a Fijian celebration

On Thursday, August 28th, I am (finally) turning the big two-one. “Ooooh, that’s a big one for you at home, ay”, is the common response I’ve been hearing from my non-American friends. Last October when I convinced myself studying abroad this semester was the right decision I was bombarded with a similar reaction, because in America your 21st birthday activities include legally purchasing alcohol from your local liquor store, legally entering an “21 and over only” bar, and legally taking your first sip (or twelve shots) of alcohol. Throw out that fake id, kid, your legal now.  Twenty-first birthdays have become a celebration of the surpassing of a government mandated law, which sounds a bit mundane. Of course on Thursday night I’ll be in Traps, with a bounty shot in one hand while my free hand sways with the rhythm of the live music. Though I’ve nearly described a typical Thursday night in downtown Suva, this week there will be an extra wave of enthusiasm, a bit more spark, and heaps to celebrate. Birthdays are a celebration of life, an opportunity to look back on your past year, or twenty-one years, and recognize the gift you’ve been given. Laws can add limits to life but life itself has no limits. This I’ve learned through twenty-years of immense growth, and constant change. Through the frightening unknown into the unimaginable discoveries. From my first baby steps beneath the watchful eyes of my Mama and Daddy to my first adult steps onto foreign land, far from any supervision. The mistakes, on mistakes, on mistakes I thought I made and the realization that everything happens for a reason. The salty remains of tears from anger, sadness and hurt easily washed away by tears of laughter and joy. Every significant moment has taught me how to shatter the boundaries we’ve set around our lives.

While birthdays are a celebration of life and a birthday is a celebration of a life, no one is alone on this journey.

To the strangers who have defined a “genuine human connection” and strangers who didn’t for reasons we will never know but must always accept. To my friends, whether there was an hour spent together, days, or years, you’ve accepted me, understood me (or tried to!), encouraged me, and allowed me to follow my spirit. And to those who gave me life, my family.

On Thursday, August 28th I will be celebrating twenty-one years of memories shared with the people I’ve been blessed with. And I couldn’t dream of a better place to celebrate this rairai vinaka bula…

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a ticket to anywhere

Tracing the tracks of a sugar cane railway with a cane brach in hand, shuffling our muddy feet and legs through the overgrown dry grass, we asked Manisha what happiness means to her. “Happiness means doing what you love.” With glistening eyes, Manisha listened to Fiona share her answer, “when you are completely content and honest with yourself in each living moment you have found happiness.” Later, Manisha admitted the adventure we had taken her on was the coolest thing she had ever done. We had only walked a few minutes down the road from her home she has lived in for seventeen years. The happiness she felt that night radiated through her eyes  and lingered in her tears when we said goodbye Sunday morning.

Two days earlier Fiona and I hopped on a bus to Rakiraki with no plan following the four hour ride. About halfway through the trip Fiona fatefully lost her seat to another passenger. The woman across the aisle was quick to offer space on the seat she was sharing with her baby daughter. Ten minutes later Fiona tapped me on the leg, “she said we could stay with her.” I leaned a bit forward to see Bindiya’s graceful smile as she held sleepy Pauline close to her chest. Place to stay, check.

Bindiya brought us to the house her parents had build twenty-three years ago with only 400 dollars to their name. Her parents raised seven children in their two room home, eventually expanding to a modest two bedroom home with a kitchen,  an outdoor toilet and shower, as their family grew. Punam, 24 and Manisha, 17, now live with their mother, father, and two-year old nephew while her three brothers and eldest sister live scattered throughout the South Pacific. Bindiya lives in Suva with Paulina waiting for her husband, Paul, to return from the Philippines. She has been anticipating his return for two months. Due to visa complications, there is no guaranteed date for his return. There is no guarantee he can come back to Fiji at all. Bindiya has been traveling between Suva and Rakiraki every weekend since her father was admitted into the hospital in Nadi. During our stay Fiona and I listened with open ears and hearts to her families unimaginable past, present drama, secrets, and desires. “You’re family now, so I tell you our stories.”

Our weekend consisted of home cooked meals, shopping day in downtown Rakiraki, joyfully playing and giggling with baby Pauline, watching ‘Frozen’ on the couch while our host family chatted around us in Hindi, trudging through knee high mud surrounded by mangroves to reach the oyster filled shore line, and running up a nonexistent mountain path to catch the sunset before it fell below the horizon.

“I can’t remember the last sunset I watched”, Manisha confessed as we rested our muddy bodies on the grassy mountain top. This weekend was a reminder of everything I am continuously grateful for. The opportunities I’ve been given and those I’ve given to myself since arriving to Fiji have brought a bountiful of happiness to my journey.

DSC00456Home sweet home

DSC00450The girls standing by Fiji’s famous cannibal, Vore Vore

DSC00476Trekking through the mangroves and mud

DSC00508Made it to the water thanks to our lovely guide (far right) and her brother (below). We didn’t catch their names, there was a bit of a language barrier. Smiles and high fives was our main line of communication!

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DSC00496Oysters for dinner anyone?