Now that I have been gone from the States for a while, I realize that there are many things that I took for granted — like electricity. Ever since I was a little girl, all I had to do was flip a switch if I wanted light. It was magic. It seemed like it was something that was just always there, like trees and birds and Star Trek. It wasn’t until we got to an island in Fiji called Rabi, that I saw what it’s like to truly be off the grid.
We anchored in a small bay on the western side of the island called Albert Cove that was inhabited by one Banaban family : a husband, wife, their 20 year old daughter, her husband and their little boy. They lived off the fish they caught and the vegetables they grew. There was no electricity. None. Which was a pain in the butt when they had stuff to do at night and could only do it by flashlight (that’s when they even had batteries) and the sun set at 5:30pm.
The second day we were there, they invited us to a potluck picnic ashore along with the other boats in the bay. We brought pasta salad and it found a home on the table amongst fresh crab, fish and taro that the family had prepared for us. I saw the daughter weaving palm fronds and took a seat by her to see what she was making. Her name was Paurim. I grabbed a palm frond and Paurim explained to me that I needed to start with one that had 12 leaves on it. “What are we making?” I asked.
“Plates” she said. “In a traditional Banaban picnic, we eat off the plates we make and then throw them away.” She smiled shyly and although I could tell that she was slightly embarrassed, I wished she could know how totally cool I thought that was. She showed me how to weave the palm fronds and we proceeded to eat our food with our fingers on the plates that we just made with our own hands. No dishes, no trash, no problem.
Once we were done eating, Paurim’s husband approached Lauren B and Krister with a big float-looking thing. Apparently it had washed up on shore and they were hoping that it could be useful for something. They were really hoping that the solar panels on it would work and that they could use it for light after dark. Since Lauren has an electrical engineering background, and Krister is a mechanical engineer and both of them have a MacGyver complex, they dove right into the project.
The boys got their tools off the boats and we all sat in the shade drinking kava with the family as Lauren B and Krister worked on the mystery device. It appeared to have been some meteorological buoy at some point and was probably very expensive to lose.
After hours of tinkering, Lauren B and Krister managed to get it to be a charging station via the solar panels that were on the top of it. Britannia donated an extra string of LED Christmas lights they had on the boat that could be charged by the buoy. The family was very happy and it felt good to do fix something that we knew would make a difference in their everyday life.
That night as we sat on our boats, we looked ashore and saw the Christmas lights on. I don’t take electricity for granted anymore. Maybe it wasn’t as easy as flipping a switch, but to them I bet it still felt like magic.