Moving to Fiji and Letting Go of My Inhibitions
When I signed up for Peace Corps, I never expected to end up in the South Pacific. I was moving to Fiji. I knew very little about the South Pacific and island life, I was not prepared for this. But, as a Peace Corps Volunteer, I knew it wasn’t going to be easy. It was going to be uncomfortable adapting, adjusting, integrating to the inevitable changes in my new life.
I was on a bus with my fellow volunteers as we headed to our training villages for our homestay. I had never lived with a host family before and was definitely feeling intimidated.
After arriving in our respective training villages, the volunteers headed to the community hall to offer kava for a sevu sevu ceremony, a ritual to welcome us to the village. Once the kava was consumed, we were introduced to our host families. My host mother greeted me with a sniff kiss, which is customarily done by the women. Upon being welcomed into my host family, I sat uncomfortably. I was realizing that my three words of Fijian were not going to get me very far.
Dancing let me analyze, learn, observe, and be apart of the culture in a way that talking could not convey.
I hoped that giggling nervously and smiling would only be my temporary coping strategy.
Moments later, my host sisters started playing music called “Azonto.” As I listened to the music, I became more relaxed and decided to try to connect through dance. I got up to dance with them, my worries about integrating melted away. Dancing let me analyze, learn, observe. I began to be apart of the culture in a way that talking could not convey.
Danisi, which means dance, was one of the first words I learned in Fijian.
When the music ended, my host family dressed me in a traditional sulu jaba (pronounced chamba) for dinner in the community hall. Once the food was gone, it was back to drinking kava, or grog as they call it. The South Pacific is known for its consumption of kava, and Fiji is no different. In Fiji, kava is pounded and mixed in with water. When mixed, kava looks like murky water.
When consumed, kava tastes like muddy water, and makes your tongue go numb. To feel the sedative properties of kava, you must consume bilo vaka levu (many bowls). The kava is mixed in a bowl called a tanoa. It’s served out of coconut shells. In Fijian culture, you clap once to receive the bowl of grog, drink it in its entirety, then return the bowl and clap three times.
Through dancing and drinking grog, I was able to break down barriers and integrate into my community.
During the grog session, the men were in a smaller circle in the back of the community hall playing guitars and ukuleles and singing. It was at this time that my host sisters called me back and instructed me to dance with certain men of the village. I gladly rose to the occasion, as I saw it as a learning experience, and knew that it was very entertaining to the Fijians to see a kavalagi girl (white) dance in their community hall.
Through dancing and drinking grog, I was able to break down barriers and integrate into my community. After the initial night of opening myself up, I opened myself up to bigger and better experiences in traditional Fijian culture.
Getting out of my comfort zone, out of my head, and embracing the embarrassment, laughter, and ridiculousness of it all allowed me to learn how to connect and live in Fiji. Appreciating my awkwardness, laughing at myself, and allowing myself to get it wrong were all skills I learned up in Fiji.
Dance crosses culture and ultimately served as my bridge that linked my American and Fijian communities.
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Moving to Fiji and Letting Go of My Inhibitions photo credits unsplash and Mollie Munro.