Archive » November 1, 2012
By Pat Murphy, Contributing Writer
Last week we discovered how Claudia Jayne traveled from village to village in Fiji, on horseback teaching women how to use sewing machines. It was a project of the Peace Corps. The hope was to improve their abilities to earn money, rather than simply trading things with each other.
Strangely enough, cell phones are appearing in some remote villages even though they can’t get a signal. But some hopeful individuals ride a horse up to the highest peak to try to talk. Electricity is also making its way inland.
“Horses are the main mode of transportation there and are in good condition,” says Claudia. “In fact, babies are practically born on horses and learn to ride at an early age. In some regions horses are just everywhere; they’ll even be standing and grazing by the side of the roads. This was nice for me because I grew up riding horses. When I first heard that I would be taking a boat up a river then traveling from village to village by horseback, the 20-year-old in me said, ‘Yes!’ but the 60-year-old inside was saying, ‘Well, wait a minute!’ But I was remembering the Peace Corps’ motto ‘Life is calling. How far will you go?’
“Well, the boat turned out to be a small skiff with an outboard motor, and we are going to go straight up the rapids! With me, in this little boat, are seven or eight Fijians. We are traveling through gorgeous country with lush greenery, waterfalls and colorful cliffs. Then the ‘captain’ tells us that we just lost the propeller. So, we all start gazing into this clear turquoise water looking for it, and after a while we actually found it! He sticks it back on and off we go. About an hour later, we come to the first village, and I taught a class there right into the night. Then I was given a room to sleep in. There were plenty of mosquitos but I was already a walking pincushion from all the inoculations that I had been given, so I didn’t worry much.
“As we got to villages further into the interior, the people just didn’t understand about being a host. We had not had food all day, when we got to the next village, but they just didn’t feed us. I found myself teaching a class at 10 o‘clock at night in the dark with just a flash light and surrounded by crying babies. It is considered very rude to ask for food, but finally, I told them that I was really hungry. Then they fed me and gave me a place to sleep.
“Late the next day as the sun was about to go down, a young boy arrived with a horse for me to ride to the next village. I tried to speak with him, but he didn’t speak any dialect that I knew, so there was no communication. It was really a beautiful horse, with just some blankets for a saddle and a rope halter. So we tied on some of our equipment, and the boy just walked behind us clicking his tongue because the horse already knew the trail. By now it was pitch dark, and we crossed the river with big boulders 16 times. We were deep in a jungle, but the horse kept going up steep hills with me holding on to his neck.
‘I said, ‘God, Can we please have a moon?’ And a moon appeared. Luckily, there are no predatory animals, no bears, no wolves, or snakes on these islands, only big spiders and cobwebs to dodge. But cows, pigs and sheep have been brought over. I was really feeling sorry for the poor horse that had no rest. Then we started straight up to the top of a mountain and arrived at a village.
“Now in Fiji, one does not just walk into a village! There’s a formality and you bring an offering. I had no offering, and it was pretty obvious that we were not expected. So in the dark of night, here comes this horse with a white woman, and they had never seen a white woman. The children were terrified they thought I was a ghost. Finally, they took me to a house thatched with palm leaves, called a bures. I sat down (to lower my head in respect), and the whole village came and we just sat there staring at each other. I was exhausted and really needing a bathroom, a shower and food! Apparently, no one had told them that someone was coming to teach them sewing. I gasped, ‘Vale lai lai,’ which means bathroom. And they took me to an out-house spot, which is not really enclosed. So I learned to go to the bathroom, shower (which is just a hose), sleep and eat with many eyes on me. I was just this fascinating ghost!”
“I will say that I really learned humility. I feel that this was one of the gifts that I was to receive. I was also deeply impressed by the humility of the people of Fiji. Rather than talking about themselves, the subject was always ‘we.’
“Another gift that I brought back was the wonderful culture of Fiji, and I will do it as a part of my business of fabricating custom bedding. It will be called Dabe I Cake, pronounced Dom-bay-e thaki, which means sit up in honor. So I will be making one-of-a-kind chairs and Ottomans out of the beautiful materials of Fiji.”
Perhaps the biggest gift was that by the end of her tour, Claudia had empowered 700 Fijians to be able to better sustain themselves.