Farewell Fiji!

15th November 2015
As we wait in Musket Cove in western Fiji for the weather to sail back to New Zealand we’ve been thinking back over the last few months.
We had wondered if going back to the Laus was the right thing to do and the last evening before we left Lomati more than confirmed that it was. We had said our goodbyes, again, in the church service on Sunday before setting off the following week. After the service Luke took Mike aside and quietly asked him not to leave. The reason? He and Ana were getting married on Friday and they dearly wanted us to be there, what is more no one else in the village knew. He’d asked his parents if this would be OK when we had taken him to Suva, along with his friend Jese back in July. His rationale being that Ana’s parents couldn’t be in Lomati and his parents Koli and Losena had given him their blessing to go ahead.
After a request like that we had to stay. As the days passed not much seemed to be happening, even given they were planning a low key event. Then on the day itself, it all seemed to ramp up and seemingly everyone in the village was involved helping with preparations – killing pigs, providing and chopping vegetables and putting up decorations. I did cakes as you’d expect not realising they would be the only ones there and indeed ended up with one of them being cut as the wedding cake. Ana had even given me an outfit a jaiba (pronounced chamba) to wear, Mike got out his tie and jacket, which with his sulu produced many compliments, including ‘Now you look like the pastor’.

How can we describe the day? Somehow to say it was special is to understate it massively. The preparations, the rituals, the love and fun was wonderful. Once again we were the only yacht in the bay. We had got to know so many people on the island that we felt part of the village and were included as such in the day’s events.
Maybe the easiest thing to do is say have a look at the photos Mike took for Luke and Ana, think they say it all.

(Above) Wedding guests from a neighbouring village perform the traditional greeting ceremony of sevusevu.
(Below) Not a good day to be a pig!

It had been sad leaving Lomati for what we thought was the last time in 2013, then we thought we’d left a bit of our heart there, this time we knew we had. We sailed out with Ana and Luke’s salusalu (their wedding lei/garlands), gifted to us as the guests of honour and a promise that we’d take them to the opening ceremony of the Rugby World Cup where England played Fiji.
We still had glasses aboard from the Lions Recycle for Sight programmes and so sailed overnight back to Namuka-i-Lau to distribute these. Again we enlisted the help of the local nurse, Ana who was brilliant in helping ensure that everyone got the glasses best suited to their needs.

Sofiai, Silipa and Taubale (L-R) enjoying the recycled reading glasses they have just been given in the Nursing Station in the village on Namuka-i-lau.
Distributing glasses for the Lions' Recycle for Sight programme

Once more we received a wonderful welcome, this time from Sofiai and her husband Waga who remembered us from 2013. We were shocked to see Waga now had a below knee amputation, another casualty of diabetes. However, he had a prosthesis and was still managing to get to his garden to work and still continued his role as mender of all things for the village. We were struck by his quiet dignity, not complaining or moaning about his lot, just getting on and making the best of things.
Mike was delighted that he finally got to watch the Wednesday cricket match, maybe not Lord’s but the enthusiasm, fun and laughter were infectious, even if the rules seemed a little odd and batsmen likely as not to hit out randomly at a ball, even when not on strike.

Having said our goodbyes on the Saturday, we planned to slip away quietly on the Sunday afternoon but hadn’t bargained for Sofiai having none of that. With her daughter and several children she walked the 40 minute trail to where Sea Rover was anchored carrying Sunday lunch for us which we enjoyed together on the beach. After cordial, coffees and biscuits on Sea Rover we dinghied them back ashore and said our goodbyes. In another memorable event, they gathered as a family group and sang us the traditional Fijian song of farewell, Isa Lei – ‘oh forget not when you are far away’. It was so intimate and personal we had hairs standing up on the back of our necks.
Quickly our sailing season was at an end and we were flying back to England for the RWC and catching up with family and a few friends. As per our promise to our friends in Lomati and more widely across Matuku we arrived at the opening ceremony in our England shirts, complete with salusalu and a flag saying ‘Bula Matuku’.

Sadly there weren’t that many Fijian supporters there, think the ticket costs had priced them out of the market, but our efforts were appreciated by one fan. We will now draw a veil over England’s performance. The post championship analysis has been carried out by those more informed than us, and that includes Mike’s mum's perceptive thoughts and insights – maybe we should put her forward for a place on the new coaching team. The only small consolation, being half Scottish, was that I was more than a little amazed at how closely the Scots ran the Aussies. Now that would have been a spectacular upset to rival the Brave Blossoms beating South Africa. You have to credit all the tier two nations they really did make the tournament come alive and, given the lack of resources they outplayed and outshone some notable tier one competitors. One great thing about all our time in New Zealand is that we do feel honorary Kiwis, so really enjoyed the final, especially the result. Despite England’s awful performance we did have a great time, not least seeing family and friends (although, as ever we never manage to see as many people as we’d like to).
Sadly we had an email from cruising friends who had just been in Namuka-i-Lau, Waga had died. Although they didn’t have the details we can only assume it was diabetes related, it really is a terrible disease. Can’t begin to imagine how Sofiai and her family must be feeling at the loss. He was a very special person.
Back in Fiji, getting the boat ready to leave for New Zealand we were catching up with cruising friends and as things turned out we ended up with an Indian family for Diwali and a chance to see another side of Fiji. In 15 years Kamlesh and Angee have gone from selling vegetables by the roadside to running a successful business supplying quality fruit and vegetables to hotels and yachts, small entrepreneurs running a business with refrigerated rooms, preparation areas, several employees and three vans. The whole family is involved with two of their three daughters running the financial and marketing arms (their youngest is still at school, but wouldn’t mind betting she will be joining them soon). An example of what a dream, enterprise and hard work can do.

We’ve been talking, realising that, if we stick to our plans (yes I know we’re not that great at doing that), this will be our last visit to Fiji aboard Sea Rover. As in most Pacific Islands, for so many life is hard but we both realise one thing we will take from here is the sound of laughter, not polite titters but true, deep, life affirming, genuine laughter from a very special people and a land we won’t forget when we are far away.

More photos from our time in Fiji in 2015

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Photo comment By Chris Rees: So much love and gratitude to you both. Come back soon. AS ever, C+C PS Wonderful prose & pix.

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