Friday, June 23, 2017

A Day In School
By Michael
SAVUSAVU, FIJI

Thanuja graciously extended an offer for the girls to attend Arindie's school for the day. "I even have extra uniforms the girls can wear."

We woke early for the Robertsons, scarfed down breakfast, and arrived in Lautoka by 8:30. The girls quickly changed into school uniforms and we got back in our rental car for the 5-minute trip to Arindie's school.

The entire student body was seated in a small quad, a concrete island surrounded by classrooms. As we exited the car on the road in front of the school, we could hear the headmaster wrapping up his morning briefing.

Then he saw us approach.

"Wait! Wait students. Sit back down."

Now at this point in the story, I'll tell you that the girls were eager to check out Arindie's school, but also a bit nervous.

Neither girl expected the ebullient welcome they received upon arrival. It was a blast for this parent to watch. I got the video rolling as quickly as I could:



One thing that isn't easy to see in the video, but which was totally apparent in person, is the reaction of the two classes when the principal announced the girls would sit in with the 5th and 7th grades. Each distinct group of 30 or so kids exploded in cheers and high-fives like they'd won the lottery. It was pretty cool.

At the end of the day we picked the girls up and they were comfortable and beaming. It was a good day.

--MR

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Day One in Fiji: A Wedding
By Michael
NADI, FIJI


Frances, Arindie, and Eleanor, in
wedding attire.
Yesterday I was behind the wheel of a rented Nissan Tiida driving down a narrow, pot-holed highway headed out of the city. On the phone and in the passenger seat next to me was a Sri Lankan judge contracted by the Fijian government to preside over rape and murder cases for the nation's highest court. We were lost.

The judge hung up, "I'm sorry, turn around, he says it's back by the crematorium we passed a while ago."

72 hours earlier, shortly after Windy, the girls, and I landed tired and jetlagged in Fiji, I emailed the judge to let him know we'd arrived. We were eager to finally meet. We'd been in contact since last fall, when my good friend Manjula put us in touch. "Aruna and Thanuja and their kids are family." He explained that they are in Fiji for three years and that we should look them up when we go back."

Aruna, the judge, responded to my arrival email right away. He asked if we wanted to get together that evening, offering to let us accompany him and his family to an Indian wedding.

"Wow, that would be a very cool experience, but there's no way. We all can hardly keep our eyes open and besides, our tattered clothing isn't wedding-appropriate."

At 6:30 the next morning, I got Aruna's emailed response. "If you're really interested in attending a traditional Indian wedding, get dressed, eat breakfast, and start driving towards Lautoka. We'll meet you at the University of Fiji and escort you to the Lomolomo Village."

After a couple more hurried email exchanges and a frantic visit to our hotel's gift shop to buy something more appropriate than our cruisers' clothes, we raced down the dock, took the shuttle boat across the isthmus to our rental car, and sped away. Aruna and his family were waiting for us in the university parking lot.

After quick introductions and hugs, we learned that Indian weddings last for 4 days and that our hosts were taking a break this day, sending us instead with their 12-year-old daughter, whom we'd known for 40 seconds.

I thought puffer fish were poison, served only
in select Japanese restaurants where patrons
put their lives in the hands of an expert chef.
Yet, we see them for sale everywhere.
"Arindie will show you the way. Stay as long as you want. She'll direct you back to our house when you're done and we'll have a traditional Sri Lankan dinner ready for you."

The wedding was indeed interesting. We were there for the final ceremony, before the reception the following day (though we did enjoy a wonderful buffet lunch following the ceremony; it's difficult to imagine the scale of the official reception). Everything was in Hindi, and went on for hours, but it passed quickly, a feast for the ears and eyes.

For the next couple of days, Aruna and Thanuja and their two kids made us feel like honored guests in Fiji. Their generosity and hospitality was remarkable. They welcomed us into their home, introduced us to their friends, and showed us more of Lautoka than we'd have seen on our own.

On our last evening together, I drove Aruna out of town in search of the auto repair shop where their vehicle was waiting to be picked up.

"I'm sorry we're lost, that I'm taking your time," he told me.

I looked at the tall, jagged peaks on the horizon and at the fields of dense sugar cane that surrounded us. At the people on the side of the road sitting behind neat piles of live crabs wrapped in banana leaves they hoped to sell. At the smiles on the faces that looked down at me from the windows of a passing bus. At the High Court judge in the passenger seat next to me who had just taught me about the 1956 catalyst for the Tamil uprising in his native Sri Lanka.

"No, don't be sorry, Aruna. There's really no place I'd rather be."

--MR
Exploring First Landing after the wedding.

The Robertsons and our new Sri Lankan friends. Missing from the photo
is Asel, Arindie's little brother. Also missing are the friends and neighbors
that Aruna and Thanuja introduced us to: Sanath and Ranga.

The Loutoka market is a feast for the eyes.

The girls on a Loutoka carnival ride.

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