Sunday, June 28, 2015

It's been a great two weeks and I am sad to leave this beautiful place. I will miss the bright smiles and joyful "BULA"'s I get when I go anywhere. I will miss the intense volleyball games and the gorgeous sunsets that follow them. Overall I will miss the people and the relationships I made. My life is different because of the relationships and friends I have made. From these relationships I learned a lot of great life lessons like humility, love, and happiness. I will forever have a place in my heart for the Fijian people. Farewell Fiji. Until next time.

My Top 10 Photos:

Smuggler's cove- At Smuggler's cove in Nadi we got to visit another village and have yet another kava ceremony. We also got to hike to another waterfall. While we were waiting for a car to take us to the hiking spot, one of the young villager girls, around the age of 5, walked up to us and shook our hands several times. It was so adorable. She didn't say a word, but she kept wanting to shake our hands. It was the cutest thing. After shaking hands with the adorable girl we proceeded towards the waterfall. However, this waterfall was much smaller than the others. My favorite part of this day trip was the mud bath and hot springs. The whole group had a blast covering ourselves and each other with mud then hopping into the hot springs pool. The water was very hot, it felt incredible. It was a great way to end our trip to Fiji. The next day was our departure date. We went surfing for most of the day. It was super cool to surf. Especially because I had never gone before, and I caught on really easily. After spending hours in the sun we went back to Smuggler's and enjoyed each other's company and watched the beautiful sunset. It was sad to realize that this was our last night in Fiji. A few hours later we left for the airport.

Mango Bay Resort- In Mango Bay Resort we got a lot of time to relax and edit our pictures. The first night we were able to go to the Polynesian dancing performance. The fire dancing part was my favorite; it made for great pictures. The second day we spent basically the whole day relaxing and editing pictures.That night we got to meet Ula. She is one of the National Geographic photographers. She gave many presentations throughout our trip that really helped. We also had the opportunity to do a great group critique. It was so helpful to get great feedback from my piers. The second day at Mango bay we left the main island and went to a small island where we visited a school, spent time talking to villagers, and spent time on a beach. In the village, Madiha and I went and met a lady weaving mats. She was so sweet. As we talked, her two children came into the room. One of her kids has six toes! It was amazing! At the beach we played a super fun game of volleyball. Whenever something happened in the game we would yell, "BRETT!" I had a great time. On our way back to the main island, we stopped to go fishing. Our boat hooked on to a fish, and I got to try to reel it in, but the guide tightened the drag, so the line snapped. Fortunately, we hooked on to another fish and I got a second shot at it. When I started to reel it in, it took off to my right, going to the bottom. I waited till it stopped retreating, so it didn't snap the line. Once it halted, I reeled it in all the way to the boat. I was so excited to hold the fish, take pictures with it, and later eat it sashimi style. The next day we left for smugglers cove.

Friday, June 26, 2015

The village- The village has been the highlight of my trip so far. The second we arrived at the village, we immediately felt the love and happiness that the villagers have. As we walked to the common area that had been prepared for us months in advance, we were greeted with a loud, “BULA!” The villagers danced and sang for us, the love and humility that these modest islanders have hit me hard for the first time. After the ceremonial dancing, we had dinner that was graciously prepared by Angie and other women in the village. It was a feast! Afterwards we got settled down and had time to relax in our room. We then hiked our way through the dark and pouring rain to the common area where we had a kava ceremony. At the kava ceremony I was greeted very kindly by a compassionate man named Sowani. We talked, laughed, and had a wonderful time. I was so impressed by Sowani’s love for his family and his willing to welcome strangers as if they were family. After lots of dancing and too much kava we went to bed. The next morning we woke up, ate breakfast, and then got to work on the community center project. First, we shoveled gravel into bags. Second, we made concrete using the gravel. Third, we dispersed the concrete around the foundation (this is when I basically ruined my shoes). The rest of the day we spent time learning photography and socializing with the villagers. Before dinner we went to the beach and played volleyball. I was amazed by the athletic ability of ALL the villagers. I would say I’m decently athletic, but the villagers made me look like a kid who had never seen a volleyball before. That night we had another kava ceremony. We danced and sipped kava for hours. On the Third day in the village we woke up and got to work on the project. We removed rocks on the work site and also leveled out the foundation. After working hard and doing the project, we went up into the farmlands to learn how to plant kava. Afterwards we all went to the chief’s house in a neighboring village. The chief was so kind and gentle. He lives with his oldest daughter so she can take care of him. That evening we once again played volleyball. After the games, we sat on rocks and took pictures of the incredible sunset. After dinner we went out to a nearby road and Lisa and Brett taught us how to take incredible star photos. I can’t wait to try these new techniques in west Texas this summer. We then went to the kava ceremony where we all realized how repulsive kava really is, and we only drank a half coconut shell each. We went to bed early this night. The next morning we woke up and had a wonderful breakfast. We then made our way towards the work cite where we continued to help lay the foundation for the community center. After lunch we went to the school where Wani taught me rugby. Afterwards we went back to the village and chilled until we went down to the volleyball net to take pictures and play volleyball. That night we had another kava ceremony. We didn’t drink much kava once again. We were so tired that we went to bed pretty early again. The next morning we had to pack our bags and head for Tovu Tovu again. Saying farewell was one the saddest and hardest things I’ve ever had to do. It was so tough. Watching all the kids and adults looking so sad made me cry.  I learned so many lessons about humility and kindness from Leoni and Sowani.  I will never forget the friends I made in Natokalau.

Tovu Tovu- Tovu Tovu was the first place we stayed. The first day we got there we went to the beach and relaxed. We had the BEST smoothies! The fruit was picked on the spot and blended together! The weather was absolutely beautiful, I was hoping the rest of the trip would be sunny and beautiful; unfortunately, we got lots of rain.  We also got to explore the town. Chase, Bora, Jameson, and I walked around the town taking pictures. We went to a cemetary, the beach, and up and down the streets. I met a friendly man named Rox. He invited us to come into his backyard and take pictures of the nice deck he made. He also wanted us to take pictures of him and his baby daughter. That night we had initiation to the National Geographic photography program. The second day we went to the big rugby tournament in a neighboring town. It was so exciting to watch the teams play rugby. I learned a lot about rugby. It was extremely special to me because I was able to watch the sport my brother, Parker, gets to watch and play all the time in New Zealand. This was our first big opportunity to take lots of pictures. I got to take some awesome action shots. I loved watching the crowds and seeing the difference between Texas football fans and Fijian rugby fans. An obvious difference was that the Fijians did not try to give the coaches advice. In Texas football a lot of times the fans will try to tell the coach what they would’ve done. Afterwards we went to a local town and bought our first sulu. Sulus are skirts-like things that men and women wear on occasion. It is more common for women to wear them however. After shopping for the sulus we left for the waterfalls. Unfortunately, because of all the rain the streets were flooded and we had to turn around. We were less than 5 minutes away when it got too deep for the vans. For dinner we went to a resort nearby and had an amazing fish dinner. We also had our first kava ceremony in which we sat around the kava bowl while singing songs and drinking lots of kava. Shoutout to Xavier Sua’Filo in Houston for perfectly depicting what the kava would look like and taste like. On the third day we went to church in the morning. It was such a great experience to listen to the sermon addressed by the pastor. The sermon was very powerful. He gave 5 ways to remember who you are. It was interesting to see the many differences between the church I attend and this church; Ex. at my church we do not say “amen” during a sermon, only at the end. After the service, we went to the waterfalls we were not able to attend the previous day. Bora taught me how to do really cool long shutter speeds and make the waterfall look amazing. We also went on a 5K walk to a waterfall. Rain poured on us throughout the entire hike. However, we were not going to let rain ruin our hike. Elizabeth, Claire, Jacob, and I sang songs the whole way. What made the hike even more fun was that everyone was slipping on the soaked wood and slippery grass. On day four we went to a beach and snorkeled. Brett, one of the National Geographic leaders, taught me how to dive. Although I was not able to get very far down in the water, I am excited to try next time to get better. After snorkeling we left for the village.