On Sunday a chapter in my life ended as I boarded Korean Air flight KE137 bound from Incheon Airport in Seoul, South Korea to return to Fiji. I had completed my four semesters as a International Graduate student in the Methodist Theological University's Masters of Theology pogramme (majoring in Christian Ethics).
To the many travellers at Incheon airport, I must have looked a rather strange sight as I lead my family, who had come over to celebrate the completion of my studies, at a brisk pace/trot to the check-in counter.
The double takes were not dircted soley toward my sweating , puffing large frame leading my tribe throught the airport, but at the direction of the salusalu (garland) around my neck. Those on the flight from Fiji understood that something special was happpening and those who were aware of my studies in Korea realised that the salusalu signified that I had completed my studies.
With my family with me, there might have been the assumption that my family had brought this. rather special salusalu specially for my graduation. They would have been half right. The salusalu was indeed specifically made for my graduation. However it was sent by one of my wife's closest friends and her husband. It also was sent to Korea five days ahead of my family and arrived about a week after them, I received it the night before I returned to Fiji.
The salusalu was hand delivered to me by the Mnister for Youth and Sports, Villiame Naupoto, during an impromptu picnic on the bank of the Han River, which runs through the heart of Seoul.
Mr. Naupoto shared with me the story of the journey of my salusalu. He had brought it to Seoul in time for my graduation ceremony. However as he was in transit he was unable to deliver it then. The salusalu then accompanied hìm on his tour of European States - Germany, France, Belgium and the Netherlands before finally returning to South Korea.
To complete the "handing over", Mr. Naupoto insisted on tying the salusalu on me himself to congratulate me for my academic acheivement and encouragement for the ministry to which I ws returning back home.
After presenting and placing the salusalu on me, Mr. Naupoto related two stories to me. The first was of how when he was a young naval officer selected to study in Australia, his neices and nephews lined up as he sat in the place of honour, atop mat and masi, and one by one each shuffled past and laid a handkerchief in front of him. The young Viliame, excited to be travelling overseas for the first time, did not pay much attention to what was happening until his elderly mother explained the significance of what had just happended.
With tears in his eyes, Mr. Naupoto recounted how his mother had told him that each time he would use the handkerchief to wipe the sweat from his brow, he was to remember that his family was wiping his sweat with him. Each time he wiped the tears from his eyes with a handkerchief, he was to remember that it was his family who was wiping those tears.
As someone who had shed sweat and tears during the months away from home studying in a foreign land, I remembered my own experience of the love and prayers by my family and friends.
Mr. Naupoto went on share his experience of how, when he was preparing to deploy to Lebanon, his mother had presented him with a salusalu to farewell him. He had originally planned to remove it when he entered the bus to the airport. However when he heard his mother tell him that she had made this with her own two hands and that these aging hands of hers might not able to make another salusalu for him, he wore it on the plane all the way to Lebanon.
I ended up wearing the salusalu the whole evening in the park, during my final worship service at Gaepo Church, to Imcheon airport and on to the plane and off again, all the way through Nadi airport.
During our evening in the park and on the plane flight back to Fiji, I get thinking about the wise words of a woman I had never met. Wise words that influenced a son and gave him hope and strength.
There is so much wisdom which our elders (family and community) have shared but we have ignored until often it is too late. At the same time many of us fear being thought of as fools when we attempt to share our widsom in an age where advice is sort from Google rather than grandma.
The contexts and language of words of wisdom are ever-changing. However, their truth and relevance will always remain for us to learn from.