Farewell Fiji!!!

 

Bula Vinaka,

 

Last beach day with the girls.

Last beach day with the girls

Post volunteering tends to be a reflective and important time to me. It’s during the weeks after I’ve returned from another country that I start to process what I actually experienced. I begin to learn from the lessons I was taught (usually unintentional) and see my trip both as a whole, as well as piece by piece. I lay in bed, seeing faces in my mind that make me smile and little voices that make me yearn for a little hand in mine. I share story after story with anyone who will listen and naturally compare my everyday life, to the one I merely glanced at. Sure, I was there a month, enough time to make lasting connections and friendships, however short enough that when I blinked I was saying a tearful goodbye to a family I wasn’t ready to leave. And so, it is with these words that I will complete our journey, on [virtual] paper, for it will always continue on the inside.

Vivili Dance Crew

Vivili Dance Crew

My last week spent in Fiji was like a frantic checklist…did I do that, do they have that, where can I make the biggest impact, did I write a thank you letter and sign the guest book? It’s a time in which moments hurry by and you desperately try to stall, far too familiar of the goodbye just around the corner. Each day I would hear, “this is your last week Jasmine, last five days, last Saturday, last dinner, last breakfast…Jasmine, we are really going to miss you, when will you come back? Come back soon, please come back soon”. The awareness of a departure is both a blessing and a curse. We all know it’s coming so we squeeze in every last hug and great conversation, we open ourselves up further in order to deepen our friendships, yet the focus on the departure makes the days run through our fingers like squeezing a fist full of sand. It brings sadness too many days before, but it also makes the connections we have created mean something.

As I watched my dancers dance the choreography they so joyfully lapped up for the last time, my heart felt both fulfilled, yet longing. I long to give them the gift of movement, always. Their smiles and excitement, watching them practice every day. Walking around the village, witnessing  groups of girls teach one another the steps that they found difficult, hearing their sweet & sassy voices mimic Shakira, paired with movement they were proud of…that’s life. I’ve spent the last five years on a hiatus from dance, I was wounded somewhere along the way and even though I worked through my pain, the movement wouldn’t return, it felt like my body just stopped working. But, somehow the children in Vivili Village brought it back to me. I learned that no matter the hurt or self inflected poison you try to convince yourself of, you can always go deep to give. You can forgive yourself of the years that have changed your body and listen to the pulse that once reminded you that you were alive. I forgot about New York, my agent and why I walked away from dance. It was Fiji, the children’s desire and need to move that taught me how to breathe again.

Tasting Bololo!!

Tasting Bololo!!

Bololo!!

Bololo (sea worms)!!

Tears flowed, gifts were shared, donations continued to bless others and put a smile on my face. Arts and crafts hour, colorful story books about Alaska were read, time and again which brought laughter and curiosity, a great combination. Working with a local women’s group in Naidi Village, in which I was able to be a part of a significant and powerful group of women. We shared stories, they shared concerns and were able to have questions answered. Ideas brewed and I walked away feeling like I gave all I could have given. I tried a mouth full of Bololo, the reproductive part of a sea worm that only comes out twice a year under the moon and is highly anticipated by the locals…it was, salty! I embraced the freezing cold showers even more and didn’t mind the heat. When the mango’s would play their drums on the tin roof above my bedroom I would chuckle, wondering if the bats would get the ripe mango or the children. I walked through the crowded Saturday market one last time, taking in the smells of overly ripe bananas & papaya, touched the newest harvest in season, smiled at familiar faces, bought as many Indian spices possible hoping to bring the curry  flavors to life in my own kitchen. I smelled the fish and the sweat of the hundreds of people on their big shopping day. I talked with friends, heard my name called out by school children I had taught and even teachers saying their goodbyes. I felt prematurely nostalgic amidst the Saturday hustle. I carefully watched the colorful money exchanged between dark, hard working hands, to my fare colored, soft hands and felt frustration brew, for it is this colorful paper that stands between too many and their hopes and dreams. I bought small handicrafts to remind me of my time in Fiji, supporting the local women, grabbing at items I had hoped would bring me back to that very moment in time.

My last meal with our Fijian family.

My last meal with our Fijian family

Nau (Grandma) Lily.

Nau (Grandma) Lily

It was my last days with our Fijian family that made it all worth it. I was so loved, showered with smiles, meals, conversations, baby snuggles, children’s laughter and companionship that it was then I realized the overabundant life I was going back to was going to be void of the noise and beautiful chaos I loved so dearly. It was those moments that my home would be far too quite and the sound of little feet running around would be non existent, giggles filling the air, foreign smells sneaking under my door and village life outside my window. It was then I realized, living in a home with twenty two other people not once took a toll on me. I did not ever feel as if I needed time alone or a break. I never got tired of always having someone around and I knew how desperately I would miss “Yandra Jasmine” (good Morning), “Moce Jasmine” (goodnight).

We, as a family set out to raise money in order to help a nation in need. We felt a special connection to these tiny islands in the South Pacific and so we made Fiji our focus for over a year. We committed ourselves to first bringing awareness here at home, but it was the grueling process of raising the funds and collecting donations that all of you made possible. It was not feasible to do it alone and we didn’t have to. As this journey comes to a close I realize, yet again, that we were merely the ones to deliver the acts of kindness that you shared. We were the ones to put new shoes on a happy boy because you gave them. We were able to teach children how to read, because your  children shared their books. We were able to help pregnant women in far out villages with prenatal vitamins, cloth diapers, rattles and clothing, because you felt moved to do so. We were able give more toothbrushes than I could count and work to eliminate toothless smiles and painful mouths because you felt it was important. You helped over fifty Fijians read and see again with new specs and reading glasses. It was because of you that 130 children have new notebooks and can attend school prepared. Without your generosity, all the medical supplies donated to the hospital and clinic would still be needed. Without your desire to give we couldn’t have helped an entire village begin to drink clean water. SO, you see it is YOU that we are thankful for.

Baby Faith.

Baby Faith

Vivili Village

Vivili Village

Vinaka Vakalevu to all of our friends, family, co-workers, strangers and supporters for all you have done. It is with so much gratitude that I urge you to take a moment and realize your help truly made a difference. I also want to say thank you, from the bottom of our hearts to our Fijian family. You opened your home to us and wasted not a single moment making us feel comfortable and adored. You taught us about your culture and let us share in your traditions, you laughed with us and cried with us. Most importantly, you taught us what the meaning of family really is. You taught us how selfless one can be and how giving you are. We watched you work hard day in and day out without a single complaint. We watched resilience and joy go hand in hand. You gave us the greatest gift of all, the gift of family.

Farewell Jasmine...

Farewell Jasmine…

It is my great honor to put the closing words on another journey that JACARA and our family made possible. I know, more than ever before that I am a blessed woman, wife, sister, daughter, niece, friend and human being. It is my hope that you feel the gratitude seeping from my every pore, for it is also yours to indulge in! Thank you to the Naqaqa Giving Foundation, Max, Jone and all of their staff for all of your time, answers, patience and commitment to Fiji and it’s people.

To learn more about how you can volunteer in Fiji or perhaps bring your talents and knowledge to make a difference, please visit www.fijicharity.org or reach out to me (Jasmine) personally at Jasmine@fijicharity.org.

With a deep breath and a content smile, VINAKA VAKALEVU & Farewell Fiji, until next time!!

Jasmine, Jared and the JACARA Team

To make a greater difference; JACARA will donate 10% of ALL profits earned to the Naqaqa Giving Foundation!