Eyes flutter open. You see a cloud of white mesh all around. You feel thoroughly sticky and quite katakata (hot), but these are sensations you’ve come to embrace. You close your eyes once more, reflecting on your last memories before falling asleep: Fijian lullabies from the nearby community hall with the ocean gently singing along. Your stomach tells you that you drank too much grog last night, but you don’t care. Rays of light beckon you through the cracks in the door and wooden window shades, as the sun whispers, “come look.” So, snatching your sulu (wraparound skirt) and journal, you hop over sleeping girls and exit the little house to sparkling waves, white sand, sea breeze, and a glorious sunrise. You know in just a little while the village will wake up and you’ll hear friendly voices saying Yadra sia, good morning. What will the day hold?

Chris and Maika are hard at work. Photo credit: Jes Therkelsen.
Chris and Maika are hard at work. Photo credit: Jes Therkelsen.

Perhaps horseback riding, crafting with joyful children, dancing, sawing wood, nailing cabinets,  going to the sea, jumping off a rope swing, painting the community center, snorkeling, finding spidery starfish, whistling to hermit crabs, weaving mats, cracking open a coconut by means of machete, singing with a famous band, reflecting with a teammate, showering in a waterfall, napping in a hammock on the beach, hauling rocks from a river to make an irrigation trough, frying up some ro-ro (my favorite Fijian food) or delicious fresh fish, starting a spontaneous limbo game, eating the most succulent pineapple of your life from Balei’s garden, singing and praying in church, drinking round after round of grog (water strained through ground yaqona root which provides a tongue-numbing sensation and a deep calm), and gazing at a sky full of stars before climbing under your net to sleep.

Kylie and Maddie enjoy pineapple from Balei's garden. Photo credit: Jes Therkelsen
Kylie and Maddie enjoy pineapple from Balei’s garden. Photo credit: Jes Therkelsen

“Fiji is a life.”

This brief song lyric, written by my friend Inoke from the band, embodies our experience on the Fiji Service-Learning Adventure 2015 all too well. Beyond the exciting activities that fellow Fresno State students, a few faculty, and I experienced in Naboutini, Fiji was an exhilarating embrace from the villagers and an immersion in their beautiful culture of patience, overwhelming love of neighbor, and kindheartedness. There was an absence of the anxieties of our materialistic, time-obsessed world, replaced by a genuine concern for the well-being of the community. I will never forget the new “life” and perspective these Fijians gave me during my time in the village.

Singing "Fiji" with the band, Drodrolagi kei nautosolo. Photo credit: Chris Fiorentino
Singing “Fiji” with the band, Drodrolagi kei nautosolo. Photo credit: Chris Fiorentino

The trip did require, admittedly, quite a bit of endurance and perseverance against the heat, humidity, unfriendly insects and adjustments to a new way of life (diet, etc.). But I quickly found unfaltering joy amidst any slight discomfort, and proceeded to create incredible bonds with teammates and villagers alike.

The dream team! Photo credit: Chris Fiorentino
The dream team! Photo credit: Chris Fiorentino

It was incredible to discover that the most beautiful things on earth to one person can be commonplace to another. My breath was stolen at the wonders we saw while snorkeling, but our friend Jim just nonchalantly handed me sea cucumbers and bright blue starfish and couldn’t begin to fathom my wonder at his backyard coral reef. Also, Mere, our Fijian mother, must have thought we were overly dramatic during our cool, refreshing waterfall showers. The once-in-a-lifetime experience for us was her washing machine. She looked so beautiful, perched on a rock, scrubbing and rinsing her many sulus.

The lesson I took from my experience that I am bringing to Fresno is this: kindness must be a culture rather than a series of acts. The vastly different culture of Fiji stole my heart and broadened my perspective. From here forward in all aspects of my life and especially when serving others, I plan to be more intentional with my words and deeds and willing to make new connections.

Snorkeling! Photo credit: Cassie Niino
Snorkeling! Photo credit: Cassie Niino

The villagers showered me with love and incredible generosity and changed my life, but the question remains: how did I impact them? I brought guitar strings, water colors, crayons, and construction paper with some donations I was given beforehand, and they were received with gratitude. Many beautiful memories came from using these supplies. However, I feel like our team’s presence and willingness to serve meant the most. I loved the villagers back to my best ability. I loved their home, culture, music, lighthearted personalities, and traditions, and I carry that love in my heart still.

My Fiji experience has developed my heart for international service and broadened my worldview in the best way. I look forward to giving more love and employing the lessons I learned in future service endeavors.

Little Timoce was always watching and learning with those beautiful dark eyes. He'd get so joyful when I'd acknowledge him! Photo credit: Jordan Nicholson
Little Timoce was always watching and learning with those beautiful dark eyes. He’d get so joyful whenever I acknowledged him! Photo credit: Jordan Nicholson

Interested in international service? Check out Madventurer–we had smooth sailing with this incredible, inspiring organization. Also, for students, keep an eye on the Division of Continuing and Global Education for upcoming opportunities, or contact the Richter Center to answer any questions regarding volunteering, community engagement, and service-learning.

Life is short; the world is a vast place. How will you step outside your comfort zone to share your time and talents? What need do you see here at home that you can fill? Would you consider international service?

~Ambassador Lilliana

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