It was two weeks ago that I ripped my mainsail and so much has happened in my life since that I must cut it into small slices and feed it to you in vignettes, piece by piece, layer by layer.
I hop a twin piston from Savusavu to Nadi. Me and Diarm and my yellow sail bag. The plane flys in and out of the bush and it’s shadow is small, like a toy, as it moves above the earth and sea. I am a satellite in space observing human life. I can see the jet stream, and the topside of clouds,
and the jigsaw puzzle of coral reef that surrounds this country.
The plane is flying low and wobbling and it seems as if it’s going to land in the treetops and leave me dangling down from branches like some broken monkey. People are nervous, I can see it in their eyes.
The plane lands. Everybody claps.
THE PAINTED PINK LADY
I catch a fast boat to the sail loft in Vunda marina. There is a billy goat running around the boatyard. Fiji is a fairytale.
Inside the loft we roll out my panda-faced mainsail. It’s all unstitched. The sailmaker says that I let my main rub on the spreaders too much, and that I don’t drop the leeward lazy jacks enough (or ever, I didn’t know that I supposed to).
It will take time to sew it all back together.
I feel ashamed of myself. But on the boat ride back I pass a mast-less catamaran with a naked pink lady painted on the side. She’s dead in the water. Dancing nowhere. It’s the boat that got hit in the same storm that hit me. There is always a worse than my worst. I must remember that.
While waiting for the mainsail repair, my life gets obscured by a delirious spell of COVID and I’m forced to ride it out on a luxurious catamaran.
I feel weird, and have severe vertigo, and there are tears, and my hands are numb, so I spend long hours laying in the sun or under the covers to warm my cold skin.
Time drips by in loops.
It’s like I’m stuck inside a carnival ride on a stomach full of cotton candy in the middle of some arctic tundra, and heaven is spinning round in circles, and the polar bears are laughing at me, and the clouds are all sliding sideways. If I try to get up, I fall down.
SPINES & RATTLESNAKES
I get well and get back to Savusavu with my mainsail. My mom calls. “Something is bad wrong.” My father’s spine got twisted while doing some heavy lifting. His back is hurt. L1, L2 and T 12 are compressed. L4 is burst and pressing on a nerve. I wish I was home. I’m so far away. Too far away.
Then one of my best friends messages with a photo of her legs in a hospital bed. Her right leg is the size of a watermelon. The words, “I got bit by a rattlesnake,” are written beneath it. I’m so far away. Too far away.
THE BONE HEALER
I go see a bone healer near Savusavu. I’m told that she fixes all the broken rugby players. I don’t have a broken bone, but I go hiking beforehand in hopes that I might break something so that I can fully experience the magic of this woman.
She is watching something on TV about bones when I arrive. I sit on the floor and give her my left foot. I had surgery on it years ago and it’s long since healed, but it throbs every time the sky is about to rain, so that’s something.
She rubs my foot with oil. I don’t feel anything powerful coming from her hands. I ask her how long it took to heal the last bone she healed. She says, “Four months.” I find out later that she’s not the real deal, but her father is. I still appreciate the experience.
VIOLET & THE GHOST
A Fijian woman named Violet comes over to Juniper. She is a healer and a pig farmer. She doesn’t eat the pigs, she sings to them and sells their pig poop for biofuel. She reminds me of the French Polynesian woman that taught me how to milk a coconut.
It’s past sunset. Violet sits down. She looks around. She gets chicken skin. She says, “There is a spirit living on this boat.” I tell her the previous owner died onboard and that spooky things are always happening – lights flickering, clocks chiming, doors opening- and that guests often feel observed. Two minutes later she blinks her eyes and screams, “I can see him. His face. He’s an old man. He’s looking at me.”
At the same time she is touching my foot and telling me that my stomach is out of wack. She rubs my shin and my stomach starts making embarrassing noises. I can feel the power of Violet!
She comes over the next morning with a plant that she hiked two hours into the jungle to retrieve. The plant is called “hard stone.” We burn it inside my only cooking pot. She sings, “Welcome Holy Spirit, we are in your presence.”
I tell her we must burn the plant inside the bathroom near the head (toilet) because the ghost likes to watch women pee. She says, “Yes, the toilet is where ghosts belong, all evil lives in the toilet.” I laugh, but she is dead dog serious.
After the cleansing, Violet and I both get massive migraines and all I can do is sleep. I don’t think it’s the leaf that’s hurting my head, I think this is what happens when you break the spell of a spirit and free a haunt from the house it haunts.
Now everything feels vibrant and my energy is high, but I wonder if I’ll miss my Golden Shower Ghost, we have been on this journey together for so long.
THE HOT SPRINGS
Friends in Savusavu take me to soak in the volcanic hot springs. Day and night. It’s a pool of water just off the side of the road. We slide down a fallen tree to get inside. The water is a perfect bathtub. Dragonflies and fireflies are floating by. Wild ginger and palm trees are growing around. Pockets of heat are bubbling up from beneath us.
We rub mud on our faces until we look younger. We sink our feet deep to get closer to the earth’s fever.
I’m in a taxi, on my way to hang in a village with a chiefly family. The Waka’s. My Canadian friend married into it. She’s the kind of gal who can spend nine hours at the beauty parlor, and her way of life in Fiji is a stark contrast to that.
It’s a long journey to get to them through the lush interior of the island. My taxi driver gets more lost the closer we get. I call my friend. She comes barreling towards us on her off-road dirt bike to lead the way. She looks bad ass. Made for this life. She’s wearing overalls and a tie-dyed t-shirt and it’s so bright that grasshoppers are sticking to it.
Her house is made of wood and painted blue. Old people and young people are sitting on the porch. Playing and rocking. The entire village is small. A church and seven or so houses, surround by sugar cane fields and a river and cook pines and papaya trees.
My friend goes inside and comes back out dressed like a Mennonite. I’m dressed like a Mennonite too. Long skirts and sleeves. We can’t wear sunglasses because people need to see our eyes to know the depths of our soul, and we can’t wear hats because the head is the most sacred part of the body.
The house is simple; a kitchen, a living room, a few bedrooms, one toilet, five adults, two children. Photos of family surrounded by flower garlands decorate the walls.
We put on boots and march around the wilderness with a machete. We pick eggplants in the garden, stare at her sandalwood saplings, move a cow named Moo from one part of a field to another, try to break the spirit of a wild horse that they traded a tractor for, eat sugarcane, float fully clothed down rivers, and rope swing off of rocks cliffs.
I watch as her family members chop piles of fresh kava root. I wonder who the first human was that thought of the brilliant idea to mash that root up, mix it with water, and drink it ceremoniously? Was he or she told to do it in a dream?
5 Replies to “PIECE BY PIECE, LAYER BY LAYER”
A few packed weeks! Glad you survived the Covid and your mail sail has been repaired and lessons learned. Sort of sad about your ghost being excused.
I’d just finished staring at the computer for eight hours working on a project. I’m about to give it up when I get an email with this post. I’m exhausted but I start to reading it anyway . . . and then I can’t stop . . . this is brilliant! “. . . life and life only” (Dylan)
As one poet said, when the rivers flow, catch fish. When they’re dry, collect rocks.
I can see you are beginning to ‘get it’. Soon you will only be there. no know the rest simply doesn’t exist unless you are part of it. Fiji must be your place… at least for some time… because you were able to let your old man spirit get off the boat. Now many good things will begin to happen.
Damn, Olivia. You know how to live. You lost a mainsheet but gained some advice. So you didn’t know something, you know a lot of other things. You and the Panda live on. You’re an inspiration.