Sena, Jenny's assistant, escorts me to Nasea, a typical village set among mangroves on this distant shore, where a two-year-old teaches me a final, humbling lesson about this emerging nation. Kicking off my flip-flops to enter a modest concrete-block house, I'm invited to sit on the only chair and watch two grandmothers weave kuta mats. Outside, a child is wailing, but I'm not really paying attention. More women and children gather on the veranda, so we modestly sit cross-legged in our sulus and chat up a storm. My Fijian is limited to bula (hello) and vinaka (thank you), but the genuine welcome reminds me that polite hospitality is not exclusive to parts of the world with air-conditioning and crocheted doilies.
We all rise to follow another weaver, who wades into a stream to harvest an armful of green reeds. The crying starts again, and I begin to wonder what is wrong with whoever is bawling in the background. Finally, after thanking the village elders for a gracious morning, my growing entourage crosses the common lawn. Standing in front of one shack is a barefoot little girl named Laite. When I wave, her eyes go wide and she breaks into another howl, running full tilt in the other direction. Everyone in the village roars with laughter. As the ignorant outsider, I have no idea why this so funny. Then Sena tells me: "She has never seen a white person."
Rare air indeed.
Shane Mitchell is a T+L contributing editor.