A Visit to Fiji

Korean Seminarians and Youth Experience Mission

By Andrew Kwangbae Lee and Columban Fr. Seung Won Joseph

The following is an account of a visit by Columban Fr. Seung Won Joseph and some Korean youth – including Columban candidates and seminarians – to a number of Columban parishes in Fiji during July 2016.

We began our first full day at Navala village, which is an inland mountaintop area of Christ the King Parish, Ba, on the Western side of Fiji's main island. Navala was sweet. We were so tired after the long trip from Korea, but it was still "sweet"— not in the sense of "candy-sweet," but the feeling of peace—like a part of heaven.

Andrew, in the blue hat, at a Ba market with yaqona root seller
Andrew (left) at a Ba market with yaqona root seller

We went to Navala holding hands for protection in a truck which rocked and jumped over and around innumerable potholes. Nevertheless, we sang many songs and told funny stories with the group. At last, we arrived at the village. It was very quiet. There's no paved road, just a natural village. Houses are built with soil and leaves, but the people seem very happy.

A yaqona ceremony was going on when we arrived. This would occur at every village we visited. Yaqona is the Fijian native word for the kava plant (piper methysticum). Fijians make it into powder and mix it with water. After drinking a cup of yaqona, our eyes automatically closed to half their size! The chief of the village put some yaqona powder into the antique bowl which looked like a Korean traditional sundial, and he spoke words of greeting and blessings.

We were together sitting in the high position as guests. At first, Fr. Joseph Kang was offered a bowl and drank it after clapping once. This single clap means that the receiver is ready to drink. He must say "Bula Vinaka!" ("Hello") and then clap a further three times. After drinking, he says "Vinaka vakalevu." (Thank you very much). It was very difficult to remember all these new rules at first. I had to ask the one next to me many times, but eventually it became really natural to do it.

Traditional Home Stay

I did a home stay with two Korean vocation candidate brothers just like me. The host treated us to a cup of lemon grass tea. I was a bit worried about its sour flavor, and I said that "it's odd lemon!" to which they replied that it was the not lemon fruit, but the juice of lemon grass! Another of the many new experiences in store!

The brother of the hostess said jokingly, "I heard a girl is coming, where is she?" I didn't know what to say! My friend Verano said "It's only three of us (boys)." The guy looked very disappointed! If I were him, I would be disappointed too!

They said for us to have a short rest before having a meal – meaning to lie down and sleep right there on the floor. The coconut leaf mat on the floor was wonderfully cool. I wondered if trees in tropical areas were all cool like this.

It was meal time at last! It was fish, coconut leaves, and some root which looks like white radish. It is the staple food, and it's slightly stimulating. There was also rice and curry. Because Fiji was a colony of the British Empire, there were many immigrants from India bringing their own culture and food. We heard that sometimes there is occasional conflict between Indians and Fijians.

Being Natural with Nature

The entire group at Ba Parish Church
The entire group at Ba Parish Church

The most attractive aspect of life in Navala was living in harmony with nature. Despite being still a bit worried about the young man complaining about no girl guests in his house, he became a good friend for us. Taking a walk to surrounding villages, he showed us the marvelous sunrise every morning. Sunlight comes slowly over the mountain. The chilly winter night – even in a tropical region – gets brighter with warmth each dawn – like my mood! I hope that my life will be shining like the sun. Sometimes I don't see brightness or warmth in my life, so this trip has helped me to decide to seek the present wisely.

I said "Wow, this village is really good!" many times and our friend said that "the village men will build you a house, you can live here!" Although it's really attractive suggestion, I have too many things in my hands which I can't let go, just at the moment.

Heaven Is Also Here!

We then moved to Namosi Village, right in the center of Viti Levu. Namosi looks like a Taoist WWW.COLUMBAN.ORG May 2017 17 hermitage. There are clouds over the mountaintop. People there live just for the moment. I realized that God's world is much better than any humanistic or ideal world we might think to create. Everyone in Namosi smiled and said "Bula!"(Hello). That made me smile too. It was really ordinary, in contrast to Navala Village which is decorated to be shown like a folk village to the tourists.

Yaqona Ceremony in Namosi

Andrew with new friends at Namosi village.
Andrew with new friends at Namosi village.

As I said, there's always a yaqona ceremony on arriving in any new village. Actually I got diarrhea in Fiji, because of different water or food, perhaps. Anyway, I was cured after coming to Namosi! Was the reason the natural medicine or feeling so close to God here? Now I was looking forward to drinking yaqona and hearing the welcoming words of the chief.

After the ceremony, a woman called me Andrea (the Fijian version of Andrew) and then took me home. In Korean, my Christian name is often also pronounced as Andrea, and people used to laugh when I stayed in England a few years ago. They said, "That's a girl's name." I felt embarrassed.

Anyway, I (Andrew/Andrea) entered the house, drank lemon grass tea, with lots of jokes. It was a house with one child of 4 or 5 years, really cute. About the time I arrived was when the village stops the generator each night. The host lit a candle just for me. The little boy wanted to get the candle and was angry with his dad. So he lit one more candle and gave it to him. I asked "Isn't it dangerous?" He answered "If he touches the hot thing, he will not touch it again." Direct experience is the real education! Korean parents generally warn their children saying "Do it like this, no no, not like that," but in Fiji, parents let their children freely try every experience. I believe the reason is the Fijian peace of mind. I was so envious!

I talked more with the host of the house than with anyone else. It was memorable. He said that they rest if they are tired and spend much time with their children. Women make food in the outside kitchen. They are a community with warm hearts. I was reminded of the reality of South Korea. Koreans work so hard to make money putting up with their boss's harsh words, but it's not humane. They don't have enough time to laugh with their family.

Sometimes we Koreans can be greedy for material wealth. I hope that the Korean society can be happy with less money but more community. Of course global capitalism is the big problem. Happiness is seeking God in each heart. For that I will always be grateful to my friends in Fiji, even if I am a boy and not an attractive female tourist! Thank you, and God bless you always.

Andrew (left) at a Ba market with yaqona root sellerThe entire group at Ba Parish ChurchAndrew with new friends at Namosi village
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