I stared at myself in the mirror, inspecting my complexion with great care. I took in a deep breath and sighed it out.
Well, this blows.
The day had started out innocently enough.
Ro Mereani instructed Sala to take me to the nearby village of Nausori for the day. “With all this drab of preparing for the funeral, you need to have some fun and do what you do best, eh? Go explore!” She smiled and shooed us out the door. Neither Sala nor I dared second guess the instruction. She was as thrilled as I was to have a day about town.
And a fun day of exploration and relief it had been. Sala had been a great tour-guide, directing me through the small and gritty streets of Nausori. We laughed and taunted the rain, walking back and forth over the bridges straddling the river Rewa. We’d take the newer, freshly paved bridge one direction. Then we’d turn around and brave the older dilapidated bridge on the return. We hopped around the gaping holes in the road, not wanting to tempt fate and fall in. The sidewalk was missing chunks of cement with the river clearly visible beneath us. One wrong move and we’d be taking an unexpected swim. We watched brave young boys sit on the ledge. They waved and we waved back.
“They don’t understand why you’re here,” Sala told me. “Tourists don’t come out this way.” I smirked and raised my eyebrows mysteriously at the onlookers. Let them wonder, I thought, satisfied with the stir I was causing.
On the way back we decided to take a bus heading north. It wound through smaller villages, past the Colo-I-Suva rainforest and then back down to Namadi Heights. There was no rush and the weather was warm. The sun peaked its way through the clouds, kissing my side body that sat exposed by the windowless panes.
Carly Rae Jepson blasted over the radio. Sala and I bounced in our seats, singing along. Locals getting on-and-off gave us strange looks. I didn’t care. I hung my head out the window and let my hand float in the breeze.
The bus ride itself was only twenty minutes. I bathed in the sun’s rays like a lizard on a heat rock. After the days and days of rain it felt good to photosynthesize.
I should have known I would get sunburned.
A short but relevant aside– This has been a life-long problem for me. I’ve always been the fairest of them all, but not in the good princess-like way one would hope to be. I’ve spent my life drenched in Coppertone and shrouded with hats and wraps and long-sleeves, hiding in shadows like a real-life vampire. I was forced to be overly diligent daily with sun protection.
Coming from a city with over 300 days of sunshine a year, I thought I’d nailed down a solid regimen. And so far on my trip I’d lucked out, only finding my skin getting temporarily pink after hours on the Great Barrier Reef. I was beginning to get delusional, musing that I might actually leave with a tan. (Oh, cruel world…).
So now here I stood, taking stock of my lobster complexion in the wide bathroom mirror and fluorescent bulbs. The funeral was tomorrow. How was I supposed to hide this?
I don’t mean to keep pushing the issue, but Jesus Christ- It had only been twenty minutes. I touched my cheek and mumbled, “Thanks, Equator, for being a hard-ass.”
Sala knocked and opened the door, popping her head in. “Hilary, you okay?” I turned to face her and she burst out laughing. I tried not to smile but I couldn’t help it. After all it was all so ridiculous.
Because I’m me, I could just have a traditional sunburn. Nope. I was only a horrid shade of vermillion on the right side of my body. The roof of the bus had shielded half my face in its shade. The line where that shadow began was evidently drawn from my face down to the top of my blouse.
“Oh my- What do we do?” Sala asked.
“I don’t think there’s much that we can do,” I resigned. “I guess I’ll be a strange-looking clown for a couple of days.”
Sala contemplated for a moment, studying my complexion. “Do you think Auntie could heal you?”
Now there was an interesting idea. I hadn’t thought about it, but now it seemed an all-too-perfect solution. After all… When in Fiji, do as the Fijians do and take part in legendary magical healings performed by your host.
Not sure what I’m talking about? That’s okay. I’ll explain.
The Legend of the Firewalker’s Lineage (Abridged)
When I arrived in Fiji, Ro Mereani gave me a mini history lesson, particularly that of the Firewalker heritage. Talei and her family were of chiefly blood. And not just any chiefly blood: that of a very mystical and revered tribe. They claimed to be the originators of coal walking and even taught Tony Robbins this very craft on their island. It can only be done by certain people in the village and is considered one of the most prestigious occupations in the country.
Legend has it that many many moons ago, The god Tuimolawai appeared to Tui-na-iviqalti, the prince and leader of the Sawau tribe (aka The Firewalkers) in the form of an eel. The eel had been caught and begged and pleaded to be released, promising to make him the best fisherman and warrior around. Tui-na-iviqalti refused (after all, he was the reigning badass and already had these abilities). So then the god, seeing that his life was in jeopardy, offered to make a special deal. If he was released, the god would give Tui-na-iviqalti immunity from fire.
Seeing that this was his chance to go down in history as the coolest Fijian around (and possibly gain a TON of Twitter followers), the prince agreed. The god wanted to seal the pact by having the prince lie in a bed of hot coals buried up to his neck. If he did this he would come out unscathed, forever giving his children and his children’s children this ability.
The prince, wary of this god, said he’d settle for having the ability to walk over fire unscathed. And since then, all those who are from the chiefly lineage of the Firewalkers possess domain over this element.
Anthropologists have studied this phenomena for decades, unable to find a reasonable explanation for their immunity. Some attribute their power to a simple case of mind of matter. Because even though they maintain regular sensitivity in their feet, their faith protects them from injury. But this is still perplexing for super sciencey people. (As a super side-side note, I’ve been contacted many times since beginning this journey by scientists asking me how I managed to get my elusive invitation to live with the Sawau Tribe. It makes me smile to tell them a ghost brought me here).
But wait… there’s more.
The Magical Healing Powers of the Firewalkers (Abridged)
What’s even less known but more mysterious is the rumored ability for these descendants to heal those who have been burned by fire. Ro Mereani had explained it to me one night over our evening tea. “It’s very simple. Any woman from our lineage can heal someone that has been burned by fire. If they can touch them, they can heal them. But the person who is injured must believe in our power. If they do not believe they will not be healed. If they do believe, their burns will heal much quicker, if not seem to disappear overnight.”
And as it just so happened, I was staying in a house full of healing women. Score.
I nodded at Sala and poked my head out from the safety of the bathroom. “Ro Mereani?” Mereani looked up at me over her paper. “Can your family’s healing powers extend to sunburns?”
Ro Mereani folded her paper and looked thoughtfully out the window. “Well, I’m not sure. I don’t think it’s ever been tried before.” She laughed before continuing, “It’s not a problem we have very often. Come.” She gestured for me to sit on the couch.
I sat down while she talked in Fijian to D’Tui and Sala. They gathered around me, inspecting my skin. D’Tui looked at me strangely. Sala laughed. “She doesn’t understand what a sunburn is or how you get one.”
I smiled at D’Tui. How cool it must be to be three years old. I tried to explain. “Well you see, D’Tui, my skin does not protect me from the sun like yours does. When I’m out in the sun too long I get red. And it’s painful.”
“But why?” She asked. “Why doesn’t the sun like you?”
The kid had me there.
Ro Mereani instructed her on how to help. “Touch her with your hands on all the parts where she’s red. We’re going to heal her burns, okay? Push healing energy and take away the burn.” D’Tui nodded and started placing her hands on my burns. Sala and Mereani followed suit.
Palms and fingers covered my forehead, lips and shoulder. Their grasps were firm and intentional. At first their touch stung and I flinched. But I took deep breaths and tried to settle my mind, focusing on their healing energy. These women are healers. Let them heal me, I thought. I am a believer.
Then something strange happened.
Their hands felt cool. Tingly even. Like they were covering my entire body with a cooling menthol gel. Ro Mereani ran her hands quickly down my arm, as if drawing out the burn and flinging it away.
This continued for about ten minutes. After they finished they each rubbed their hands together and flung away my negative burn energy out to the universe.
“You feel better now, Auntie?” D’Tui asked. I looked at Mereani for confirmation.
“That should do it,” Mereani said assuredly. “Now you should go to bed. Tomorrow when you wake up you’ll feel better, okay?”
I nodded and thanked them. I wanted so badly to be sure about this. But how could I be sure this wasn’t just a bunch of hocus pocus? I went to bed repeating my mantra, much like a child does about fairies. “I do believe in their healing powers. I do, I do.”
Just another mystery for those anthropologists to chew on, I suppose.