Some time ago while standing at the bus stop, I watched two Fijian men walking toward me on each side of the road. The were painting the milage markers. A rather thankless job not filled with much enrichment, I thought, as they moved from one marker to the next almost in perfect unison. When the one on my side of the road approached me, we exchanged greetings and he reached out his hand. I had noticed before when Fijians shake your hand they usually hold it for a while and look into the eyes of the person with whom they are engaged. He studied my face and started to say something in Fijian but soon realized I did not understand him. His English was not that great but better than my Fijian and he said, “Good morning.” He was still holding my hand and his face appeared very weary but somehow wise. I returned his greeting and mentioned something about the cloudy day being good for painting the markers. He looked up at the sky and said, “Clouds are good, yes.” He released my hand and moved on to the next sign. I watched them until the bus came and thought nothing more of our encounter.
I have become accustomed to people walking into the yard to pick flowers and the leaves of the medicinal plants or ask for a drink of water. They are always friendly and polite and very eager to engage in conversation. Most of the homes in this community are up on the hill but mine is across the road at sea level and therefore more accessible. This morning as I sat at my desk five men wearing reflective vests walked into my front yard. I could tell they were part of the road crew. They were seeking shelter from the wind in order to have lunch. They sat down behind the hedge separating the yard from the road and started to open their lunches. When they saw me coming out of the door, I think they thought I was going to chase them away because a couple started to get up. Then I saw the man from the bus stop who seemed to reassure them that it was okay to stay because he knew me. He approached me and extended his hand. He looked me in the eyes and said, “Okay we eat here? You make tea?”
My mind must have instantly gone through at least ten scenarios ranging from. “Who was your slave last week?” to “This is my home not a tea house!” but all I said was “Tea?”
“Yes,” he said, “for all of us.”
I looked into the man’s eyes and realized that although his request was not worded as a request, his humility was real and honest. “Yes, I will make you tea.” I told him.
I went into the house, filled the tea pot and paused. I remembered that I am a guest in their homeland and the boiling of water and the serving of tea is a small return for the pleasures and joy I have received since my arrival. I only have three cups so I reached for two saki cups, placed a tea bag in each, used my cutting board for a tray and grabbed the honey. I know they drink their tea ‘sweet’ in Fiji. I watched the men sitting crossed legged on the ground eating from their containers of food and thought how perfect this is to be able to give back in someway. I took the tea out to the group of men. They all thanked me much more than was required.
A bit later one of the men brought the cutting board, cups, spoons, and honey up to the house and again thanked me. I noticed the used teabags were all gone but I just assumed they threw them away. I chalked the whole thing up to just another wonderful experience of humanity.
A week later. I hailed down a taxi while waiting for the bus. In Fiji when you hire a taxi it is yours and you have to give your permission for the driver to pick up others on the roadway into town. Whenever I see others waiting for a taxi, I always tell the driver it is okay to pick them up. So today the driver picked up a woman and her granddaughter and we all exchanged greetings.
“I know you,” she said, “you live in the Dallas house.” Dallas was the previous owner of the property for a long time and because there are no house numbers people know the houses by who lives there.
“I do. My friends brought the property and I live in the lower house. But how do you know me?” I asked.
“When my son came home last week, he asked me to make him a cup of tea,” she said. “Then he pulls a tea bag from his pocket and tells me to use this bag he got from the man who lives in the green house and served them tea this morning.”
Now I know where the tea bags went.