Talica (Tah lee thah) Malani (10) is a slender girl with laughing eyes and a smile as quick and bright as an electric spark. A member of the Suva Fiji Stake, she lives on the rainy eastern coast of an island called Viti Levu (Big Fiji). Viti Levu is the largest of the hundreds of islands that make up this South Pacific nation. Suva is Fiji’s capital city. Set between the sea and hills lush with tropical foliage, its elegant government buildings are guarded by soldiers in sulus, a long skirt or kilt that is the national costume of Fiji. Policemen directing traffic, businessmen in coats and ties, and men relaxing at home also often wear sulus.
The population of Fiji is divided about evenly between native Fijians and the descendents of workers brought from India to work on the sugar cane plantations. Both groups speak English, but the Fijians also speak a dialect of Fijian, while the Indians speak a dialect of Hindi. Both Fijian and Indian children attend the LDS Primary School.
Talica is one of the native Fijian students there. Today she’s leading some of her classmates in a game of he (tag) on the school’s playground. With speed developed as a member of the school’s athletic (track) team, she lunges forward and tags a giggling victim. Talica feels very much at home in school. Her brothers Iliesea (6) and Viliame (8) attend here, and her mother, also named Talica, is the principal! Talica’s thirteen-year-old brother, Apenisa, attends the LDS Technical College in Suva. Her sisters Laisani (14) and Salote (15) attend high school. Another brother, Lemeki, died when he was six years old.
A natural leader, Talica has been chosen as second counselor in her class presidency at school. She loves to dance and sing, and the class recently practiced and performed a Fijian dance to honor their teacher. During recess, she is often the one to organize games. She enjoys he, netball (similar to basketball, but with no backboard), basketball, volleyball, running, hide-and-seek, and other active games. She also loves to read and write and draw pictures of princesses and princes and animals. For school she wrote a fictional story about herself. “In my story I was very naughty. I was making the class laugh. The teacher told my parents, and my parents told me to change my behavior. So I changed and became the best in the class.”
It is not generally a Fijian custom to celebrate birthdays, but when Talica turned ten, she asked her mother to make a birthday cake—not so that she could eat it herself but so that she could share it with her classmates at school!
Although Talica has fun at school, she is also a dedicated student. In class, her hand goes up almost automatically when the teacher asks a question. Once when she scored seventh in her class on an exam, she decided that next time she would finish first or second. She studied hard during and after school, and on the next exam she finished second. She receives a well-rounded education in return for her devotion. Students not only learn academic subjects but begin each day with a prayer, attend religion class, and tend a garden plot.
Talica loves her home even more than school. The Malani family has a lot of fun together, and she likes it when her brothers tease her. Music brings the family special joy. They have all been blessed with beautiful voices and true pitch. They sing together often while their father, Iliesa, plays the guitar. They can change parts at will, and their harmonies sound professional. Two of the songs they like to sing are “Love at Home,” and “Sweet Hour of Prayer.” Talica’s personal favorites are “I Am a Child of God,” “I Lived in Heaven,” and “Teach Me to Walk in the Light.”
Hospitality comes naturally to Fijians, and Talica has a knack for making guests feel welcome. The Malanis enjoy honoring guests by preparing a meal in the lovo, a pit oven of heated rocks. Sometimes a whole pig is cooked, but they may also bake chicken, fish, taro, or cassava. Among the other foods they enjoy are sweet potatoes and plantains, a kind of banana.
Talica is a hard worker. She’s the first to finish her chores, and she often helps others do theirs. She sweeps the floor, makes her bed, does the dishes, washes clothes, scrubs the bathroom, sets the table, and gets things ready for her mother to cook dinner. She is eagerly learning how to cook and often helps prepare meals.
Her older brothers and sisters sometimes come home from high school to find their work done as well as hers. How would you like that? The whole family works in the garden and yard. They grow taro, breadfruit, papaya, coconuts, eggplants, tomatoes, and other tasty foods.
In spite of Talica’s happy smile and cheerful attitude, she has known sadness. When she was ten months old, unusual circumstances made it necessary for her parents to send her to live with her grandmother, who lived on a small island with only one village. Talica loved village life, and she grew up thinking of her grandmother as her mother. Then, when she was four years old, her parents reclaimed her. It was a difficult adjustment for both Talica and her brothers and sisters, and there were some painful times for the homesick newcomer. But she has a large heart and has learned to understand the feelings of others.
Her mother recalls a time when a friend of Talica’s “stole” another friend from her. Instead of trying to get even, she just kept showing love to both girls. One of her teachers saw this and reported it to her mother.
Although Talica is a peacemaker, if she believes strongly in something, she stands by it, even if those around her disagree. She is independent and strong-willed as well as loving and giving.
The Malani family tries to follow the Lord in all they do. They have a devotional each morning and evening with their family prayer, including a song and a spiritual thought. Often the children share what they have learned in religion class at school, and they usually bear their testimonies, as they do each fast Sunday.
Talica’s faith is deep. “Heavenly Father blesses me and forgives me when I do something wrong, and then repent. Jesus Christ is my Savior. He died for our sins and gives us blessings. The Holy Spirit has told this to my heart.”
Talica hopes to be a teacher like her mother someday, and maybe a principal. Through her example, she is a teacher already.