple staying near their resort asked to come along as well and were granted approval. (**Side note – To visit Kioa you have to ask approval first. You can email email@example.com or call 850.3976. Ask for Samalu, the council chairman. Also, Kioa now has a new private guesthouse for overnight visitors.)
So, Lydia, her dad Tom, and the Germans show up and we are ushered into the community hall to a spread of plates at the head of the hall. At first it was quite awkward to be in the honored guest seat but I’ve grown somewhat immune to awkward situations in Fiji and just went with it. In the end it was nice having four other people to absorb the spotlight of eating our meal in front of the entire community. After the meal, there was a short break so we all wandered off to stretch our legs. Tourists from Nutuvu Mission were coming to the island for the fatele at 2pm, so we thought the dancing would start when they arrived. Nope, the performance took their seats and dancers gussied up in their costumes and began the singing. Unfortunately the honored guests they were singing to were wandering around the rugby pitch. Atala caught me as I was heading over to join the group and advised me it would be a good idea if we quickly made our way back to the head of the hall. We scurried back into our seats and enjoyed several songs. Kelly and I were coaxed into performing with the dancers again and made jolly fools of ourselves. Towards the end the women performed a line dance at the head of the group and suddenly Filo broke through the girating ladies with a huge mat decorated with complex and colorful designs. Gifts then started seemingly appearing from nowhere as baskets, trays, and fans where laid on top of the mat placed before us. We later learned the mat’s ornate layout was a traditional Kioan design for mother’s expecting their first child. After the dancing Kelly and I gave brief speeches expressing our deep gratitude for everything the islander’s had taught and shared with us. It was a good moment. The tourists from Nutuvu showed up and the dancing continued for a few more songs. After the partying was over we said goodbye to our guests and crashed hard, spent from the emotions of the day.
The final party was Friday night with Samalu and his family. We had a traditional meal on his umu near the beach. It was a good time to reflect on the past year and a nice bookend to our service on Kioa. We started the service and ended the service on Samalu’s umu eating a meal with villagers. I can’t imagine leaving any other way. His family gave Kelly several shirts and then lots of baby girl traditionally woven clothes.
The next day Samalu helped me cart all of our luggage to the boat landing. I was proud of Samalu in his training pants and bright white tennis shoes. Exercise in Fiji is called training and he has been training every morning trying to get in shape. This is culturally awkward throughout Fiji, especially for men, and I know it takes a lot of humility for him to do this. I’m thankful he is leading by example. We loaded the boats and waved goodbye. Seeing Kioans waving from the bay was the hardest moment for me throughout all the goodbyes, speeches, and celebrations. Not to mention, I will definitely miss the rugged beauty of Kioa.
We all have things that stir our affection for God whether believer or not. For me, nature has always pointed my focus to him and the trip across the bay and over to Vanua Levu was no exception. Overcast skies and glassy waters created a harmonizing canvas for a family of sunbeams to break through the clouds in horizon piercing perfection completing the sea to sky connection.
Vesi picked us up in a lorrie and we made our way to Savusavu for a few days of saying goodbye to fellow volunteers. I was shocked at how many of our friends were able to make it to town to send us off. We were humbled by their well wishes and kind words and will continually cherish the deep friendships made over such a short period of time.
Unfortunately, the village feasting caught up to me the day after arriving in Savusavu and I spent the next three days tackling a mighty battle with running stomach. A head cold decided to join the party making life pretty much miserable until recently. We successfully made it to Suva with all our cargo and began the paperwork for closing our service. It takes almost as much paperwork leaving the Peace Corps as it does getting in. The only difference is you have to do it all in three days compared to 12 months. The staff has the system down, though, and we were leaving in concert with the FRE-6’s so the process has gone surprisingly smooth. We have one more day in Suva and then are off to Nadi for the flight out.