Monday, December 26, 2011
Second thoughts on what may be a third-world country
In many ways, Fiji has not been what I expected. We did a lot of research before coming here, and from what I had read, I anticipated much more of a tourism-based experience. But as I sit here writing this while looking at the beach just down from one of the glitzier resorts in Fiji, the Jean-Michel Cousteau, (founded by you-know-who’s son), there are no paragliders or jet skis, or any of the de rigeur activities that you see tourists partaking of in most vacation locations. It’s more Costa Rica and less Hawaii than I thought we would see, and that’s even after spending a lot of time on websites such as Lonely Planet and TripAdvisor, reading reviews of people who have been here in some cases many times. The resort runs vans back and forth past our house to the village a few times a day, but it’s nothing at all like the coastal areas you see in the States where people go to escape for a few days or weeks. As I mentioned in a previous post, the 6km road from town to the rental house where we are about a quarter of a mile shy of the JMC resort, is unpaved for more than half of the way. We decided to take the bus into town for the first time Saturday, Christmas Eve here. That was done in part to save some money on the $10 Fijian ($5USD) cab fare each way, but also just to have the experience. The bus, which from what we can tell makes about three trips out our way a day, passes by our house on the way out to the end of the road at the resort, which gives us a nice five to ten minute heads up on when it will be heading back to the village. As you board the bus, you are informed by words painted on the wall that you pay as you enter. I asked the driver how much it would be for my family and me to ride into Savusavu, and he replied that it was $4.60, which gave me a chance to unload some of the coinage I had accumulated in our week or so here. I settled into a seat just behind Annie and the kids who took up the entire three person seat on the right side of the bus, which was separated by an aisle from the two seats on the left side of the bus. The absence of windows let air flow freely, underneath the “windows” that were rolled up and fastened, able to be quickly let down in the event of one of the frequent showers here. As we bounced along the rocky road toward the village, making stops every half-kilometer or so, I expected Forest Whitaker or Denzel Washington, or even (hopefully!) Angelina Jolie to get on carrying a backpack filled with medicine for an orphanage or makeshift hospital. Considering it’s Viet Nam era vintage, the bus did just fine, getting us safely to the village in just a little more time than it took with our taxi driver.
One of the more pleasant aspects of strolling through the dirty and muddy sidewalks of Savusavu is the lack of beggars. In our week plus of being here, we’ve only been approached once by someone trying to sell us something, and that was a legless man in a wheel chair who was apparently trying to sell some trinkets, and he didn’t push the issue when we politely declined. The streets and sidewalks bustle with people, going in and out of shops, carrying their parcels and packages, while others loiter outside, chatting and waiting for rides from a bus or taxi. Stray dogs trot down the street, tongues hanging out as they look around for a puddle to drink out of, a scrap of food to eat, or a cool place where they can lay down their skinny frames.
Once inside one of the stores or markets, personal space that those of us from the US are accustomed to vanishes. No one is rude or forceful, but to move through an aisle, you need to just claim that space and move forward. The supermarket isn’t a Kroger Fresh Fare, for example, it doesn’t sell bread, that is purchased at, of all places, The Bread Store, which sells some pastries, muffins and cupcakes besides a variety of bread. After mistakenly buying a loaf of unsliced bread, I for the first time in my life truly appreciated the phrase, “the best thing since sliced bread.” Slicing a nice hard loaf of Italian bread is one thing, trying to make smooth sandwich slices out of a soft loaf of white bread is a talent I haven’t mastered yet. I managed to make the best of it, and use some rough cut slices to make some home made garlic bread with some of the fresh garlic we bought.