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October 2, 2012 / By Administrator

Cultural Immersion in Fiji

(Written by Maggie Jeffries)

I think most people would describe me as a quiet and shy person, when they first meet me. In the past few years I have definitely grown and become much more outgoing than I used to be but I still do not like to be the center of attention. One of things that helped me come out of my shell more than anything else was my 5 month study abroad trip to Fiji. Here I was in a completely different culture and I was the minority for the first time in my life. Like it or not, from time to time I stood out for no other reason than the color of my hair and skin. It was truly a learning experience. One of my favorite moments, the moment I knew I had to be able to roll with the flow or I would be taken down by the current, was when I took a trip to a village.

One of my classes while I was in Fiji was called Pacific Worlds and we learned about the many different pacific cultures in the Islands. The class was made up of equal parts Americans and then Islanders from all over the South Pacific: Fiji, Samoa, Salomon Islands, Tonga, and Kiribati. To allow us to experience Fijian Culture, we went to stay in a village for a week. I was excited but very nervous. When we arrived we were going to be assigned to our “families” and for the week we would live with them and be no different from any other family member.

We took a bus to the village and after a long and exciting welcome ceremony; we went off to our respective houses and met with our families for another welcome ceremony. The next morning was a Sunday and my boa, or father, was going to be giving the sermon at the church which was right next to the house. Because of this, I had to look good according to my lewa, or mother. A few of the younger girls took me down to the river to bathe and then my lewa began to assemble me. First she took me into my room and striped off my clothes. She then redressed me in a sulu (which is a long skirt) and chamba (a dress that goes to about mid-calf) of hers which were very beautiful. She then pulled me into the living room where the real work began. She first covered my arms and legs in baby powder. Then she took my very fine hair and coated it in coconut oil. This left much to be desired because all it did was make my hair even more limp and really oily looking. She was a little upset about it but you could see she just wanted me to feel Fijian for the day so she soldiered on. The next step was spraying me down with perfume which I am pretty sure lingered on my skin until we left that Friday. With a final flourish she handed me a palm frond fan and a bible with a $2 Fiji note discreetly hidden in its pages for the offering. She took a step back to admire her handy work and exclaimed “Oh they will laugh at you!” and shoved me out the door so she could get ready.

This was a situation that tested my ability to accept what was going on with a smile; or allow my shy personality get the best of me and run and hide. Not everyone laughed at me… but quite a few people did, especially those who were in my class. But I found out that a sulu and chamba really is the best thing to wear in the tropical Fijian heat and that the people in the village respected that I was trying to experience how they lived. I felt embarrassed for maybe five minutes but then I just decided to enjoy my time and remember what the Fijians all around me were saying: “Sega Na Leqa” which means No Worries.