Vinaka – Thanks for the reminder that Sports are just Games!

chow 1Recently, I attended the Primary School athletics carnivals in Fiji which were split over three divisions – North, West and Central.  I was struck by the way that even these very young people had so much character.  In Fiji, when accepting anything at all from a superior, it is traditional to make one’s self lower than that person, and clap three times in acceptance of the honour.  Watch how it’s done here.

Time after time, I saw lovely young girls and boys, who in their moment of glory, humbled themselves to accept their medals in the traditional manner.  It brought a tear to my eyes.  I also saw love, friendship and sheer jubilation.  It reminded me of the spirit of sports from when I was a kid.

With the passing of my father recently, it has made me think about many things.  What lessons did he really teach me and why?  What is really his lasting legacy?

Number 1: Education, education, educationchow 2

Number 2: It is your duty in life to care for those who are less able than yourself, whether they are old, young, disabled, sad, or simply not as smart as you are, or able to deal with life’s challenges in the same way

Number 3: Don’t smack your children – it shows them that you are out of control, out of ideas, and beyond the point of reason.  That is not the way to gain their respect.

I try I think to live by these three values.  There are so many more, but these are the ones that keep recurring, and guide me through.

I was reminded of these simple values, and how much they mean to character when I attended the Chow Games.  It was like going back in time to a time where people remembered: SPORTS ARE JUST GAMES.  Competitive, but just fun in the end.

Thank you (Vinaka!!) to the children of Fiji (and their mentors of course) for reminding me of the joy of games, and what can be achieved within the game if you are of strong character.

Skirts for men, or everything you always wanted to know about the sulu

I recently came across this on the internet.  I loved it so much I “reblogged” it.  I hope you like it too.

From Seattle To Suva

The humble wraparound skirt fashioned from a big square of cloth you tie or wrap around your waist  has multiple names: sarong (Indonesia), lava-lava (Samoa), laplap (Papua New Guinea), and in Fiji, the sulu.  You see a fair amount of the sarong-style beach coverup sulus as casual wear and (duh) at the beach. Since it’s impolite for a woman to show her thighs when visiting a Fijian village, tourist ladies are advised to wear shorts, carry a sulu in their purse or rucksack and then do a quick wrap and tuck of the sulu right before arriving at the village.

It’s perfectly acceptable for men or women to wear this kind of sulu in daily life, but since it has to be tied or tucked, there’s always the chance it might not stay on if someone steps on the hem when you get off the bus, and thus, you usually see…

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How to get from Levuka to Suva – water taxi option

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On the water taxi

A few weeks ago, I went once more to Levuka, the old capital of Fiji.  I had the opportunity to stay in a

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Leleuvia

wonderful home at the top of the hill owned by a colleague.

Traveling back, I got the water taxi from Levuka to Bau Landing, near Nausori with a stop over to visit a friend at Leleuvia Island resort.  From Bau Landing, there is a bus to Nausori which costs $1.60, and from there you can get the bus to Suva.  Otherwise, you can organise a taxi to collect you from Bau Landing, and the trip to Suva will cost about $30.

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The water taxi parked at Leleuvia

Usually, I take the bus/ferry service run by Patterson Brothers Shipping, but the trip from Levuka to Suva means getting to the bus

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The water taxi pick up at Kings Wharf, Levuka

stop at 4am.  This time, I took the water taxi, which was much better, and really fun!  The pick up was at 10am (much more civilised), and the cost is about $90.  If you stay at Leleuvia for lunch, there is an additional cost, but you can also swim, snorkel, and relax on the beach.  The details for the Leleuvia to Suva island transfers are at the Leleuvia resort web site http://www.leleuvia.com/island_transfers.html#.

You can also arrange to get picked up from Levuka, or Moturiki.  Leleuvia is really beautiful with accommodation in traditional thatched bures on the beach.  It is a small island that has only the resort, and is what people would think Fiji is if they had just one picture in their minds.  The lunch was served in a massive traditional bure that has the dining area and bar, and is open to the beach.  The cost to stay at the resort is surprisingly cheap and I am told that all the watersports are free, and that there is a special rate for kids.  Anyway, I can’t believe I didn’t know both about Leleuvia, and also about this excellent way to get home!

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Joe, the water taxi driver

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Moturiki Island

While in Levuka Town, my driver, Mr Ram took me along Beach Street to the tomb of Tui Levuka, near which is a stake that marks the centre of Fiji.  Levuka is on Ovalau Island, an easy trip from Suva or Nausori which are on the main island of Fiji, Viti Levu.  The island is part of the Lomaiviti group which means “heart of Fiji” so I don’t know why I was so surprised that there is a spot in Levuka which marks the actual centre of Fiji.  I am not a navigator, so I am not sure if this is gospel truth, but many friends from Ovalau assure me that what Mr Ram told me is true!  Mr Ram can also take you on a taxi tour all around the island which is a great day trip.  It is well worth the trip, as Levuka was the old capital of Fiji until the capital was moved to Suva in 1874, and as such was the hub of activity.  It is the site of the first school in Fiji, the first newspaper, bank, the first Town Hall built to celebrate the 50th year of the reign of Queen Victoria, the first masonic lodge, the landing site of the first indentured labourers or “Blackbirded” people, the first electricity in Fiji (which was privately funded by Reg Patterson the founder of Patterson Brothers shipping).  In fact Levuka had electricity three days before Suva.  Levuka is also the site where Fiji was ceded to Britain, marked by the cession stone.  It is the site of the oldest hotel in the South Pacific that is still standing (The Royal Hotel).  The longer I am in Fiji, the more Levuka is a fascination for me.

Levuka is also the site of the first Catholic church service in Fiji, I believe the first Anglican church, and the first Catholic Convent (Loreto), and the first Methodist Mission.  Levuka also had a pigeon post which is marked by a water fountain near the Post Office (also the first Post Office in Fiji) on Kings Wharf (formerly Queens Wharf).  Levuka is one of the three ports of entry for Fiji.

In Levuka, if you get a chance, visit Baba Settlement which is the settlement behind the town where the descendants of the blackbirded people from the Solomon Islands, Vanuatu, Gilbert Islands, Ellice Islands were brought to work on the cotton and sugar plantations.  Next year is the 150th centennial of the first recruits.  A lot of them were actually stolen from their homes or tricked into boarding the boats as the traders posed as missionaries.  Plus below, I have  included a pic of the rubbish dump at Levuka just out of interest.  Might have to push my recycling efforts to cans!

Baba settlement is one of my favourite places to visit.  To get there, go along Bath St, beside Levuka public school.  Keep walking and you will see some steps.  Go up the steps, then you will see that the path branches out into three different sets of steps.  All steps lead to Baba.  If you take the fork to the right, you will get to “the Baths” or “Bower’s pool” which is a concreted swimming hole with steps at the base of the waterfall.  If you cross the bridge, you can go up the steps to the top of Baba.

When you go there, be aware that you are walking close to, or through people’s front yards, and be respectful and polite.  If you would like to have a look at the waterfall, or have a swim, then make sure you ask to be shown to the Kaivika pool.  The water hole there is easy to negotiate, and lovely, especially after a downpour.  If you ask to go to the waterfall, you will be shown to the source of the waterfall, which is at the top of the extinct volcano core, and it is very slippery and hard to get to.  People in Baba are so friendly, and if you act nicely, they will be happy to show you around.  The gardens are divine, and truly permaculture, with flowers, pineapples, yaqona (kava), cassava, dalo (taro), beans, aloe vera, watercress, lilies and bananas all riotously growing in harmony.

Make sure you take your rubbish with you when you go, as there is no rubbish collection in Baba, and it has to be taken back to town.  If you have plastic bottles or aluminum cans, drop them at the Town Hall for recycling.

Cultural note:  If you walk north of town you will go through Levuka Village.  This is a traditional village, and as such, cultural protocols apply.  A few tips:  as you cross the bridge towards the village, please remove any hats, sunglasses, beanies, and backpacks.  Also, it is polite for ladies to wear a sarong or suli to cover any short pants, and to wear a shirt with sleeves.  If you want to look around the village, you must have permission, and go with a guide from the village.

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Baba settlement, Levuka

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Tin cans as far as the eye can see, rubbish dump, Levuka

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Mr Ram

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Waterfall at Baba settlement, Levuka

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Do you wanna dance, and hold my hand? Problems and issues facing ordinary Fijians

Including new travel tips!!!!

Yesterday, I got an email from a producer of a BBC Television show asking for some comments as she is looking at making a show about crazy places to drive a taxi.  In doing a response for her, I have included information that gives a picture (through my eyes as an Australian married to a Fijian, living here in Fiji) of what life in Fiji is like – really like!  So, if you wanna dance, and hold my hand and take a trip through Fijian life as I observe it, read on.  I have not mentioned the upcoming election in 2014, or any political views, but I can tell you that living in Fiji to me feels safe, secure.  Like the current government or not, most Fijians I speak to feel that at least the current Prime Minister is a man who gets around to local communities and gets things done.  Anyway, no more on politics.  My response to the enquiries below:

Thanks so much for your email.  I know heaps of taxi drivers as apart from the bus, it is my only mode of transport.  As far as I am aware, there are no “water taxis” as such.  When people need to travel over water, apart from the big barges and ferries operated by Patterson Brothers Shipping, Bligh Shipping and Groundar, they travel mostly by fibreglass boat such as in this story.  Often the boats are bought using microfinance or loans for thousands, and the fare is about $5, so I don’t know how they actually pay off the loans. http://www.fijisun.com.fj/2013/05/03/a-boat-for-yanuca-islanders/

For a list of shipping contacts see here: http://myfijiguide.com/general-info/boatsmarineshipping/shipping-companies-and-agents.aspx

Even from one point to another on the same island, it is easier and faster to get the boat.

Many people die each year in the small “fibres” as they are called.  http://www.fijitimes.com/story.aspx?id=238916 including the late Tui (chief) Macuata.  There is a post in my blog about it.

Even government travel is by these small boats sometimes, such as teaching staff going between the islands.  http://www.fijitimes.com/story.aspx?id=235708

If you wanted to put your man on the water, I would suggest that you do it in the Lomaiviti Group, that is the group of islands including Ovalau(where Levuka is, the old capital), Gau, Kadauv etc .  Actually here is a list of the islands.

There is plenty of boat travel between all of the islands in the group.  Including sea-road travel. for example, a truck wanting to take goods to Koro Island from Suva would have to travel by road to Natovi Landing near Nausori (Rewa Delta), then the truck goes on the boat to the island, then travels overland to destination.

Re normal taxi drivers, the cars are often old, the fare is usually about $3 for short trips, and they have to go on all kinds of roads.  Some travel regularly on the road from Suva to Nadi for $100 FJD.  The scary way to travel is by minibus.  There are minibus routes all over Fiji and the drivers drive non stop in all conditions, with vans jam packed full.

IMGP6677Later that night, further into the conversation, on being thanked for my prompt response (excuse my generalisation, not all Fijians drink Kava, and not all the time, but it is as expected at work here as late night Karaoke and drinking are in Japan.  If the boss says drink, you drink.  If you don’t you are seen as not loyal.  Also, due to the nature of family and clan ties, often there is a traditional relationship involved and to not drink would be considered socially unacceptable, disrespectful and frankly UnFijian:

Ahh, see I am married to a Fijian.  They all drink Kava, all the time.  It is midnight here and I am waiting for him to get home from the “meeting”.  By the way, I also should have mentioned that all the taxi drivers drink kava all the time also, even between jobs, or while waiting at their taxi base.  Especially if they have to go on a long job and take someone to the interior, they will be given Kava when they arrive.  It is not just a quick “one for the road” affair either! 

I do know someone here in Rewa who would be a great person.  His name is Jerry, and he is Fijian and owns traditional land, and drives the other kind of taxi which is a huge truck converted into a carrier with bench seats.  He does daily runs from Nausori to Logani and the other villages towards Bau Landing, which has probably some of the worst roads in Fiji.  Drivers here are very skillful, and he and his family are real characters.  His son is a great friend of mine.  They will take your man in like he is one of the family, and after work he will get to tend to cattle, plant dalo and ride horses in the sea.

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Our sleeping arrangements on the inter island ferry

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Just one small part of our family

Earlier today:

Hi, I am going to try and answer your questions below, I hope this helps you:

Oh by the way… Even if these boats you mention below are not ‘water taxis’ as such – do locals pay a fare? I love the suggestion about the trucks. As a local what do you think are the main ‘current affairs’ affecting Fijians and people like Jerry?

Yes, the locals pay a fare.  They also often pay with their lives.  A fibreglass is an open small boat as pictured in  https://alicevstokes.wordpress.com/2013/02/22/suva-harbour/.  They take officially 7 to 9 passengers across the reef, or if travelling from island to island, over open water.  The weather here is very changeable and the sea often treacherous.  Very few wear life jackets.  The inter-island fare is normally the cost of a weeks’ earnings for some people.  For example, from Levuka on Ovalau to Gau island, the fare is about $70.  Many Fijians earn $10/day.  However, if you “gotta go” then there is little option.  Because of strong traditional relationships, if there is a family event such as funeral etc, then you must travel.  Fijians (even Indo-Fijians) are very much tied to 3 places in this order: their mother’s village, their father’s village, their birth place.  Where they actually live or “stay” as they call it (for example if they have moved to Suva for work) is of little or no consequence.  I think that is one of the reasons there is so much litter here.  It is not your concern as it is not your village. 

For all Fijians that I know and have met, the family and family ties are the most important thing.  That is one of the most wonderful things about living in Fiji.  No matter the problems, family time (even with husband and wife, kids etc) is the number one priority.  Respect for your parents, and elders is paramount.  For example, my niece just had a baby.  Instead of being called the baby’s aunt, I am called the . grandmother or “Bubu” as I am in that generation (even though of course I am still wildly attractive and only 48) and all of my counterparts are considered as important to the baby, and a source of advice for the new mother.  The baby is named after its great grandfather (my husband’s father), my son – no blood relation, and the biological grandmother’s late father.  This is a huge honour to have a “yaca” (yatha).  Even as I write this, I feel an obligation to further explain the family relationships, as it matters so much (for example, that the baby’s mother is the first daughter of my husband’s eldest brother, and that the father of that eldest brother is the first namesake), but I won’t…. but you get the idea. 

The reason I am going into all this, is that for any taxi driver, boat driver, carrier driver, bus driver or whatever, family is the real driver.

Religion is the second driver.  God is real here, and your parents are viewed as God’s representative on earth. 

Even though wages and fares are low, the sense of community here is very strong.  If you ring a driver or get a driver and explain that you don’t have any money but your need to travel to a place for reasons of family, getting home or a commitment that is important (again, only family or religion), then they will take you on a promise.  Often I get home having not paid anything at all, not because I don’t have any money, just because one of my neighbours (anyone living within a 5km radius) or relatives (anyone from Gau or the Lomaiviti group, or Vanua Levu) has seen me and picked me up.

Taxi drivers here are the people you go to if you want or need to find anything.  They take a real sense of responsibility for making sure you get what you need.  They will go  into the shop with you and explain what you need, and negotiate.  They are friends with every one.  They are a very trusted group in the community and often have regular customers and jobs.  When I say customers, actually your taxi driver becomes part of the family.  They pick your kids up and take them to school, they tell people where you live, they help you move house, they make enquiries if you are searching for a house to rent or a car to buy.  They do everything for you.  I published some taxi driver phone numbers on my blog as these people I really trust.  They invite you to their daughters’ weddings, they are a blessing.

·         Who are Jerry’s (Or someone like him) customers – how reliant are people on taxis?

Jerry and the other drivers rely on their regular customers as much as their customers rely on them.  They do deliveries, make sure that all the kids are picked up, run rain, flood, hail or shine, as it is the only way for people to get home.  I came to Fiji in December the day after a cyclone and our road was flooded. Our driver somehow found a way through the flooded back roads, and got us home from the airport.  They will not leave their neighbours stranded. 

·         What is life like for a taxi driver – do they own a decent wage – how are they viewed by society in Fiji?

Many do not earn what we by Western standards would call a decent wage, but that is not important here.  Most people grow at least a decent proportion of their own food (except possibly in Suva City).  See above re society views. 

·         You say the roads are bad   – what are they like? Is there a bad accident rate?

The roads are appalling!  I can’t say much more.  It is really a “see to believe” type of thing.  The accident rate is also appalling.  Buses catch on fire regularly http://www.fijisun.com.fj/2013/07/05/another-bus-burned/ , minibuses crash regularly http://www.fijisun.com.fj/2009/09/16/bus-passengers-escape-death/

 and buses crash .  It is not so much the death rate, but that the accidents are always so shocking.  The shock coming from the cause, and also that we know that when someone dies or is seriously injured here, the financial toll on the family will force them into poverty.  (around 40% of Fijians live in what we call poverty, many in “informal settlements”. 

·         What are the main ‘social’ issues that are worth exploring in Fiji?

Poverty in housing – see “informal settlements” which we would call slums or shanty towns, or squatter settlements http://www.fijitimes.com/story.aspx?id=227553

http://www.fijitimes.com/story.aspx?id=238556 with an estimated 300,000 people in Fiji living in squatter settlements (total population just over 900,000 in Fiji) this is a pressing issue for so many.

tamavua i waiSquatter settlement at Tamavua i wai (near Suva).  Source: http://www.fijitimes.com/story.aspx?id=238556

Another source says that it is only 100,000 in squatter settlements, but I would go with the 300,000 having lived here.  http://news.ccf.org.fj/students-teachers-viewing-the-documentary-struggling-for-a-better-living-squatters-in-fiji/ also notes importantly that “Besides having no proper legal title to their homes, the vast majority of these people lack basic amenities such as piped water, sewerage and electricity”.

Poverty in education (school fees for one child are about $280 per year, but this is a struggle for many families, and children are disallowed from school regularly if their fees are overdue). It is a daily story in both major newspapers at the start of each school year.  http://www.fijisun.com.fj/2013/01/23/children-turned-away-for-not-paying-fees/

A better life for their children (just like all parents).  This involves spending a large proportion of the family income on education, and the hope of immigrating to the developed world.

·         What is Jerry and his family like – when you say ‘characters’ what would we find    compelling about them?

They are an amazing family.  Fijians often live in extended family groups.  Jerry and his family live in a village in Tailevu, and live on land owned under traditional title, that is passed through clans in traditional ways too long to go into here.  Jerry is head of the family.  The family is originally from Bau Island which means that they are highly regarded as Bau was the old seat of power in Fiji.  Also, too long an explanation re their compelling nature.  You will find most Fijian families compelling I think, but as Jerry and his family both operate a business and travel to and from town for work and schooling via boat, bus, carrier, taxi, minibus, and live a rural traditional lifestyle by the ocean, they are a good example of the best of Fiji.  Jerry’s son Eddie is 21, and a real thinker.  He knows everything there is to know about pig farming and takes responsibility for the schooling and school fees of his younger siblings.  He is a very attractive person both inside and out and a dear friend.

·         How real is the risk of flooding in the Delta – does this affect the roads? What season is worse for this?  http://www.pacificdisaster.net/pdnadmin/data/original/FJI_2012_FL_NEOC_Sitrep14.pdf

Gives a true picture of what happens to roads and transport in Fiji during the yearly (sometimes 3 times a year) floods.  Road closures, bus services suspended, bridges washed out.  But still the taxi drivers and carrier drivers manage to get people around.  That is when boat travel comes into its own.  You take a fibre from one point to another and bypass the flooded roads.  Flood season from December to April.  Floods here are devastating due to the quality of housing. Most houses made from corrugated iron roughly put together.  To get a picture of what it is like see http://poleshift.ning.com/profiles/blogs/7-of-10-sinking-fiji-this-current-flood-is-worse-than-the-floods

Some awesome pictures of the Nadi flooding that has many people calling for the whole town to be relocated. https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.365058533519909.106465.112621892096909&type=3

Children brave river dangerous river crossing to catch a ride to school since damage to crossing 7 months ago in Cyclone Evan http://www.fijitimes.com/story.aspx?id=238801

·         Even though there aren’t ‘water taxis’ as such do the boats that people take out loans for carry other passengers.

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Source: Fiji Times Online

Yes, they get loans from FDB (Fiji Development Bank).  This is a real life story and a typical one: http://www.fijitimes.com/story.aspx?id=190741

It’s been such fun reading about life in Fiji from you mails – from Kava to riding horses in the sea – I feel like I have almost transported myself there from London for the day!

Fiji Roads Corporate Plan 2013 – see 1.3.3 and tables.  You will get an idea from the “horses mouth” about road conditions, and also the number of unsealed roads (where the term “road” is used loosely). http://www.fijiroads.org/sites/default/files/fra-corporate-plan-2013-final.pdf

“Irish Crossings”  http://www.fijisun.com.fj/2012/01/27/students-cross-flooded-creek/

are regularly washed out, bridges closed etc.  I can’t find a good example online as most of the info on Fiji is really quite lame, but Air Pacific (now Fiji Airways) has a great map in it’s inflight magazine showing the sealed and unsealed roads on each island.  Maybe you can pick one up from the local travel agent.  That will really give you a good picture.  Unsealed roads literally are little more than dirt tracks. I live on one, and it is very close to Suva.  Anyway, if you hit the google map http://goo.gl/maps/EmR99 and zoom in, you might get a bit more of an idea.  Drivers here are very skilful.  Many of the roads on the islands literally brush the ocean, with cliffs on one side, water on the other, and mud in between.  The road to Levuka from the ferry stop is harrowing, especially in the dark, and if it is raining.  If two vehicles meet, one has to back up.  Often that is a big, full bus or truck.  If one car or bus breaks down, then everyone waits.  That of course is a great opportunity for any taxi or carrier driver on the “lee” side of the breakdown as they come somehow, as if by magic, and ferry people from the traffic jam to the boats.

Learn to Weave Fijian Voivoi Mats – private classes

Do you want to learn how to weave mats in a Fijian home, rather than at a resort?  Eat real Fijian food? Enjoy a real Fijian home atmosphere and relax?

To find out more, click here and I will be able to contact you.IMGP1938

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

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!