We are focusing our efforts on:
1) providing clean, safe drinking water; 2) medical assistance through our clinic; and 3) rebuilding damaged buildings – in that order.
A couple of years ago I asked several of the kids to write out a goals list, and high on Kamini's, he wrote "meet my father." He told me he always felt incomplete.
His mother had long said she wouldn't reveal the father's identity because he hurt her so much, and she worried he'd hurt Kamini too. I asked her to tell us who the father was, and others asked her for a year. She always refused.
Finally, after a year, I arranged a meeting at Naqaqa with Kamini's mother, Peniana. She told me what a great friendship she has enjoyed with her son over the years, "Because I always tell him the truth."
I said, "Except you're not telling him this truth now; you're not telling him who his father is." I shared my personal history with father-finding and all that it meant to me. She was quiet and then she agreed to tell me her story:
First, she was VERY angry at Kamini's father. She had been a student with a good future going to a school in Suva; the father was a student attending school in Nadi. They used to see each other on weekends. They were very much in love. She got pregnant. He said he wasn't ready to have a kid, and he suggested an abortion. She was so incensed at the suggestion that she quit school, returned to her village, and never talked to him again. She said she'd sworn to herself that she'd never let him meet Kamini because of what he'd done to her. So Kamini grew up, raised by her and his grand- father (a great man), and Kamini's father was no more than a figure of anger and resentment and unlove.
Fairly typical story in Fijian culture, the woman leaving school to raise a fatherless boy, and remaining filled with anger toward the father, even years later. (Only this story turned out to be much different.)
Peniana gave me the name of Kamini's father: Dan Lutumilagi, which means "fallen from heaven." After a few weeks, we found the man living in a village on another island, living with his wife, two sons, and two daughters. We called him and heard the surprising news that he didn't remember any woman by the name Peniana. At first, I assumed he was lying, wanting not to face his past. We waited a week and called again. I asked him to meet Kamini anyway, as a gesture of kindness, since he knew the boy was looking for his father, and I explained, "You could help us rule out one person: yourself."
We scheduled the meeting for a few days later. Prior to the meeting, I got many details from Peniana so I could compare notes with the man. She was sure Dan was the father, but on lots of other details, her memory had faded. She told me he was on the Fiji Youth Soccer Team and was attending trade school, she wasn't sure what subject. She gave a village name for his family, but wasn't sure about that. She wasn't sure about his age.
A key question: How long was your relationship? "Less than a year," she said.
When I'd taken Joe to find his father, Kamini had come with us - so Joe came along on our trip to find Kamini's dad.
The maybe-father, Dan, agreed to meet me at the Sheratonn at 5pm. Six o'clock and he still wasn't there, and I was worried he wouldn't show up at all. 6:30, not there yet, so I put the boys in another room next door and they fell asleep watching TV.
Finally, around 8PM, the guy arrived. He had zero memory of anyone named Peniana. He had not attended trade school. He was not on the Fiji Youth Soccer Team.
But he did look like Kamini - so we kept talking.
He asked me for every minute detail I could provide and he wrote each thing down in a small pad he'd brought. He seemed genuinely serious and curious, staring at his pages of notes, and just shaking his head - no memory of the girl.
Finally, he said, "Well, there was this one girl..." and I thought, here it comes. "Around that time I met a girl through friends and we had sex once at a hotel called the Peninsula; maybe that's her."
So I called Kamini's mother. I had decided not to tell her that he didn't remember her, knowing that it would make her even angrier, so I asked her if she'd ever seen been with Kamini's father at a hotel. She said No, and she gave me a few details she hadn't provided before, but still none of it matched his recollections, and none of her recollections matched him.
I asked her if she'd be willing to talk to him on the phone. Silence. "I know you were angry, and still are, but all those\ people are gone now. You are a different person, he is too. Kamini is waiting in the other room to see if he can meet his father - and so far, there isn't enough to say that Dan is Kamini's father."
Silence. "Are you still there?" She said Yes. I said, "Who cares what happened 17 years ago? What difference does it make? You're grateful that Kamini is here, aren't you? We should THANK this guy, not curse him. Now, will you please talk to him!"
And she agreed. I handed him the phone and I could hear his side of the conversation, which seemed productive enough. A few minutes later I heard him say: "Okay then, but Kamini is going to come to live with me; we need help in our family in our family too." This is a big fear of families, that when the boys are grown, another village will want them, but it turned out Dan was teasing, so I guessed that the call wasn't all that terrible.
He handed me the phone, and finally Peniana told me why the call wasn't full of vitriol and anger. It's because the whole story she'd told me had been made up, made up seventeen years earlier by a frightened girl who needed a story to tell her family. "It is him," she said to me, "He is the father," and then she solved the mystery of why so many of the details she'd provided were wrong.
Remember when I'd asked her how long the relationship was and she said "Less than a year." Well, it was less than a year- 364 days less than a year! She explained that she had actually met him in a nightclub, one time, one night. He was very drunk, they went to her aunt's house, and ...pregnant.
She never saw or spoke with the man again - and he never heard anything about her being pregnant or his having a son until two weeks earlier when I first called him. And he didn't know for sure until two minutes ago.
No villain after all. Just the story a 17 year old girl told to her parents and her village and her son, a story she held on to because... because of the culture, because of the church, because of so much cultural and judgment bullshit.
After talking to Peniana, Dan agreed that he was the father - he vaguely remembered the night club, and not much more - but he said it felt right enough that he was the father.
He shared that he had had been raising a son his wife had before they were married, and that the boy was handicapped (can't speak) and nobody would have wanted him. He told me when he himself was 16, he visited his father who was living for a time on another island away from his mother, and there was a young girl there cooking, and he asked, Who's that? The answer: "Your sister." His dad had gotten another woman pregnant. "I guess my father and I are the same now, kids on two islands."
I pushed all the suite furniture against the wall and made a place for us to sit on the floor, Fiji style - and I brought in Kamini and Joe.
Dan whispered to me" Which one," and I said "The tall one" -- and Dan stepped forward and hugged him.
We sat down, and Dan said, "I am sorry I was not there in your life." And Kamini said "I forgive you." And then Dan and I told Kamini the story of all that happened. Dan looked down the whole time, and Kamini just stared at him, looking at his father's hands and feet and head and hair.
Dan said, "Well, let's go tell my family. Let's go wake your grandmother and surprise her." And Kamini laughed, which was nice.
I told Kamini: "Because of your courage to come here, you need no longer think your father didn't love you. That story was not true. That was a story made up by a scared 17-year old girl. The minute your father learned you were his son, he accepted you, embraced you, and is happy to be your father - without hesitation. That is love. That is a father loving a son when he doesn't have to."
And we talked about the PERFECTION of it all. Kamini gets raised by his grandfather and builds this superb loving relationship with his mother. This man raises a handicapped boy, who needs a father. God said, in effect, "You, you'll be over here taking care of this; and you, you'll be here. Kamini, you'll get three fathers (grandfather, Gavin, and now Dan). Dan, you'll get three sons (the handicapped boy, your other son, and now Kamini). Gavin, you'll get to watch the healing. Joe, you'll get to be part of an experience with Kamini as he was with you - things you will re- member your whole life. Peniana, you'll get to add truth to the beautiful friendship you've forged with Kamini."
Kamini and Joe went to Dan's village and stayed till 3am, meeting relatives and drinking kava. In the morning Kamini told me, "I really enjoyed it. And they accepted me."
Kamini then called his mother. When she asked "What was he like?" Kamini said with a grin, "You know what he's like - You met him before I did!"
Enough love for all of us -