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Kava with the Kukus

The little community of Kuku was so far off the beaten path that I would never have found it on my own.  And, now that I know that it exists, I’m still not sure I could find it on my own.  But, I am so thankful that a connection was made so I could spend the weekend with the Nalawa family.  One of my friends at the U.S. Embassy connected by way of her babysitter with Esekaia and Alena, who happily welcomed a stray American into their home.   

My new family didn’t live in the actual village of Kuku.  That was filled to capacity, so a new community directly related to the village grew up in the outlying area of Kuku.  My home, elevated on stilts, had a main room, two bedrooms, an extended family and no electricity.  Almost immediately, Esekaia apologized about the electricity.  Deposits had been paid.  It should arrive any time.  But, they’d waited over a year for it.  He was pleased that I lived in Africa without electricity, so it wasn’t any kind of inconvenience at all.

As for the family, Esekaia and Alena had two young children.  The second bedroom was shared by Alena’s brother, Simi, and the boyfriend of Esekaia’s sister, Semi.  They were kicked out of their room for the weekend, to sleep on sofas in the living room.  I felt guilt over that, but Simi and Semi didn’t appear to mind in the slightest. 

The amazing welcome, that actually lasted all weekend, began the moment I arrived. I’ve had kava, and mentioned it before, but this welcome ceremony gave me so much more information.  I’ll have to write about it separately. 

The bulk of people living in Kuku were related.  And, as it turned out, so were the bulk of people living in the outlying areas.  There were relatives everywhere.  The Nalawas kept their front and back doors open throughout the evening.  Everyone knew about the American in their midst, and it seemed that most of them wanted to witness it in person.  And, everyone welcomed me as they chugged their kava.   There weren’t enough seats.  We sat on homemade woven mats on the floor and passed the drinks around.

The difference between their gracious welcome and what I knew would happen back at home was striking.  If they ever visited my home, I’d welcome them with tea or coffee (no kava) and I might try to have some of my friends over to meet them.  However, it was hard for my new Fijian friends to even comprehend living in a community without family in almost every home.  When I said I didn’t even know the names of the people living closest to me, well . . . that was inconceivable.   And, I most certainly would never leave my doors open so anyone and everyone who passed by could enter.

It was just a very quick weekend visit, but in addition to kava, they introduced me to kokoda, vakasakera, palusami, lovo, lolo, vasili and balabala.  If you know what these words mean, I am just so impressed.  If you don’t know what these words mean, you’re just going to have to read further into my adventure or plan your own Fijian experience with my Kuku friends.

Copyright 2016 by Phillip Martin All rights reserved.