The Faces of Fiji

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As people return from journeys, I think it must be a common occurrence to be still and reflect. It is almost ceremonial in nature for me to settle in the airplane seat and start at the beginning of the adventure and play it back like a home movie in my head. To the observer looking on from a chair nearby, it must appear a curious thing—the changes in expression with eyes closed, the brows that furrow then rise, the smile that start gently at the corner of the mouth and spread to expose all teeth. Once in a while an actual laugh escapes, then stillness, and sometimes an actual tear as the vision of goodbyes pass into the present. A deep breath as eyes open and now is the time to reach for the journal and a pen to capture the precious moments before they lose their brilliance.

Each place has images that linger, and an overarching theme emerges that summarizes the span of time experienced. In Fiji, there were things familiar to a traveler of the Pacific Islands; palms, bougainvillea, hibiscus—and still plenty more to discover. The trade winds have a unique feel as they come in sudden bursts and change direction mid-sentence, causing the hair to blow one way, then shift. Gentle one moment then aggressive the next, the trees blow and remind me of a life that is ever-changing and our need to be flexible as we encounter what comes our way. The breathtaking beauty of this country is surreal, generally associated with exotic pleasure and leisure as reflected on postcards and travel brochures.

Yet there is much work to be done; in particular the most rewarding of all – the changing of thought, the expansion of understanding. It always comes with a sense of great accomplishment, preparing and installing equipment and watching the faces when the light switch is turned on with great pomp and circumstance. We plant trees and crops knowing that we have a place in the circle of life and that as the saplings grow we can remember them and watch them grow through the years. We are creating one of the most powerful of connections I have ever experienced. Its as though their roots are intertwined with ours; the life-force that connects us is not diminished as the expanse between us grows with each passing mile.

My thoughts linger the longest on the beach of Malake and the faces of the children, remembering conversations as the young ones gathered alongside us to collect the trash the ocean had spewed onto the sand. They were so innocent as they shared how they gather their garbage to place it by the animal pens for “the sea to take it all away.” It was imperative to note how the expression changed on their faces as we talked about how the waters bring it back because it is not wanted by her. As the morning passed, the idea spread and the children—the ones who will shape the future of the delicate island—had a dawning realization that an action given little thought before had a consequence needing to be considered. In discussions later in the day, a visit from a barge to pick up the hundreds of pounds of batteries, cans, broken glass and discarded clothing would be an event as the elders work with our partner CI towards a sustainable solution.

One special snippet in time that makes it to the treasure box is when a grown man humbly asked for forgiveness in a gathering of the village for the disrespect shown to their island and to our planet. And in a moment that took our breath away, bringing tears springing to the eyes of the onlookers, we saw this gentle soul (so choked with emotion he needed to pause) present a challenge to the people to educate, to understand, most importantly – to change. It sounds unbelievable now, like something created to entertain, but it was one of the most honest moments I have ever seen in my lifetime and more powerful than the most gifted motivator I have witnessed. His face is imprinted on my memory always as a confirmation that the time spent as a member of Generation V will add value to every single life who embraces the culture. 

If you ever doubt that one person can change the course of history, I would answer that the power of one is the only thing that will. Our adventure is just beginning; join us.