Above: the anchorage; Bale and Akosita aboard Maunie
Both of us had felt a few slight misgivings about returning to Fulaga; after such a wonderful experience here last year, would it be an anti-climax and, with the tragic death last year of our host and dear friend, Meli, would we be overcome with sadness? We need not have worried. After five days here we are feeling as though we never left and the warmth of the welcome given to us has been overwhelming.
We went ashore on Wednesday morning to present our sevusevu with 5 other boats - Ithaka (Scotland), Anico & Antares (Germany) and Ranganui (NZ), all Fulaga virgins. At the beach, waiting for us, were Alfreti and Mini, Meli's younger brothers, who led us into the village; on the 1-mile path we met lots of familiar faces and we received wonderful, big hugs and happy smiles and just everyone remembered our names (including many of the school kids when we walked past the playground). Luckily we remembered most of the names of those who greeted us. The other cruisers must have wondered what we did here last time as we certainly felt like the returning prodigals!!
One of the village elders,Tai, did the introduction of all the new visitors to Chief Daniel (now 89 but looking very well) who seemed to be very pleased to see us and was all smiles. He became very solemn during the sevusevu ceremony (conducted entirely in Fijian, punctuated with resonant hand-claps (known as cobos) and, at the end, shook hands with each of us in turn and said 'Bula' (welcome) then, with a twinkle in his eye, pretended he didn't know Tai so shook his hand and said 'Bula' to him too.
The ceremony over, Tai arranged to take each yacht crew to meet their host family. He explained to us that we had 'jumped houses' (the task of hosting is done in strict rotation) as Alfeti and his wife Bale had asked to host us in memory of Meli; this was really touching and they now live in Meli and Jiko's house where Pussy the cat is still there begging for food by putting a paw on your knee just as she did with Meli. It was a bit emotional to talk about Meli but lovely to be able to chat over lemon-leaf tea and delicious pancakes. Jiko is now living with her brother in her family village of Naividamu, across the lagoon so we'll see her there in the next few days.
Alfreti and Bale came aboard Maunie on that first evening as Alfetie had caught a big crab that morning and Bale had made delicious rotis. They bought with them their great-niece Akosita who is nearly three; she's living with them for a few months, a fairly common practice with the big families in Fiji. Once her shyness had worn off she was chatting and singing away to Dianne in the cabin. Alfreti and Bale spend quite a few months each year in Suva and Nadi; unlike his brothers, Alfreti left the island in his youth and spend 18 years in the city, but still calls Fulaga 'home'. Incidentally, our conversations with them illustrated the challenges we have in remembering names here'; we noticed that Bale and other locals called Alfreti 'Lutu'. "That's my middle name" he explained, "but some people in the village also call me 'Fere', it's my nickname." We have no chance!
So, lovely to be back and it's been full-on ever since we arrived. We've been dancing, fishing, playing volleyball and laughing a lot with the locals. More updates to follow, we'd better get ready for church this morning.