How to Make Coconut Cake in a Lovo (Earth Oven)

Because I know you’ve always wanted to know…

  1. Dig a shallow pit in the earth.
  2. Find some large stones and place them in the pit.
  3. Start a fire in the pit, using some wood, to heat up the stones.IMG_4818
  4. Mix sugar, flour, ground coconut, baking soda and water.IMG_4839
  5. Find some large banana leaves and scorch them over the fire to make them easy to fold without cracking.
  6. Shave the stems off the leaves to make them flat.IMG_4833
  7. Add a handful of mixture into a section of leaf.IMG_4849
  8. Fold the leaf upwards.IMG_4852
  9. Tie with the shaved off stems.IMG_4855
  10. Repeat until all of your mixture is used.IMG_4857
  11. You can also cut square sections of leaves and fold into flat parcels.IMG_4862
  12. Halved coconut shells can also be used by filling them with the mixture.IMG_4858
  13. Gather all your ready to bake cases.IMG_4872
  14. The stones should be nice and hot by now. Remove any left over wood and level them out.IMG_4874
  15. Add thick halved banana stems as a base.IMG_4878
  16. Put your cases on top, spread them evenly.IMG_4881
  17. Cover with palm leaves.IMG_4883
  18. Then cover with some tarpaulin.IMG_4891
  19. Cover with the soil you dug up earlier, making sure there are no holes for heat to escape.IMG_4893
  20. Leave for two hours.IMG_4902
  21. Carefully dig up and remove.
  22. Enjoy!IMG_4911IMG_4927

Bathing in a Hot Spring

One quiet Sunday afternoon we decided to go on a walk to the end of the island. It takes about an hour and passes through several villages. There are a few small hills and near the end the road is lined with large volcanic rock formations, dripping with vines and trees.

Rocks and Trees

Rocks and Trees

We stopped off at the house of David Fotofili who was actually our first contact on the island, through the accommodation he and his family run called Moana’s Guesthouse. We had some tea and delicious cake to nourish ourselves in-between our walking!

At the end of the island there is a big bay which looks across a 20m stretch of sea to a small island which has one lone village called Namalata. On weekdays children get a boat from Namalata across the water to catch the truck to Adi Maopa school.

Namalata with Susui in the Distance

Namalata in the Distance

Tiny Uninhabited Islands

Tiny Uninhabited Islands

On our way back, walking through the village of Narocivo, we were stopped by a man who said he wanted to talk to us. He introduced himself as Ledua and said he wanted to take us to the island’s hot spring. We arranged to return the following Saturday.

We arrived at Narocivo after breakfast at about 11am. Ledua said he had forgotten our arrangement but that he could take us anyway. So we set out along the road that we had taken to the end of the island the previous weekend. Ledua took a bottle of water and, classically, a massive knife. When I saw he had changed from flip-flops into trainers I was a bit alarmed, as most of the time Fijians wear nothing on their feet at all, where was he taking us?

Walking Along the Road

Walking Along the Road

Just before we reached the final bay Ledua stopped and pointed off-road towards one of the biggest rock formations, basically a cliff. He said ‘It’s this way.’ The reason for his trainers became clear as we stomped our way through the spiky undergrowth, apparently no-one had visited the site in years. Luckily for me, Joseff swapped his trainers for my flip-flops, what a hero. 

After scrambling through bushes, branches and six-foot high grass, with Ledua hacking out the way with his knife, we came upon the cliff-face. We had to climb up around 80m of large spiky boulders, somehow Ledua’s two dogs made it too. Skin was being scratched and twigs were being caught. Once we made it to the top, the ground levelled out for a bit and we then had to scale down the other side, into a crevice in the cliff. Weaving round and under big pieces of rock I really felt I was in a climate like no other I had encountered. 

Disappearing into the Grass

Disappearing into the Grass

Getting There

Getting There

On an Adventure

On an Adventure

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Dogs

Finally, Ledua stopped and sat down. When I looked up I could see the rock going up either side of us, with vines and leaves hanging everywhere. Ledua pointed into a small cave and said ‘It’s in there.’

Ledua and Joseff

Ledua and Joseff Looking into the Pool

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Look Up

The pool was quite small and dark. We tentatively got changed and went in. It wasn’t ‘hot’ but lukewarm and perfectly clear. Nothing at all was growing in the water, there was only fallen debris lying on the bottom. The sides of the cave were orange with lots of round little bumps, the rock underneath the water was bright green. The water felt odd, slightly thicker than normal water, an indescribable sensation. Our bodies were lined with a bright blue rim when underwater, which I think was something to do with the light. Ledua told us about how he used to go there as a child. The water is said to be able to cure skin diseases.

Joseff

Joseff

Me

Me

After bathing for a little while, it was time to head back. The climb back up and down and the walk home exhausted us, we arrived ready for an afternoon nap.

Killing a Pig and Other Thoughts on Food

*warning: this post contains mildly graphic photos and descriptions of a pig being killed, if this is something you don’t want to read or see, you might want to sit this one out*

One morning at breakfast we were informed that the eldest daughter of the family, Selina, had “become a woman” and that there would be a big feast that night. Fijians celebrate a girl beginning her menstrual cycle very much like a birthday. On such an occasion, a pig needs to be killed. Joseff was given the task by the head of the house, Joeli.

Joeli said that he would knock the pig out and then Joseff would just need to stab it through it’s throat, down into the heart, to kill it. It definitely wasn’t as ‘clean cut’ as that in reality. At the request of Joeli, and also because I didn’t know what else to do, I filmed it. With a camera in-between myself and the event, I kind of felt a little distanced. It was strange to watch, I know that back home something like this would seem so intense, but, out here, it just makes sense.

We’d seen the chickens being killed and eaten them, this was just a step further. It didn’t make me feel guilty about eating animals, probably because this is one of the most natural ways to do it. It definitely did give me an odd sensation though, about the fragility of life and also about the fact that we’re all just sacks of blood, bones and insides. I do think that anyone who eats meat should see something like this firsthand. It’s good to connect the stuff you pick up in the supermarket with the real world.

The Deed is Done

The Deed is Done

Carrying it Back to the House

Carrying it Back to the House

Sera is Unfazed

Sera is Unfazed

Skinning using Hot Water and a Sharp Knife

Skinning using Hot Water and a Sharp Knife

Butchering

Butchering

Eating it That Evening

Eating it That Evening

Getting to eat fresh meat and fish on these special occasions has been so, so great. I love trying new food. Having said that, most of the time fish and meat are tinned. We eat rice and packet noodles with almost every meal. Milk and ‘fruit juice’ are powdered. Without wanting to complain, after a month, the lack of freshness in the diet is taking its toll.

Due to the damage the cyclone caused there is no longer fresh fruit or vegetables growing on the island, save for root crops such as taro and cassava. Before the cyclone the island had a healthy amount of magoes, guava, bananas and coconuts, but now there are none and it will take months for food to regrow and years for the plants to return to their normal cycles. 

Some coconuts come from other islands on boats and are usually a little old so are only used in cooking. There’s taro leaf which is also used in cooking, similar to spinach. Once we had lemons served with fish, to everyones’ surprise Joseff and I ate entire segments whole, craving some fresh nutrients. But, apart form that, we’ve had absolutely no fresh fruit or vegetables since we arrived. I can definitely feel my body changing with the lack of nutrients, tiring easier and just not feeling 100%. We daydream of fruit, juice and salads, which is something I never thought I would do!

It’s hard, but, overall, it’s more than worth it. Fresh fish almost every week and amazing experiences definitely out way the cravings. It’s just next time I eat a juicy, crisp apple or walk into a supermarket bursting with so many different fruits I will really, reaaaaallllyyy appreciate it.

Giving Supplies and Volunteering

I want to start this post by saying Thank You to everyone who has donated to our campaign. To be honest, there were times when we thought we wouldn’t make it anywhere near our £1000 target. But now, with still a couple of weeks left on the campaign, we have not only reached our goal but surpassed it! We are thrilled, so thanks very much to each and everyone of you who shared and donated to the campaign.

 

Before we reached the island of Vanua Balavu, we were contacting the head teacher of the primary school, Manoa Puamau from the main land. He explained that, seeing as we were coming from the capital Suva on a boat, it would be great if we could buy the supplies there and bring them with us on the ship. Suva is the biggest city in Fiji so we would be able to source everything there.

Luckily, Manoa’s brother Sekope was around to help us find the right shops and wholesalers to use. It would have been so much harder without this local knowledge so it was great to have his kind support in arranging everything.

At this point we hadn’t reached our goal, but we decided to over-shoot and spend the equivalent of  £1000 (about $3000 Fijian Dollars). The money went a lot further than we expected and we were able to buy-

  • 5 tins of blackboard paint
  • 20 blackboard dusters
  • 6 rugby balls
  • 6 netballs
  • 6 cricket balls
  • 1 football
  • a pump
  • a gas burner to cook school lunches
  • 20 chairs
  • paints and paintbrushes
  • coloured card
  • 15 staplers and staples
  • 30 rolls of cellotape
  • 15 packs of permanent markers
  • 20 pairs of scissors
  • a snakes and ladders board game
  • a chess set
  • a pack of 100 folders
  • 480 A4 exercise books
  • 120 packs of colouring pencils
  • 50 sharpeners

After a 30 hour boat ride and settling in with our lovely hosts, it was great to meet Manoa and his wife Cassa, who also teaches at the school. We had lengthy discussions with them and they were able to help us understand the bigger picture of the damage that Cyclone Winston caused.

Adi Maopa is the biggest primary school on Vanua Balavu, with 164 students. It is also situated next to the only secondary school of Vanua Balavu. There is another primary school which has 90 students and 2 very small schools with around 20 students each on the main island and on the tiny surrounding islands of the region there are 3 other very small primaries.

Many of these other, more remote, schools were affected worse than Adi Maopa during the cyclone. Some were completely flattened and therefore lessons are now taking place in churches, community halls or teachers’ houses.

Adi Maopa's Re-built Classroom

Adi Maopa’s Rebuilt Classroom

For Adi Maopa, the one classroom closest to the sea was taken down, as were the sea-facing teachers’ quarters. The classroom has already been rebuilt by the New Zealand army and the teachers’ quarters are currently being re-constructed by the Fijian army.

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All of the schools lost supplies due to the heavy rain fall and rising of the sea during the storm. Books were ruined and desks and chairs were carried away.

So, through discussing with Manoa and Cassa we decided to split the supplies amongst all the primary schools of Vanua Balavu, seeing as the money had gone so far we were able to do this. So, we ended up helping 7 schools in total. Most of the boxes for the other schools were taken away by people travelling to that area, as transportation on the island is very expensive.

However, we were lucky enough to be able to personally deliver the supplies to one of the smallest schools on an outer island called Susui. We were able to share a small fibreglass boat with a School Councillor, Villy, who has been sent by the government to visit all the schools affected by the Cyclone, in order to provide some trauma counselling to the children and to help show parents and teachers how to help the children cope after Winston.

It was great to visit the idyllic island and small village of about 20 houses. The teachers and children were really grateful for the supplies. We were able to watch Villy’s workshops and see the techniques he uses for his counselling. He sings lots of songs and the children join in. He gets them to talk about what happened to them the night of the storm. He also gets them to think of bad and good things about Winston, the good being things like getting new supplies and having visitors. It was great to watch.

Giving Supplies

Giving Supplies

Children of Susui

Children of Susui Primary School

We have also been carrying out our volunteer work at Adi Maopa Primary School. We weren’t sure at first of the specific work we’d be doing, but, it soon became evident that any help would be a benefit. The teachers are struggling to catch up with the syllabuses after the cyclone and the hardships of island life, such as children with injuries or bad weather, often mean that they can’t progress very much each day.

Two of the teachers were having to take two separate classes at once in the same classroom. This obviously lead to a lack of attention to the children as the teachers were so busy. So, luckily, we have been able to help by taking a class each. I have been teaching Year 4 and Joseff Year 5. We have teachers’ textbooks for guides and have also been teaching them new things and having P.E lessons. Some of the children are very, very bright and some are very slow. It’s great and rewarding work, we love it.

Master Joseff

Master Joseff

Maths with Year 4

Maths with Year 4

Hands Up

Hands Up

There’s still a couple weeks left on our campaign and seeing as we have surpassed our £1000 spend we are now planning a second shipment of supplies. After speaking to the teachers’ of the most badly damaged schools we have been able to determine some more specific needs which we want to focus on this time, such as library books, photocopiers and whiteboards. If you’re interested in donating, you can do that here. Thank you.

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Students Using New Chairs

Students Using New Chairs

New Exercise Books

New Exercise Books

Coloured Card Used to Decorate Classrooms

Coloured Card Used to Decorate Classrooms

New Supplies at Adi Maopa

New Supplies at Adi Maopa

Playing with New Balls

Playing with New Balls