Aubergine or Eggplant Jam (Fools’ Raspberry) – Beaigani in Fijian

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The old MH Supermarket in Levuka, Ovalau Island, Fiji.

Here in Fiji, the home made jams are truly amazing.  There is such an abundance of fruit IMGP2410here.  Store bought jams are very, very sweet, and not really fruity.  You can buy home made jams at most open air daily markets.  Recently, I tried a jam made and sold by a friend, and it took me so many guesses as to the fruit!  I never guessed, and had to be told, as it is a bit of a game with this jam as it looks and tastes exactly like home made raspberry jam, but is much cheaper to make.

It also provides a bit of fun when you serve it to guests, or give a jar away, as you can play the guessing game yourself.  I have not had one person guess correctly yet, and they are amazed when the answer is revealed.

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Eggplant on sale at Nausori market yesterday, along with live birds

I don’t have any photos of the process, and will add them when I make it next time, but it is not rocket science, and there are no tricks!

Method and Ingredients

  • Chop about 10 Chinese eggplants into about 2cm cubes, leaving the seeds in, and put into a large, heavy based pot
  • Add 3 cups of sugar
  • Add juice of any kind of citrus to taste (2 large lemons, or 3 limes, or 3 organges)
  • Add the zest of the citrus (I normally just zest one but it is up to you)
  • star aniseSource picture: http://www.food.com/library/star-anise-345
  • Add water to cover
  • Optional – I add just one spur of the star anise,just because it makes the guessing game a bit more fun, and it gives a mellow undertone)
  • Bring to the boil and stir once in a while
  • When the jam begins to turn red, and you can see all the seeds have come out of the eggplants, then turn the heat down to a simmer and simmer until the jam becomes glossy
  • To test, drop a tiny drop from a spoon into a glass of water.  If the jam kind of sticks together and remains visible without immediately dispersing, it is done!

Bottle and enjoy the fun!

It will be a tiny bit more maroon, and less red than raspberry, but I defy any cook to give it the “guess test”, and let me know if anyone catches on.

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Recipe – Fijian Roro and corn balls with tamarind sauce

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Roro balls served with braised bele and cucumber, and fresh corn in our back yard

Fijian food is delicious!

If you come to Fiji, whether your hosts are iTaukei (indigenous) or Indo-Fijian, make sure that you ask them if it is ok if they serve you the normal food that they eat, as so many Fijians really do believe that you won’t like the food at all, and are really not sure what you will eat at all, as they believe that there is nothing in the cuisine that you will like.

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dinner at our place on a school night – mashed dalo, braised beans, and other goodies

Here is a little recipe which can be easily adapted if you want to try it.  These balls are really light and delicious and are the perfect quick fix if you are having friends over for drinks at the last minute, or have to take something to a party.  It is my husband’s only concession to Kava (yaqona – pronounce yangona) drinking and our mix of cultures.  Traditionally, food is not eaten at all until all of the Kava is finished and the guests are gone.  In fact, it is traditional that the male guests do not eat no matter what kind of feast is prepared, but you must pack a meal for them to take home.  It is a real panic if you have inadvertently run out of yoghurt containers for the purpose!  Anyway, I digress: if my husband invites people home, he asks if I can cook this quick snack, and serve it while the kava ceremony is in progress, which is normally several hours.

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Dom with his dinner

This snack is served at roadside food vendors all over Fiji (here, they are called Bean Carts).  Roro is actually the name for the green dalo leaf which looks like an elephant ear, but the balls are not made with roro.  If you do try and use roro, you will find that the balls make your throat itch, as roro needs to be cooked for a long time to take away that side effect.  Indo-Fijians use mothe which is kind of like English Spinach, but I use bele as a substitute.  Bele has a bigger leaf, and is related to the hibiscus plant, and for me at least is much easier to grow.

The only thing you have to do is make sure that you have some pea flour (besan flour), normal flour or plain flour, and oil in the cupboard just in case.  The rest you can wing it.

This recipe is courtesy of Mrs Kumar of Shane Cafe in Nausori, Fiji, but I have adapted it slightly as I like to use the coconut scrapes (or fresh grated coconut) as many families simply throw it out.

All of the fresh ingredients normally come from our garden, and you can use your common sense and substitute for other stuff you have lying around.

Ingredients

  • 1 cob fresh corn – cut kernels off the cob (or a small tin of corn)

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    Roni with some corn from our yard

  • 1 cup very finely chopped bele, mothe, or spinach/silverbeet (bele and mothe are soft leafy vegetables freely available in Fiji)
  • 1/2 cup pea or besan flour
  • 1 and 1/2 cups plain or normal flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • juice of one lime OR half a lemon, OR teaspoon of any type of vinegar just to get the baking powder going
  • 2 small hot chilies or to taste
  • 1 small onion, very finely diced (or chopped to within an inch of its life without blood loss if you are in a hurry)
  • a couple of cloves of garlic chopped as above
  • salt, pepper
  • a pinch of any type of curry or masala powder if you like
  • corriander (dhania/cilentro) if you like
  • cooking oil
  • newspaper or paper towel to drain
  • 1/2 cup fresh coconut scrapes, or 1/4 cup dessicated coconut
  • 2 cups water

How to do it: Don’t labour over it, as it is really very quick

  • take the skin of the onion and garlic, and chop roughly on a big board
  • chop the spinach, chili, mothe, or bele roughly (and corriander if you like)
  • then with them all on the same board, chop them up some more until they are a fine dice but not mushy
  • put into medium mixing bowl

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    Dom and Save Jnr as little chiefs at the Palm Sunday lunch, which included the roro balls

  • throw in the pea flour, normal flour, salt and pepper, and the baking powder, and curry powder if you like
  • throw in the coconut and corn
  • pour in the water
  • mix quickly and not too much
  • it should be a bit sloppy, so that you can pick some up with a spoon, and use another spoon to drop it into the oil.  If it is not sloppy enough, they won’t cook through
  • put enough oil in a saucepan to deep fry (but you don’t need a huge amount, as you can turn the balls over)
  • heat the oil on medium high heat until it is hot enough that when you drop in a tiny bit of the mix it starts to bubble, turn golden and float
  • then start spooning in about
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    mixture should be sloppy but not too sloppy – just so that you can put some on a spoon, and use another spoon to drop into the oil

    half a desert spoon of the mixture at a time into the hot oil

  • depending on the size of your pot, you can take up about half the surface area.  I normally put in about 6 at a time.
  • they cook quite quickly so make sure you are organised with a tray and some paper towel or newspaper to drain them
  • once they float and turn golden, you can turn them over a bit in the oil to make sure that they are cooked
  • test one to see if it is cooked inside.  If not quite, then add a tiny bit more water, and a bit more baking powder to the mix
  • cook all and drain on the newspaper, paper towel
  • serve hot or cold and they last even outside the fridge for a good day or two, however, they are so yummy that it is hard toIMGP1689
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    the oil will bubble briskly and they cook in about 30 seconds each side

    test that theory as they normally disappear by the handful!!!!

  • serve with tamarind sauce (recipe next time), or tomato sauce, or barbeque sauce.  You can add some chopped chili to the tomato or barbeque sauce if it is for lovers of hot food young or old
  • here, we serve on a banana leaf, and it looks and tastes great

Is Paradise really a Possibility?

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Roni at Namoimada, a white beach near Rakiraki

My life in Fiji -I met my husband in Australia.  At the beginning of 2012 he returned to Fiji due to visa issues.  The day before he returned, my dad had an accident and landed in hospital for many months, so I stayed behind, working at a University in Queensland, and caring for him, traveling back and forth to Fiji over the year, traveling to SavuSavu on Vanua Levu (the second largest island), but basing ourselves in Suva.  In November 2012 we made the decision that I would move over to Fiji with our son so we packed what we could in suitcases and said goodbye to friends and family.  We landed in Fiji on 18th December 2012 and I have been here since.

Since I have been living here in Koronivia, my life has changed so much.  We live in a semi rural community on a long dirt road that runs along the Rewa River.  We live in a corrugated iron 2 bedroom house with no hot water, no fridge (although I did buy a freezer), no washing machine or dryer, a TV that only gets one channel, no stove or oven, (just a two burner camping stove), no bed, no furniture save a folding plastic table and three chairs, a bed for our son, no car, no high heels… you get the picture.

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We have time with family here, and friends, although I miss my family and friends from home so much.

We have lots of time to think and observe while traveling by bus.  We have a garden that grows almost everything we need – corn, bele (which is like spinach), pumpkin, rosella, dalo and more.  We have neighbours who know our names and consider us their valued friends.  I have internet – sometimes!  We have time to travel cheaply and in every place we go we seem to have relatives.

I have been to Levuka, Rakiraki, Suva, Nausori (our closest town), Korolevu, Beach Cocomo, Sigatoka, Nadi, Savusavu, Namoimada and seen every place in between.

Fiji is truly a paradise, but it is being drowned by rubbish.  No need for us to go and investigate the famed “garbage island” in the Pacific, it is right here!

To think is easy. To act is difficult.
To act as one thinks is the most difficult of all.
Goethe

Major corporations that are overseas owned are trading profitably here, but seemingly with little corporate responsibility for either community projects or packaging stewardship and recycling.  Is it because in other countries there are covenants such as the Australian Packaging Covenant and other regulations with respect to waste water, water efficiency, and corporate responsibility to adhere to, but those things are not developed here?  Is that what they mean when they call Fiji a Developing Nation?

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Mist on the mountains, Levuka town

Fiji, unlike what may be in the press and propaganda back home, is a peaceful and harmonious place to live, looking forward to a 2014 election, and hopefully democracy.  There is progress everywhere you look.  There are approximately 48% iTaukei (indigenous) Fijians, and 43% Indo-Fijians who have been here for many generations since they came on “Girmits” (agreements for indentured labour), with the rest “Other”.  “Other” includes Chinese, any other nationality, plus importantly, Fijians of mixed race.  This group are people who may have had a European great grandparent, but also who have lived here for generations.

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Our friends and neighbours, the Narayan family. We were honoured to be invited guests at the 21st and 18th birthday party.

Informal settlement. Source: http://www.usp.ac.fj/?id=10926

There are still many people living in informal settlements (which we would call shanty towns) of corrugated iron, tin, and wood, all held together with a hope and a prayer. Fiji is a nation of islands, with a surfeit of shipping containers.  Couldn’t we make safe and secure tropical homes from shipping containers?  Couldn’t we make mobile libraries and health centres from these resources?  The cost of buying a used shipping container here is approximately $5,000 FJD.  The cost of building a corrugated iron two bedroom house is approximately $25,000 FJD.

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Market Savusavu

We have fresh fruit and vegetable open air markets daily, but about 40% of women and children have anaemia.  There is an alarmingly high maternal and infant mortality rate. For some reason it seems to be a source of pride that Fiji was recently placed the 40th best place to be a mum out of 80 less developed countries in the Save the Children State of the World’s Mothers Index 2013.

Many Fijians live with boils, believing they come from a change in the weather.  Diabetes is a growing problem.

Paraquat (weed killer) is a popular suicide method.  Very few public toilets have toilet paper or soap for the fear that it might get stolen by the needy.  Suva City Library staff informed me that if you want to use the toilet, you have to go downstairs to the front counter and ask for toilet tissue, and that this, unbeknown to me, is a FACT, known by all others.

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Produce grown at home

Fijians all hope sincerely that tourists will return in droves after the election, but my fear is that intrepid travelers wanting to see “the real Fiji” will be saddened beyond belief when they see the refuse along every beach, waterway, road and path.  What will sadden them most is perhaps the feeling that they can do nothing, but they can!  Purchasing power is an immense tool.  If consumers when reaching home purchased only products from companies that traded ethically in developing nations, would that make a difference?

If instead of shaking their heads and returning to the hotel or resort after an excursion, each person picked up a bag of rubbish and took it back to the hotel for disposal, would that make a difference?  If before going out and about, each person asked the hotel staff for a bag and disposable gloves to do just that, would that make a difference?

If on a one week holiday, each person volunteered to replant coral on the reef for just one day, would that help?  If the resort organized the coral planting material which is available from the Department of Fisheries, would that help?  Should resorts also take a greater corporate and environmental responsibility and be proactive?

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Children walking to school, Savusavu

Couldn’t we recycle here, rather than baling up recyclables and sending to Hong Kong?  Couldn’t we create some “Spiral Islands” and use them as educational facilities?  Couldn’t we do something?  Is it possible to create a good news story from our situation?  With recyclables being worth $1 FJD per kilogram, and the cost of a year’s schooling for a child being $280 FJD, couldn’t we turn our problem into a solution?

Could we make recycling bins from recycled plastics? Could we have a total 100% recyclable solution?  Is it possible for Fiji to become a change agent and leader in the Pacific?

Which companies are going to stand up and do what is right, not because they have to, but just because it is right?

Please post your comments as you travel with me through Fiji, and perhaps, united, we can make a change!

Clean Up Fiji – Protecting Paradise

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Fishing for bottles in the drain, Koronivia

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Rubbish at Koronivia Road and Kings Road

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Morning on Koronivia Road. No need to stop drinking just because it’s time to move to pasture.

Fiji is literally a paradise.  It is easy to believe in a higher power or God when you come to this vast group of islands in the middle of the Pacific.  Fiji is not like in the tourist brochures at all.  There are resorts, yes, and beaches, but most of Fiji is rural in every sense of the word.  We live in Koronivia, Fiji, on Koronivia Road near the Fiji College of Agriculture.

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Koronivia Road during the clean up

It is a dirt road that goes from the Kings Road Junction of the Nausori to Suva road, all the way down to Lokia Landing.  If you click on the map you will get the picture.  It really is just a dirt road, on an island, in the middle of the Pacific!

 

My husband and I took a day off from our normal activities on the Thursday before the clean up and went door knocking with a little brochure.  The next morning, on the bus to Suva, I met a lady (Liti) and we got chatting, she also was keen to be involved.  We estimated that we would have 300 volunteers, and hoped and prayed that we would.  We had three committed groups in place and hoped for fine weather and success.

The night before the clean up was due to start, with a commitment from the Ministry of Environment that they would collect the rubbish on the same day it was collected, it rained, and then it rained some more, all night long.

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Kids from Lokia Village after the clean up

In the morning, Roni, Dom and I went out a bit heavy hearted with out Tshirts, gloves, and bags, and started cleaning.  The Ministry had helped out with 600 pairs of gloves, and 1,200 feed bags (50kg bags) plus water and hot dogs.  One by one neighbours started coming out of their homes.  After a while, we saw large groups heading towards us, thinking they were on their way to the football.  They were there for us!  Even the local Police rugby team turned up before their game!

What a relief – a godsend – and it really made us proud to be part of this community! We saw what they were made of.  Indo-Fijians, and iTaukei alike joined in (plus me and Dom!).

IMGP4212Rubbish Suva foreshore – day after day after day

 

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This is Fiji! Even the garbage men called to work after their shift finished are cheerful!

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Our local shopkeeper and friend, Shanila, who coordinated the supplies for the clean up

Between 7am and 12pm we collected more than 1,200 fifty kilogram bags of rubbish, plus eight big 1,000 kg bags, plus metal, tyres, etc.  All of this rubbish had been either dumped in the open irrigation drains, thrown as litter from cars, buses or foot traffic (again, view the map and imagine how little traffic there might be), or was on people’s compounds.

The truck did not arrive on time, so after phoning the staff from Department of Environment and learning of their unfortunate miscalculation in hiring a Seventh Day Adventist truck driver to work on a Saturday, I was asked to phone the Minister’s personal staff.  I did, and that person was a real pragmatist.  He arranged for two off duty garbage trucks to be sent to collect the rubbish.  The amount was astonishing – but not if you consider that like many parts of Fiji and other developing nations, there is no regular garbage collection, even though the population of our Road is approximately 18,000 souls. 

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Loading one of the trucks in Koronivia

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The group from Lokia Village

There are also no rubbish bins  – at all!  and no way to dispose of rubbish but Burn or Bury.  The problem with that approach is that like many developing nations, a lot of the rubbish is NOT ACTUALLY RUBBISH, but recyclables.  A very large proportion of what was collected consisted of packaging that could be recycled.  Coca Cola Amatil Fiji provided us with 10 cartons of drinks, and eight recycling bags which I collected from their Laucala Beach facility.  The recycling was collected by the garbage trucks, and the drivers would have taken it back to Coke.

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Roni with some of our friends on Koronivia Road

Large companies that trade in developing nations do not seem to have many regulatory requirements to meet with regards to corporate responsibilty for recycling or community engagement. 

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Cheryl and the girls at the shop

 

Every beach, every road, every waterway – plastic!

 

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Rubbish in Suva

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Man on the street at Samabula, Suva

In Fiji,it seems that on every road, in every waterway, on every beach, it is hard to take one step without stepping over a Coca Cola Amatil package.  Coca Cola Amatil owns Fiji Bitter, Bounty Rum, Coke, and many still and carbonated beverages (see fact book for product lines).

 

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Rubbish at Natovi Landing

CCA’s Fiji market is stated as representing less than 1% of the group’s total earnings.  The total profit for 2012 was $558.4million AUD.  That would put the Fijian market at somewhere less than 1% of that figure, which is somewhere less than $5,558,400 AUD for the year (CCA Fact Book)

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Rubbish, Suva

In 2011, the company’s Sustainability Report (Corporate Responsibility Section) puts their total spending in Fiji on Corporate Responsibility at $178,967 AUD.  I was told that the $123,623 for Community Investment is for buy back of recyclables.  Charitable gifts and foundations represented $12,949 AUD for the year, and products and merchandising $42,404 AUD.  With net profit in 2011 at $532million AUD, one can only wonder at the current recycling problem in Fiji, and why charitable donations to Fiji represent approximately .002% of the net profit for the year as stated in the 2011 Fact Book.

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Rubbish dumped in Koronivia Creek

Currently in Fiji, there seems to be no real strategy for recycling.  Consumers have to go to the Coca Cola Amatil facility near Suva to collect a bag.  Once the bag is filled with recyclable plastic bottles from any CCA product, or any aluminum can (no matter the brand), CCA will collect the bag, and provide a replacement.  They will pay $1FJD per kilogram if you drop it off to them, or 75cents FJD if they collect it. 

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Rubbish Samabula, Suva

I was told today however, that it may be possible for CCA to drop off the bags to communities and islands on a monthly basis with the delivery truck that delivers the products, and collect the bags the next month.  This is a step forward.  CCA stated that they are in a holding pattern in Fiji currently with respect to recycling, due to discussions regarding upcoming plans by government to introduce Container Deposit Legislation. In Australia, CCA challenged a move by the Northern Territory to introduce the LegislationClean Up Australia has more information and updates on the container deposit issue.

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Getting ready for the big clean up day at the shop

Our little community has shown that people here want to do the right thing, they just need to find the tools to do it with!  A bin at every bus stop sponsored by and manufactured from recyclable plastics makers might be a step in the right direction!

Weaving Fijian Mats and Baskets

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Coconut frond basket which I made for our house

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My first voivoi mat with a shell Dominic collected at Levuka sea wall

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My friend Vuli weaving

Learn how to make a Fijian Mat – classes

 

 

One way to keep yourself amused in Fiji is to learn how to make mats and baskets.  First, you need to find yourself a friend!  I found Vuli – a wonderful woman from Lau who was my neighbour at Koronivia.  The Lauans are very clever at mat weaving.

If you want to ask someone to teach you to weave a mat, you can ask around the neighbourhood where you stay, and find out which ladies know how to weave.  Offer to teach them something in return, like how to cook something, or if you are a gardener, you can offer to do some weeding in return.  You should also buy all the materials (the voivoi, which is the dried leaves of a relative of the pandanus plant), plus some extra for them as a gift.

You should also know that it will take many sessions of several hours each to learn, and that you should bring food for morning or afternoon tea (crackers, bread and butter is always a good choice).  You should also make sure that it fits in with their schedule.  For example, many Fijians (including us) do not have hot water or a washing machine, so washing needs to be done by hand every morning for the family.  This is  big job, and normally not finished until about 9.45 am after the kids and husband have gone to work, or if the man is retired, after he has done his “farming” which is what they call planting and weeding in the yard or “compound”.

Also, it is very important to realise that most iTaukei (indigenous Fijians) people are Christian, and there is strictly no “work” at all on Sunday – this means no playing in the yard, no gardening, no cleaning, and definitely NO WEAVING, even though it may suit you, as to Westerners, no work on Sunday means simply that you do not go to your normal workplace, but pottering about at home is fine.  Here, Sunday takes on a whole different meaning.

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Rolls of voivoi ready for weaving, sitting on a completed mat

You can buy voivoi from any market – Suva, Nausori, or the smaller towns.  It is usually $20 to $25 Fijian dollars per roll.  Each roll has between 80 to 120 pieces.  If you happen to travel to a smaller town like Rakiraki, you can buy a roll for about $15. Make sure you ask them for a roll which has all long pieces, or take your mat weaving friend with you (make sure you also pay their bus fare).  There are also smaller rolls of the black voivoi which you need for the accent stripes, and they cost around $6 Fijian dollars.  The black colour is made by boiling the voivoi in a special leaf (which to me looks like a mid sized shrub with little yellow flowers and very small leaves, but we think it is a weed and would normally pull it out), or failing the availability of the leaf, chucking in a pot with  couple of batteries and water and boiling for a few hours.

It is a big time commitment, so be prepared to go on the first day thinking you are going to make a mat, but realising about two weeks later when you finally finish, that you have made a life long friend.

Weaving is done in rows (or roads as Vuli calls them).  Voivoi is made by cutting the leaves off the voivoi plant, stripping off the thorns, then hanging in the sun to dry.  Once dried, a mussel shell is used to scrape over and over and make each leaf smooth.  Then they are rolled and boiled, and dried again.  A very long process takes place before you buy it at the market.  Once you get it home, it has to be unrolled, and sorted by size.  You want to start the mat using the long pieces first.  Then the spine in the centre of each leaf is cut out carefully using a small kitchen knife, and each half is cut into either two, three or four long strips, still joined at one end, depending on the fineness of your mat.  The left side pieces are separated from the ride side.

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Vuli and Metui (grandfather) relaxing at the beginning of the second row

Weaving is always done sitting down, so make sure that you are wearing something comfortable (and that will cover up your privates while you sit for hours with your legs spread eagled!) and be prepared for an almighty backache.  Take a sulu (sarong) and wrap it around your lower half, and it works quite well.

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The black accent is woven in as you go

Also be prepared that the ladies will be very surprised that you want to learn, and will want to do most of it for you, as at first they think that you just want a free mat, and don’t really want to learn.  You have to persist in your own way and be really willing.  It is not as easy as it looks!

The mat is started by placing two cut pieces crossed over, and starting to weave the cut strips, then another is added and so on until you have the length of your intended mat.  At the beginning, for the first 10 weaves you also weave a piece back on itself to lock it in place.  Once you get to the end of each row, you fold the second last piece over itself, and that makes the edge, and you weave backwards to start the new row.

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Making the edge of the mat (which is at the width ends)

As each piece is running short, you splice a new piece into the weave.  Each piece of voivoi has a back and front with one side being smoother with less imperfections, but it is very difficult to tell, but you must learn as a few times during the weaving the mat has to be turned over and woven upside down.  If you don’t do this, your mat will be crooked.

When you finally, finally get to the last row (the intended width of the mat), then you have to cut each small piece into half and weave it backwards on itself to create the side edge.  This is very complicated, but my favourite part.  The black accents are put in as you go, and only appear on one side of the mat.  The process of weaving them through is something I tried but did not fully master, so Vuli did most of that for me.  At the very end of all that a very fine plait is done to finish it all off.

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Left to right: Save Jnr, Dominic and Kutu – firm friends at the end of the mat!

After that, you have tea and crackers to celebrate, and you get to fold up your mat and take it home.  Mats are the traditional floor covering here, and are used every day.  It is a very poor home that does not have any mats, and a home of pity.  Many iTaukei women do not know how to weave mats, so they buy them in the market for around $80 FJD.  Considering a large mat uses about $75 FJD of voivoi, the ladies making them are really doing it for almost nothing.  Mats are folded up and taken everywhere, picnics, church, family gatherings etc.  They are also a traditional gift for weddings, funerals and important family occasions.  Chiefly and important families have many many mats.

But for me, it started as a way to make our house a home, and learn something new.  It ended after several weeks of spending hours a day with Vuli and her loving family (Metui, Koto, Vulisere and Tadu, Sukulu and Iliesa, Bula, Tua, Little Metui and Vili) as a loving friendship and being truly part of the family.  Guests to our home are very surprised that I know how to weave, and I feel immense pride.

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Sitting on my first small mat at home

Here I am sitting on my first mat.  I have since made a much larger one which covers the whole room, and we have been gifted many mats by friends.  Now we have mats in every room, and we use them for sleeping, sitting and relaxing with each other and our friends and family.  The smell of the mat when you sleep is very comforting.  If you keep the mats nicely and take good care of them, they can last for generations, hopefully as long as the friendship formed between our two families – Vuli and me!