New Friends On Navini

New Friends On Navini

In November, we left Singapore to fly to Navini Island in Fiji, taking us from our last Asian country on this trip into Oceania. As it turns out, our trip to Fiji came at the perfect time—we had traveled through Asia for over two months taking in completely new societies, languages, and customs, and we were still a bit culture-shocked. Asia was a whirlwind of things we had never experienced before, and we were still trying to make sense of it all. But the thought of resting under sunny skies, sand between our toes, and snorkeling on colorful reefs kept us going. We were all pretty excited when we finally boarded our flight to Fiji.

When we arrived, a man named Henry from Navini picked us up at the airport and drove us down to the docks where a boat took us on a 20-minute ride to the island.

We stepped off the boat into the warm sand, and a Fijian woman with a flower tucked behind her ear escorted us to our beach house, or “bure” (pronunced BOO-ray). Our bure sat hidden behind palm trees with the ocean on raw display in front of us just a few steps away.

It was heaven.

Eden and her new friends Rachel and Anabel walking down our bure's front steps to the beach

Eden and her new friends Rachel and Anabel walking down our bure's front steps to the beach

Anyone who knows me knows that I have shy, quiet, tendencies; I like being alone, and I like peace—and thus you can imagine that my heaven was immediately shattered by the sight of four adults and seven children frolicking about the island. Keep in mind that this island was very small—you could be at the other end of the island in a two minute walk. That’s not a lot of room. I was quite selfishly dismayed at having to share this place with other people.

I was even more dismayed when we went to the kitchen for lunch and saw two long tables set for all fifteen of us and realized that we were expected to dine communally. I seated myself protectively between my parents, eyeing our island-mates suspiciously. Over dinner, everyone introduced themselves.

The Abernathys were a Catholic family currently living in Australia, but originally hailing from Virginia. They had seven kids, ranging in age from five to eighteen, who were all homeschooled. The other couple on the island consisted of Brett, a professional architectural photographer and Lee, a theatre director.

For the next several days, it was just our family and these two others on the island, and we got to know each other quite well over our meals. Gradually, I began to like the whole idea of this community vacation, and our time with the other families moved from just eating together to advising on what parts of the island were best for snorkeling that day and what fish we had seen, to playing the Fijian game “vidi-vidi” (deceptively spelled, as it is actually pronounced “vindi-vindi”) together in the evenings.

Playing vidi-vidi.

Playing vidi-vidi.

On one of our first afternoons on the island, Brett took Isabel (the oldest Abernathy) and me out snorkeling and showed us how he killed the surrounding reef’s resident crown-of-thorns starfish by injecting vinegar into them. Crown-of-thorns, he explained, are highly invasive, as they solely survive by eating coral—much of which is already struggling to grow as it is.

Several afternoons during our time on the island, I played cards, told riddles and went on scavenger hunts with the seven other kids, which was quite interesting at first since I had never been around such a big family. During an attempt at a simple game of Go Fish, for example, I found the littlest one, Rachel, crawling into my lap while five others were yelling at their brother, Nathaniel, who had been caught trying to peek at everyone else’s cards. They kept trying to tell me their names which were difficult to memorize as they all ended in -el, and there were several pairs who looked too similar to tell apart at first glance. Later in the week we were joined by two kids from San Diego, Tyler and Riley, and we quickly folded them into our afternoon activities together.

All the island kids!

All the island kids!

As the end of our time on Navini neared to a close, I realized that I might actually miss these people whom I had so wanted to stay away from at first. Brett and Lee made an abrupt exit following a medical emergency, but we managed to exchange numbers beforehand. The Abernathys were next to leave, and after all the kids got their picture taken together, the families gathered on the beach to send them off. Tyler, Riley, Eden, and I found the island suddenly quiet without our seven noisy playmates, and it was even quieter the next day when Riley and Tyler left, too.

Saying goodbye to the Abernathys.

Saying goodbye to the Abernathys.

We had one day on Navini after all our newfound friends had left. The island had slowly been filling up with strangers during the week and several of them had chosen to dine alone, leaving our once-boisterous communal dining tables small and hushed.   

Snorkeling and beach-combing as a family was still fun on that last day, but something felt a little off. I marveled that just a week earlier I had been mentally rebelling against the idea of sharing “our” tiny island with people we’d never met but now they had become friends. And I missed them.

I wasn’t the only one missing them, either—our entire family had enjoyed spending time with people other than each other. After two months of intense traveling through Asia, I think we all appreciated the outside companionship.

We left Fiji about two months ago, and although we’ve long since rinsed the sand from our hair and tucked our bathing suits back into the bottoms of our backpacks, we haven’t forgotten our friends. We met up with Brett and Lee on our recent visit to Sydney, Australia, and we also met up with the Abernathys during our time in Tasmania.

God has a funny way of showing you that the thing you insist you don’t want is the thing that you need in the end, and no event on our trip has revealed this more than our time spent on Navini.

{Cover Photo: Hanging out after a Sunday church service with some of the Fijians who worked on Navini!}

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