You’re unlikely to find Randy or Ramona Gliege lounging at the pool of a five-star resort — returning home from vacation with an even tan and a suitcase full of cheap souvenirs is not high on their travel plan priorities. They prefer instead the enrichment gained from immersing themselves in various cultures, and they do so at every given opportunity.
While touring the Fijian Islands, the Glieges sought out a fishing wharf on the main island of Viti Levu. They there met Wai, a local forestry worker employed in Nadi who lived on the tiny, remote island of Waya Sewa in the Yasawa Island chain.
After chatting for a while, Randy negotiated a deal for himself and Ramona to stay with Wai and his family. One hundred Fijian dollars exchanged hands, and Randy and Ramona soon found themselves seated on the homemade deck of a 14-foot wooden boat watching Jo, Wai’s 15-year old son, bail water. An hour later they arrived at Wai’s village to begin their week-long stay.
Having done his homework, Randy knew local customs dictated he bring a bag of kava and present it to the village elder. Kava is a powder made from grinding kava roots and is used to mix a beverage favored by the locals. The ruddy looking and muddy tasting drink causes a tingling and numbness to the lips and tongue. Consuming copious quantities of it is said to produce feelings of euphoria. Shangri-La in a bag, if you will. The gift was readily accepted.
The village was comprised of approximately 20 houses, with a solitary public building that served as both a church and a schoolhouse. Indoor plumbing, running water, and electricity were non-existent, and meals were prepared outside in either an open fire or baked in a pit with hot coals. A fresh-water pool provided a secluded place for communal bathing, with separate times allocated to men and women. Fish, coconuts and a few vegetables could be harvested locally, but all other supplies were brought in from Viti Levu.
Sunday morning the Glieges accompanied their hosts to a church service. A teenaged girl approached them and, in halting English, introduced herself as A’sena Dawai. She asked where Randy and Ramona were from. “Canada,” Randy responded.
“Canada?” inquired A’sena. “I have a friend in Canada. We write letters. You know, a pen pal. You must know her.”
Randy and Ramona smiled at each other. No words were necessary; this young girl had probably never left this tiny island in the South Pacific. Anything beyond a couple hundred people and a few hundred acres of land would undoubtedly have been hard for her to comprehend.
“There’s no way I would know her,” explained Randy. “Canada is a VERY big country. Millions of people. I’m sorry, I would not know her.”
Undaunted, A’sena pressed on.
“You’re from Canada, and she’s from Canada. You MUST know her, she lives in Sask part of Canada. You know Sask?”
Randy visualized an envelope addressed to Sask., Canada.
“Yes, I know Sask.,” he replied. “I’m from Saskatchewan, but there’s still a lot of people…”
“She’s from Waldheim, Sask.,” interrupted A’sena.
Randy’s eyes met Ramona’s. This was almost scary.
“I’m from Waldheim,” said Randy.
“Her name is Rita Loewen.”
“Rita Loewen! I know Rita Loewen. She lives next door to my parents!”
“See?” said A’sena. “Canada.”
Randy smiled back at the young girl, nodded his head, and affirmed, “Yes, Canada.”
“Randy harvesting coconuts” Photo © Ramona Gliege
“Jo and Ramona” Photo © Randy Gliege
“Wai and his family having a meal” Photo © Ramona Gliege