This past Saturday we celebrated Home-Stay Family Appreciation Day in my village. All of the trainees living in nearby villages brought their host families to our site for a day of food, music, and dancing; and by dancing I of course mean meke’s. A meke (meh kay) is a traditional Fijian dance that usually tells a story through song and acting out the moves. Some are designed to be funny while others are impressive and intimidating.
Our meke was about a dwarf named Veli; he had a long beard, white hair, and was apparently impossible to catch. Sounds intimidating to me but comedic seemed to be the theme that day. The other trainee groups also performed mekes that they had learned in their village. The difference was that we had seen all of theirs before, whereas no one had yet seen ours. Consequently, our meke ni veli turned out to be quite the hilarious catastrophe.
Firstly, because our village meeting hall is directly below our church and because there can be no dancing in the same building as the church, our village constructed an outdoor shed type thing to host the event. Corrugated tin sheets were held up by wooden posts across the lawn and it was open on all sides. This turned out to be an awesome forum for our celebration. Mats were put down over the grass as a floor and everyone was able to crowd in and find a seat.
The height of the roof was reasonably designed to accommodate anyone that was under roughly 6’ 6” but it was definitely not designed for people already over 6’ to be abruptly jumping upwards with all of their might, as we did during the first few moves in our meke. I, naturally, had no problem but the same cannot be said for others in my group…
We had lined up in front of the impressive crowd and looked fully awesome in our bula sulus, leaf skirts, and black war paint. We were stoked and ready to perform; the singers began beating the lali (a sort of drum) and singing the meke ni veli song. In the zone, we all started bobbing with our hands on our hips (the first move), casting around side to side to the quick beat trying to look like a tough little dwarf; then quickly, as if frightened, we all made a forceful jump straight up … and half my group cracked their heads into the tin roof making it warp and clang violently, causing some dazed dancers and some uproarious laughter from the crowd that temporarily drowned out the singers. It was all down hill from there.
Apparently, our normal group of singers that we had been rehearsing with (for two weeks prior) had decided that the time was opportune to leave for the day and go into town. Unfortunately, the group that replaced them didn’t really know what they were doing…or maybe they did and just wanted to mess with us…
After the first verse finished and the roof stopped shaking, they moved into the next verse. Instead of being the second verse of the song, what they sang was actually the third verse, but being that none of us are yet fluent in Fijian, half of our group was intently dancing out the moves to the second verse anyway while the other half confusedly took their lead from our meke teacher and did the third verse instead. Then the singers sang the real second verse, which would have been fine but (for whatever dumb reason) I assumed that they would have just played the third verse again (because it was technically time for the third verse I guess) and so I switched to dancing that one instead. Meanwhile everyone else (I think) had actually figured out what was going on by then and was performing the second verse.
To add to the confusion, the singers repeated some verses here and there, making me increasingly suspicious that they were messing up the meke on purpose. So by this point I was so damned lost all I could do was laugh and continue moving my limbs around hoping that I might occasionally get the configuration right. It didn’t help that people were coming up slapping baby powder on our faces and shoving candy in our mouths (as is tradition) while all of this was happening, just to add to the chaos.
When all was said and done, however, it turned out to be quite hilarious; and though we didn’t perform the most well organized meke out of the group we definitely made people laugh! The rest of the day people from our village kept coming up to us and thanking us for the wonderful meke we performed. I’m still not sure if they were being sarcastic or if they were just pleased that we tried (and, more likely, entertained by our fail).
We did perform a second meke after all of the other groups got a chance to run through theirs (and show us up in our own village). This one was called manipusi (translates into mongoose), and though we were definitely more coordinated it still turned out being just about as hilarious as the first one. Perhaps it was because we did it roughly seven times getting faster and faster with each turn.
The rest of the day was really nice. The Peace Corps gave a few thank you speeches and gave certificates to the host families to show their appreciation. We helped serve the monstrous lunch that the women (mostly) of our families prepared. I was actually blown away by how readily they took to the task of preparing the feast for about 75-100 people. All of the fish, cassava, and dalo (taro) were cooked in the lovo (underground oven), and there were huge pots full of chopsuey and chicken curry among many other things. By huge, I definitely mean you could fit a small child inside. No one here ever seems to complain about doing things like this; granted my language skills are limited, but you can definitely tell by body language if a person does not want to do something and I just haven’t seen it. People are happy to share and happy to host. What goes around comes around.
These are my last few days of training. We swear in as official Peace Corps Volunteers on Monday July 4th (and celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the Peace Corps too!). After a brief conference to meet our village contact person, we ship off to our different destinations and finally begin life as a PCV! Wish me luck as the transition nears, that I’m able to pass my language exam, find and buy everything I need for my site (including a mattress?!…traveling could be interesting), pack, and manage a tearful goodbye to a community of people that I’ve grown to love!