Thanks to a favourable windshift at the weekend, a further eight boats have arrived in Fulaga so on Monday there was quite a crowd in the Chief's house for the sevusevu ceremony. Most of the boats are over at the Sandspit anchorage whist we, Ithaka, Sel Citron (our mates Kerry & Damian, who arrived on Sunday) and a couple of others are anchored at the village landing place.
We've come to realise that some crews are happy to meet the villagers when they first arrive but then congregate, like a group of expats, over at the Sandspit anchorage at the far side of the lagoon, content just to enjoy the stunning beach and wonderful views. However, we've been to lots of islands with stunning beaches and wonderful views so, for some of us, the incredibly rare opportunity to become involved in village life is really the thing that makes Fulaga so special. Colin and Ana on Ithaka are certainly in that camp and on Monday Ana (a physiotherapist) was giving a talk, complete with demonstrations, to the women of the Weaving Group, about pelvic floor exercises!
Every time we go ashore we learn a little more about life on this remote island, about the relationships where everyone is somehow related to everyone else it seems and even those who've arrived from other islands have an interesting story to tell. We had lunch with Sera the island nurse and her husband Sikele the other day – lovely people who have lived in Suva whilst Sera was training and returned last November to their home island for probably a couple of years before her next posting – and got an informed opinion on some of the challenges and as well as the delights of a small community. Gossip is definitely an issue in these small villages and the Monday Weaving Group (strictly ladies only) began with a very emotional but effective 'clear the air' session where concerns were openly aired and resolved; it made us think about all the angst that Facebook and similar inventions cause in our world where we've lost the ability to resolve differences face-to-face.
The 'expat' yachts are missing all this and also don't experience the delight on the villagers' faces when we walk in and find the daily volleyball game starting at about 3.00 pm. They enjoy our fumbled attempts at playing, though they are very supportive and encouraging, and then more of the regular players arrive so the pace and skill increases to the point that, one by one, we bow out to enjoy watching them. It's an inclusive game for them; men and women play on equal terms and the peals of laughter and the happy chatter is, for us, one of the main soundtracks of village life. The teamwork and competitiveness of the game must be another vital component of harmonious living here. The arrival of the new boats, even if they don't come to participate in village life, was welcomed, though, particularly as the island had completely run out of kava and the next supply boat isn't due until next week. The yagona roots brought by each yacht for the sevusu were quickly distributed on Monday but it seems that binge-drinking isn't only a British problem; there was a day and late-night kava session and now they have run out again!
Yesterday morning we were involved in the beginning of the next chapter of a Fulaga story that's very important to us. Regular readers will remember that last year our brilliantly-talented host Meli had been making a new dug-out canoe up in the forest, the first to be built here for at least six years. We helped haul the 25' hull out of the forest (the first foreigners to witness such an event) and if you search YouTube for 'Maunie of Ardwall' you'll find a video of the adventure. Following Meli's death (at only 48) last year, the canoe was left above the high-tide line here but his brothers Alfreti (aka Lutu) and Mini said they wanted to finish it. On Sunday we showed them the video, which included a sequence of Meli shaping a section of wood for the foredeck so we suggested that we could go and retrieve it as it was still at the site of the felled tree.
So, with the crews of Sel Citron and Ithaka, we set off into the forest and scrambled up the rocky 'path', wondering how on earth we managed to manhandle the heavy canoe down it. The abandoned poles, used as rollers, still littered the route and Meli's 'workshop' was pretty much as we left it almost a year ago. The deck piece, about 6' long, was shaped to fit the bow but was a heavy wedge of hardwood. about 3" thick at the front and 6" at the back. With some incredibly deft work with a chainsaw, Lutu made a lot of criss-cross cuts on the underside and then he, Graham and Colin used adzes to chip out a hollow so that the deck was only about an inch thick and, of course, a lot lighter. Lutu was clearly a little apprehensive about the whole job because, though he's a talented wood carver, he explained that he had never built a canoe before; however he looked increasingly happy as the job progressed. After only about an hour and a half's work, the deck, plus chainsaw and tools were carried down the rocky path and back to the dinghies.
When we got back to the beach, the deck was placed onto the canoe and it fitted absolutely perfectly. Lutu's smile was just wonderful to behold and we think Meli was smiling down on us too.