HAL blogger Gary Frink currently is sailing on board Oosterdam and will be sending in posts from his voyage.
“I’m on this island for one reason and one reason only: to walk the beach,” Jeanne certainly informed me. With sandals in hand, she walked down to the wave-hardened sand and was off, stage right, on her shell and coral quest. I was left, ankle deep, in the beige sand, taking photos of this new and rare environment.
We had exited the Oosterdam tender and were on a tiny volcanic spec — that is if you consider a 0.8 square kilometer island to fit the description. Dravuni Island, is a member of the Kadayu Group of Fijian islands; it is the most northern human haven within the Great Astrolabe Reef.
It was as if Holland America set out to give passengers a Fijian hot and cold, black and white, sweet and sour experience, transporting us from Suva to Dravuni Island. Fewer than 200 persons live on the diminutive volcanic islet.
Jeanne returned from her beach-comb carrying six prized shell and coral jewels, after round-tripping it to the farthest island point visible from the tender landing. We spread our beach towels, stripped to our bathing suits and plunged into the surprisingly chilly, uber-salty Pacific. We paddled about for 10 or 15 minutes. When back atop the thick, navy beach towels, I said to Jeanne: “Now, I believe it is time for us to buy something; we have to leave some Yankee Dollars here.” “I haven’t seen anything that grabs me,” she replied.
While Jeanne combed the beach, I had explored the small community immediately behind the beach and had purviewed the vendor’s soft-goods wares, attached to clotheslines, floating in the trade-wind. I had noticed a purchasable item or two of interest.
As I walked in the village, I noticed the large, upright cisterns and eves waiting to accept roof rain runoff. I also noticed the communal open-sided sheds, where men and women sat on mats eating the mid-day meal. Toward the end of Jeanne’s beach-comb, I sat in the shade of a weeping-willow-like tree. A three or four year old boy sat next to me. He paid no attention to me. He didn’t beg, by act or eye-pleading implication; I took great notice of that fact. I came to realize that great dignity existed in this small village. Then Jeanne and I met Laniana. She was the vendor of the wrap for Jeanne that had caught my eye while Jeanne was on her search.
“I was born here and first went to school right here; then I had to go to the ‘Big Island’ to finish my schooling. My son is there now.” I asked how the islanders got back and forth to Kandavu, the “Big Island.” “We go in those boats,” she said pointing to 10-12 foot long skiffs, powered by Yamaha outboard engines; the men in the skiffs were doing a good business during the day, taking Oosterdam passengers for $10 each on circumnavigations of the island. “How long does it take to get to the “Big Island,” I asked. “Three, three-and-a-half hours on a calm day,” She replied. “We have to bring everything in on those boats, flour, rice, cooking oil, everything! Families grow vegetables and we fish, but the rest comes by sea.” In answer to my question, Laniana said: “There is no doctor or nurse on the island; only our own “nurse.” The Fiji government provides the islanders with the village generator. I have no idea what other subsidies, if any, are provided by the government.
Laniana asked her daughter to step forward from behind the waving fabrics to meet us. Sala, a beautiful, poised young woman of 20 years, had returned to Dravuni after completing her education on Kandavu. “Is she married,” I asked her mother. “No, we’ll wait until she is 21 years,” she said. I photographed mother and daughter. I asked Laniana how many cruise ships stop at the island each year. She replied: “Six, and they are very important to us.”
Sensing our time together was short (only the extreme foolhardy would miss the last tender and find her/him self living on Dravuni Island,) I asked her to write her name in a small police investigator’s notebook Jeanne keeps with her; she did, and then said: “What are your names and address?” I was surprised at the question. Jeanne wrote them and tore a page from her notebook and handed it to Laniana; she read our address back to us and said: “I’ll write you.” As we were about to leave her, Laniana looked us in our eyes and stated calmly: “God put us here and our life is good.” Dignity, Simplicity and Acceptance are what I could learn from Laniana and the South Pacific islet of Dravuni.