Sunday, October 14, 2012

Sisilia of Nukumbalavu - picture post

July 23 - 31, 2012

Our stay in the house introduced us to Sisilia (Sisi), Talei (Sisi's daughter) and Sisi's father, Andrea. Sisi and Talei live in a small house on the land owned by Kavin (who built the house we stayed in as well as Sisi's). Sisi is soft spoken in the Fijian way. Her gentle voice is full of warmth. Her smile radiant and genuine. She would come by the house daily as her father did to see if we needed anything. I remember liking her the minute we met and feeling akin because she was as interested in food as I was. I wanted to know everything about her traditional way of life. She was the first Fijian I became friends with. She invited us to dinner at her house the 3rd day we were there (Tuesday July 24). 


Sisi's yard

I was in seventh heaven, I was dying to see a Fijian home and share a meal. We all felt honored and pleased. Sisi owns only one chair, so we didn't sit on chairs at dinner. Fijians sit down on large woven grass mats. If they need back support they sit against a wall. I brought a soup I'd been cooking all day. Sisi made dahl, cassava, and a typical Fijian noodle dish (with greens, chillies, tuna and ramen like noodles in a spicy brown sauce). We ate the main meal at her house and came back to the big house for desert. I had baked one of my favorite traditional American deserts, apple crisp. Sisi like it very much later asking for the recipe.

The next day when Sisi came by she asked me if I wanted to go and collect seaweed with her later that day and make it for dinner. I was very keen to join her. We set out around 4PM (low tide was around 5:30PM and that was when you could find the seaweed. We walked along the road toward the village of Nukubalavu.

Then we followed a goat trail along the bay at the water line. It was a 30 minute walk - all glorious with huge palms set against the beach at low tide with low mountains as a back drop. Tamsyn and Griffyn came along. On the way to the seaweed grounds, Sisi brought me to her family home, Andrea's house, where she grew up.

Sisi showed me around and introduced us to her nieces and nephews, her aunt and sisters. Andrea built this house 20 years ago, before that he lived in the house next door where his sister still lives.

His son and daughter-in-law live next door also. And the houses behind Andrea's are all relatives as well. After taking pictures and making introductions, I stowed the camera before we walked back to the beach and into the water, now at very low tide. We waded out quite a ways as Sisi collected seaweed in a couple plastic bags. She moved very fast through the water collecting seaweeds. I couldn't keep up with her, so followed at my own pace far behind her. I saw a black and white sea snake, many bright blue star fish, dark purple sea urchins and lots of tub worms all stretched out looking like strange striped silk hoses. Tamsyn and Griffyn had great time wading in the water, picking up creatures, shells and rocks. When Sisi was satisfied with her plunder, we waded back to the house and then walked along the beach all the way back to the big house (Kavin's place).

Back home we washed the 1st of two seaweeds that we collected. It is actually a form of egg nest, not seaweed at all and tasted like cold noodles. I was amazed at how much work it was to make this meal. We ate dinner some time after 8PM. We let the second seaweed sit until tomorrow.

The next day Sisi brought over a green papaya to prepare for a salad. She did everything out doors on the veranda. She brought out a huge mat, the kind her aunt wove out of grass, laid it down on the veranda and sat down on it. (Just like when we ate dinner at her house.) She peel, seeded and chopped up the green papaya very quickly and brought it into the house. Then she sent Solo, her nephew along with Griffyn to collect clean salt water to be used to pickle the papaya. She grated it and soaked it in salt water for several hours. Eventually she drained it and added tuna, coconut cream, salt, fresh green beans cut very small, and fresh tomatoes, chopped. Then she spent the rest of the day cleaning the seaweed of tiny seashells, eel grass, twigs, and other detritus. Again I was amazed at how much time Sisi spent preparing food. She always seemed to have something cooking in her out door cooking area (generally it was casava). That night we were invited to an American ex-pat's house for lobster linguini. This American has been living in Fiji for 12 years and is good friends with Kavin (the owner of the home we rented). We brought both the green papaya salad and the seaweed dish. The salad was good but we couldn't eat the seaweed dish. It was too fishy and salty.

Tamsyn and Griffyn had made friends with Katherine, the neighbor's daughter, Talei, Sisi's daughter and another girl who came around. Griffyn played with Sisi's nephew, Solo or one of the three dogs that became regulars on the veranda. Friday night we shared another meal. Sisi made a simple eggplant dish that was amazing. I made beans and rice which her daughter loved. and Saturday night we invited Sisi, Talei and Katherine over for movies. We watched "Star Dust" and "Second Hand Lions" and ate popcorn. Popcorn is an expensive luxury in Fiji. Sisi loved it and enjoyed the movies.


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