It’s now the end of my second week at Babale base, which is the home of GVI Fiji’s mainland education project. Upon arrival to Silana village (the community Babale base is in), a group of men came out to greet us along with many children. Considering the only Fijian word I had learnt up to this point was ‘bula’, meaning hello, I shyly said it as I walked through the small crowd towards what would be my home for the next few weeks. Nothing could have prepared me for the site we arrived on; we walked right up to the sea front to find a large bamboo burewith a thatched roof. That night we were told that we were going to be part of a sevusevu; a Fijian ceremony where new people are welcomed into the village. Wearing my sarong, I embarked on the walk through the village to the community hall, trying to avoid stepping on frogs at all cost! During the ceremony the other volunteers and I sat in front of the village headman and other community members, while they mixed kava, a murky brown liquid in a large wooden bowl.
The first taste was somewhat daunting as we had to clap, say ‘bula’ and drink the kava from a small coconut bowl as the rest of the village looked on. After the coconut bowl of kava had been passed around and the volunteers and I were accepted into the community, the vibe picked up within the hall. One of the men started playing an acoustic guitar while others started singing traditional Fijian songs. The women also joined in and encouraged the group to start dancing. However, it had been a long day of travelling and we soon had to head back to the bure for our first night’s sleep at Babale base.
The following day, the GVI girls, Lauren and Katie, made us all breakfast and we discussed what it was that we would be involved in over the next few weeks. As it was still two weeks before the start of the school term we would be helping the Silana village youth with the construction of the new Babale base kitchen and communal room. When I say youth I’m not talking about children’s youth club style, in Fiji, village youth can be up to 35 years old. In Silana, the youth are lead by a man called Meli and the GVI base is one of their income generating projects to fund members who attend the University of the South Pacific.
On Monday, we began our work with the youth. Meli introduced me to the work crew, which consisted of uncle Si, Ben, Eddie, Samu, Sia and many others. The first bit of handy work was to saw timber for the kitchen walls. This required Cacique, another volunteer, to hold the wood whilst I attempted to saw through the wood with my weedy arms. After much effort, I was able to slowly get a knack for it. Once we had cut the wood to size, we began nailing it into the framework. Though it wasn’t as easy as it sounds, the nails often bent and there was many a time when Ben stepped in to lend a strong Fijian hand. Although it was hard work, Ben and I got a chance to know each other and the conversation made the day go faster. I learnt that we had things in common; he also goes to university and is the same age as me. Ben also offered to take me snorkeling and fishing in the small reef just off the shore of Silana, which we did that afternoon when we’d finished work for the day. The other volunteers and I continued working on the kitchen and communal area for the rest of the week and most of the following week, getting to know all the locals who came
to lend a hand. The building is now complete and last night we cooked our first meal in the new kitchen, a special treat of cheeseburgers!