Ok this is probably my final post in my super fun happy Fiji blog, and I doubt it will win me any friends… it turns out it’s quite difficult to blog consistently when you’re living on a remote island in the pacific, swaying between the breeze and the loose reality of the way life should be. So I apologise in advance for the length of this post, but it should be worth the read… When I look back at my time here I realize it has been an incredible mix of adventure, work, culture and new experiences and I wouldn’t change a thing. Ok, maybe one thing – air conditioning could have featured more prominently in my life. But hey on the plus side I survived a whole year in Fiji without air-conditioning at home or at work! The only place I go for a/c is the cinema which is the most air-conditioned building in town and requires that you take a jacket to survive the hour and a half movie that you’re probably only watching in order to sit in air-conditioning.
So the highlights have included chartering a fishing boat out to Kadavu island, going to Leleuvia more times than I care to count, attending my friends wedding at the Outrigger resort and diving with sharks in Beqa. There have been others of course, like my work trip to Vanua Levu, but I would need a separate blog to cover them all so I’ll just give you tidbits from the ones i’ve mentioned starting with our Kadavu trip. This is the closest I’ve ever come to seasickness. It took 5 hours in rough open seas to get to Kadavu which is a chain of islands south of the mainland, Viti Levu. And what a beautiful spot. We left after work and arrived late at night, dropped anchor, made dinner and were gently rocked to sleep by the ocean’s current. I woke up to the sound of a loud splash, which as it turns out was the skipper diving off the top of the boat into the water. When he surfaced I asked him whether that was a good way to wake up and he simply shrugged his shoulders and said “some people prefer coffee…” I knew this was going to be a fun weekend.
(note: i don’t have any more photos of Kadavu because as it turns out a waterproof/shockproof camera has limits like everything else)
Waking up and seeing the colour of the water (turquoise and so clear) and our surroundings (we had arrived under the cover of darkness) was one of the most amazing moments of my entire trip. We had dropped anchor near an uninhabited island named Namara and for the next 4 days we had the place to ourselves. What ensued was snorkeling, swimming, exploring the island, cracking open coconuts (or each other’s skulls when it all got too much), eating good food and drinking ourselves into a better tomorrow. If life was meant to be lived, then this was living! And we were actually only supposed to stay for 3 days but a storm hit and the skipper wasn’t keen on heading home in the thick of it so we ended up staying an extra night. None of us were complaining. If I were to complain about something it would be this: it took almost 3 days for the feeling of sleeping on a boat (rocking from side to side) to subside after getting back on land.
Leleuvia island is a must see if you’re on the Eastern side of Viti Levu. A tiny little island but very cute and comfortable with lots of fun water-based activities and toys to play with. We got to know this island very well because it’s very accessible and serves as the de facto birthday, new volunteer ‘meet & greet’ and friends visiting spot. I remember some nights and have completely forgotten others. This was also the island where I had my first ‘biscuit’ experience. Yeah, the name is a little misleading. It’s an inflatable oval shaped water sports toy with 3 seats and is towed by a jet ski via a flimsy rope. Wow that thing was fast, and when the driver turned sharply the rope jerked and you went flying off in a super awkward position (no matter how hard you were holding on) and hit the water at top speed. Ouch. It hurt every time and on the last run I hit the water kidney-first and was completely winded for 15 minutes. Luckily this was the last run, but only because the rope snapped and we had to head back in. Fun times.
I also got to attend my friends wedding at the Outrigger hotel & resort in Pacific Harbour. This was a slightly more civil affair and it was really nice to see so many familiar faces at once. It was also a complete coincidence that they had planned their wedding in Fiji while I was there on assignment. We partied like it was 2013 and the bride & groom were overjoyed with having all their close friends and family there. What a bunch of… white people… seriously.
Then for some reason I decided it would be a good idea to go diving with sharks. I got some friends together, including my friend Alekz who was visiting from Sydney, and we all drove 45mins to Pacific Harbour and from there it’s a 20 minute boat ride towards the island of Beqa. This island has featured before in my blog, but this time it was providing my friends and I with a whole new underwater perspective – unreal. We were all a little nervous by the time we suited up. As soon as we arrived to the dive site (marked by many other boats doing the same dive) the dive master cut open bags containing fish heads, fish guts and lots of blood and poured it into the water. I’m sure we all had the same look of panic on our faces by this point. Not to worry! These guys are experienced divers. And surely if someone had been eaten by a shark on one of these dives we would have heard about it? Right? You can’t sweep something like that under the rug. I mean, there would be a body and – unless of course, the body was completely devoured by a hungry shark. Ok, feeling less confident as we start our descent to 25m. And did I mention there are no cages? Oh I’m sorry, should have mentioned that at the start!
It was incredible though; watching these giant fish swim by as they devoured the little fish guts being fed to them by the diving instructors. We saw grey nurse sharks, bull sharks, white tip reef sharks and another type that had the descriptor ‘yellow’ in its name. There’s also a rope at the bottom that the dive company has set up so that you can hold onto it during strong currents and watch the feeding frenzy unfold only a few metres in front of you. For some strange reason the sharks respected the ‘viewing platform’ and did not once cross over to our side. I thought they were very polite for doing that, and we were happy to return the courtesy. They truly are remarkable creatures and it makes me sad that we go hunting and culling them every time there’s a shark attack (WA I’m looking at you).
When not on adventure I’ve lived in Suva, a small and unremarkable city on the Eastern side of Viti Levu. While there aren’t many notable features to speak of, it is a fairly pleasant and safe peninsula city with a nice sea wall promenade that makes for a great running track. A couple of shopping centres, a main drag, a cinema, and a litter of bars and nightclubs dot the city centre. It rains 300 days out of the year, and it’s always hot and humid (I haven’t bothered checking the weather forecast for the past 11 months and can predict the weather for the next 11 months – fucking hot).
My two housemates and I (Brenton & Elliot) have lived in a four bedroom apartment that I’ve dubbed the Junkyard on account of how basic and run down the place it, and because of the electrical workshop downstairs that gives it a very junkyard sort of feel. Buying appliances when we first arrived was an interesting experience and worth mentioning. There’s this ‘mixed business’ mega store called Rups Big Bear down the road from our apartment which sells just about anything. We purchased most of our appliances from this place and at the check out there was a procedure that we had to undergo that had me in stiches for the rest of the day. Each appliance had to be taken out of it’s box and ‘fault tested’ – this process took an extra 15-20 minutes and had staff running around looking for free power-points to plug into. Starting with the iron, which seemed to work fine, we moved onto the toaster, then came the kettles’ turn. At this point I had to intervene and assure the staff member serving me that I was willing to take my chances with the kettle and that she didn’t need to go find a tap and fill it up with water. Are you struck by a thought at this point? Are you thinking whether a hot iron and toaster were re-packaged and returned to their box after being used? Yes, that’s what happened and I carried hot appliances out the front door – but hey, at least I knew they worked. Gotta love the Feej!
From island adventures to testing appliances to working full time at Fiji Disabled People’s Federation, my experience in Fiji has certainly not lacked variety. I talked about work before, a passionate bunch of people working towards the progressive realization of the rights of people with disabilities. Their motto is ‘nothing about us without us’ and their mission statement is ‘working towards an inclusive, rights-based and barrier-free society’. It has been an incredibly rewarding experience and I hope I’ve left my mark. One of the ladies I work with (a board member) told me the Prime Minister had written to her asking that I stay on in Fiji so I guess that’s an indication that they were happy with my work and my presence there. Of course when I asked her to show me this letter she changed the subject…
I will miss this eclectic bunch of wonderful people, there’s no doubt about it. From my laptop disappearing when I go out to lunch, to my desk being usurped for storage space when I’m not looking, there was never a day short of drama, mystery or intrigue. I will miss the weekly offer for a belly rub from one of the other staff members (we called him papa bear) and the constant laughter and singing that Fijians are well known for. Oh, and I found out in my last month that there is an unusually high level of electricity flowing through our office… 270v to be exact. No wonder our server is always down.
I’ll share just one last story from work. This is a conversation that I overhead between two of my colleagues:
(In the office, phone rings, one of my colleagues picks it up after letting it ring for a while)
“Can you talk to this lady?
(Hands phone to my other colleague)
“Who is it?”
“A lady for you”
“Who’s on the phone?”
“I don’t know, phone call for you, some lady”
“Well what does she want?”
“She wants to talk to the CEO”
“Well then why are you giving it to me?”
“Because we don’t have a CEO and I don’t want to talk to her”
(Meanwhile a few minutes have passed and this whole conversation is audible to the lady on the phone because she was never placed on hold).
There are many other things I’ll miss about Fiji. For example, this one time I went to the post office and was asked to glue 52 individual stamps onto the package I was trying to return which cost $32 in postage fees. I was there for 20 minutes. The intermittent availability of water was always a fun feature in our lives. Sometimes the water would cut out for a week at a time; but no matter, I just pretended I was camping. And no blog post would be complete without a rant about taxi drivers. There was the guy who asked me out for lunch, numerous taxi drivers inviting me round for dinner, one particular guy who slowed down every 50m or so to spit out the window at cats (?), a jolly fellow that was particularly unhappy when I handed him a $5 note for a $2 taxi ride, another guy that insisted on telling me highly inappropriate jokes, and all of whom would ask me to marry their daughter within a few minutes of jumping into the taxi.
I have been eaten alive by mosquitos, propositioned by just about everyone and anyone in the country, endured some of the most socially and culturally awkward situations I’ve ever been in, worked hard and then not so hard, enjoyed the good times and the bad, made some great new friends, lost my cool only once or twice, and carried my own toilet paper to work for a year. I’ve never used the phrase #winningatlife so much and I’ve never appreciated the small wins as much as I do now. I’ll return to Australia better equipped to deal with whatever challenges I’ll face next, in whichever part of the world I end up. Here’s to being awesome at life, just in time for my 30s – happy days 🙂
Here’s a photo of where it all started, on the steps of Old Parliament House, Canberra, in early 2013 (I’m in there somewhere):
Thank you to all of you that have followed my adventures and bothered to leave comments. For those that haven’t, I’m judging you and the good news is you’ll never know you’re being judged.
I’ll leave you with just a few signs that I’ve seen here and there and a couple of quotes from my friend Leslie at work. Leslie is an incredible young man with a disability who has more courage and positivity than anyone I know. When he was only young and still in primary school he stepped on an exposed live wire when walking home from school one day with his friends. He was hospitalised for a very long time, has had multiple skin grafts and operations, and had to have his right leg amputated as a result. He was my constant source of inspiration and entertainment at work. I will miss you Leslie.
I saw this sign on a school gate and thought it was very appropriate: ‘Stupid people have no respect for wisdom’
I saw this sign in a nightclub: ‘A reasonable standard of behaviour is expected’
And this one was displayed at a resort in the Yasawas: ‘Be Politely’
And a few quotes from Leslie –
Leslie: “Man it’s already September. I want to be the first to wish you merry Christmas”
Me: “Um, thanks buddy”
And this gem –
Leslie: “I’m going to die”
Me: “Why Les?”
Leslie: “I just want to see how many people cry at my funeral and then I’ll wake up”
And my personal favourite –
Me: “Hey, where were you?”
Leslie: “In town”
Me: “Have you already had lunch?”
Leslie: “Yes. I ate four Big Mac meals”
Me: “Four! Really?”
Leslie: “Yes. I asked for 4 Big Macs, but I only wanted the burgers. They ended up giving me four meals”
Me: “What did you do?”
Les: “I paid for the four meals and ate them”
Me: “Good god Leslie”