You may be as delighted as I am to know that Boxing Day was our last full day in Fiji. I’m a little weary writing about Fiji, so I can understand if you are getting a little weary reading about it.
Boxing Day was also Lucy’s birthday. People with birthdays around Christmas are generally assumed to bear a grudge about it, having endured a lifetime of being gypped with combined presents and multi-purpose parties. Certainly that was assumed about my mother, who was born on Christmas Eve. Looking back, I cannot recall her complaining about it, and she was never the sort of person who kept complaints to herself. Even so, no one who knew her would dream of describing a gift to her as a Birthday/Christmas present for fear of the reaction that might ensue.
I may never know whether or not Ma would have blown a gasket over it. She turns ninety this coming Christmas Eve, so I suppose I could try to find out, but in her current happily demented state, the results are likely to be inconclusive, and moreover it seems kind of cruel. I could give her the same gift ten days in a row, telling her each day was her birthday, and she would accept it gleefully each time. I envy her in this regard. Continue reading 17. Enough is Enough
The sunrise cut through the crack in the blackout curtains like a laser beam, illuminating the room just enough to leave me utterly perplexed as to where I was awakening or why I was there. Frank was nowhere to be found. For reasons that defy explanation, he had left his iPhone broadcasting WBUR, Boston’s National Public Radio station:
“…an assailant stole a baby Jesus statue this morning from a nativity scene outside a Haverhill church and replaced it with a severed pig’s head…”
That’s right, I recalled, it was Christmas morning and I was in Fiji. Continue reading 16. One Helluva Christmas
“Did you enjoy Emori’s tales?”
“Excuse me?” I looked up from the room bill, still reeling from a nine dollar charge for the miniature tube of Pringles out of the minibar. “Tales?”
The front desk clerk clarified. “You took the island cruise yesterday, didn’t you? Emori’s memory is, uh, his stories are never the same twice. How much did he tell you the Dutch man paid for the island he gave his daughter?”
“Fifty-nine dollars and twelve cents!” I barked angrily about the credit card surcharge, head shaking.
“Really? Last week it was seven million dollars. Australian.”
For a moment we regarded each other quizzically. What we were talking about? I realised that having charged my credit card, she was completely disinterested in discussing my bill.
Finally, light dawned. “Oh, oh, the island…um, ten million, ah, US dollars, Emori said. But I thought the buyer was Danish, not Dutch. It was a daughter, though, that much is consistent.” Continue reading 15. New Fiji’s Eve
The Duncan Road house where we stayed in 2012 was a two story building divided into two spacious three bedroom homes. It was in a relatively affluent part of Suva, popular with ex-pats, with plenty of well-heeled Fijians about. A common indicator of a good neighbourhood worldwide, there were several good schools run by religious sects, mostly Christian, nearby.
The organisations that place volunteers in Fiji tend to be security conscious to the point of paranoia, so our compound was surrounded by a six foot fence topped by decorative sharp steel fleur de lys, at the ready to impale transgressors. If that wasn’t enough to detract any would-be evildoers, the “Beware of the Dog” was intended to dissuade them, although the aging hound that lounged in the yard was quite happy to welcome strangers in hope of getting fed. Continue reading 10. Get a Grip
Having explored as much of Suva on foot as we cared to, we decided to look further afield. At dinner Aydell suggested we head to Pacific Harbour, the closest “real beach”, an hour’s bus ride out Queens Road to Suva’s west. Frank’s eyes lit up, as he recalled that a colleague had opened the resort there, The Pearl. A quick review of a fistful of tourist brochures followed, the results supporting the notion that Pacific Harbour was a place to check out. Whitewater rafting, sea kayaking, zip-lining adventures, “Jetski Safaris”, reef diving, scooter rentals, laser tag on the rain forest beach, big game fishing charters, “Snorkeling with the Sharks”. I wondered whether the big game charter fishing operator had realized the potential synergy of teaming up with the “Snorkeling with the Sharks” people to save on bait costs. Regardless, there seemed no end to the testosterone tantalizing treats that awaited the intrepid and continent at Pacific Harbour.
It promised to be an exciting day.
Continue reading 09. Extreme Retirement
It was the perfect day to discover the real Suva: 35 degrees in the shade, 125% humidity, a searing sun interrupted only by ominous cumulonimbus clouds, dark, anvil shaped and towering to dizzying heights. We left the brollies behind, as if we found ourselves on the mean side of one of those monsters, our bumbershoots would be bumbershot in a lightning flash, literally.
Continue reading 08. Walk Like A Man
Clara had left the house by the time we got back. She had seemed a bit distracted the night before, and even a little run down. That was unusual for her, Clara being one of those enviable persons who take everything in stride, at least insofar as all of us less enviable persons can tell.
Who could blame her? The Fijian Women’s Foundation (FWF) she had volunteered to help was clearly in need of it, running her ragged. Her recent bout of mosquito-borne dengue fever, not an unusual event in Fiji, hadn’t made things any easier. While her case did not develop into its life-threatening form, it was nevertheless debilitating for a spell, with the lesser but long-lingering after-effects still a nuisance.
To top it all off, Clara had found herself on the receiving end of a “tsunami of grief”, as she put it. One of the FWF’s founding members, a legendary figure in human rights movements throughout the Pacific, had recently passed away. It fell upon Clara to arrange a simple thanksgiving and celebration of the deceased’s considerable life achievements – with two hundred of her dearest admirers.
That event was this afternoon.
“It’s nice to be needed…” Clara had said with a shrug the previous evening. Continue reading 07. It’s Nice to be Needed
Despite my inclinations to the contrary, I awoke in Suva.
Now what? My instinct was to run, and if possible, to run in an away-wardly direction. Then I recalled I had been denied a tour of Fiji’s Parliament back in 1999, when the tour setter-upperer at the now-defunct Crusoe’s Retreat had made a token, at best, attempt to arrange such a tour for us. Now, here I was, in Suva, the very seat of power and influence. My perverse interest in touring this country’s contrarian democracy could be addressed through mere identification and ambulation (that is, I had to find out where Parliament was, and walk there).
It was Sunday 14 October 2012 in the stark but spacious and comfortable temporary quarters of our friends Clara McGill and Aydell Thyme.
“Where’s Parliament?” I enquired of Aydell. Mr. Thyme took his time considering my question, peering over his drooping spectacles with a sideways glance, determining at long last he had no idea what I was asking.
“Do you mean the Great Council of Chiefs? That’s gone. You’re aware there was, um, a coup some years back?”
I was aware. Continue reading 06. Mercy by Coup, Merci Beaucoup
One of the best things about friends is that they go away. Sometimes they go away for a holiday and I get to go with them. Sometimes they go away for extended periods, usually blaming work or business or family, and I get to go visit them. Sometimes when they go away there are phone calls or emails or letters or skype chats, but these become fewer and farther between, and eventually we describe each other to strangers as having “grown apart” — but at least we both grew. And then sometimes friends just go away, never to be heard from or seen again, raising doubt as to whether they were really friends. This may not be one of the best things about friends, but is certainly is cause for reflection, which in my experience is all for the best. Continue reading 05. Friends Go Away
If you had told me thirty years ago that my fifty-fourth Christmas would be spent in Fiji, I would have been much better looking then. A very smart sister of mine once observed that if you aren’t happy with your looks at the age of twenty-four, you’ve got a rather difficult life ahead.
This is my third trip to Fiji, albeit my first Christmas spent here. It may seem an odd place to celebrate Christmas, but Christianity itself is riddled with such oddities. If the Brits can sings hymns declaring Jesus an Englishman, surely it is not a bridge too far to suggest he may have wintered here. Certainly the Fijians have become pretty good Christians, at least since they stopped eating one another. Continue reading 01. Fiji…Again?