In November of 2009, I was making plans with my dear friend Garrett to travel back to Fiji to start a humanitarian project in the village of Nakavika. To this day, I have yet to accurately verbalize how truly life-changing that trip was. Since returning home from that trip, I've been working steadily in a global context, unable to dedicate the necessary time to help the project flourish again. It has been especially hard to make anything - even simple communication - happen from afar with a community that is not Internet-connected.
Five years later, I'm making similar travel plans, but this time, my goals are much simpler. Next month, I am traveling back to Fiji with the intent to reconnect with Nakavika and gain some perspective on our time there, five years later.
Recalling and reliving a dream
I've been living in Auckland, New Zealand for the past two months, continuing my work with THINK Global School. New developments at work have incorporated leisure time for employees to travel within the school term. I haven't had the opportunity to visit since February 2010, but thanks to the proximity, cost, and flexibility with work, that return to Nakavika is finally possible.
I spent the morning re-watching our videos from The Nakavika Project. It brought me back to a time in my life that feels more like a dream than concrete reality. It's a dream that carries with it the feelings of hope, despair, fear, and confusion.
At times, I am so proud of that former self who felt compelled to "build" and "do," and at other times, I cringe at that mentality and worry how often and how hard I stomped around like a cultural imperialist. On this trip to Nakavika, I hope to gain some closure of these feelings and better understand development work in this world today.
Sharing the dream with others
Thankfully, I will be heading back to Fiji with some company. Two friends from my work community will join me on the flight there and possibly throughout the entire experience. Both come with extensive knowledge in areas the Project would benefit from, and I know they would find the village gorgeous and full of good people.
I assume, in a way, that bring new people into this village will feel like I'm verifying for myself that this experience happened. Their presence will be like spinning my totem to ensure this is and was my reality. After years of building the realization that we humans are all the same, sometimes it's hard for me to accept that two places in the world can actually differ greatly and that the way you approach life in one location may be vastly different than the way you have always done so at home.
I have a month to prepare for this trip, both mentally and physically, and this prep will include a lot of correspondence with Fijians, accumulation of mementos and gifts, exercise galore, and documentation of some form or another of this experience in order to continue our focus on that cross-cultural dialogue.
Feeling ready for the reality check
Surprisingly, I have received a lot of messages over the years from people who found the project through Google searches and wanted to share their thoughts about it. It has given me "the feel-goods" to receive these messages from both Fijians and foreigners alike, and it gives me a better feeling going into this trip than would radio silence.
One thing I didn't have before, during, or soon after the project was what I finally think I can now gain: perspective. Time will reveal results, and experience often gifts a little wisdom. These past five years have helped me grow exponentially. I finally feel ready to reenter this dream, ground the learnings in my own reality, and be comfortable with whatever perspective I leave with.
This will be a true test of my cross-cultural communication skills and my world view. A dream I want it to be no longer.