An eye opening account of a trip to Fiji
just before Christmas 2005
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It took forever to get there by modern standards, 17 hours start to finish. I left the cozy suburbs of New England one day and the next I was in a third world country, two and a half perhaps. They speak English there with a british accent, which is disarming specially when confronting a terrably polite and amused streetwalker who simply asked if you're feeling frisky. Ah, life in the tropics.
I was tired and in spite of almost 15 hours sleep in
the last 24, my head was telling me that it was 2
A.M. as it was in Boston. I headed back to the hotel
wobbly walking on the edges of my feet so as not to
put pressure on my growing blisters. Just as I turned
up Gladstone Street, about a block from the U.S.
embassy, a charming young lady, a Fijian, walked
up to me and asked in a very proper (and disarming)
British accent, “Sir, would you like some company
tonight?” My immediate response was to feel
flattered and apparently it showed for the young
lady immediately grasped that I did not understand
the nature of her proposition and added, “I could be
yours for the evening for $50,” she said with a
lascivious wink. “Oh,” I think I blurted out, “I’m
sorry but I need to get a good night’s sleep.” I
realized at that point exactly what I had said and its
implication and must have blushed. The young lady
laughed, and looked at me in an “I’m really sorry to
have bothered you” kind of look, gently patted me
on the back and said, “Well have a good night then
Sir. Perhaps when you’re feeling a bit more frisky
you’ll remember me.”
Seven Days in Fiji by Susan Tepper
If you were expecting a typical travel
book, well forget it. Seven Days in Fiji will
take you on a journey, for sure, but one that
is atypical in every sense, not what you’ve
come to expect from these types of books.
And you will be grateful. Because very quickly, without being aware, you
are traveling with Steve Glines, part and parcel of his mind and body and
spirit. That’s how strong and persuasive his writer voice is, drawing you
right in, first at the airport (where most journeys do begin), a place of dull
repetitive blandness. Kevlar says Glines about airport carpet, and right
there you get it all: airports are places to move through, period; do not
linger. His gaze is swift and his mind is swimmy, and you are right there,
too. Come with me to Fiji he’s offering, almost out of the corner of his eye.
And you’re glad to be going along because it’s fun traveling with Steve,
seeing the towns and beaches and mountains, the people and marketplaces,
the little corrugated houses through the quirky lens of this generous
storyteller. In Fiji, first in the town of Suva, he walks everywhere, despite
being told to avoid certain places (like the red-light district). However the
ladies and the puftas treat him respectfully, calling out polite salutations as
Steve passes by every night. He loves to walk, and all that walking results
in painful blisters you can almost feel rubbing against your own shoes.
Ouch! Steve Glines, unselfconscious in his story telling, at times seems almost
unaware of himself— though it’s through him and with him that we
learn about Fiji and its people. We learn it’s a very clean place with a light
pleasant scent of burning wood that hangs over the island, and that the
British colonized Fiji in the late 1880’s. There’s a park called Albert Park,
after Prince Albert, consort to Queen Victoria, and the buildings shadowing
the park were built in the English style of the period (many interesting
photos, past and present, are peppered throughout this book). Cricket is a
national past time, as well as soccer, and the food served on Fiji is a holdover
from British colonialism and not that tasty. We find out that before
the missionaries arrived, cannibalism was part of the cultural tradition,
and that some Fijian’s alive today knew someone who had been a cannibal.
Glines presents this particular history of Fiji straightforward without
histrionics. It can almost make you forgive the cannibals their predilection
(steak by any other name…). There’s a five hour taxi ride from Suva
to Nadi, taking in the sights along the way. Aruind, the loquacious driver, smokes spliffs and insists on showing off the most beautiful sunset in all
of Fiji (photo insert in book); then a slight detour to his family home for
a spot of tea; another detour to meet Aruind’s sister and auntie. Served a
milky dusty concoction called kava (the national drink) out of a coconut
shell, it numbed Steve’s lips. Seven Days in Fiji is a beautifully rendered
book, a delight to the senses. I can’t take a trip this summer, but then I just
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