Monday, August 16, 2010

I wanted to do a blog on the island of Makogai. It was one of the highlights of our stay in Fiji. The island was a former leper colony. It was opened in 1911 and closed in about 1960. There were about 5000 lepers on the island at one time. Apparently lepers from all over the Pacific were sent here. One fellow told us that the patients would choose areas to live according to where they were from; the Fijians, the Samoans, the Tongans, etc. would have a separate area on the island where they would stay. A lot of the structures on the island are made out of cement, they must have had good sand on the island because we saw cement jails, cement hospitals, cement houses, cement bridges as well as a cement cinema with
matching cement screen, even the crosses in the graveyard were made out of cement. The names I could read in the graveyard were mostly of the French nuns and priests who cared for the lepers. There are a lot of houses still standing on the island, so in the 1980's, I think, the government opened up the island for people to come and live there. It was explained to us that the village that existed there is quite different than most villages as the people are from all over Fiji, rather than the usual traditional village where people have lived for generations.
The first day we went ashore and walked the 5 km to the village. We were greeted very warmly, we did sevusevu and got to meet the school teachers, husband and wife, as well as their daughter. It was lunch time and they invited us in for a cup of lemon tea, the leaves are picked from the tree and then just steeped, delicious. The teacher explained that the next day there was going to be a big feast because the students would be writing the class 8 exams, they wanted us to come back. It was quite a trek over there but we decided that we would go to the feast because this was an opportunity few would have, to be included in a real Fijian event.
The next day I went snorkeling in the morning and found some of the best snorkeling we experienced in Fiji.
Then we set off over the hills to the village. We thought we were going to be late so we set a brisk pace and boogied the 5 km in 50 minutes. If there was ever proof that Barry is back in shape that walk was it, he made sure to let me know that he carried a 15 pound pack as well, that is about 7.3 kg for you younguns. We had an absolutely wonderful time. We were treated like honoured guests and the school master said to let you know that we were at the very last writing of standardized exams for year 8 in the Republic of Fiji. If they pass the four children that were writing the exams would have to leave the village and attend school in a city of their choice, some stay with extended family and some board at the schools. It must be a big step for those children. The feast was really spectacular, the students, guests, the men and the elders all ate first. The women who prepared the feast fed their children if they had little ones but they did not eat until all the men were done. You sat on a woven mat on the floor and the tablecloth was laid down the middle of the mat and everyone sat and ate with their fingers, using taro and casava to sop up the good stuff. There were curries, a venison dish, roast pork, crab, chop suey and some traditional Fijian vegetables cooked in coconut. We ate to our hearts content and then had a nice visit. Then the village pastor, a Methodist, walked back with us, he strode along the path through the jungle with bare feet. I told him I wanted to have Fiji Feet and asked how long it would take me to develop them. He said if I walked that path everyday for an hour it probably would take me a month.
Another use for the island is to raise giant clams. They were amazing, we gave the fellow in charge, 20 liters of diesel because the gov't had made a mistake and sent 2 barrels of gasoline instead of one of gas and one of diesel and so the poor huge giant clams were going to suffer because they could not pump the water to change it so they would have the nutrients they needed. We were happy to contribute to such a worthy cause.