This guest post was written by our April 2018 Fiji tour group
We woke to the type of weather that usually has you slapping the snooze button and snuggling deeper into bed. However, this was the day we had all come so far for. The village and their people were waiting for us.
After rushing about getting ready and gobbling down our yummy breakfast, we gathered at the bus. To our surprise, we were treated with two additional passengers. Two very talented musicians, that had filled our previous night with very impressive renditions of favourite songs, were going to brighten our day and make us forget the gloomy weather completely. As we sat back for our one-hour bus ride, we joined in with tunes from everything from Bryan Adams, Bruno Mars, to The Horses by Daryl Braithwaite. To be honest, we may not have added to the quality of the music one bit, but we added to the good mood and growing excitement.
A brief stop was made to stock up on an array of sweets. Although I did not recognise any of these treats, they did not disappoint the tastebuds at all. Even after taste testing a fair few there were still plenty left for the children and villagers we were soon to meet.
We arrived at the local village hall and were greeted by many wide smiles, excited faces and hearty handshakes. We were then honoured by the elders of the community and invited to partake in a traditional kava ceremony lead by the men of the village under the watchful eyes of the women elders. Personally, I think Kava does not taste that great, but the welcoming ceremony itself was proud, dignified and heartfelt. Our very recently elected HOJ tribe representative who accepted the first bowl of Kava in the ceremony disagreed with my tastes wholeheartedly and was keen to enjoy more Kava later.
It was made extremely clear by the conclusion of the welcoming ceremony that we were not only welcome visitors, but we were genuinely accepted into their village. It was a very humbling and joyous feeling. Oddly enough we were the first tourists they have had in their village and of course the best.
One of my favourite things about travelling with Hands On Journeys tours is that you are encouraged to be yourself.
After the welcoming, our very own soccer coach was off with the village children in search of a ball and playing field despite the rain, while their mums and dads stayed back with us and getting ready for a Learning and discovery day. Within minutes there was a huge crowd of enthusiastic children slipping and sliding, having a ball. The photography lovers were already capturing the magical moments unfolding before them for future sharing to remember this very special day.
Our yogi who has a huge heart for the welfare of animals was of course drawn to the checking on the village pets.
There was cooking to be done and food to be prepared for a luncheon feast, so some of us took the opportunity to see how it is all done Fijian style and partake in the process.
The communal oven for today was next door. Taro, freshly harvested from the yard was being prepared as we arrived. I had never even known what it looked like as a plant until then. Trestle tables were filled with taro leaves soon to be filled with various ingredients and placed in the oven. The oven itself was like a pyre of wood with stones on top and as the wood burnt and collapsed the stones were heated red hot. Coconuts were being split, and coconut cream was being squeezed by hand from the coconut flesh. You could not ask for fresher food. Everyone joined in where they could, happy to learn new things and assist with the preparations. The sharing of knowledge, stories and laughter was infectious.
Once we had returned to the hall, I teamed up with one of the guys from our HOJ tribe for some basket weaving instruction. How on earth they were going to produce a basket from one coconut palm was soon to be revealed. The gentleman made it look so easy. Then when it came to our turn, we discovered that the villager’s calm and patient manner came in pretty handy. We weren’t quite as coordinated as we previously thought. To my disgust and humour, the guy in our group did much better than me. I even struggled to braid the leaves to seal the basket….
We also put in a slightly more successful effort making brooms out of palm leaves. I was shocked and relieved to find out how effective they were tidying up the mess we had made.
Others nearby were assisting with the food preparations laughing and chatting to the women from the village. Their chuckles were as big as their smiles, and it would’ve been impossible not to laugh along.
In response to a request from our HOJ tribe chief food fanner (keeping bugs off the food) came my WOW moment! The village women behind me, busy peeling vegetables, all broke into song at the same time. A favourite fun song I gather, and it was amazing! The harmonies of their voices filled every inch of the hall and beyond. I couldn’t help but tear up with joy. Not to be outdone the men then sang to us as well. Seriously WOW!
After all this fun work and emotion we were eager to start on the delicious smelling feast. The food was so fresh, and we enjoyed every bit. The chicken curry was one of my favourite dishes. It would make my favourite Indian restaurant chef totally jealous. The barbecued fish and fresh river mussels were so delicious as well. There were beans I’d never seen, taro, sweet potatoes and more.
After a hearty meal there was more singing, and no longer being happy just to clap along, we formed a huge dancing Congo line with the villagers and our HOJ tribe. So comical and fun.
The hardest and sweetest part of the day was when it came to saying goodbye. The village elders formally thanked us and encouraged us to come again. They were so sincere and dignified that it was hard not be touched by the sentiments. Every villager, men, women, children even the teenagers! Came to say goodbye with a handshake or hug. It was best not to look at each other cause I could see eyes filling with tears at the same time as beaming smiles and laughs.
Even though we were there to help the villagers, I believe that they helped us possibly more in return. They are such vibrant and colourful, people full of joy and love. I will never forget them or that heartwarming day!
This is the same village that never had tourist before. As much as we were there to create jobs for them, we had so much fun along the way and not once, it felt like work. This isn’t about building schools and toilets and leaving. This isn’t about giving locals money and wishing them well. This isn’t about going to their community for a sneaky peak and does only the feel-good Zeist; this isn’t about giving them a bag of rice and food to last a month, Empowerment tourism is so much more than that.
As a tour company, we have helped them to identify their strengths, brainstorm what entrepreneurial business they can give birth to, then give them the tools and training to succeed.
As a result, their self-belief sky rockets, as you can see from the smiles on their faces, their children wouldn’t have to go to school with an empty stomach, there’s food on the table and the next generation’s prospects increases.
https://handsonjourneys.com/wp-content/uploads/FijiTour.jpg6831024adminhttps://handsonjourneys.com/wp-content/uploads/HOJ-Logo.pngadmin2018-04-15 16:57:162018-04-15 18:56:59Empowerment Tourism in Fiji by our travellers