Fulaga is full of mystical enchantment. The people, the holy blue of the lagoon, the waves smashing onto the outer reef, the secrets, the low tide beaches, the myriad of uninhabitable palm tree-topped islands, the purity of the air, the siren songs, the blue-feathered birds, the hibiscus blooms, the fish, the butterflies…
On the day of our arrival, we shake the salt off and take short but steep naps, then prepare to go to shore. I could sleep more. I feel half of this world and half of another dreamier one, but I’m anxious to see my friends in Fulaga.
The village is 1.5 nautical miles away from our anchorage. Holly has a rowboat with an attachable sail, but there isn’t enough wind, so we row. Past green dragons and drip castles with a boat full of treasures. Rays of midday sun are pulsing on our bodies. Reggae music is blasting.
We’re almost to the village landing. We see a woman fishing from a yellow kayak. We go to her. “Bula,” I say. “Bula,” she says. She has a round face and body, and her smile is hot white. I ask her if Talei is on shore. She points to a fishing boat near the pass. “Talei out fishing. She over there.”
Talei is my Fijian pop singer friend that I met in Fulaga last year and have seen several times since. She’s at least two nautical miles away. Her boat so distant from us that it looks like a toy in a tub.
We row towards the toy. Past a school of fish. Past ten islands. All the while laughing and screaming “Talei” at the top of our lungs. We pull up to the fishing boat. All four ladies that I love from Fulaga are there. They look like movie stars; sunglasses, leopard print leggings, floral tops, turbans. Fresh caught fish are flopping in the bottom of their boat, fins searching frantic for water.
They are in shock to see me. Mouths like caves and they’re all talking to me at once, “Boo boo,” “Oh my gosh, Ollie,” “You’re back,” “I love you,” “You’re here, I can’t believe it,” one of them even starts singing a song I made up about the cigarettes they smoke. “How sukie is your sukie? Sukie, sukie, sukie.”
We head back towards the village, all fire-hearted and wind-blown. Lilou’s family is there too, eyes dripping with sleep and seawater. It takes all of us and then some to tow the treasures through the forest that connects the bay to the village. Along the way I learn that Ma’s grandmother is no longer accused of using black magic to murder Ma’s father, and that “dudu” is the Fijian word for breasts, and that the nickname for a woman’s ladybits is “Kai” which means blood cockle.
I go to the Chief’s house with the rest of the “yachties” to present Sevusevu. Laundry is blowing dry on lines strung between trees. There is a woman cleaning fish in a red bucket. We sit on the floor before the Chief. He is middle aged and put together like a man in a magazine. We pass the kava. There is the usual prayer and clapping and at then end of the small ceremony Lilou shouts, “Bravo. Bravo. Bravo.” She’s the most infectious child I’ve ever known.
The Chief tells us we’re free to roam his waters. Then says, “Only your host family is allowed to visit your boat and it is forbidden to give them alcohol.” To the bewilderment of everybody, I begin to negotiate with the chief. After you strip away a title, a person is a person with a heart that beats just like mine, plus I once spent two hours talking to a Fijian Chief about whale vomit (ambergris), and after that I feel like I can talk to any Chief about anything.
I say, “Thank you Chief. May I make a request? I’m good friends with several women in this village, Ma, Talei, Lucy, and Lena. It’s my birthday and I would like permission for all of these ladies to visit my boat. Also I would like Talei to host me and Holly, and Lucy to host Lilou and her family.” The Chief says, “Ok, but they cannot return to the village drunk.”
After the Chief, comes the Head Man. He says many kilos of heroine were found floating around the bay not long ago. He needs a $50 entry fee and our boat paperwork to prove that we are who we are, and not smuggling forbidden things.
THE PSYCHIC TV
It’s 7 AM. Lilou says, “Good morning Olivia,” on the VHF. She’s a tiny angel. Her parents tell me that she kisses the VHF after she says it. I would like to have Lilou with me on each and every sailing endeavor.
It’s Sunday and there’s wind and we’re all going to church. Holly and I set sail on her dinghy an hour before prayers start. I’m on the mainsheet and she’s on the tiller. The sail is a rainbow. The sky is a cloud.
We’re going good until we get inside the labyrinth of islands. Rain is coming and going and so is wind. We arrive to the village dripping wet just as church is ending. We heard that the singing was spectacular, I bet it would have made me cry and glitter on the inside with incandescence.
Twenty of us squeeze inside my friends house to feast. The house is made of wood and palm leaves and there are no walls. Everyone is dolled up for God. We eat fish- boiled, fried, drizzled and dripped- and red land crabs with fresh lime coconut milk sauce, and fried cassava, and cake, and cookies.
Afterwards the men leave and us women and children lay on the ground, drinking coconuts, giving each other massages, and talking about life. They tell me how living is easy in the village. How everything they need is right here. How there is no sense of time, no urgency, no desire, no unquenchable longing, and how they can live lazy when they want to.
My head is on a wooden pillow. It looks like a stool and it feels exquisite. I’m laying there thinking that this is what it means to be rich in life. How in order to reach the higher side, you have to let go of everything you were made to believe you need. And I’m wondering what I would worry about when I realize that there’s nothing to worry about.
We’re listening to Fijian songs. One of them says, “Grog only tastes good when she’s the bartender.” Traditionally women don’t serve kava unless they’re eye candy. Talei looks ill- sweating with a face all lemon squished. She’s touching Holly’s shoulder and asking what happened to her ribs. “I got hit by a car a long time ago,” Holly says. Talei says, “It never fully healed.” I ask Talei if she’s a bone healer. Talei says, “No. I’m like a mirror. If I touch someone I can feel the pain in their bodies and massage them to alleviate it. It’s a gift from my grandmother.”
Talei also hears a song that defines a persons character every time she meets somebody new. The song she heard when she met me was, “Funkytown.” I don’t particularly care for that song. In fact, if it came on the radio I would skip to the next station, but if that song is me, so it is me. When Talei met my friend Abi she heard, “Valerie” by Amy Winehouse which made Abi cry to learn because it’s her favorite song on earth. Talei heard “Natural Mystic” by Bob Marley when she met Diarm. And when she met a former friend of mine, she said all she could hear was the theme song from “American Psycho” and told me that she was concerned for my safety. So I let that friend go.
Talei is magic. Everybody in Fiji is magic! It’s like I’m on some psychic TV show and the invisible is becoming visible.
The wind is blowing like a tiger. Holly and I are screaming downwind on her dinghy in 15 to 20 knot puffs. The sail is against the shrouds with a bent shape to it, and we’re still moving at almost 4 knots. There’s a sharp motion of the wind and a jolt and snap, the rudder is broken. Holly holds it together with one hand and steers the tiller with the other. A turtle bobs by. The clouds roll on. We arrive to our destination.
It’s an island south of the anchorage. Every family in Fulaga owns their own island and this island belongs to Lucy. She’s a beautifully framed gap-toothed woman who makes jewelry out of flowers and palm leaves and dresses like the finest hipsters on the streets of Brooklyn.
It’s 11 AM. We’re there to have a picnic with the ladies of Fulaga. We will only eat what we catch in the sea or collect from the forest, and we’re only equipped with one machete and four hand fishing lines.
We run around gathering wood for a fire. The island is thick with palms and banana trees and the water glows turquoise like it always does against a shallow shore. I feel like I’ve just stepped off a boat and into a jungle corner store.
Lizzo and Lady Gaga get everybody grooving, and nine stars are born. Once the wood is piled, we split up. Some go out fishing in Holly’s rowboat. The rest of us sit on jagged limestone rocks or stand in the water tossing hand lines. Talei sings to conjure the fish. Lucy catches her first one. She displays it for my camera and the fish swims right out of her hands and back into the sea.
Hours later we return with our fruits- twelve fish, nice coconuts, tapioca, a sack full of blood cockles, and a bunch of green bananas. I start the fire behind a rock because the trades are still blowing wild enough to break a boat and catch the world ablaze.
When there are coconut trees around you don’t need paper or lighter fluid, because coconut tree husk- the fuzzy stuff at the top of the trunk- will get a fire going faster than cow dung. I put one flame to it and the fire lit up like a hotel. Woosh! The husk is also a form of mosquito repellent and the ancestors used it as toilet paper.
We weave plates out of palm leaves while the food sits on the fire. We decorate the sand in palm fronds and flowers and arrange our meal upon it. We bless the food. We stuff our bellies. And life has never felt more full.
Timeless. This place. These stories. These lessons. This is why I sail. To explore new new worlds. To experience moments like this, these ordinary life moments, far from home and rich with wisdom. Moments like this make my life matchless.
5 Replies to “THE CHIEF, THE PSYCHIC TV & THE PICNIC”
Loved this, Olivia — the anthropologist in me (that was my major in college) loves learning about the cultures you encounter; the sailor in me loves the stories of the sea; the dreamer in me just loves everything about how you’re living your life — FULLY — with love and all! (My rudder on my sailing dinghy broke once in a huge blow; glad that I had oars as I was in the middle of the lake!) xo
. Sunny and trade winds here
Lovely! Sunny and tradewinds here
Another grand and insightful adventure. Xoxo
The visuals are other-worldly . . . any chance of some sneak-peak clips? Also . . . Lilou continues to reign as Empress of the universe! All the hu hu about “liquor” in the Laus had its origins just before I arrived there. A yachtie passing through the Laus left a case of whisky as sevusevu for a chief there thinking that that would secure extra privileges. It didn’t. The authorities were notified and the Laus then quickly became off limits to all foreign yachts for years after. Now the drug cartels have become an invasive species in Fiji . . . an incredibly dangerous development that I hope all Fijians are helping to combat. Yachties should be vigilant and report suspicious activity.