As a traveler, many people ask me what is my favorite country to visit? I don’t know how to answer as each country and place enters my heart differently. I seek out the unique and the mundane, which sometimes is the same.
The trick to thoroughly enjoying oneself, is to accept what is and not make comparisons to others or expectations.
Traditionally in Fiji, a stranger must receive a welcoming ceremony in order to enter the tribal villages. Their Kava ceremony requires the Chief of the village, in this case, Navilawa, enter first, then the other men and women follow and greet the seated guests. The oldest male in the visiting group responds to the greeting with a short speech and everyone answers with hello, welcome, Bula. The woman prepare a drink of the mild narcotic kava root (yaqona), three claps, and then the call of thanks, Vanaka. As a light weight, I drank a “low tide”, Jim, our appointed spokesperson, the only male, and the oldest, toasted with a “high tide.” Not until after the group sang to us in harmony, were we able to walk in the village. On our return the formality had ceased, and we conversed with the villagers. The school children giggled, the woman hugged and whispered questions.
A similar ceremony was performed at our home hosted lunch in Fiji. Less formal and very intimate the humble abode was a two-room metal building with wooden floors, no electricity, despite a refrigerator in the kitchen used to store plates. After a meal of rice, meat stew, and cooked root vegetables splayed on their immaculate floor, the family sang in harmony. Their voices melded the ages of time and the two teens became one with their parents. The head of the family was affectionately called Bishop, an honor bestowed upon him by the local Mormon Church. Bishop took his role seriously until he began to dance.
My heart raced at the gleam in his eye, the laughter as he placed my right hand bent behind my back to receive his right hand, and my left hand around his frame to catch his left hand bent behind his back. Side by side our feet and bodies bounced to the music provided by their cell phone. (The teenagers helped set this up). It was the turn that thrilled me. We each went in the opposite direction, still connected, as our hands shifted in a slight rotation, bringing us back to the side by side position, still dancing. Only our hands had reversed still bound by the hold.
I saw this as metaphor. The family’s life was changing. Already one of their older children had left for a Mormon mission and stayed in New Zealand. Their youngest, Emily, thrives at school, and loved the gift of my book, Tattle Tales, a collection of short stories. She is caught between wanting to go in another direction and keep connected to her religion and to her village culture.
New Zealand, a larger more modern country, has a similar but opposite situation. Everyone explains that it was the last habitable landmass discovered about 800 years ago by the Maori. Colonization brought rats, rabbits, possums, and weasles which wiped out the non-flying birds almost to distinction. Visiting Zealandia, and the Kiwi Sanctuary emphasized the damage these mammals have done, and that to bring back the kiwi and other birds takes dedication, money and time. The future has lost these species, unless the connections can be recaptured.
Even the Maori natives, must reteach their customs, history, and language to New Zealanders. We were invited to an informal welcome and waka paddle. Again, Jim was our leader, but this time he gave his welcome in the Google researched Maori language. Impressed, the Chief-tress noted the effort. Songs were exchanged and as the Kia Ora welcome ended, the Hongi nose-press greeting held even more significance.
Like the villagers in Fiji, the Maori must ensure the visiting party comes with peaceful intentions. With the pressing of noses, breath, the life force, is exchanged. The breath keeps us together despite our differences.
In South New Zealand we took a ferry from Queenstown on to Lake Wakatipu and then drove to the Mt. Nicholas Station. Station means ranch and in this case the ranch consisted of 100,000 acres with 28,000 Merino sheep roaming in the upper hills of snow-capped mountains. We arrived in high winds and belting rain. No matter, out we went to round up sheep, watching as the nose-dog corralled them together and the barker-dog steered them to where our guide directed.
The shearing process is laborious, well-choreographed and fast paced. With Reggae music playing, the shearers, in less than a minute and a half, shave the coats off as sweepers clear the space for the next sheep. The brown edges are picked off, and the full coat is thrown to the tables, spread out, hand trimmed, and then thrown to the quality control sorter, the king master, who decides the grading. Once sorted the graded wool is bundled into a machine and then shipped to manufacturers. The crew works eight hours a day with the same energy and intensity. The shearers earn $3 per sheep. A great income but with the hard work and skills needed, the next generation is not as receptive. The up and coming crop of workers want to be in the city, sitting behind desks. The owners fear that eventually automation will come.
If I was younger, I’d try to learn the art of sheep herding, shearing and sorting. Farming that connects the mountains, the weather, the sheep and the dogs keeps a tradition alive. Merino wool has rejuvenated a dying industry. Now that I know the history, I’ll keep their way of life alive as I purchase socks, scarves, sweaters and ear-warmers with the 100% Merino label. I’ll hold their energy close to my skin.
The beauty of majestic waterfalls, on a ferry ride through the Milford Sound, or the awe of trees and views in Abe Tasman National park, caused me pause. As did the small towns where we wandered. Mud baths, geo-thermal reserves and jumping off a boat into the warm waters of Fiji, made me laugh, extend past my fears of heights, puzzle at nature’s surprises.
The sites awe, but for most part it is the people of a country that stays with me. Coffee and New Zealand homemade treats with our guides family topped off the visit. Each of us must hold together what is important, move side by side, breath the essence of others and dance through life, still connected.
P.S. Some other time I’ll write of Si—the master of ceviche and song.
The Magic of Words
Thanks to Wordsmith.org and A.Word.A.Day with Anu Garg, I have received for the last twelve years in my in-box a “word” with pronunciation, meaning, etymology, and usage. I must confess that the words eek into my brain and sometimes into my stories. Here are two words that struck me as noteworthy:
Visage: Pronunciation: (Vis-ij)
Meaning: Noun: Face, appearance, or expression
Etymology: From Old French vis (face), from latin visus (sight, appearance) from videre (to see). Ultimately from the Indo-European root weid (to see), which also gave us guide, wise, vision, advice, idea, story, history, previse, videlicet, vidimus, vizard, and invidious.
MEANING: Verb: To mutter, grumble, chatter
ETYMOLOGY: Of imitative Origin. Earliest documented use 1599.
Her visage turned crimson, eyes sealed, lips turned down, at the chunter of the diners. The demise of her pet lamb left her appetite behind. The oohs and ahhs of praise clamored for attention while the poor lamb sat dressed in roasted beets and parsnips.