Tag Archives: culture

How I Gained Three New Brothers…and a Son in Nepal

World.

Let me introduce to you my three new brothers: Yubraj, Dhiraj, and Bipin.

How did that happen? I’m not exactly sure.

My Australian friends have left Nepal, including Hamish who left a couple weeks back. Now that I was on my own, I made more of an effort to get to know the village and the surrounding villages on the mountain that I lived on. Since class ten, whom I lived with, were contantly studying, I found myself bored at times. So I frequently visited the neighbors homes, specifically Aatma’s older brother Yam Thapa, who lived closer to the private school I taught at. Yam has two sons: Yubraj (UK) and Dhiraj (DJ), who honestly, make for better conversation than Amish and Aakash who are a lot younger.

nepal pokhara padeli sarangkot volunteer village tefl

Yubraj, 18, but more commonly referred to as UK.

nepal pokhara padeli sarangkot volunteer village tefl

Dhiraj, 16, but I call him DJ because I couldn’t remember how to pronounce his actual name for a solid month!

Overtime, I became pretty tight with them. Even staying the night at their home on several occasions by request from them and their gracious mother. Yam liked having me over because I was a valuable asset as far as having a proficient English speaker around to help UK and DJ hone their English-speaking skills.

Over time, I’m not sure how, but the two boys started referring to me as “dai” which means “big brother” and they told me to refer to them as “vai” which means “little brother”. Even their parents and the village began to recognize our newfound brotherhood.

nepal pokhara padeli sarangkot volunteer village tefl

nepal pokhara padeli sarangkot volunteer village tefl

Back home, in America, it’s not uncommon for friends to sometimes refer to each other as a “bro” or “sister from another mister”, kinda thing. But here in Nepal, I found that when you call someone who is not biologically related a brother or sister, it holds more credence.

nepal pokhara padeli sarangkot volunteer village tefl

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In Nepal, whenever I ask students how many brothers or sisters they have, their answer would always include their close friends or non-immediate relatives that they personally consider a brother or sister, in addition to their actual biological siblings. And it’s not just a thing the kids do, the adults do this as well. Some of the teachers consider some of the students as siblings too. At first this confused the heck out of me when I began to think that the whole village was somehow legitimately related to each other, but turns out that is not the case. Still, if you are considered a brother or sister to someone in the village, its taken seriously–for life. I was now UK and DJ’s brother, which I will take solemnly.

I messaged my mother and informed her she had two new sons. She didn’t question it, instead she wished to send them a gift (which is difficult because as far as I know, I don’t think mail or postal service is a thing here in this village).

Over time, I gained yet another brother by the name of Bipin. He was a former student of mine, two years ago but since then he has switched to a more prestigious school in Pokhara in order to challenge his studies. He was an academically bright student and Bal Prativa was a cake walk for him. But of course, the more prestigious school costs a heck of a lot more money, and the people in these villages aren’t exactly making it rain with cash. Bipin needed help.

Me spraying Bipin with snow spray, more than two years ago in December 2014.

Back in November (2016), while I was backpacking in Australia, Bipin sent me a message on FB messenger telling me his predicament and that if I could send him $50 to help him with his tuition. I’m always weary of people I don’t know that well asking me for money (I didn’t know Bipin too well at the time), especially over the internet, and more so from a developing country. As much as I wanted to help him, I wasn’t sure how to send the money to him. They don’t have PayPal and I doubted a Western Union-type service. I never met his parents either so I wasn’t sure if I could trust them. I told him I would have to think about it and eventually he stopped asking. So that was that.

Fast forward to now, four months later, I went to visit Bipin and his family about thirty minutes walk from Padeli. I reunited with him and met his mother who playfully only knew how to say “I am Nepali. No English”, whenever she spoke to me.


“Where’s your father?” I asked Bipin.

“He’s working in Malaysia.”

Bipin hasn’t seen his father for two and a half years, which means its only him and his mother working alone on their farm. The moment I arrived, Bipin’s mother made me lunch and continued working nonstop–sweeping, washing clothes, tending to the goats and buffalo, picking vegetables, and even found time to make me tea much to her insistence.


Both invited me to stay the night, which I agreed. Their home was a lot more primitive than Aatma’s and Yam’s. Bipin and his mother shared one giant room which served as their bedroom, their living area, and their storage. I didn’t mind it. Bipin was humble about it all and went out of his way to make sure I was comfortable and constantly apologized for the lack of Western luxury available. I told him not to worry. I was just fine. Still, Bipin didn’t mention anything about the money he asked of me four months ago. So I brought it up before we went to bed.

“Hey Bipin?” I asked.

“Yes, Dan?” (They always same my name in every other sentence.)

“Were you ever able to pay for your tuition? Remember when you asked me in November?”

“The principal agreed to let me pay the months tuition later in a couple months,” he began to say. “It gives us more time to come up with the money.”

I felt guilty that I couldn’t help him at the time. But now that I was here in person, I could lend a hand. I took out my wallet and handed him Rs 7000, translating to roughly $65, which was enough to pay for about five months worth of tuition fees.

“Here,” I said as I handed him the money. “Use this towards your education.”

He was speechless and appeared genuinely appreciative but didn’t quite know what to say.

“Make sure you tell your mom later,” I told him.

“I will Dan.”

The next morning, Bipin and his mother insisted that I stay with them for another night. I couldn’t help but to oblige.


He and I became brothers before I eventually left his home. He then asked if it was okay to add my actual brothers back home in Michigan, Steve and Matt, as friends on Facebook. I said sure but I had to inform them prior, so they didn’t think it was some random stranger requesting their friendship. They both gladly accepted him.

Now let me explain the whole “son” thing…

I’ve grown pretty tight with the class ten boys who lived with me at Aatma’s place. I made an effort to usually spend time with them before bed time and speak with them, casually in English. Of the five boys, Samir’s English was not up to par with the rest. In fact, his was a bit behind for his class level. I concentrated on speaking to him a bit more.

Samir, 16, the most innocent, yet most oblivious to the world compared to the rest of the class ten boys.

Samir is the most naive and juvenile of the boys. He also is around me more than his other classmates and usually wants to play with my phone, hence why I’ll find selfies on it later on, like these:

nepal pokhara padeli sarangkot volunteer village tefl

nepal pokhara padeli sarangkot volunteer village tefl

I barely remember Samir from my previous visit in Nepal two years ago, because he never said a word to me (also because I usually avoided their class). This time, I can’t keep him away from me 😂. Nowadays, I have grown fond of Samir because he’s actually a really good kid. As in he is very protective of his friends, he’s family oriented, and he just means well overall. It’s just that his English kinda sucks. I’d teach him new words and constantly correct his sentences and if he didn’t know a word, then I pushed him to try his best to explain what he meant. I also made him practice English before I gave him my phone to play with. The other boys began to notice how “fatherly” my actions were towards him and jokingly began to tell Samir to “listen to your father”. It wasn’t long before Samir began to call me “father” all the time and I eventually would jokingly call him “chhora” which means son in Nepalese (I think). It stuck with us for the rest of my time there.

 

Once he even asked me, “How do you kiss a girl with your tongue?”

I almost died from laughter!

I told him, “You’ll just naturally learn on your own soon enough.

Samir’s father is also working internationally, and won’t see each other for a very long time.

Overtime, others in the village began calling me ‘brother’ besides UK, DJ, and Bipin. I’m sure it may just be a thing to call one another that here or if these people are considering me family. Whichever the case, I am completely happy with both possibilities.

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Things I Love (and Didn’t Quite Love) About Fiji

I’ve been in Fiji for a few weeks now and I can safely say that when you come to this tropical island paradise, expect to chill like you’ve never chilled out before. Fiji’s got the whole relaxin’ thing down!

The Things I Loved:

The People Are Refreshingly Friendly

Not a day went by where I didn’t receive a welcoming “Bula” greeting from a local as I strolled by them. Armed with cordial head nods, big islander style smiles, and cool Fijian handshakes, it’s easy to strike up a good conversation with anyone on the streets. I found that many wished to learn about me and were interested in my thoughts about their country. I also came here thinking I would get heckled and hassled to buy things on the streets like in many countries, but not here. They left me alone in that regard for the most part. Fiji, you are friendly.

IMG_2840.jpg

World Renowned Shark Scuba Diving

I went shark diving in Fiji, not once but twice! Both times near Beqa Island, one of the most renowned and sharkiest places in the world to spot a whole range of beasts from the elusive tiger ones to the motley crew of bull sharks. Scuba diving has always been one of my favorite activities, but scuba diving with sharks upped the ante quite a bit. If you are an avid diver, I highly recommend you check it out.

FullSizeRender 51.jpg

FullSizeRender 52.jpg

Those Rotis and the Samosas

The local delicacy in Fiji didn’t really jump out at me. As a matter of fact, there is a heavy Indian influence on the cuisine, specifically in the capital of Suva. However, I did come across two glutton heavy, savory morsels straight outta heaven–rotis and samosas. The version of a roti I had is a concoction of warm potato chunks and minced veggies wrapped in a thick floury dough, lightly fried. A samosa is similar but smaller, kind of like a pizza roll but in a triangular shape and baked. It’s the perfect snack, breakfast, brunch, dinner, and lunch. I’m not sure if these are strictly “Fijian” foods, but you can certainly find them almost anywhere on the main island.

JTaQ6IgeQwG0MY6cjO2g_1415850927098.jpg
Put the potato curry inside the roti bread and then you’ll find yourself in a tasty heaven.
d7095a0fcac3441a17b135cf712a5f73.jpg
Samosas. Photo courtesy of Asiancuisine.com

The Beach-side (Budget) Resorts

Not the expensive ones, I’m sure they’re nice, but I’m talking about the budget ones like Fiji Beachouse and Uprising, both located along the coral coast far AWAY from the backpacker heavy party hostels in Nadi. I’ve been to a whole bunch of resorts during my time in Fiji and do you know what the main theme is at these resorts? Chill the heck out! Really, it was just pool, beach, billiards, hammocks, beanbags and booze. What more could you want?

fiji beachouse

It’s Relatively Cheap

I was a straight up baller in Fiji. The US dollar equaled about two Fijian dollars, but still most things were cheaply priced (aside from the excursions). Opt for the bus ride that costs less than $10 USD to get from one side of the island to the other. Accommodation was popularly priced and the food and beverages were easy on the wallet. Just stay away from the western restaurants, bars, and the chummy resorts and you’ll find the dollar stretches quite far. We found a bar where you could buy-one-get-one free of absolutely anything you ever wanted! Two pitchers of beer for $5 USD? Sold! By the way, the bar with the BOGO is called Traps. Go there for Ladies Night on Wednesdays.

IMG_0097.jpg

Kava Ceremonies

I ranted on a previous post about how much I disliked the taste of kava. Despite the stolid taste, the kava gatherings were simply something I’ve never experienced before. It’s entirely social, where groups of people sit cross-legged on mats laid out on the floor with everyone drinking kava out of a single wooden bowl. Each person that takes a drink receives a quick burst of attention filled with double claps and “Bulas”! The locals pride themselves on sharing the experience with foreigners such as myself and will never hesitate an opportunity to gather around to drink kava with their family and friends. Literally you just sit there, converse a bit, and drink kava. It’s pretty neat!

IMG_1473.jpg

The Buses With the Music

Whatever country I’m in, taking the local bus into town is typically flat and ho hum. Usually nothing special. However, every single freakin’ city bus that I rode in Fiji played funky tropical island beats that made me kinda sorta look forward to the ride. From reggae, to island remixes of modern songs, to zippy numbers I’ve never heard of in my life, the music was always bumpin’ and on point. So much that a good portion of those songs are now on a custom Fiji playlist on my iPhone, thanks to the Shazam app. These tunes will forever and always remind me of my chilled out time in Fiji and of all those awesome people I met.

fiji local buses

And then there’s the opposite end of the spectrum…

Things I Didn’t Quite Love

Lack of Diverse Activities

If you ask some of my Fiji housemates, they will tell you that I was consistently bored out of my mind. Besides beaching and diving, there is barely anything else to do! Yes there is white water rafting, zipling, sky diving, but it’s either complete crap, ridiculously expensive or both. There is surfing too I suppose but it’s not really my thing anymore. With Fiji, you’re trapped on a small island with no where else to go. Yes you could go island hopping to do more beaching and boozing but I already beached and boozed a hundred times over on the main island. Now I have to pay $150 for a boat to take me to another island to do the exact same thing? No thanks. Make sure you have your Kindle ready for Fiji.

14963142_10210416689948916_3035170820995815690_n
Bored…Photo courtesy of Joshua Smith

 

Lack of Beer Choices

You have two choices of beer in Fiji: Fiji Gold or Fiji Bitter. There’s also usually some random third choice and then a handful of imported beer that I can get back in the States. Fiji is not the place to try local brews because they only got two…maybe three. By the way, don’t let the name fool you, Fiji Bitter is so much better than Gold.

Resorts Lost My Reservations ALL THE F*C%ING TIME

Here’s the best piece of advice I can give you if you ever decide to visit Fiji. If you book ANY accommodation here, even if you get your confirmation email, call them to make sure they have your reservation because not once, not twice, not even three, but four freakin’ times I showed up to a resort to find out they “never” received my reservation. Even when I proceeded to show them the confirmation email on my phone, there was still “nothing” they could do about it. Fortunately, most of the times they were able to re-book me except for one instance where we had to find another more expensive accommodation because everything else nearby was already booked. That was SO annoying.

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This is us after battling two different hostels/hotels for our reservations and finally finding a place to crash.

“Fiji Time”

There’s this thing on the island called “Fiji Time”. Basically, if anyone (specifically Fijian locals) is late for anything, instead of blaming it on their lack of punctuality, they can usually get away with it by the excuse of simply saying “Fiji Time”. Fiji time is basically a way of saying that you were so entranced with the chilled out vibes of the island, that the importance of time became second fiddle to the sensation of island style relaxation and hanging loose. “Where’s the bus that was supposed to be here at four?” Oh sorry, Fiji time. “Where is the main teacher for this class because I can’t handle 47 kids by myself?” Oh sorry brutha, Fiji Time. “Where’s the meal I ordered like an hour ago?” Oh, Fiji time.  Most of the people I was with kinda enjoyed the concept of Fiji Time. As for me, I absolutely hate being late for stuff…so it was something I had to accept and get used to.

IMG_0171.PNG


Besides all of that, I’ve built a couple solid friendships during my stay in Fiji and I’m sure you’ll be hearing more about them soon on here. I’d have more to report about Fiji but there is only so much I could write about when it comes to sittin’ on the beach and drinking a beer.

The island life. 🙂

Things I Love (and Didn't Quite Love) About Fiji

I’ve been in Fiji for a few weeks now and I can safely say that when you come to this tropical island paradise, expect to chill like you’ve never chilled out before. Fiji’s got the whole relaxin’ thing down!

The Things I Loved:

The People Are Refreshingly Friendly

Not a day went by where I didn’t receive a welcoming “Bula” greeting from a local as I strolled by them. Armed with cordial head nods, big islander style smiles, and cool Fijian handshakes, it’s easy to strike up a good conversation with anyone on the streets. I found that many wished to learn about me and were interested in my thoughts about their country. I also came here thinking I would get heckled and hassled to buy things on the streets like in many countries, but not here. They left me alone in that regard for the most part. Fiji, you are friendly.

IMG_2840.jpg

World Renowned Shark Scuba Diving

I went shark diving in Fiji, not once but twice! Both times near Beqa Island, one of the most renowned and sharkiest places in the world to spot a whole range of beasts from the elusive tiger ones to the motley crew of bull sharks. Scuba diving has always been one of my favorite activities, but scuba diving with sharks upped the ante quite a bit. If you are an avid diver, I highly recommend you check it out.

FullSizeRender 51.jpg

FullSizeRender 52.jpg

Those Rotis and the Samosas

The local delicacy in Fiji didn’t really jump out at me. As a matter of fact, there is a heavy Indian influence on the cuisine, specifically in the capital of Suva. However, I did come across two glutton heavy, savory morsels straight outta heaven–rotis and samosas. The version of a roti I had is a concoction of warm potato chunks and minced veggies wrapped in a thick floury dough, lightly fried. A samosa is similar but smaller, kind of like a pizza roll but in a triangular shape and baked. It’s the perfect snack, breakfast, brunch, dinner, and lunch. I’m not sure if these are strictly “Fijian” foods, but you can certainly find them almost anywhere on the main island.

JTaQ6IgeQwG0MY6cjO2g_1415850927098.jpg
Put the potato curry inside the roti bread and then you’ll find yourself in a tasty heaven.
d7095a0fcac3441a17b135cf712a5f73.jpg
Samosas. Photo courtesy of Asiancuisine.com

The Beach-side (Budget) Resorts

Not the expensive ones, I’m sure they’re nice, but I’m talking about the budget ones like Fiji Beachouse and Uprising, both located along the coral coast far AWAY from the backpacker heavy party hostels in Nadi. I’ve been to a whole bunch of resorts during my time in Fiji and do you know what the main theme is at these resorts? Chill the heck out! Really, it was just pool, beach, billiards, hammocks, beanbags and booze. What more could you want?

fiji beachouse

It’s Relatively Cheap

I was a straight up baller in Fiji. The US dollar equaled about two Fijian dollars, but still most things were cheaply priced (aside from the excursions). Opt for the bus ride that costs less than $10 USD to get from one side of the island to the other. Accommodation was popularly priced and the food and beverages were easy on the wallet. Just stay away from the western restaurants, bars, and the chummy resorts and you’ll find the dollar stretches quite far. We found a bar where you could buy-one-get-one free of absolutely anything you ever wanted! Two pitchers of beer for $5 USD? Sold! By the way, the bar with the BOGO is called Traps. Go there for Ladies Night on Wednesdays.

IMG_0097.jpg

Kava Ceremonies

I ranted on a previous post about how much I disliked the taste of kava. Despite the stolid taste, the kava gatherings were simply something I’ve never experienced before. It’s entirely social, where groups of people sit cross-legged on mats laid out on the floor with everyone drinking kava out of a single wooden bowl. Each person that takes a drink receives a quick burst of attention filled with double claps and “Bulas”! The locals pride themselves on sharing the experience with foreigners such as myself and will never hesitate an opportunity to gather around to drink kava with their family and friends. Literally you just sit there, converse a bit, and drink kava. It’s pretty neat!

IMG_1473.jpg

The Buses With the Music

Whatever country I’m in, taking the local bus into town is typically flat and ho hum. Usually nothing special. However, every single freakin’ city bus that I rode in Fiji played funky tropical island beats that made me kinda sorta look forward to the ride. From reggae, to island remixes of modern songs, to zippy numbers I’ve never heard of in my life, the music was always bumpin’ and on point. So much that a good portion of those songs are now on a custom Fiji playlist on my iPhone, thanks to the Shazam app. These tunes will forever and always remind me of my chilled out time in Fiji and of all those awesome people I met.

fiji local buses

And then there’s the opposite end of the spectrum…

Things I Didn’t Quite Love

Lack of Diverse Activities

If you ask some of my Fiji housemates, they will tell you that I was consistently bored out of my mind. Besides beaching and diving, there is barely anything else to do! Yes there is white water rafting, zipling, sky diving, but it’s either complete crap, ridiculously expensive or both. There is surfing too I suppose but it’s not really my thing anymore. With Fiji, you’re trapped on a small island with no where else to go. Yes you could go island hopping to do more beaching and boozing but I already beached and boozed a hundred times over on the main island. Now I have to pay $150 for a boat to take me to another island to do the exact same thing? No thanks. Make sure you have your Kindle ready for Fiji.

14963142_10210416689948916_3035170820995815690_n
Bored…Photo courtesy of Joshua Smith

 

Lack of Beer Choices

You have two choices of beer in Fiji: Fiji Gold or Fiji Bitter. There’s also usually some random third choice and then a handful of imported beer that I can get back in the States. Fiji is not the place to try local brews because they only got two…maybe three. By the way, don’t let the name fool you, Fiji Bitter is so much better than Gold.

Resorts Lost My Reservations ALL THE F*C%ING TIME

Here’s the best piece of advice I can give you if you ever decide to visit Fiji. If you book ANY accommodation here, even if you get your confirmation email, call them to make sure they have your reservation because not once, not twice, not even three, but four freakin’ times I showed up to a resort to find out they “never” received my reservation. Even when I proceeded to show them the confirmation email on my phone, there was still “nothing” they could do about it. Fortunately, most of the times they were able to re-book me except for one instance where we had to find another more expensive accommodation because everything else nearby was already booked. That was SO annoying.

IMG_0949.jpg
This is us after battling two different hostels/hotels for our reservations and finally finding a place to crash.

“Fiji Time”

There’s this thing on the island called “Fiji Time”. Basically, if anyone (specifically Fijian locals) is late for anything, instead of blaming it on their lack of punctuality, they can usually get away with it by the excuse of simply saying “Fiji Time”. Fiji time is basically a way of saying that you were so entranced with the chilled out vibes of the island, that the importance of time became second fiddle to the sensation of island style relaxation and hanging loose. “Where’s the bus that was supposed to be here at four?” Oh sorry, Fiji time. “Where is the main teacher for this class because I can’t handle 47 kids by myself?” Oh sorry brutha, Fiji Time. “Where’s the meal I ordered like an hour ago?” Oh, Fiji time.  Most of the people I was with kinda enjoyed the concept of Fiji Time. As for me, I absolutely hate being late for stuff…so it was something I had to accept and get used to.

IMG_0171.PNG


Besides all of that, I’ve built a couple solid friendships during my stay in Fiji and I’m sure you’ll be hearing more about them soon on here. I’d have more to report about Fiji but there is only so much I could write about when it comes to sittin’ on the beach and drinking a beer.

The island life. 🙂

My Invitations to Two Traditional Fijian Weddings

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I’m done with drinking drugs in Fiji.

That was hard for me to admit for a while, as not to disrespect the locals who graciously offered me dozens and dozens and dozens of bowls filled with kava to drink throughout my time in here on the island. I chugged and chugged, my tongue and lips grew numb, and I eventually felt like I was high on something funky.

What is kava?

Kava is a popular non-alcoholic drink among Fijian locals. Technically a drug made from the kava ground root plant (Piper methysticum), it contains chemical ingredients that can produce the feeling of drunkenness, caused from the lactones in kava to be quickly absorbed into the blood flow and into the brain.

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It’s ceremonious staple in villages where locals sit and gather around a giant wooden bowl as someone prepares the kava to be passed around for everyone to consume.

From my own experiences with kava, it’s completely social and the only time I’ve ever drank it is in the company of many other locals, while sitting cross-legged on the floor of someone’s home. It’s like how you’re at a party and certain friends run off and go to someone’s room or car to smoke weed with each other. It’s like that here except without the sneaking off part. It’s completely legal in Fiji and is a completely normal thing.

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It’s all fine and dandy. I’ve had tons of kava during the past few weeks. Its something new and I wanted to fit into the community as much as possible. My only gripe with kava is that…

It Tastes. Like. Shit.

To describe the taste to you…just imagine a giant wooden bowl of water you’d get from a garden hose. Then toss in some dirt, mix it up, and add a dash of pepper and bam—you have something that looks and tastes like kava.

The person who makes it, sits in front of a bowl of water and adds the kava root (in powdered form) into what looks like an old knee sock. He proceeds to massage and crumple the sock in the water as if he were washing the socks and in turn washing his hands. Then once it’s been settled, he dips a bowl into the kava water and passes it around. Everyone shares the same bowl and the attention is focused on you while the others clap once or twice in unison. It’s a unique tradition that I appreciated but it didn’t change the fact that I disliked the taste. I’m also ignoring the fact that the person making the drink basically rinsed their hands in the bowl of kava—whatever I’ll live.

(Note: Many people I met loved the kava. Then there were also many who felt the way I did about it. If you are ever in Fiji, definitely give it a try and form your own opinion!)

It was during the second of two weddings that I decided I just about had enough and felt comfortable declining kava every time it was offered to me. And it was offered a lot! Probably because I was a foreign guest who resembled them.


The Weddings

I was invited to the first wedding after befriending locals I met at the Beachouse during my first week in the country. They invited me to my first kava gathering where I chugged about six bowls and during that time, one of them invited me to their son’s wedding which would take place the following week.

“If I can get the day off from teaching then I’m there!” I told him.

I had no problem getting the day off and was able to make the two-hour trip to the village along with two other volunteers I decided to bring with me. This is an experience I wanted to share.

I arrived in my sulu, a button up, and flip-flops, ready for…actually I didn’t know what I was ready for. The weddings I’m used to in the States involve a formal ceremony of the bride and groom and lots of drinking and dancing with family and friends the rest of the day. Here, I was game for whatever they threw at me.

Once we arrived to the village, I met up with a few of the locals and one directed us to sit in the meeting house for kava. Inside were about fifty villagers, all men, sitting on the floor surrounding a gigantic kava bowl. I sat down next to a guy in a red button-up who flagged me to come sit next to him and was immediately handed a bowl of kava to drink. Then another. And another.

What about the rest of these guys in the room? They would probably like some kava?

Although I blended in the crowd I also stuck out a bit. I had a bulky and expensive camera strung around my shoulder to document and I was sitting next to two foreign volunteer girls who obviously weren’t from here. So we were circled with attention.

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“Where is the village chief?” I asked one of the guys across me.

“Right there,” he responded as he nodded his head to the man sitting next to me in the red button-up.

He didn’t look like any chief I had imagined. He blended in with everyone here and sat on the floor next to everyone else just like any ordinary villager.

What makes him the chief? It’s because he’s the eldest.

I started to feel heavy from the kava and my mouth was almost completely numb, but whenever the kava bowl was passed to me, I made sure to chug it as not to disrespect the chief. He was sitting right next to me observing my every move! But then again he probably wouldn’t care if I denied it since he seemed so laid back and at ease.

The wedding itself took place inside a small church inside the village.

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The bride and groom wore traditional attire. One note about the bride, she looked unhappy as hell throughout most of the ceremony. I did manage to get a single shot of her cracking a smile.

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I noticed that this wedding had everything they needed except for a photographer. I didn’t feel comfortable going around during the wedding snapping photos quite yet but I made sure to take some afterwards, with the intention of emailing them to the community.

I asked one of the men, how come they didn’t have a photographer.

“It’s very expensive,” he said with a humble smile. “We can’t afford one.”

Every wedding needs a photographer. The photos that come about become an everlasting symbol.

“If you have another wedding soon, I can photograph for you guys free of charge.” I offered to him.

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We spent the rest of the afternoon drinking more kava, playing with the kids, and eating the meals served to everyone who attended. The food took forever to come out but I sat in patience, getting drunk off of kava. I didn’t want anymore and began to politely deny whenever the bowls came my way…unless someone absolutely insisted! When the women were finished preparing the food, I was served a plate full of local delicacies including beef, cassava, and lots of steamed veggies. We ate it all with our bare hands too which added to the flare.

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The wedding was low-key and mellow. The second wedding was anything but low-key.

The second wedding was much bigger and attracted a larger crowd of locals from nearby villagers. I brought two different volunteers with me to experience it, expecting it to be much of the same as last time. This was totally different. I was told I’d be shooting one of New Zealand’s Rugby players. It wasn’t the All-Black squad, probably a player from a minor league.

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Since I was the designated camera guy, I made sure to take photos of everything as much as I could. It was a convenient, yet true excuse to avoid anymore kava. Everyone was all over the place and just like before the bride looked pissed off the whole day, which didn’t help with inspiration. I think maybe she was just extremely nervous? She was followed by parades of people taking pictures on their  Samsung phones, sometimes completely in the way of the guy with the professional camera here. As a mater of fact, I don’t thing the wedding party looked at me even once taking photos all around them. They focused on their family members snapping more so, which is understandable. I was a stranger there.

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The ceremony was held in a church just outside of the village in the vicinity of a neighboring school; much larger than the church at the previous wedding a couple weeks prior.

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I went all around snapping photos, trying not to disrespect any culture specific rules that I wasn’t aware of. I was a silent ninja and made sure not to be totally intrusive. I think I did the trick just right.

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As neat as it was to witness another spectacle of a wedding, this wedding dragged on forever. It was mostly just standing and sitting around waiting for food and for the bride and groom to receive their gifts. I couldn’t stay all day, I had to meet the other volunteers later in the afternoon back at the Beachouse for the weekend.

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It was a long day, but I think my favorite part were the puppies I found near the quietest parts of the village.

How come no one was around playing with these guys? They had to be less than two weeks old.

Screw the kava! I could play with these pups instead.

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I said my goodbyes to them and told them I would make an effort to visit the village one more time before I left Fiji for good. 🙂

Everybody Thinks I’m Fijian…and That’s a Good Thing

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*My apologies for the lack of photos on this post. I made my most costly travel error ever when I accidentally dropped my iPhone into a waterfall. I’ll explain more about that on a later post.*

I was meant to arrive on Saturday, but was having such a good time at the Beachouse that I emailed The Green Lion, my project coordinators in Suva, letting them know I would arrive at the bus station at 3:00pm on Sunday instead. No problem.

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A group of awesome backpackers I hung around with at the Fiji Beachouse.
I also meant to take the express bus on Sunday morning, but instead Ross and his girlfriend Christie (UK) happily offered to drive me in their rental car. They had to go to Suva anyways. On the way there, we stopped in Pacific Harbor to grab some food and use the ATM. I noticed the time was just a little past 3pm, but no worries, Fiji Time. Just like many places I’ve been to (Africa being the one that pops in my head the most) Fiji runs on what they like to call Fiji Time. Which means, everything and everybody is going to be late. Not too late, but a little late. It’s the whole chilled out island mantra of the island and the perfect excuse as to why anyone in Fiji is late for anything. Fiji Time. I could dig it but it can also be annoying at times particularly when waiting on food that I ordered. In this case, Fiji time would work in my favor because I was already almost a half hour late. The coordinators are probably waiting at the bus station wondering where the heck I am. But I wasn’t overly concerned because of Fiji Time.

Once we arrived at the bus station, I just had Ross drop me off in the center of it. The bus station was a lot bigger than I imagined and a lot more hectic too. I said my farewells to Ross and Christie, put on my bags and simply began to walk around looking for any sign of someone looking for me.

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The Suva Bus Station. Courtesy of Fijibus.com
I’ve done this many times before and each time there is always someone around with a sign that either has my name on it, a yellow smiley face, an IVHQ logo sign, or whatever. I looked and looked. No sign. I did several laps around the entirety of the bus station and no sign of anyone looking for me. Oddly, I wasn’t worried.

I had three options:

  1. Keep walking around looking for somebody.
  2. Go into town and sort out purchasing a SIM for my phone to call Green Lion.
  3. It’s Sunday which means I’m probably not the only new volunteer arriving. I can just wait at the terminal for another foreign volunteer to arrive.

I stuck with option one.

They had to be around here somewhere. There’s no way they would leave the bus station with the possibility of a scared little volunteer all by themselves. I wasn’t scared. This was my fault actually. I told them I’d arrive at 3pm. I didn’t even know if buses actually arrived at three. Then on top of that I was late. I had to figure out a way to make myself look known. Other than my big bags I was carrying, I don’t exactly stick out. Since the day I arrived at the Beachouse, I’ve been mistaken for being a Fijian local by tourists and the locals themselves. Many backpackers assumed I worked at the Beachouse and locals were baffled when I started jabbering in my flat American English.

“Oh I thought you were Fijian!” they would say.

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This is a photo of me at a local village near the Beachouse at a kava ceremony. I blend in quite well right?
I blended in so well that a group of locals invited me to take part in a traditional wedding later in the week (more about that later)!

I never once got bored of the confusion. I was happy that I had potential to coast through Fiji without sticking out like a sore thumb. It will prove useful for when locals want to hassle me. It dawned on me that the coordinators are probably around but probably think I’m some local, easily mistakable among the crowds of actual locals venting in and out of the Suva bus station. Time to change my presence.

I purposely began to appear lost and confused. I walked slowly and would pause occasionally on my tiptoes looking past the crowds with a “what the heck is going on” look on my face. I did this all in the area of where I thought the best place the coordinators would be. I paced slowly, alert.

“Excuse me?” said a Fijian man wearing a tropical blue shirt and what looked like a black skirt for men. I glanced at him and raised my eyebrows letting him know he had my attention.

“Are you looking for someone?”

“Yeah, I’m looking for the Green Lion.”

“Oh, are you Daniel??”

“Yup I’m him!”

He and the woman next to him began to laugh.
“We saw you walk by many times but thought you were a Fijian!” they exclaimed.

This would be the new story of my life.

He introduced himself as Junior and the woman as Seini. Both are coordinators from the Green Lion who were scheduled to pick me up…at three!

“The bus showed up but there were no volunteers that came out, so we were confused,” Junior said with a smile.

I explained my situation but it was no matter. They were just happy to have found me and I was relieved I didn’t have to walk around aimlessly with my bags any longer. They led me to a local bus. About 40 minutes would be my new home for the next six weeks filled with a bunch of other volunteers from all around the world.

This is the part where I usually start to wonder what my housemates will be like, but weirdly I didn’t think much about it. I was concentrating on what kind of restaurants were on the way and IF there was a McDonald’s nearby (there was). I was also taken by the funky island music on blast in the bus. Every volunteer experience I’ve done, the volunteers have always been more than amazing, with a handful being good friends of mine to this very day, so I was sure this experience would be the same.

Once the bus dropped us off, we walked to the Green Lion office where I filled out a bunch of paperwork and then directed across the street to my new home.

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I walked in the house and already there were about a dozen volunteers socializing in the outdoor area. I gave a brief hello and a wave and followed Junior down the hall, downstairs to the boys corridor and to my room. In my room were four bunk beds with someone in each of them except for one, which would be mine.

“Hello,” I said with a stupid smile as I plopped down my bag. “How’s it going?”

One of the boys on the bottom bunk was sprawled out on his side with his right hand supporting his head. “You must be Daniel,” he said in a German accent. “I expected you yesterday.”

He was correct. I was supposed to arrive yesterday. But who is this guy? He introduced himself as Johannes (Germany) but for some reason I kept referring to him as Johannesburg. I got the idea from his chattering that he was the guru of the household. He seemed to know everything about Fiji. The other two in the room were also German. Their names were Timo and Julius, my roommates for the next six weeks. All of them young and all of them experiencing their very first volunteer trip or even solo trip ever! How cute. We made brief small talk before I decided to head upstairs to meet the rest of the crew.

It’s always a bit awkward being the new guy, but turns out that most of the volunteers just arrived hours before me and there were still some coming in later. I introduced myself to about a dozen people and didn’t remember a single name upon the first greet. That usually happens. The same questions follow afterwards: Where are you from? How long are you here for? What placement are you in? Sometimes followed up with: Are you travelling anywhere after Fiji? That last question I chose not to reveal fully just yet. I don’t wanna seem like I’m boasting that I’m currently on a two-year quest to the seven continents. So I just simply would say “Probably Australia.” As a matter of fact, I didn’t have a flight booked anywhere outside of Fiji yet. I wasn’t sure how long I would stick around or where in Australia I would go to first. However, in order to enter Fiji, you need to have proof of a flight departing the country. I found that out at the last minute while I was still in New Zealand. So instead of booking a last minute flight out of Fiji on some random date to some random Australian city, I devised a fake itinerary which worked like magic. (I personally don’t advise this, as it is risky. Go with your gut.) Anyways, back to the subject of my volunteering household.

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Among the group of initial greets, a few standouts were a group of college students from Seattle, Ethan- a southerner from North Carolina, Karen – a laid back gal who hails from Seattle, Annika (Germany) and Sara and Leah, two friends from Chicago. We mingled for awhile as other volunteers made their way into the house. A volunteer who has been there for awhile already, Mychaela, lives ten minutes from my mom in Michigan. Look at that! She’s freakin’ hilarious by the way. The last volunteer to stroll in that night introduced himself as Hamish.

“Hamish?” I thought out loud.”What kind of name is that?” It just kinda came out.

“It’s very common actually,” he responded with a grin. He hails from Sydney and this is also his first major solo romp. He sat down next to me and a couple of others I was chatting with and I could already tell from the words coming out of his mouth that this guy is the most Australian Aussie I’ve ever met in my life and I’ve met tons. I thought I’ve heard all the Aussie slang but it was like he spoke an entirely different language. I wasn’t sure at the time if he was toying with me or if this was legit how he speaks. It was legit how he speaks! If anything, his Aussie slang will help prepare me for my pending trip to Australia.


Most of us new volunteers went out the next night to the only bar in town, called Sports Bar. There was nothing sporty about it. Not even a single television. It was kind of a shit hole and we were the only ones there, but still it was a great way to bond with the group I would be spending most of my time with. And no matter how many times I volunteer, no one group is like the other.

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The IVHQ Fiji volunteer group.
Soon I will begin my placement at one of the local primary schools nearby. Like every country I’ve taught in, I expected it to be challenging in a good way. A new culture, new ideals, and different languages always present a few hurdles to bound. In a way, it’s like deducing a puzzle. It always takes a few days but I eventually get the hang of it.

One thing for sure is that I always grow fond of the students I teach and I’m sure the ones here in Fiji will be just as fond-worthy.