Two Week-Long Stays (take 2)

Trip Start Feb 13, 2008
Trip End Jun 17, 2008

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Friday, June 13, 2008

Eat, sleep, relax... that is the Fijian way. - my Fijian homestay host

I've decided that I'm not satisfied enough with these last posts to leave them as is.  I've kept the Oz section as is but updated the Fiji section.  If you care to read on, please do. 

Just over two weeks ago, I rode a bus into the hills of northern New South Wales with the goal of finding an Australian farm with an Australian family working on it, so that I'd finally get a real-life Australian experience (outside of Couchsurfing).  I arrived in the town of Nimbin, which I found out upon arrival was the hippie and drug capital of Australia.  I'd contacted a family earlier and was there to meet them, but when I arrived the whole family ended up having the flu.  They referred me to their friend, an Austrian guy working on a nearby farm, but when I got to his farm everyone, including the owner, was German.  I did a little more research and found a farm close by that seemed to meet the criteria I was looking for. 

I got to the farm, and the owner was slightly unprepared to receive me.  My first few days weren't very busy, and I spent most of my working hours helping the owner's brother build a deck on a guest house (also my living quarters), which was a good experience.  I also took on the task of dishwasher for most of the days.  This part of the country is known for its alternative (hippie) lifestyle.  To give you an idea of the types of people around here, the two guys who hung out at the farm every day are named Shany-O and Snake, both of whom were over 40 years old.  Later on, I helped to maintain the garden by weeding, spreading mulch, repairing the garden path, and helping to fix the surrounding fence.  Of all my little odd jobs, the most rewarding job: building the deck, the most depressing job: collecting cow manure with a shovel and wheelbarrow, the most physically demanding and dirty job: fencing.  Fencing, especially fencing in the rain, was bloody hard.  My partner and I had to dig post holes and dig out the mud with our hands (the holes were so deep we could put our arms in all the way up to the shoulder), then we had to fill in the holes (with the posts) with rocks and dirt, stamping down the rocks until the ground was solid.  Overall, the experience was pretty good, but after a few days the thought (and experience) of hard labor without making any money started getting to me.  The other thing that got to me was the constant rain.  I estimate that the total hours of sunlight during six days must have been less than six.  Performing physically demanding free labor in the rain while getting wet and muddy made me want my white collar job back.

Afterwards, I went to the Australia Zoo (formerly run by Steve Irwin) and checked out the various animals on display.  The first part of the day was pretty ordinary, but towards the end I was able to see some really good displays.  I got to feed a banana to an elephant at one point, who took it out of my hand with its trunk and put it in its mouth. 

After a short plane ride I arrived in Fiji, the birthplace of golfer Vijay Singh.  I intended to stay at a village homestay, so after talking to some people at the airport I went to Namatakula Village on the southern coast of Viti Levu, the main island.  I was surprised because although there wasn't an overwhelming array of things to do, time still went pretty fast (unlike in Costa Rica).  It might've been due to the fact that I was drinking kava, the traditional Fijian drink, every night.  Drinking kava causes people to become lazy and drowsy the following day, and I took a fair number of naps during the week I was there. 

I must say, these people do know how to live.  Many of them live off the land to provide themselves with just enough to fulfill their needs, and they never over-exert themselves unless it's in the name of rugby.  Some go fishing during nighttime and are able to catch a week's worth of fish in a few hours.  Those granted a piece of the village plantation by the village chief gather food and work the land for two hours in the morning, before it gets hot, and they decide later on whether or not to return for another hour or two of work in the afternoon.  The schoolkids never seem to have homework, and rugby takes on high priority.  The houses are set close enough together that it's really easy to meet your neighbors for a cup of tea or some light conversation, and often the village kids will run freely in and out of each other's houses throughout the afternoon.  Some parents don't know where their kids are all day, but they don't worry because the village is a safe place.  Every night, many of them will relax in the libations of the traditional Fijian drink known as kava.  Overall, the Fijians I met often like to describe their village as a place that the developed world might've been like back in the good old days. 

I try to be like a local when I visit a different culture, and the villagers noticed that I acted like a Fijian when I started roaming the village every day, entering people's houses, eating with my hands while sitting on the floor, and drinking kava every night.  Apparently I'm the first visitor to the village to act really "Fijian," which surprised me because I would've expected other visitors to the village to share the "when in Rome" philosophy.  After a week of eating some great food, talking to villagers, and napping like a three year-old, I left Fiji with many requests to visit the village again.  If I decide to visit again and stay longer, they promised to petition the village chief for a piece of land where I could build a house and a portion of the plantation where I could grow my own food.  Maybe they were under the influence of kava when they told me that one...

One thing I really enjoy about the developing world is the essence of life.  Every time I look at a child, I get the sense that their eyes are radiating a strong spirit.  Women are outside talking to each other while kids run around, men are walking home from working in the fields while telling jokes.  People are just getting things done to provide for their families, and they are very willing to help each other out.  I see smiles everywhere, and a lack of petty complaints.  It is this essence of life that I equate with my life as a backpacker.  I don't have many clothes so I stop caring about what I wear, I don't have a tight schedule to keep so I don't care if someone or something is a little late, and I don't have much of anything so I simply find enjoyment in the company of others and in my surroundings. 

I sometimes wonder who's more free: those who can afford all the things they want at the cost of increasingly stressful and demanding positions at work which require attention all the time, or those who can't afford most of the things they want but are able to spend time with family and friends and enjoy the essence of life. 
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janejlee on

ahhh. joe. your posts made me smile.. im glad you did this.. can't wait to catch up!

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