When we arrived in Fulaga we were 'adopted' by a family in the village, Meli, Jiko, Jona (8) and Jima (14 months). Meli was initially the 'strong, silent type' but mainly because his English wasn't that good; we soon found him to be a very caring and talented man and his English improved over the five weeks as we had more conversations with him.
Meli was, we discovered, one of the island's best carvers (an accolade in itself with so much talent in such a tiny place) and, almost from the moment we arrived, he and Jiko started to plan our leaving presents, in the nicest possible way. In a place where the people have so few material possessions (and are probably the happier for it), it struck all of us visiting cruisers that our hosts were so keen to give us leaving presents that would ensure that we would never forget them.
Anyway, Meli and Jiko soon realised that Dianne is madly keen on penguins; we think we gave them our boat card,featuring our penguin logo, designed by Graham's sister Hilary. Meli had, of course, never seen a penguin or, we later discovered, even a picture of one so he went to the school and looked in an encyclopedia - he even watched the DVD of 'Happy Feet' on the school's laptop!
So, armed with some sketches, he started to carve a penguin as our leaving gift. He accidentally left the unfinished carving on a shelf in the house one day and, though we pretended not to see it, Jiko realised that we had spotted it and so the secret was out. Actually this turned out to be a very good thing as we saw it transform, over many hours of work, from a rough outline into this:
at our request, he added his name to the base:
So the the carving has become known as Meli Penguin and, now that we've arrived in NZ, he's standing proudly on our nav table, looking up at the mast.
With the tragic news last week of Meli's death, Meli Penguin means even more to us; the carved drum that we bought from him as a wedding present for Dianne's godson and nephew Paul and Kaylie will likewise have an extra meaning.
So, Meli, this is a heartfelt tribute you to you. We feel privileged to have known you.
|A final farewell wave from Meli as we left Fulaga|