Thursday, September 29, 2016

God Bless America
By Michael
SUVA, FIJI


Me climbing a coconut palm back in American
Samoa. I didn't make it past that bend
in the trunk.
We recently found ourselves in Fiji and in need of getting our signatures notarized on U.S. documents.

“Let’s go to Suva, to the U.S. Embassy.” I said to Windy.

“Suva? Why not just get them notarized here, they said a Fijian notary would be fine.”

She’s was right. We were told a Fijian notary would be fine. But what if that was bad information? These docs were urgent and we were already pushing it with the shipping timeline. So I googled it. I learned that Fiji was part of a Hague convention in 1961 that allows reciprocity for notary services. But it didn’t seem that simple. The word apostille kept popping up. In fact, that Hague convention was the Apostille Convention. An apostille is a separate piece of paper I’d never heard of and I wasn’t clear about whether we needed that in addition to the notary for everything to be valid.

“Why take a risk? If we get them notarized at our embassy, we know it’s good. Plus, we’ve paid our taxes over the years, it’s our due.”

“Maybe, but it also means renting a car and driving three hours each way, to Suva and back.”

“It’ll be an adventure, and we’ll not have to worry whether our signatures pass muster.”

“I’m not worried, you are.”

We found a dirt-cheap rental car in Port Denarau and then got upgraded to a snazzy ride after they ran out of economy cars. We got lost after the first hour, but still made Suva by lunchtime.

“Do you have an appointment?” the guard in front of the embassy building asked.

“No. We’re U.S. citizens here to sign some docs and have them notarized.” I gave him our passports and we waited on benches outside on the stately grounds.

Twenty minutes passed before he motioned us through a glass and metal door that must have weighed four tons. Inside we were quizzed briefly, processed through airport-like security, and directed through a back door, outside again, but within the embassy compound.

“So this is the United States girls, a tiny little piece of your home country, here in Fiji. Isn’t that weird?” I felt instantly relieved of the constant traveler’s feeling of being a guest, always a transient, often hamstrung by language and culture. Here I was home and could relax. “This is a government building, our government. All the people you see here work for us, citizens of the United States.”

“We know Dad.”

The door to the next building was also fortified and once inside, we again had to go through airport-like security. Once through that, we were directed to a tiny, vault-like room and a door was closed behind us. On the wall was a small window with glass and a pass-through, like a bank teller.

I leaned in. “Hi, we just need to get our signatures notarized on some documents.”

The clerk reviewed all our paperwork, putting colored tabs on the signature lines I indicated. “That’s three times the consular official needs to sign.”

“Uh, yeah, yes, three times.”

“It’s fifty U.S. dollars per signature, payable in cash only. For three signatures, that’s one-fifty.”

“Seriously?”

“Seriously.”

“I was just telling my girls it would probably cost us nothing, being U.S. citizens and all—I guessed I imagined notary services would be free.”

“No sir, that’s what we charge, by law.”

“Let me ask you, can we get these notarized by a Fijian? Do you think that would be okay?”

Frances watching the sunset
from the boom in Fiji.
“Probably not, I’ve had lots of people try that and then have to come back when their notarized signatures were not recognized—but you’re welcome to try sir.”

I looked at Windy. She shook her head, “I think we should find a Fijian notary.”

I turned back to the clerk, “What about the Hague convention, 1961? Do you know about that?”

“Yes sir, I do. You’re welcome to have a Fijian notary help you, I can only tell you it hasn’t worked in the past.”

Windy was still shaking her head. “It only has to get by a county clerk in Arizona and they said it’s okay—I say we go.”

I turned back to the clerk. “Thanks, we’re going to try our luck.”

Outside, near the street, I posed near the U.S. Embassy sign by the road on our way back to the car. Windy raised the camera. An embassy guard started shouting, running down the driveway towards us, waving his arms. “NO! NO! NO PICTURES!”

“Seriously? Not of this sign? We’re practically on the sidewalk. Why not?”

“No pictures, not allowed.”

We drove back downtown, parked, had lunch, and found one of only two notaries in Suva. Attorney Singh was relaxed and welcoming in his modest second-story office. He charged a third of what the embassy wanted and chatted us up while he notarized and made copies for us. It kind of felt like home.

--MR



Since arriving in Fiji, we've been amazed how much it's
defied our expectations, in terms of landscape. Even from
offshore, we often see California. Couldn't the photo
above be California? Crazy.

California?

California for sure--it was a head trip driving to Suva.

Some dude and his kid. You may have noticed on this blog that we
take few candid shots of locals. I like those pics, but we
both feel awkward taking them. And by the time we ask permission
for a photo, the image is gone, and definitely not candid. I don't
know how the Bumfuzzles do it, but they do it well.
We grabbed a snack at the Royal Suva Yacht Club. It is
a very cool place, storied and not pretentious in any way.
This café was the spiffiest part. We'll drop in again in
Del Viento as we're headed that way.


So they had a few typewriters on display and the girls
were fascinated, never having seen one in person.
They couldn't believe Windy and I actually owned
and used them in high school and college.
I can't either.
Downtown Suva.


Monday, September 26, 2016

Hanging Ten in Fiji
By Michael
NATADOLA BAY, FIJI


Heading for the break.
We’ve spent the past two days tucked away in Natadola Bay, on the south side of Fiji’s big island. Beside the fact that it’s a beautiful little bay that we’ve got all to ourselves (ourselves and the InterContinental Fiji Golf Resort & Spa), Natadola Bay is home to some of Fiji’s smallest surf.

As new owners of two surfboards recently gifted to us by the former Exodus crew (¡Muchísimas gracias, Alex and Brenden!), and as the parents of two girls still interested in learning to surf after their lessons in Pago Pago, this is the place for us, at least now, as we make our way towards Suva and then back to Savusavu.

We’re actually on a bit of a mission to reach Savusavu.

Why?

Because we have big plans. I’ll release the info slowly in the near future. But things are coming together, I think.

For now, surfing.

--MR

Windy coaching her student.

Frances got up twice, but this is the closest picture I have.
I was in the dinghy and pretty far away, so good shots
were difficult.

Eleanor got up over and over, but this is the sharpest photo.

Del Viento waiting outside the break.



                                            Windy surfing.


Thursday, September 22, 2016

My New Moon Girl
By Michael
VUDA POINT, FIJI


Eleanor with her mag.
In Voyaging With Kids, authors Behan, Sara, and I address one of the primary concerns of soon-to-be cruising parents: Will my kids get enough play time with and exposure to other kids? I’m not going to repeat that chapter here, but I’ll share one tip we give in the book because I can’t say enough positive things about it: moderated social networking.

I’m talking about Facebook-like sites for kids—and before you lower your head and peer at me over your sunglasses like I’ve got to be kidding, I’ll assure you I’m not.

On our way south from Alaska in 2013, we found ourselves in a natural foods co-op near the boardwalk in Eureka, California. It was a week or so before 9-year-old Eleanor’s 10th birthday and she appeared before me in the produce section with a magazine in her hand.

“Can I please get a prescription of this for my birthday?”

“A subscription? Let me see.” I thumbed through the current issue of New Moon Girls magazine before handing it back to Eleanor, nodding. “Sure.”

She smiled and thanked me and went to sit and read.

I grabbed Windy.

“Eleanor just found this magazine and asked if she could have a subscription for her birthday, New Moon Girls, do you know it?”

“Hmm, nope.”

“I told her she could, it’s perfect for her: no ads, all content produced by girls her age and those up to the teen years, and I could tell she’s just sucked in.”

That was three years ago. Eleanor will be 13 next month. She’s not missed an issue. The same organization has a moderated social media site on which both my girls share their artwork and writing with a community of New Moon Girls Online members. They discuss politics and the kind of culture that my girls and girls their ages are into. And all in an online environment that is kind and supportive and just what I’d idealize.

There are other kids boats out here, sometimes even with kids aboard that my girls connect with. But in the best of circumstances, those connections are temporary—we’re all moving in our own directions. But no matter where we are in the world, my girls have this community of girls that they can tap into to feel a part of a larger peer group, to whatever extent they want.

I know they love it because Windy and I hear references to it daily.

And in the current New Moon Girls print issue is a feature story that Eleanor wrote, sharing her perspective growing up on a boat (adjacent to a story from another New Moon Girl who is growing up in an off-the-grid yurt). The week the issue dropped, Eleanor was gratified to get a lot of positive feedback from her online peers. That’s the kind of thing we couldn’t otherwise offer in this nomadic life.

--MR
Yeah, it's like the tag line above. My girls may have become
a bit too P.C., but that's okay as it allows me to play the Archie
Bunker against them, just to get a rise. The other day,
for example, in response to some ridiculous bureaucracy
I muttered, "That's so retarded." Which elicited an immediate
and fierce dressing down from my little Meatheads.
I love it.   

Friday, September 16, 2016

In Hot Water
By Michael
NADI, FIJI


Eleanor warming her feet in Savusavu.
I saw the steam rising from the beaches the morning we pulled into Savusavu. It’s odd to imagine now, but the steam rising from the beach didn’t strike me, as though steam rises from beaches everywhere. Maybe it’s a traveler’s phenomenon. Over the past few years, the daily onslaught of unfamiliar sights, sounds, and smells has perhaps dulled me.

Or maybe the steam just worked with the setting. After all, we were motoring up the lush creek, Nawi Island to port, palm-lined beach to starboard. I was steering through the field of moored cruising boats, hunting for town landmarks ashore. Except for the cruising boats, it looked for all the world like the steamy setting of a Vietnam movie.

Windy was standing ahead of me, looking over the dodger, “They have hot springs here, I read about them. Check out the steam coming from the beach.”

A short time later, we met a Swiss family aboard Elas, two girls our own girls’ age. They’d seen locals boiling clams on the beach and a plan was made to try their own hand at cooking. The girls rounded up a batch of eggs and potatoes and ventured ashore to lower them into the steaming pools.

I stayed aboard. Heavy rains were forecast and I was in the middle of a big saw-and-epoxy project to finally remedy a troubling leak below. And I was skeptical. I’ve been around hot springs. Maybe the water would be too hot to touch, but there was no way it was going to cook potatoes—and I’d be surprised if the eggs were more than poached.

They were gone a few hours.

“Dad, it’s amazing, everything cooked. We made lunch on the beach!”

“Totally? I mean, were they like mashed potatoes?”

“Yes…no! Not like mashed potatoes, they were mashed potatoes—totally cooked inside.”

And I learned the eggs were indeed hardboiled.

The next day, our friends CB and Tawn on Palarran came alongside in their dinghy.

“The hot springs are awesome, we went last night.”

“Were they hot—I mean too hot, or tolerable?”

“Oh yeah, they’re hot, but the guy adds cold water to the tubs so that the temperature is perfect, and you can always add more.”

That night we hiked up the hill to the house of the enterprising guy who’d built concrete catchments, to which he diverted the hot spring that flowed through his yard. It was pricey (FJD$15 per person—about $30USD for the family), but the night was cool and drizzly, we had the pools to ourselves, and we stayed for hours. Windy and I realized as we soaked that it was our first time soaking in hot water since our time in the Canadian and Alaskan hot springs in 2013.

We’re far south of Savusavu now, but we’ve already made plans to return, early next month. I won’t look at the steaming beaches the same on our next arrival, and I’ll make it a point to join the family when they propose to cook lunch on the beach.

--MR
Eleanor, Frances, and the Elas girls lowering potatoes into the water.
(courtesy Elas)

Waiting.
(courtesy Elas)
 
Eleanor, Frances, Neele, and Lenja
(courtesy Elas)
In hot water, but not in trouble.

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

A Gift to See the Fall
By Michael
NADI, FIJI


The German owners of Red Cat
pulled in front of us in Ha'apai,
Tonga and snapped this. That's
Windy on the bow.
So Fijian society is much like Samoan society, in that outside the cities, communities are structured around autonomous villages on communal land. Even today, the villagers’ relationship to the land is best expressed in this paragraph I pulled from Wikipedia:


The living soul or human manifestation of the physical environment which the members have since claimed to belong to them and to which they also belong. The land is the physical or geographical entity of the people, upon which their survival...as a group depends. Land is thus an extension of the self. Likewise the people are an extension of the land. Land becomes lifeless and useless without the people, and likewise the people are helpless and insecure without land to thrive upon.

There is a chief of every village. This elder man has considerable power and influence. He is judge and jury in criminal matters, deciding who gets punished and how. He controls distribution of land assets and the manner in which people work and live among those assets.

Because there is no public space as we know it, entering a Fijian village (and this includes anchoring in the waters off a village) as an outsider—whether Fijian or not—demands adherence to protocols that have been a part of this culture for millennia. The first thing a visitor must do is to seek out the chief to present a sevusevu. This is a Fijian term for token of respect. As far as I know, the only acceptable token is kava, in its un-ground form. From what I’ve heard, it’s never difficult to find the chief to present sevusevu, anyone who sees you will recognize you as a stranger and take you to the chief. When you meet the chief, you don’t shake his hand or touch him, you sit before him and place your sevusevu in front of him. You politely state your business in the village and wait. When he picks up your sevusevu, you are golden. You may be asked to join the chief and others in drinking kava and it’s incumbent on you to accept that invitation.

In case you're a Point Loma or San Diego
Rotary Club member wondering if your
money and time are going to a cause,
this seran-wrapped sign was posted
in the Vuadomo village.
Well, it all sounded to me like some cultural relic that is still carried out for the benefit of tourists. Sounded like artifice and if there’s one thing that turns me off, its artifice. Touristy artifice is the worst.

***

“Over there, in the market, you can buy kava for your sevusevu before we leave.” Windy heeded our cab driver’s advice and walked across the busy bus terminal to buy a handful of dried sticks wrapped in newspaper like a bouquet.

Seriously? We just want to go to the waterfall to relax and cool off.

Arriving in the larger city of Savusavu, the village culture didn’t apply. This would be our first time venturing outside of Fijian city life. This would apparently be our first opportunity to present sevusevu. I wasn’t eager for this; I sensed touristy artifice.

Twenty minutes later, we left the main road and bounced along a pocked dirt road in a lush, steep-walled valley.

“We’re almost to the Vuadomo village. The waterfall is back that way,” our driver said pointing over his shoulder. “Once you present your sevusevu, I’ll bring you to the trailhead.”

“Everyone take off your hat and sunglasses,” Windy announced from the back seat. I looked over at our Indian driver, my eyebrows raised in a question. He nodded at me.

“Are we going to sit in a kava circle?” I asked him.

“No, you’ll just present your sevusevu and ask permission to visit the falls.”

“Might he say no?” I asked.

“No. And when you’re done, you’ll need to pay a fee to use the fall; it’s eight dollars per person.”

Hmmm.

The fall guy.
The old Toyota sedan stopped and I squinted into the sunlight. Several women sat in the shade, each before a pile of touristy trinkets, ashtrays and shot glasses with “Bula!” printed in bold letters, for sale among shell necklaces and other things I was pretty sure nobody in this village produced.

Bula!” we called out warmly. They motioned us over to survey their wares. We all decided on the most practical thing we could buy: an 8-ounce plastic bottle of coconut oil that was pressed locally. Then Eleanor bought a pair of earrings. Then someone said the chief was coming and told us to sit on a nearby bench. A woman took our kava bouquet from Windy.

The chief was small, old, dark-skinned, and wrinkled. He sat quietly on a mat about 10 feet from us and nobody made a peep. The woman who’d taken our kava placed it gently before him and backed away. He didn’t pick up our sevusevu. He didn’t look at us. He sat quietly for a minute. Then he started talking in Fijian, eyes closed. The seated women nodded. At some point he picked up our sevusevu and regarded it carefully, like it was something he’d not seen before, all the while talking to himself in Fijian. During this, the half-dozen women periodically clapped in unison, obviously in response to the chief. Then, he set the kava back down, stood, and walked, stooping heavily, back to the village house he’d come from. One of the women picked up the kava and followed him.

“Are we good?”

“All good.” One of the women said.

Then we paid the fee, got back into the cab, and drove to the trailhead.

“I’ll be back to pick you up at 3:00 p.m.” Our cab driver said.

Our first sevusevu presentation was probably different from what Captain Cook likely experienced. Seeing as how hundreds and hundreds of tourists visit this particular waterfall every year, it was probably nothing like what we would have experienced in communities a bit farther off the beaten path. But neither did I get the impression these folks were doing a song and dance for the tourists before retreating to their homes, pulling the iPhone 6 out of a hidden pocket, and resuming a Facebook dialog. Fiji is among the most affluent and developed of the Pacific Island nations—in comparison, way beyond Tonga by these measures—but the traditional culture is by no means completely diffused.

We’ve not yet experienced the outer island culture, but where we’ve been, it feels like we’re in a country with a healthy social dynamic. The vibe here is good. People seem content. I’m sure it’s not nirvana, and we’ve been here only just over a month, but there’s a warmth and genuineness and kindness that we get from nearly every interaction with a Fijian (and this from an eternal skeptic). It’s an easygoing politeness that strikes us.

--MR
You need a long boat for a long boat name.

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