My wife, one son (my other son Tucker was indisposed) and I went on a nature hike today guided by a young Fijian they call Moses. His real name is Mosese. All the resort workers shorten their names to more European monikers for the sake of the tourists. We are in Fiji of the South Pacific on a vacation of sorts.
An open motorboat ferried us across the deep blue lagoon. After careful maneuvering through sandbars in the shallows the boat scrunched to a halt on the coral sand shore. The coxswain waved a grinning goodbye as we pushed him off. Someone would come back “in a while.” I couldn’t help but wonder if that was “Fiji time” which is a tongue in cheek way of implying a certain relaxed flexibility.
After being informed that the island had been inhabited until the early 1800’s by way of a wonderful bit of history and story telling by Moses we embarked into the jungle. My son Corson, with his surgically reconstructed left leg, strode carefully down the shaded and uneven path with his ornate wooden cane (a gift and story of its own)
Each ten to twenty feet or so Moses would stop and pull a leaf or point out a fruit or flower. He’d softly explain the medicinal uses and totem qualities of each. His grandmother had been a healer. She knew all the plants and their uses. She could direct young Moses (now a father) through the forest to the exact location of whatever plant or tree she desired. He shared his amazement at her ability to place him on the spot. He’d retrieve the leaf, berry or bark for her to grind or manipulate in order to form the medicine. He laughed a comical, shrill gurgle like a bird.
The day before he had shown us how to build a “fish house.” This is part of a conservation project to rebuild the reef. My sons, Moses and I had sat in the sand mixing concrete in five gallon buckets to use as mortar of sorts in order to build an igloo of broken coral and shells while their Mother and Lata (another story) searched for shells. He had guided each of us patiently while regaling with stories and describing his life and work.
When we finished the “house” he showed us a shed where he kept a sea kayak. It was like being shown a secret hiding place. Moses explained that he’d place the heavy igloos of concrete and shells onto the kayak and walk them out into the water 150 to 200 yards and place them there. When you finished your house they gave you the GPS coordinates and the sequential number of that house so you could always track it on a computer.
Eventually we reached the far side of the island. As the trail opened out onto a secluded beach I gazed into the vast ocean that evolved from shallow turquoise to deep blue. A sudden breeze dried the sweat on my brow, neck and chest. Moses had cut a papaya from a tree with the rusty machete he carried slung over his shoulder on a rope. Sitting cross-legged in the sand he fashioned a sliver of knife from a piece of the same papaya tree that had yielded the fruit. He explained that he did not want to contaminate the fruit with the rusty blade.
As we chatted I watched him precisely, slowly, slice the papaya into pieces. He’d peer out across the water and sky with his eyes shaded by the bill of a worn and faded blue ball cap as if he could see somewhere beyond this world. Then he’d grin as he handed each of us a piece of the juicy, sweet, orange-yellow manna of a hiker’s heaven. We were comfortable and sustained. Eventually, we departed for the meeting place around the point and over the crest to our left.
My son had struggled with fatigue on the walk. He had endured a year of intense chemotherapy a while back. Concern rose as we crossed huge driftwood jams the sea had deposited on the inlet side of the island. He looked across at me and gave thumbs up in response to my questioning gaze. Of course he’d respond the same even if he were about to fall out on the ground.
Motoring back to the mainland. I reveled in gratitude for nature and the peace of having my son and wife in the boat safe and resting. Moses sat reflective and grinning in the bow. I knew he had a baby coming. He’d told us on the beach. They wanted to name him Ebenezer, “from the book of Samuel.”
I also knew that he had been two units from a marine biology degree and ran out of money and had to go to work. It had been difficult to find. The resort had not had a position so he’d volunteered for two and a half years at the marine center there until they had been able to give him a job. That had been two years before. We’d discovered all this while inquiring as he had guided us through the construction of the fish house.
As far as I could see, in comparison to America, these folk live a meager existence. They come to this resort called “Shangri-La” each day. They work serving and cleaning, teaching and guiding, entertaining and giving of themselves in such a natural way that you feel as if you have known them forever.
Then they return to their villages of cinderblock, tin and thatch; windows always open, few screens, eating their simple diet, living their simple lives, knowing there is opulence yet clearly loving their lives and family and ancient way of life.
The resort jobs must be a godsend and I would imagine highly prized. Shangri-La has several resorts in the Pacific. Each of them works to sustain and serve the people and environment where they are located. Here they have built schools, initiated myriad environmental programs, aided families and more. They treated us with such grace and generosity that we are forever humbled and grateful.
We leave here tomorrow. This trip was granted my son by the “Make a Wish” foundation. They grant wishes to children that suffer from life threatening diseases. We’ll leave these childlike, welcoming people behind for our competitive, material contest of a world and have only been a ripple on the sea of their lives.
Lord willing, Moses’ child will be born and Moses will teach Ebenezer the plants that are medicine and life’s blood to these people of earth and sea. Lord willing, another son will walk with his mother and father across this island of time into the love of the world that awaits him.
“Bula,” all ye angels of life. Peace, love and blessings to each and every one of you in far away “Shangri-la.”
You are in our hearts … forever.