I extended my cramped foot through the bus’ door. The sole of my converse sunk into the damp Fijian soil as twenty other campers eagerly filed out of the bus behind me. I looked up at the stars that lit the night sky, when a sudden flood of emotions took over – excitement, fatigue, curiosity – and while I desperately wanted to explore what would be my home for the next couple of weeks, my eyelids grew far too heavy. After a brief meet-and-greet with all the counselors of Rustic Pathways, us campers were shown to our bedrooms and told to rest well because we would need a full supply of energy for the following day’s activities. As exhausted as I was, I had much difficulty sleeping that night. The unfamiliarity of my bure, or “bungalow,” kept me tossing and turning. The mosquito net that engulfed my bed made me feel claustrophobic, and while it did its job of repelling insects, when I laid on my back and looked up, I was repulsed to see huge, foreign bugs resting atop the net overhead. I forced my eyes shut and waited for morning.
The next day’s agenda was packed with community service projects, and I was eager to delve into the Fijian culture. I hopped on a bus that took me to a local elementary school where I was to assist in teaching art and English. When I arrived, I was told to take my shoes off and wrap a sulu, or “sarong,” around my waist to cover my legs. I obliged and entered a classroom of young Fijian boys and girls. After hours spent teaching the Fijian children the English alphabet, they started getting restless and jumped with excitement when the teacher announced it was break time. They rushed through the door and onto a small, dirt field with their bare feet kicking up dust. I followed after them and immediately felt sharp pains shoot through my feet, as rocks dug into my soft skin. I endured the pain and played tag with the children, whose calloused feet had no difficulty sprinting through the dirt and rocks. These children’s spirits radiated with joy as they threw their heads back in laughter while running after one another.
Night approached quickly after a memorable day of service. Just outside the base house, a Fijian man, Oro, sat beneath a small hut with his hands submerged in a large bucket of water and what looked like dirt. The other campers and I joined Oro beneath the thatched roof and were told we would be engaging in a traditional kava ceremony. What I had thought was dirt, turned out to be kava, a popular plant of the western pacific that is ground up into a powdery substance and mixed with water to create a beverage that relaxes the body and soul. After completely mixing the kava into the water, Oro filled a small bowl with the brown liquid, handed it to me, and gestured for me to consume its contents. I anxiously grasped the bowl and sipped. I had to force myself to drink the entire bowl, as the kava was not only bizarre and unfamiliar, but caused my tongue to grow increasingly numb with each gulp. This peculiar sensation must have reflected on my face, since Oro quickly assured me that the numbing of the tongue was a normal reaction. He explained that kava helps rid the mind of worries, allowing one to fully absorb the sights and sounds of Fiji and immerse oneself in the culture. That night, I had no trouble sleeping.
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