Yesterday morning began bright and early for A watch, as we stood watch on our short journey into the port of Suva, Fiji. After a brief motor-sail from our anchorage to the mouth of the harbor, we were met by a Fijian pilot who helped guide us through the fringing reef into the safe and sheltered harbor. I was at the helm when we met the pilot, and with the help of him and our captain, I did my best to steer us into the harbor. I had only ever been at the helm while we were miles off shore, when steering is important, but being a few degrees off from your heading is not the biggest problem.
As we entered the harbor, I realized this was a whole different situation. I focused hard to stay exactly on the pilot's heading, while trying to quiet the growing nerves and doubts in my brain as we passed through a narrow break in the reef, with shipwrecked boats dotting the water on either side of our ship. Thankfully, I managed to squeeze us through without running Mama Seamans aground, which I consider a success! After the excitement and hard work of docking our ship safely, the students were granted the afternoon off to explore Suva and work on research for our projects.
Today we had the opportunity to visit the University of the South Pacific to give a presentation on our lives at SEA and our time at HTHH. It was so interesting to see a university in another country, and overall it felt very similar to a school you would see in the US. After enjoying the campus's waterfront view for a bit, we headed back to the ship for some more free time (and chores for A watch - even in port we have to work hard to keep the ship clean!) The main event for the day didn't start until the evening - we headed back to USP for a kava ceremony! Kava is a drink made from the root of a kava plant, which is traditionally consumed on special occasions in the Pacific. We gathered in a breezy outdoor pavilion with a number of faculty and students from USP's marine science department, where we sat crisscross in a circle and began the ceremony.
To start, everyone was served a bowl of kava to try. We learned how to clap and say "bula!" before each drink, and I finally took my first sips. I have never tried anything like kava before and was not sure what to expect. It has a really unique, very earthy taste which was surprising at first, but people quickly became used to it. For the next three hours we sat around mingling with the folks from USP, sipping kava, eating pizza, and sharing stories from our lives at university and home. Despite the new experience, the entire night felt like a familiar gathering with old friends. We laughed and exchanged funny stories about our lives, bonding over the shared experience of being university students who love nothing more than free food. There was music playing and even some dancing, and of course, loads of great conversation. I was able to talk to so many people, students and faculty alike, about a range of topics, from the classes they are studying to the paddling club that some of the students participate in every afternoon. It was a wonderful night and I felt like I left with a whole new band of friends. This was by far one of my favorite experiences of the trip so far, and I am so grateful to have met and bonded with people, who despite being from a place so far from my home, can just as easily share a drink and a laugh with me like old friends.
Sending lots of love to my family - M&D, J&K, N&P, G&O - thanks for picking up the phone even when it's an absurd hour of the morning. Can't wait to share more of my experience with you soon!
Until next time!
- Carlin Schildge, A Watch, Colby College