Earlier this year my husband and I celebrated our 20th wedding anniversary at a resort in Fiji. Situated on an island in the Beqa Lagoon south of the Fijian mainland, the resort was an absolute paradise. It gave us an opportunity to escape and relax, but it also showcased stark differences between Fijian culture and what we have become so accustomed to in the United States.
Nearly 70% of the resort’s staff live in nearby villages on Beqa Island. These villages are considered familial and almost everyone living within an individual village is related. Land is given to members as they age into adulthood and homes are passed on as family members move out or die. Life in the villages is communal, shared, and people depend on one another. This way of life was evident among the staff at the resort. I have never witnessed a group of people care for one another like they did. There was palpable joy in their work, attention to one another’s needs and concern for how each person could better the group. I asked one of the bartenders about it after dinner one night and he told me that this is “just the way of Fiji.” It was a literal breath of fresh air.
Upon arriving home from our trip, one of the first posts I came across in the Key Peninsula Facebook group had 107 comments arguing about residents in Los Angeles being “required to compost their food scraps.” It felt like whiplash. It took me a few moments to process why this post was even in the group, and then why we were spending time arguing about it. As I scrolled further on in my social media and online news sites it was just one argument after another. People arguing about perceived wrongs, differences of opinions, failures to understand or ingrained biases and assumptions. I then logged in to help text bank for the Peninsula School District Levy vote. Many of the voters I contacted were supportive of the school district’s financial needs, but many others were very, very angry. It was exhausting. I wanted to somehow escape back to the way of Fiji.
We hear a lot about American exceptionalism, but I think in many ways we have it all wrong. Our society is currently fractured along political, cultural and economic lines and until we can find ways to work together it is never going to improve. Instead of paying attention to one another’s needs and having concern for how we could do better for someone else, many of us are too busy searching for the next scapegoat to blame for everything that has gone wrong. I’m tired of the constant fighting and think we can do so much better.
While we were in Fiji my husband and I also had the opportunity to participate in a kava ceremony. Kava is a traditional drink used to welcome newcomers, encourage friendliness and camaraderie amongst families and friends, or settle disagreements. It has been used for generations as a social and cultural unifier. The taste was unremarkable, slightly earthy and peppery, but being a part of the traditional ceremony that connects people to the most important parts of the Fijian culture was more than memorable. Perhaps, in the United States, we need to find a cultural tradition similar to a kava ceremony that would help us connect to one another. I’m willing to try anything to stem the tide of arguing.
As Americans I think we could learn a lot from other cultures such as the Fijians who were so warm and hospitable to us. It was more than exceptional customer service; it was embodying a culture that prioritizes connection and community over anything else.
Meredith Browand is a mother and activist who lives in Purdy.
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