Inspiring Stories (Fijian)

Theatrical Passion Passed On – Karalaini Sewale

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Posted By Writer - Jekope Kaloumaira

Karalaini is a beautiful, intellectual, resilient and passionate Fijian woman, who is a poet, a script writer, a stage producer, a singer, a judo instructor and a mother. Known to her circle as “mummy Kara”, Karalaini has played the role of a mother to countless Fijian youngsters who have found their way to the US from Fiji for a better life. This is nothing new for Karalaini as she has been playing a motherly role from the age of 16 when her mum passed away (starting with her 5 younger siblings) . Both her paternal and maternal sides are from the highlands of Naitasiri on the biggest island in Fiji, Viti Levu. Her dad is from Nabaitavo whereas her mum is from Waibasaga, Wainimala. Her traditional role is “bati” (which means warrior – the protector of the village). Born and raised in the capital city of Suva, Karalaini grew up in Totogo.

Her father was a police officer so they lived in the police Barracks in Totogo. Her father took care of the gazette officers mass. She is the second eldest of 7 kids. Karailini vividly remembers how back in her teenage days, her parents would host relatives coming in from the Highlands to sell their produce in the market every weekend. This meant bombardment of household chores. Cleaning of drains, bathrooms, clothes and cooking food for the whole clan became a weekly routine. Karalaini attended Saint Agnes Primary School and then Saint Johns College in Levuka for high school.

Karalaini ascribes her accomplishments and successes to her fathers parenting style and leadership. He equipped and prepared them for success by ingraining virtues of Orderliness, Generosity, Fortitude, Prudence, Service, Respect, Perseverance and Patience through his actions more than his words.

During her teenage years her dad would take her and her siblings to a festival (Hibiscus Festival) that was held in Albert Park every year. Out of all the attractions at the festival, one stood out to Karalaini, the acrobats. A group of Chinese acrobats flew in every year to put on a show at the festival. They would put on an hour show and would have a couple acts a day. Karalaini could and sometimes would spend the whole day watching them . It was so enthralling that when she’d spend the whole day at the acrobats stage, everything else became background noise, even her hungry rumbling stomach.

During this time (her teenage years) she also remembers idolizing her uncles who had a band called “Dingo ni Buca”. Their songs would be aired on the radio . Karalaini drew inspiration from the Chinese acrobats and her uncles who were musicians and singers. But it was from watching these acrobats in her teenage years that ignited in her, a flame of interest in theatrics and stage performance. Fuel was added to this fire when she joined the Playhouse Board.

At the Age of 19, she was the 1st Fijian woman to have a 1st degree Black Belt in Taekwondo :- a Korean martial art, characterized by its emphasis on head-height kicks, jumping and spinning kicks, and fast kicking techniques. She flew to Australia to learn the art. Her master and trainer was a Korean martialist. She came back to Fiji and taught Taekwondo at the University of the South Pacific. All her taekwondo students were men, so she created a separate “self-defense” class for women. She also taught “self-defense” for women in Vanuatu.

In retrospect, Kalalaini is super grateful for the live she has lived. She is glad that she was able to give back and empower other people esp women through her “self-defense” courses.

When Kara’s son Setareki was born Karalaini had planted yaqona for his education. Setareki was born prematurely at 7 months. He was going to be Karalaini’s focus. She was determined that she was going to give him the life she never had. Setareki was enrolled at a preschool called Tiny Totts when he was 6 months old and was always the youngest in his class from then on out. He was only 6 when Karalaini moved to the states. Seta completed primary school in Fiji and did part of High school. During this time, the only interaction he would have with his mum was a phone call on a periodic basis . At the age of 16, Karalaini brought him over to the states to finish High School in Cardinal Newman High school in Santa Rosa. After graduating from CNH he moved to Thousand Oaks to attend Moorpark College. It was not long till it was time for him to graduate college and move on. He then went on to California Lutheran University to pursue his bachelors degree in Performing Arts. He graduated from California Lutheran University in 2011. This momentum became an unstoppable rolling snowball!. This ambitious lad was not content and asked his mum if he could pursue a Masters in Performing Arts. Being the supportive mother that she is, the two packed their bags for an audition in Chicago. In this audition, applicants would be given 2 minutes to strut their stuff in front of 22 universities. After his audition, one of the scouts present at the audition (who was a Yale Alumni) pulled Seta aside and told him “there will be another audition tomorrow morning at the Hyatt Regency, you should go and try out for Yale”. Even though Seta did not really have Yale in mind, as a first choice, he was stocked and encouraged by the vote of confidence. Yale is indeed a highly esteemed and prestigious University that has produced famous actors, musicians, and politicians and even US presidents namely Bill Clinton and George W Bush. There was no way he was going to miss this audition! The next morning he was up bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, got dressed and left. A few hours later he walks back in the room with a big grin on his face. Out of the 60 students that auditioned for Yale, he was one of the 3 that were chosen. A moment of silence and tears of joy.

In 1997 a catamaran from Long Beach, Los Angeles called ALGALEETA stopped over in Fiji before heading to Hawaii. It was a GREEN PEACE vessel. Karalaini working for GREEN PEACE at the time, threw a LOVO (Fijian traditional meal cooked in an earth oven) party for the crew. At the party, the captain asked Karalaini if she wanted to join them on board the ALGALEETA on their voyage back to the states. Karalaini agreed and embarked for the US never to look back again. Karalaini got off in Hawaii and did not carry on the journey with the rest of the crew to Mexico and instead looked after the Captains “organic – garden” in Hawaii. Karalaini had an aunt living in Sacramento at the time and so she reached out to her. Her aunt asked Karalaini if she wanted to come up to the mainland and look after an elderly woman who was a friend of her aunts. Karalaini agreed, packed her bags and caught the next flight to LAX where she was picked up by her aunt. She worked for this lady for about a year and then moved up to Sonoma County for another care-giving job. This move to Sonoma County in 1998 was going to be one that allowed her to settle and grow roots. After 20 years, Karalaini is still in Sonoma County and has made Santa Rosa City her home. She is very well connected and well regarded by the Catholic Community for sharing her singing and musical talent and abilities with them and for having a serving heart.

Challenges she faced when she made the transition were, loneliness, depression, culture shock and missing family.

Her advice for people coming in from the Islands to settle in the US is , go out to socialize with people and network :- be a volunteer and join charitable organizations that serve the community – Join a sports team etc

Her winning habits : time management, creativity, positive attitude, exhibit respect at all times.

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