Saturday, September 15, 2007

Check Your Expectations at the Door

It has been a long time since I took the time to write. The summer was fleshy and full. There were kids, days that became a blur and I can't remember what else. It rushed by fast. I do remember our vacation though. It was one of those remarkable experiences that leaves you happy but with a feeling of longing. It left me with the residual of connections made and ideas experienced first hand, food savored and created with love and passion. It was far from ordinary, but I am beginning to realize that few things ever are.

Our vacation took us to Fiji, to an Eco resort on one of the smaller islands, one of the few that welcomed children. Before we arrived, my husband informed me that Fijians love children and that our youngest would have his own nanny assigned to him. Leaning toward the overprotective, controlling side of the child rearing spectrum, I wasn't sure how I felt about this offering and could not readily commit to relinquishing my child to a stranger upon arrival.

When my children were swept away by welcoming arms to the Bula Club for kids while we registered, I felt a little frantic, not quite knowing what to do with my empty hands. I had, after all, spent the entire summer up until that day wrangling children (and lots of 'em) like a seasoned and weathered cowgirl.

I 'll admit, it took some awkward days of getting to know each other before I let Dakai, my son Aidan's Manny (that's a male nanny, for those new to the trend) really help out. I hung around the Bula Club, taking my turn on the water slide while my daughter Kieran perfected her sliding techniques. I documented with video and critiqued the "dog", "cat", "cheetah", and "hamster" water entry positions, observing with interest my son's interaction with Dakai and the other nannies with their wards. It became clear that Dakai was a sweet and gentle person who anticipated my son's needs and enjoyed his interactions with Aidan, Kieran and the other kids.

The majority of the resorts staff were from a nearby village, truly an anthropologists dream because the culture remained firmly entrenched in its ancient traditions. We, were invited to visit the village later in the week and had to learn the proper techniques for entry into the village (with a song-like call), how to approach the Chief, and how to partake in the kava drinking ceremony. I learned from an elderly and much respected medicine man, who shared his knowledge of the medicinal properties and uses of native plants with myself and my fellow eco tourists, that with the coming of English colonization in the early part of the century came education and opportunity. This is what he told me. He said that he feared white people and the forced education of village children but eventually took the advice of his village Chief to see the change as a door that becomes open to you. He went on to tell me that several of his children are now physicians and have seen the blessing in the opportunity to learn while maintaining the structure of their ancestors' culture. It began to dawn on me what a gift it was, on so many levels, to allow my children such close access to their Fijian caretakers.

The individuals who affected us were amazingly kind, genuine, honest and interested. They learned our names. Pete was a man with a firm handshake who wore a flower behind his ear to accompany his baseball cap. He took us on a jungle hike and to a remote waterfall, where we all swam in the sweet Fijian water. Latia was 23 years old, single, (my 15 year old daughter wanted to know) and told us about his village. He said that the village is like one big family. From the age of 12 or so, boys and girls (with the exception of siblings) were not allowed to speak to each other because they were essentially cousins and were not allowed to fall in love and marry each other. Young men find wives from other villages and after marriage live there, while young women are expected to leave the village upon marrying and raise their children in their husband's village.

We talked with these people, exchanging questions about each other, appreciating their singing and beautiful guitar-playing in the evenings or when ever a new guest arrived at the resort. They joined us on snorkeling adventures. They observed our games of scrabble and checkers and commented on my water color paintings -giving me way to much attention for my novice abilities. Simi, the bartender who was from the main island, learned my name on the first night and said "Hi Shelley" whenever I walked by him. The most amazing experience came the day we were invited to visit the village where the majority of the staff lived. It was a privilege to be invited, for entry into the village was not permitted without invitation. We were asked to wear clothing that showed respect by covering our shoulders and our knees. Four men were chosen from our visiting group to represent us all. They were told how to announce themselves, with a loud harmonious call, followed by a different call from the women in our group. The villagers waited under a covered porch kneeling on grass mats. We were welcomed and each of us received a shawl or necklace made from large green leaves, flowers and natural twine. Labors of love wrapped generously around or shoulders and necks. We brought Kava as an offering, which was a root to be ground up, mixed with water and consumed via a wooden dipping cup from a ceremonial wooden bowl by any one who wished to engage in the ritual. The Kava ritual involved sitting near the bowl on your knees, clapping once, taking the cup and drinking the contents of the earthy drink (it tasted like dirty water and had an anesthetic effect on the lips, leaving them tingling with numbness) passing the cup back to the server and clapping three more times.

The Kava ceremony was followed by guitar, percussive and vocal music and traditional dances, first by six women in grass skirts and grass wrist cuffs and then by four men in warrior costumes, also in grass skirts with spears, painted faces and ratan shields. This part was incredibly special because Aidan's manny, Dakai was one of the four dancers. The skill, artistry and richness of this village culture was so fulfilling, it left my heart warm and my mind racing.

We were privileged because instead of taking the bus back, we were allowed to walk with Dakai, on the beach for the three miles that the villagers walked every day to and from their jobs at the resort. The walk was magical. Kieran stopped every ten feet or so to look at crabs or point at tide pool life and eventually had to be carried by Dakai the rest of the way back. I had that rare and precious sense of a full heart from this unexpected gift of human connection.

When we left at the end of our trip,I hugged a few people and I thought about how they must open themselves up to strangers, culturally very different people, every day. They give us as visitors the gift of their trust and the love that comes trough from the way they live their lives. By taking our children and interacting closely with them, they open these young people up to other types of human experiences and very different ways of living on our relatively small planet. I loved that my family got the treat of being completely surprised by meeting this heretofore unknown way of life and wanting to know more of it.

So life can be a present when you try not to anticipate what is going to happen. When you check your expectations at the door, you alleviate the tension associated with worry, the stress of anticipation and the disappointment of unmet experiences. The pattern is becoming more clear to me. That blissful feeling of amnesia when you compare a situation to nothing nor try and recreate situations again. In this way, life truly is all good.

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