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I didn’t understand much of what was said as the service was mostly in Fijian but there was a moment, towards the end of service prayer, that a woman came up to me and put her arms around me as she prayed. They would ask me about my life back home, whether I had children, if I was married.

About my work, where I had been too, where I came from.

How they came to be in Fiji is unclear, but one thing that was made very clear to me: they did not arrive as slaves.

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I felt as if each word was a gift, a special token being shared.

And I would end most of my conversations with the question, “What would you like me to tell others about Fiji? What Fijians want you to know is that their country is more than just beautiful sunsets and beaches, luxury resorts and enviable diving.

Here I wanted to tell you about the Fijians and share something that many whom I spoke with wanted me to pass on in my writing about their country. I moved around almost daily, from island to island.

I visited a lot of resorts, all as different as the islands they were in but I also made great strides to connect with the people, often time these were limited to the staff I met in the hotel.

Kava, by the way, is not my favorite, but I recommend that when in Fiji, if invited to join in on the social and often ceremonial occasion, that you consider taking part.

Though I am not a religious person, and only really enter churches to admire their architecture and not to worship, I took some time during my visit to join in on a Sunday service being held in the community where I was staying at the time. The next day, during a tour or while walking around, I would come upon a local who had seen me at church the morning before and they would greet me like a sister or a very close friend.As a woman of color, and as an American, there are so many things about the people and culture that fascinated me.For example, I learned that the black population in Fiji are descendents of warriors from Tanganyika, East Africa.I also learned that for Fijian woman natural hair is a standard of beauty.They wear their afro, their natural hair, very proudly. At first I thought it might be due to some sort of religious belief or traditional custom, I am so conditioned to the idea that natural hair is not so freely accepted. This style, this look, is a personal choice, admired by both men and women a like.Though some lamented that younger generations who are beginning to feel the influence of the Western world and the standards set before them in the media, many others, both young and old, stated that they continue to talk to women in their communities about the Fijian beauty and the power of identity conservation and pride.