|I would become
connected with nature, find my soul, my true passions. I would become the
poster child for peace and serenity.
What I became,
after the first couple of days, was bored. The novelty of no work, no transportation,
no entertainment was wearing thin. But, as any writer in search of a story,
a spark blossomed. My rental house came with a caretaker! I could make
a friend! We could sit on my patio, me an adventurous American author,
he a craggy faced native with stories of the islands. We would laugh and
share, we would celebrate our differences, drink in our similarities. I
would sip my lightly flavored chai spiced tea, he would swig a strong brew
of Fijian coffee.
came to the front door. And I was ready. I had my favorite china cup, my
best bred manners, a notebook and pen at the ready. What wondrous legends
would he share? Was he once a sailor among the islands? Had he lived for
years in the bush, cutting vines with machetes and scaling barefoot up
coconut trees? Had he caught a glimpse of the dreaded shark god, Dakuwaqa,
who patrolled the open seas?
I was giddy
with the possibilities. “I can do this” I thought. His people will
be my people. I will embrace this new culture with open arms, and enchant
all with my journals and tales.
He threw me
for a loop … he handed me a jar.
Now, mind you,
I’m a product of the 60s, and I’m pretty open to most anything, willing
to give it all that old college try. But I have a few ground rules. First,
I need to know what it is. I have a bit of a problem with anything retaining
its “animalness” – and that goes for things served with the head
intact, with antennae, or with other parts not meant to be edible. I’m
also a freak about textures. Oysters make my eyes roll in back of my head.
I prefer chewing to swallowing whole. So, while I am game for most anything,
I do have my limits.
is?” I asked Mike.
So, Johmb it
is. Do I put it on my skin? In my hair? Do I eat it or patch something
with it? Since I looked a bit confused, he elucidated. “Johmb on Brad.”
Wow. That made
it infinitely more comprehensible.
of Mike and I sharing lifetimes were dashed to the ground. I had no idea
what he was saying. English? Maybe. I wasn’t sure.
I set the jar
on the counter and circled apprehensively. Wooden spoon in hand (in case
something alive was inside and I would be facing it, alone and unarmed)
I opened said jar. Lo and behold, from inside the jar came the most delightful
smell I have ever experienced. It was jam. Like jam on bread. And it tasted
like a bit of heaven, all the warmth of the islands captured in the small
The next morning
I greeted Mike, effuse with praise. “What is this – it’s the best jam I’ve
I shut the
door, and spread some mugwai johmb on my brad.
On the home
site, Brad was facing his own demons. His crew of brawny Fijians were just
that – brawny. The plumber wasn’t really a plumber, any more than the electrician
was an electrician. They DID plumbing, and electric work, but they weren’t
skilled, nor even experienced. I don’t know why that surprised us as it
did, since their village homes had neither lights nor indoor plumbing.
But they had good hearts, good humor, and strong backs.
They also had
no transportation, so Brad would drive to the villages each morning to
pick them up. Some would paddle over from an outer island and hike up the
thick jungle hillsides to work. They were admirable, but inconsistent.
“So … where’s
Misiwata?” Brad asked the other members of the crew one morning. Ratusella
scrugged. “Ees Feeshing.” ‘Fishing?” asked Brad. “He’s supposed to start
work today at 8.” Misiwata having the dubious distinction of being the
most skilled of the unskilled workers. “No, ees good day to feesh.”
funerals – and there were plenty – were all cause for major celebration
(and a day or two, or five, off work). These festivities could carry on
for a full week, and were all faithfully attended by any villager who had
the pocket change for bus fare to get to the event. Although truly only
for relatives and friends, you’d be hard pressed to find any Fijian who
didn’t have a auntie, uncle or “cousin-brother” (which we think means a
male cousin, but we’re still not sure) somewhere in every village across
bureaucracy can be frustrating in any country, and Fiji is no different.
If you know someone to show you the loops, you are 10 steps ahead of the
game. We were lucky – our Australian real estate agent set up our residency
permits before we arrived, and Brad quickly got his work permit. Some were
not as lucky, and through the years we’ve counseled countless others on
the intricacies of dodging the flying red tape and of knowing when to speak
up, and when to simply smile and say “ees good day to feesh.”
If you are
considering escaping to Bali Hai, don’t do it if you have an agenda. Seriously.
You’ll drive yourself, and everyone within shouting distance, mad. Agendas
and schedules don’t work. The pace of life is slower. Isn’t it why we are
all here? So your house takes another six months to complete. So? You,
like, have somewhere you need to be? Relax, Mon, and bite into the sweetest
mango you’ll ever taste, plucked ripe and juicy right off the tree. Ride
a bilibili bamboo raft down a fresh water stream. Join the villager elders
in a kava ceremony. Then try to stand up (snicker). Reel in your own “catch
of the day” … an 80 pound yellow fin tuna, or fresh mahimahi. Check
out the Southern Cross at night, and the kaleidoscope of fiery colors in
the morning sky. Swim in water so warm and so clear that you’d swear it
was invisible. Sail with spinner dolphins and flying fish, dive with giant
mantas over intricate coral gardens. Revel in the simpler things, where
life is less complex, yet infinitely more satisfying.
In the almost
10 years we’ve lived in these isles of Fiji, many things have changed.
You can’t get that 4-bedroom house with caretaker for $300 any more. Real
estate prices are starting to climb as more and more people “want out”
of the industrial world. Yet, amazingly, these wonderful, warm and welcoming
people who call Fiji their ancestral home remain charmingly the same. Since
they retain most of the land, it will never be turned over to commercial
developers to become another Hawaii … with miles of sky rises rimming the
beaches. It has developed, and tourism is booming, but on a small and intimate
scale, and all the while retaining a unique cultural heritage.
My two children
were raised on Fijian soil. One has bloomed into adulthood, and the other
is nearing completion. The end product of these two fine citizens of the
world is a pleasure to behold. They have a global attitude, and a presence
we would have never dreamed could be attained. They have learned to embrace
cultural diversity, to respect the earth, to tread lightly, yet true. They
are becoming what I want to be when I grow up.
We have moved
again – to a smaller outer island in the Fijian archipelago. The home we
lovingly built is for sale, as we make a new place for ourselves. Here,
life is simpler still. Away from the “main island” colors seem a
bit brighter, palms taller, skies bluer. The water is warm, the smiles
broad. We have become Kai Viti – residents of Fiji. So that when relatives
in the States ask us “when are you ever coming home?” we know the
answer. We are home. How much better can one life get?
Susan Click Here
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