So, for the months of December and January in Fiji it’s absurdly difficult to get any project work done. Why? Mostly because of the holidays - people are traveling or busy harvesting their grog for the big celebrations or just taking extended breaks or, quite typically, it is just too damn bloody hot to move at all so everyone just ends up lying on the floor of their house all day where it’s coolest and unsuccessfully attempt to swat away flies with a coconut leaf fan.
It was the last week in January, and I had just woken up and began my day by rolling from the bed to the floor to begin a long day of lying there being bored of being bored. I let my cat in and she joined me in what was promising to be a good long session of absolute nothingness when I hear someone knocking on the railing of my porch. I let out a huff. Honestly, don’t people know the protocol for days like this? Stop being the independent thinker by marching around the village visiting with people when we’re all trying to languidly melt through the floor boards in peace.
I got up and went to the door. Being vertical was a strange sensation as was the ten degree temperature difference between where my feet were on the floor and where my head now found itself all of five feet higher – clearly, one of the times that I was grateful for being shorter rather than taller. I managed to sloth myself over to the door and found my friend Maika standing there wearing his big black sunglasses, a thin roll of suki (the locally grown tobacco) sticking out of his mouth, which he was protecting from the wind in an attempt to light, and a machete jutting out from its dangerously wedged position underneath his arm. Maika is the leader of the committee for the marine protected area project we’re working on and I know him better than most in the village; yet, whenever I see him outfitted as thus I can’t help but imagine him looking at home overseeing some high-end cocaine production operation hidden deep in the jungle somewhere. I jokingly told him this once and he said “Thank you, Tina.” I wasn’t sure if he was just saying thank you because that’s what Fijians say after you say or do anything or if because he actually liked the idea of him looking like a dangerous drug lord.
|My friend Maika. He's never without his cane knife and a pack of dogs.|
|His typical look - barefoot, suki and knife in hand, and always looking so casual... or like a drug lord.|
Anyway, Maika asked what I was doing and I half-seriously glared at him since he obviously knew that I was busy figuring out the coolest position on my bedroom floor before he interrupted. He smiled when I didn’t say anything and said, “Well, I’m going hunting for wild pigs; want to come?” Say what?! Heat shmeat. I was back outside my house and locking my door having changed and gather a few supplies within two minutes.
Now, to be honest I was not particularly keen on the idea of being directly involved in capturing and killing a wild pig, partly because they are shockingly dangerous (Maika has told me that the pigs can very easily kill his dogs when they are trying to take it down and that he’s lost some more than once), but also because I just don’t enjoy killing animals. However, I was not going to pass up this opportunity to go romping around on an adventure deep in the jungle, especially when I had such an enthusiastic and willing guide.
Off we went. Since, my house is in the candy portion of our lollipop shaped village, we had to walk by half the houses on the way out. Everyone we passed unsurprisingly shouted out, “Eh Tina! Sa la’o i vei?” (Where are you going?); I responded in kind by telling them we were going to Coqe (thon gay), which is where Maika’s grog farm is up on the mountain side. We had decided we would hunt our way up there have a rest and then come back down. I thoroughly enjoyed the look of shock and disbelief that every person showed when they heard our plan, particularly that their white, female, kaivalagi volunteer was going so far into the bush and back in one day. Even most the villagers aren’t physically or mentally able to do that.
It was impossibly hot. The good thing, though, was that once we were under the cover of the trees the shade would make it substantially cooler and there were plenty of rivers to jump into to get wet and cool off along the way; the bad part was that we had to walk about a mile up the main dirt road before we reached the right turnoff into the bush. The sun was scorching even though it was only about 8:30 am and we had to repeatedly step off to the side for a quick nip in the shade. During one of these brief respites, we had just come around a turn in the road and were standing off to the side when a bull came quickly trotting by. Curious, but not altogether that surprising. Then we heard shouting and running and a few seconds later a couple of guys came trotting around the corner after it, carting with them three other cows and a calf.
|The main road.|
|Cooling off in one of the many rivers we would soon come across.|
Apparently, they were trekking five miles up the road to another village to deliver the cows and were having issues controlling them. So we jumped in to give them a hand. At that moment the bull decided to seek a bit of shade himself and went stomping off into the trees. All four men and Maika thrust their ropes into my hands to hold the remaining cows and went tearing after the bull to try and bring it back. It was a rather awkward and bizarre spectacle. There was me just standing in the middle of the deserted road in the middle of three mooing cows and a calf, staring at the trees where there was a lot of shouting, loud mooing, and tree breaking noises emanating back. Then I heard a new noise. Is that a bus? Crap.
I started moving to the other side of the road and was struggling to bring my herd with me. The bus was rumbling closer but it hadn’t hurtled around the bend just yet. Come on dammit! It was just the calf that was putting up a fight. It seemed scared while the other cows just followed the pull of their ropes like good little domesticated livestock. Three were safe. I went back into the road and started to shove this stupid cow with all my might into the ditch on the side of the road where the rest had clustered. There was the bus. Move! And it did. Finally. And I pushed it into the ditch and followed suit as the bus sped past and I got a multitude of extremely curious stares. It passed and I saw the men coming out of the bush across the road leading the bull. Maika looked up and across and spotted me standing on the other side in the middle of our tight little huddle of noisy cows and he started laughing.
We continued to help them until we reached our path and then bid them adieu as we turned off into the bush. Happily it hadn’t rained for a few days so the route we were taking was blessedly dry and easy to walk on. We continued along it for roughly thirty minutes, laughing and joking and sharing stories about our respective cultures until we eventually reached the first settlement of houses where people stay when working on their farms. We stopped for a quick chat with one man there who usually stayed in a village that was about an hour drive from ours; he traveled to his farm house by riding horseback across the small mountain range that lies between. Maika had been asking him in Fijian how we could get to a nearby waterfall on our way up to Coqe, since Maika had never been to it before and thought it would be nice to show me.
|The four house farmers' settlement|
Apparently, this guy knew it well and told Maika two ways of getting there and then onto the farm, one of which he said was rather dangerous and he didn’t recommend it. I of course was blithely unaware of what was being exchanged in this rapid Fijian conversation. I only found out about the wrong way from Maika about an hour and half later as we were discovering just how dangerous that particular route was.
To be continued…