File copies of Ted’s stories he wrote for the Reader, truly love his writing alway wish he could be here, had to share; Part I,
(Here’s next week’s article. It’s about 150 words longer than usual. Hope that’s okay. A picture will follow shortly in another email)
Gini and I were the team that did the finish work on the guest cabins at Nukuyaweni Resort. I performed the major part of the millwork and cabinetry design and assembly. She performed the invaluable tasks of maintaining the wood racks, and matching color and grain in the tropical hardwoods we were privileged to use. She organized the work site, brought tools to me, and spent endless hours sanding cabinet and furniture parts. She even performed surgery on me when I sliced my right thumb with a very sharp chisel, sewing 5 stitches in my copiously bleeding hand while I dabbed the blood with gauze so she could see what she was doing. She did such a good job that is able to return to work the next day.
The cabins were situated within yards of the ocean and the view was always spectacular. Though we didn’t work directly with the Fijian villagers, we worked side by side with them as they performed all the rock work and masonry on the cabins and paved footpaths that ran all over the resort grounds. They were accomplished masons who not only laid the walls and paths with volcanic rock from the mountains, but laboriously hauled load after load of rock from increasingly distant sources in the foothills of the central mountain chain. They were almost to the man cheerful and friendly all of the time and always willing to drop what they were doing to lend a hand when needed. They sang as they worked, joked and laughed with one another and treated us as equals. They gave Gini the respect she deserved as a fellow worker and showed none of the chauvinism one might expect from some cultures (if you catch my meaning…)
About half way into our tour of duty, a young man came to us and asked to apprentice with me. Manoa was an accomplished builder in the village of SomoSomo nearby and was eager to learn my method of carpentry and cabinetmaking. He turned out to be an excellent worker who learned quickly and was very helpful. Another young man, Tobe (pronounced tome’bay) was an excellent wood carver and carved beautiful designs in relief on the cabinet doors I was building for the bathroom vanities. He was adept at carving palm trees, hibiscus flowers and landscapes and his work adorned the doors and benches we built. Manassa and Noa were masons who worked side by side with us on the cabins, building rock walls for the patios and stone soaking pools.
Buli had the only motor boat in the village and it was his job to ferry the work crew back and forth from SomoSomo to the resort every day, as well as making runs to other villages nearby and the airport at the south end of our island. We bought fuel in 50 gallon drums from the main island of Viti Levu 50 miles across open water and it was delivered by the inter island ferry boat, a rusty old tub that would run to outer islands once every two weeks or so with supplies. We always eagerly anticipated its arrival with fresh food, beer, and building supplies.
We had a standing invitation to visit SomoSomo on Sundays for church services. These former cannibals who were converted in the late 1700’s and early 1800’s to Christianity were very devout and modest folk who were serious about worship and wanted to share their services with us as their guests. After the service we were always invited to feast at their tables and were served all manner of local foods–dalo (the local term for taro) dalo leaves, several species of fish, bread fruit, wild yams, of which the fish and wild yams were the only thing that appealed to our uncultured taste.
Afterwards we invariably were invited to the kava ceremony with the village elders. They would crush the kava root in a large wooden mortar and pestle, put the powder in a cloth bag to filter out the kava tea, and pour it into a large wooden bowl in the center of the hut. We would sit in a circle around the bowl and be served the drink in a coconut bowl by one man. He would clap his hands, hand us the drink and we would also clap hands, drink down the muddy, bitter brew, hand back the bowl and clapagain. After about 5 or 6 cups of the stuff, our lips and tongues would begin to get numb and we’d start to get a little light-headed. The Fijians seemed to be more strongly affected by it and would become more talkative and laugh loudly. Since alcohol was forbidden on the island, kava was their way to loosen up as well as celebrate.
We were honored to be invited and participate in this deeply cultural ceremony and although we didn’t attend Sundays in the village often, it was always a heartwarming and singular experience.
We had much to learn from these folk–joy of life, generosity of spirit, deep respect and love for their God and each other, and the understanding that strong community is critical to survival. Of all my experiences on the island, my relationships with the villagers of SomoSomo stand out as the most lasting and precious.
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