I was family

By: Kimberly Oparil, high school alumna High School Adventures, Scuba, Marine Biology

People find me strange when the only word I can find to describe my summer experience is crazy. Everything was crazy. The fact that I was in Fiji and the Solomon Islands was crazy. Flying halfway around the world is just insanely amazing.

It all began on a plane ride from LAX to Nadi, Fiji. The group met, the group bonded. I found myself seated next to a girl named Veronica, who turned out to be just like me. We were fast friends. She and I both had the same sense of humor; both of us were so excited to be going to Fiji and to be scuba diving again. We arrived in Nadi and then had to transfer planes and fly to Taveuni, our home for the next week. We arrived at Nadi Airport while it was still dark out. As we flew to Taveuni, the sun began to rise. Little did we know we were in Fiji. Veronica and I couldn’t believe it. We kept saying, “This is insane. We’re in Fiji. We’re halfway around the world.”

As the sun rose, we saw the beautiful land below us. Crystal clear waters let us see right down to the reefs. As we landed in Taveuni, Veronica cried out, there’s a turtle. And there really was a turtle; we could see it from a couple thousand feet in the air.

We knew we were set. By day four of the trip, everyone on the trip was great friends. In the girls cabin at Bibi’s Hideaway, we were already making plans for how we were going to see each other after the trip. We kept realizing we were doing it and telling ourselves to stop. After all we were going to be together for another 2 ½ weeks, and we shouldn’t be thinking about being anywhere else but the beautiful place we were, Fiji.

I would go ahead and explain my whole trip, but that cannot be done in anything less than a novel. I could write an entire thesis paper on the true beauty of my trip. But I wont. Instead I include a day, not about the amazing diving, or the great friendships, the beauty of the lands but about my family in Fiji.

On our last full day in Taveuni, we started out by doing some window cleaning at the local hospital. It’s an open-air hospital and the healthcare in Fiji is completely socialized. It was a great thing to be able to help out the nurses, who are so busy that they don’t have the time to do as much cleaning as they wish they could do.

Then we visited the International Dateline. We were able to stand on both yesterday and today at the exact same time. It’s the only place in the ENTIRE world that it’s possible to do that. Haleigh and I were so excited hopping from one to the other, making up jokes about being in two places at the same time.

When we visited the village of Qeleni, where we would spend the night, I was shocked at the warmth they offered us. From the moment we stepped out of the van, we were in a way that strangers have never treated me. Adam, our instructor, was the only person in the group returning to the village. These cute little children came running up to the van, and when they saw Adam, a small murmur went through the group and started to spread. “Adam, Adam’s back!” Suddenly a little child came up and grabbed each of our hands and led us to where we would be staying.

After we got settled in we hiked over to a nearby river and then up to the waterfall. We jumped off the 30-FOOT WATERFALL! It was crazy and sooooo much fun. Adam and PJ even decided to take the plunge together.

On the hike back we walked past the school. The kids were just getting out, so we started playing with a few of them. We began a small game of tag. By the end, we had over a hundred kids playing. They didn’t care who we were, or where we were from, or why we were playing with them. They didn’t care that complete strangers were coming up to them and tagging them and tickling them. We were all falling all over the ground in the mud, us girls in our sulus (wraps that feel like skirts). Never have I had such genuine fun with kids who most of which never even learned our names and we never learned theirs. We didn’t have to. Later we started some games of ring-around-the-rosy, duck-duck-goose and red light green light. Most of the kids didn’t speak English or understand any more than that they were having so much fun with us. We were new to them, we were exciting. And I got the feeling from them that I was family. They would run up to me just to hold my hand and to touch my hair, or to beckon me to join another game of duck-duck-goose.

That night we had a feast for dinner. And afterwards, a dancing performance and then we got our chance to try our hands at Fijian dancing. I’m sure we looked quite silly and uncoordinated, but we were laughing so hard no one cared. Then we participated in our usual kava ceremony and played some games with the villagers. During dinner all the little kids had been crowding around the outside of the building we were eating in, more like a hut actually. During the dancing and kava, until they all started to slip off to bed, they came and sat by us, many wishing to look at our cards and sit in our laps.

I stumbled to bed at about 11, exhausted but completely happy. I think I probably fell asleep within seconds of my head hitting the pillow, and slept so well that night. I woke up about half an hour before wake up time and had to go to the bathroom, so I walked over to the toilet. When I returned, there were four of our little friends sitting on the front steps of the house. They were peering into the house to see if anyone was awake. I decided not to go back to sleep and instead sat around with the four of them just playing a little bit and sitting together. I watched some kids go to school. I also watched two boys climb these cumquat trees and down onto these branches that no American child would normally climb on. They were so skilled.

Mostly I just sat there thinking. I wondered why I’d been so lucky as to choose Broadreach’s Fiji trips of all the other choices I had. I thought about how simple life was in Fiji and yet how incredibly happy these people were, without all these electronic toys or silly super cars. And they were smart, really smart. And really athletic. When we were playing duck-duck-goose, all the Broadreachers kept getting caught by kids who were just 4 years old, they were incredibly fast. I thought about the amazing place I was in and how much I wasn’t looking forward to leaving. That’s when I decided once and for all that I would have to return to Fiji at least once more in my life. That is my new life goal. To return to this beautiful country that has given me so much and asked for nothing in return.

As we got into our van after breakfast that morning, it was a bittersweet goodbye. Some of the littler ones came up and gave us hugs, and everyone thanked us for being there. It was amazing; even then they were thanking us. I hope I showed them my gratitude. It honestly felt like we were leaving family. After all, I was family!

In just one day I have enough of a story to last me a lifetime. I continually tell the story of this great day, as well as all the rest on my trip. If the village of Qeleni could read this… Thanks for your love, it’s the purest I’ve ever known.