Mereani looked up from her paper as I walked through the front door. “Well? How did it go?”
I plopped down on the couch. “I’m not quite sure,” I said hesitantly.
She handed me a cup of coffee. “Tell me about it.”
I sighed, thinking back to the morning’s events.
I had been extremely nervous walking up the mountainside. I didn’t know how I would get through this talk with the village children without looking like a fool. It hadn’t even been my idea, but how could I say no? A chance to meet the school children of Dakuimbeqa and possibly give them some knowledge about America? In theory, it sounded like a great experience for all.
So my flip-flops led me loudly through the village. All was quiet except my mind. Typical.
What was I supposed to tell the children about America? I mean, I normally was a good public speaker and had numerous debate trophies to prove it. But since coming to this island I’d felt incredibly incompetent. My communication levels were that of a trained monkey.
Don’t believe me? I bring you instance A: Hilary Can’t Explain Las Vegas
The night before, one of the villagers had asked me where I was from.
“I’m from a place in America called Las Vegas.” I’d replied confidently.
“What’s Las Vegas like?” Someone else had asked. “Do they have villages like here?”
“No,” I’d responded, “We have larger cities. And casinos.”
“What are casinos?” One of the village women asked.
Turns out, it’s an incredibly difficult thing to explain. Especially to someone who has no concept of gambling or luxury living.
So how did I respond? “We have a lot of resorts like you have here,” I explained. “Except people go there to spend lots of money and drink and party. Most people lose lots of money but leave feeling happy about their experience.”
“Why would they want to do that? Why would that make them happy? That sounds awful.” An elder commented.
I had no answer. It didn’t make sense to me either. Everyone looked at me expectantly. I just sat there, mouth open, with no words coming out.
Like I said, a trained monkey would have done better.
The school sat in an L-shape with only a handful of classrooms total. I stopped in my tracks. I heard something coming from the school room I was told to enter.
Were they singing?
I left my flip-flops with the pile of shoes outside the door, entering to see a floor full of children sitting cross-legged, singing the most beautiful song I’d ever heard.
There was a chair next to the blackboard. The teacher motioned for me to sit there. He continued tapping out the rhythm of the song with the ruler against his hand.
I listened to the children sing to me. Some of them were curious about me. Others looked terrified (but what’s new, right?)
There was something about this song. Something about the harmonies. They were amazing singers… fit to lead a choir or concert.
And I don’t know what they were singing about (it was in Fijian), but I felt it. I’d heard of this happening to people who visited native tribes in Africa. The songs had purpose. The songs carried energy. And here, in this tiny school room, surrounded by these little tiny people, I felt their magic.
The singing stopped and I clapped. The teacher instructed them to greet me and I heard forty little voices say, “Bula!”
“This girl is from America. And she’s here to talk about The United States.” The teacher explained.
“Do you know where that is?” I asked.
“Yes,” they replied as a group. Okay, so far so good.
“Who is the President?” The teacher asked.
“Barack Obama.” They replied. Wow. Okay.
“Can you tell us about the region?” The teacher asked.
“Yes I can.” Gulp. “Yes, The United States is roughly the size of Australia. Does anybody know where Australia is?”
Silence. DEAD silence. Not good. Not good.
“I come from a place called Las Vegas. It’s near the West Coast, right next to California. I live in an environment very different from yours. It’s called a desert.”
“What’s a desert?” A child asked.
Turns out, this is not much easier to describe than the casino question.
“Wellllll,” I started. How the heck do you explain a desert to someone who’s never seen one? “So here in Fiji you get a lot of rain. Where I come from we don’t get much. So the land is very dry. We have lots of mountains and rock, some bushes and cacti.”
I looked up. Blank stares. Gulp.
“How many people live in America?” The teacher asked me.
“We have a lot,” I started, wondering how I could parallel it. “So on all the islands you have roughly 100,000 people yes?” Some of the children nodded. “My city alone has over two million.”
More blank stares.
I hate to say I told you so, but I did.
So I babbled, stumbled, and walked in circles for the remainder of my time there. Most of the children just wouldn’t stop staring. I doubt any of them were listening to a word I said, not that I said anything worth listening to.
The teacher asked me questions about how far away America was but I didn’t know the kilometer conversion. He asked me how expensive tickets were and I guesstimated what it cost to get me down here. He ended the lesson with, “So if you work hard and create a goal, you too can travel like Hilary from America.”
I nodded and smiled, trying to hide the fact I felt so stupid.
The children sang again before I left and I clapped one more time, thanking them and scurrying out with my tail between my legs.
I groaned, looking defeated at Ro Mereani over my cup of coffee. “I sucked. I don’t think I gave the ANY knowledge whatsoever… Except maybe how silly American girls are.”
She waved her hand and chuckled. “Nonsense. You were perfect.”
I was unconvinced. She folded her paper, locking eyes with me. “Hilary, these children rarely get visitors. When they go home today, and when the children from the other villages go home this weekend, they will tell their parents about the European girl who came to speak at school. They may talk about it for weeks. It may seem inconsequential to you, but it meant a great deal to them. Just that you went at all means something.”
“But I don’t just want that to be it,” I whined. “I want to change their lives. I want to help them… I want to help the community.” And then suddenly, it was resolved. “I need to find a way to get that teacher the supplies he needs. I need to find a way to keep him from making that eight-hour journey every quarter to type up his tests.”
I looked at her with conviction. “I don’t know how I’m going to do it, but I will find a way to bring them the technology they need. Well, if that’s okay…” After all, who was I to tell them how to live?
She smiled and looked incredibly pleased with herself. “I’ll have a chat with the village elders about it and see what they say.”
And that was that.