Finding Family in Fiji
Sometimes kinship and solidarity can be found in the most unlikely of places--even the South Pacific.
Then there were the two teenage boys, Simoni and Shalom, who lived at Homes of Hope with their families. They ran down the list of their favorite R&B and hip-hop artists, asking me how I felt about each one of them. I think I let them down when I told them that my intense consumption of modern R&B and hip-hop ended in college, and that the list of current urban artists that I regularly listen to seems to decrease each awards show season. But Simoni and Shalom literally knew artists and songs that I knew nothing about until I looked them up on YouTube when I returned to the States.
One day, after a cyclone hit our island, I was nailing screens to the windows of Shalom's bure. To keep myself entertained while working, I peeked through the window to watch Rize, a documentary about krumping that Shalom was also viewing. I was certainly familiar with the dance style and had heard about the documentary, but I'd never bothered to watch it. I found it ironic that I live a one-hour plane ride from Los Angeles, but learned most of what I know about krumping in a small house in the Fijian jungle.
In time, I came to understand why many of the locals felt such a connection to me and black America. During dinner at the home of my new friend, Joape, his mother broke it down for me further: Native Fijians, Mrs. Varawa said, were descendants of people who had migrated from Africa to Asia before settling in the South Pacific. This belief went so deep that her family and many residents in their neighborhood--which they have nicknamed ''Kenya''--spent months raising money to support missionaries in Nigeria. The Varawa family's church supports more than 300 missionaries around the world, many of them in Africa and some in America.
Obviously, I'm familiar with the theory shared by Mrs. Varawa. But I guess I hadn't thought about that while preparing for my trip, because for every person I met who shared Mrs. Varawa's belief, I feel like I'd read something else that suggested that many descendants of ancient migrants from Africa--particularly those living in Asian countries--didn't feel the same connection with black people and/or Africa. So repeatedly hearing a message that basically said, ''We may look like we have similar roots, but we don't'' pretty much stuck with me. And honestly, I was fine with that. Because I've come to conclude that a kinship based on skin color alone can only go but so deep. But it seemed like with each day, that kinship was deepening.
The Varawas along with Simoni's family took me from the Homes of Hope campus to see life in their native villages and to expose their families to me--first to a family member's funeral and second, to a daylong church event.
While listening to a church choir sing an a capella version of the hymn ''It Is Well'' in their native language at the funeral, I was reminded that the Baptist church staple was sung at my grandmother's funeral in North Carolina just a few months earlier. As I walked past a smoke pit where a hog was roasting in preparation for the funeral repast, I was reminded of the barbecue I devoured at a festival in Kansas City's 18th and Vine Historic District. And after heading to Joape's house after we consumed what seemed like a never-ending fried chicken dinner, we watched the game--rugby--before passing out to go to an all-day fundraiser supporting churches in Nigeria the next day.
So when my team was preparing to leave Fiji, the look I saw on the faces of the residents looked different. Or maybe I was just different. Their faces, still inviting, seemed to this time say ''We're different, but more similar than you know.'' And I hope the face I gave back said, ''Yep, I know.'' Because, now, I do.
Eugene Scott is a journalist based in Phoenix.