(Va & Nikita, Fiji)
I had just experienced my first and worst year at college. A wrong major, extremely freezing Bostonian weather, and the culture shock attached to it all made me hop on this airplane a day ago. I needed to meet new people and experience a change of breath. It was my first time to just spontaneously travel to the South Pacific in search of adventure. I didn’t bring a lot of money with me, just enough to survive on a tight budget. I was determined and hopeful to have an amazingly fresh and audacious experience, but was still apprehensive. I found myself dealing with a moment of extremely anxiety as I waited for the airplane to land.
Alone and confused I had arrived to Nadi, the capital of Fiji, twenty hours ago. The place had seemed so completely new to anything I had ever seen. The blend of orange and violet rays in the sky, the tall vivid green grass fields, and the gentle smiles of the people on this little island quickly saluted me. A small tourist bus was waiting at the airport to take me to the bungalows, where I would stay for the next couple of weeks. The ride lasted about an hour. I could hardly manage to stay awake and just snuggled up to the back seat and snoozed off. When we finally arrived at the bungalows, and after picking up my keys at the reception desk, I decided to take a nap and recuperate the lost sleep, before heading out.
Exactly five hours later when the sun was radiant and crispy, I awoke. I got up from my scrawny, uncomfortable bed and head to the bathroom. After brushing my teeth and face, I decided to head out. A quick fresh breath of Fijian air made me feel alive and excited to see what awaited me. As I opened the door of the cabin and stepped out, I noticed the place was filled with young families and couples. I didn’t find anyone to spend some time with. I decided to walk towards the beach area in front of the bungalows to get away from that crowd.
The air was silent and calm; almost deserted, and I wondered why no one was there. The sterile wind blew against my face. I pulled my hair back in a ponytail and noticed two figures in the distance. At this point, I could only see their silhouettes. They both had very dark skin, were about six foot two at least, had medium sized black afros, and were wearing white T-shirts and sarongs tied around their waists. I still couldn’t tell if they were men or women. As I continued approaching the figures, the smell of fresh sea salt and coconut entered my pores. I noticed they were breaking open a coconut against a broken piece of wood stuck in the sand. The coconut suddenly smashed and they began cheering. At this point I was pretty near them, about ten feet away.
-“Hello”, I said friendlily.
-“Hello”, they both responded. “Where are you go?”
The conversation in broken English began flowing slowly, but surely. I told them I was from a small island too, called Puerto Rico and I showed them my towel, which had a Puerto Rican flag on it. I took the only picture I took that day. I was savoring the sea and my mouth began to water. The breeze softly caressed my cheeks. I was feeling so sweet.
-“You want to come to meet my family in the village”, said the taller of the two.
I thought about it for a second and then figured it would be an interesting experience. Still not knowing the sex of these people, I asked them if the village was far. They pointed towards the sun and began laughing.
“No, very near to here”, they answered.
After a couple more bites of creamy coconut, I followed my new friends back to their village. Their names, they told me, were Nikita and Va. They spoke in a very soft gentle voice, although in a monotonous tone.
The walk to the village took around fifteen minutes. They walked in front of me for most of the time speaking in a quick dialect among themselves. I strolled behind, giggling to myself. I couldn’t help being goofy. The scenery seemed so fresh and untouched, and I was excited to see their village. Nikita and Va were still carrying their last chunks of coconut in their hands. I had already eaten mine. My mouth still tasted of creamy coconut milk. The sun on my face gave me life. I didn’t speak much along the way, for I felt that whatever I said wouldn’t give justice to what I was experiencing. We were now about to enter the village, and I smiled as the villagers stared at me curiously.
Everyone looked similar: the same medium sized afro, charcoal skin, and colorful sarongs tied around their waists. All the villagers were tall and robust. Babies were running free in the vibrant green grass; mother were cooking in their tepees, and the men seemed to just be hanging outside under the crispy sun.
Nikita suddenly disappeared in all the commotion and I was left with Va who led me inside one of the shagged-looking tepees.
-“This is my cousin house”, he said. “We stop here one minute to wait for Nikita, yes?”
– “Sure”, I responded.
We took our shoes off and stepped into the tiny straw house. I noticed there was only one twin-sized bed. It had a couple of dirty, worn out blankets on it. Va told me later how six of his relatives lived in that tepee. Six people to one bed!, I thought.
I sat down on the handwoven floor mat. A couple of people stepped inside and sat next to me in a circle. There was a lot of commotion and the Fijian language made me feel like more of a complete outsider. I could only understand a couple of words in English they used when speaking. Big fat flies were flying around my bare legs and face. The place was filthy, but even so, I felt so satisfied to have finally met some friendly people. Va’s relatives seemed happy for me to be there. They all stared and smiled at me inquisitively. A small semi-broken radio was playing a popular Fijian song and a couple of people started singing along. The sweet melody of the singer’s voice felt like seventh heaven to my ears. I then turned my head and noticed Nikita had returned with a big wooden bowl of traditional kava in one hand, and a large container in the other.
She greeted me with a warm smile and handed me the wooden bowl filled with a whitish liquid.
-“You wanting?”, he asked.
I figured “In Rome like the Romans“, so why not? I wanted to share my ecstasy with these people, so I said yes. She poured a cup of kava for me, and placed a couple of pre-rolled joints on the floor mat. She grabbed one of the cigarettes and quickly lit one up. The THC filled the room, and after a couple of puffs, she passed it on to the person next to me. Nikita handed me another cup of kava, and the room soon achieved an enlightened state of highness in which everyone was just talking to each other, laughing, singing, and smiling. Soon enough Va stood up and began dancing to the tropical beats of the music. A couple of people joined him, including myself. I couldn’t think of anywhere else I wanted to be at that moment, I thought to myself.
Va’s aunt then told me they were hungry and wanted to go to the market in the center of town to buy chicken.
-“Sure”, I said. “Let’s go”.
I’ll buy a couple of chickens for these people, I thought. They probably cost pennies and I’d like to pay them back for their friendliness.
We quickly said goodbye to the rest of the crowd. I was only carrying my fannypack around my shoulder with the equivalent of fifty dollars inside it, and grabbed it on my way out. Va’s two aunts led the way in front of me. Both of the women were barefoot, and only spoke a couple of words in English. Their feet looked stronger than their hands for some reason. I kept wondering how they could walk barefoot on the boiling pavement so naturally without fearing getting cut or being too hot. I never knew the names of these women. They never showed any interest in learning mine either.
The taller woman hailed a small yellow taxi outside the entrance of the village and we hopped in. After a short taxi ride through the flamboyantly brilliant countryside, the driver let us out at the local supermarket after the other woman handed him a medium sized coin. As we entered the supermarket, both of the women suddenly disappeared. I got distracted staring at the exotic , fresh, juicy fruit being sold on the street.
I’m not quite sure how much time must have passed until I saw the women again, but it was probably around ten minutes or so. I stepped inside the grocery store and the women appeared out of nowhere with their hands filled with food. They walked to the check-out stand and placed three bags of rice, curry, four whole chickens, a sack of potatoes, some spices, and some other seasonings on the counter. The cashier began to add the costs of the products. I was in awe as the women began to stare at me with slightly evil, but convincing grins, as though to hint that I had to pay for everything.
I really didn’t have a lot of money for this trip, and was really only planning to buy chicken for them. Even so, I kept my cool and as the cashier summed it all up, the total cost turned out to be around twenty dollars. I paid it, realizing one of the women had stepped away and had resisted to pay it herself. I had to carry the bags out of the store to where the woman was standing. The taller of the two had stayed inside. I turned my head and noticed she had disappeared again. What is it with these people, I thought.
They kept disappearing and appearing again.
The taller women signaled me with her index finger for me to enter the store again.
-“My brothers wanting rum”, she said. “Can you buy this one? Yes?”
I obviously didn’t want to spend any more money on groceries, nor did I want the rum. Even so, I didn’t want to make these full-bodied robust women angry.
-“How much is it?”, I asked.
She grabbed my arm and pulled me to the liquor section of the store. The small bottle of dark rum was sitting in the corner shelf. She pointed to it and with a sad puppydog face said:
-“Fourteen. Please buy for them”.
I was pissed off at this point. Fourteen dollars was way more than I was willing to spend for this freaking rum. I definitely did not want it. She continued trying to convince me in a soft voice. I was annoyed at her sad puppydog faces, my stomach began to growl of hunger, and I just wanted to leave. I handed her the money from my pocket, and we were soon off again. None of them thanked me for the whole week’s worth of groceries. The shorter woman hailed another taxi, we put the bags in the back of the car, and drove back to the village. I was glad to get back to the tepee.
I sat next to Va and later found out he was the same age as I was: eighteen. He was sweet to me and didn’t make me feel uncomfortable at all. His eyes had an honest light to them and his smile was wide and humble.
A while after we began feeling the effects and the numbness of the kava. I started smelling the curry from the kitchen. It was almost ready for eating. It was still light outside, I could feel the sun rays soaking through the tepee roof. I hadn’t eaten anything all day and I was starving at this point. After a couple more rounds, Va’s aunt served me a plate of food. No one else had one and after seeing the confused look on my face, Va explained to me how their custom was for the guests to eat before everyone else. I thanked the woman for the deliciously spicy smelling food and quickly began eating with my fingers. This was my first taste of Fijian curry. It was so scrumptious my mouth wouldn’t stop watering. They were all staring at me while I ate and a couple of people chuckled at my poor hand-eating skills. Towards my last bite of the meal, I thanked the woman once again, even though she had never thanked me. I served myself another cup of kava and waited while the rest of the people ate.
I don’t know exactly how much time passed by until the others were served their dinner, but it seemed like forever. I kept fantasizing about a nice hot shower back in the bungalow, and didn’t speak much during this time. My tongue was completely numb from the kava. I felt a little drunk, very much stoned, and my body was almost ready for bed. Va and Nikita had promised to walk me back to the cabins where I was staying, after dinner, since I was pretty much clueless about doing it myself. I have a terrible sense of direction and besides, it was my first day in Fiji, and I obviously didn’t know my way back. I started getting antsy seeing there was no movement on these people’s parts to even begin eating. I tried calming myself down with another cup of kava and obtained the reverse effect.
-“Suva?”. I asked. “When are we leaving?”
-“Soon”, answered Va. “After we eat”.
Nikita didn’t even look at me. I started freaking out because no one was even paying attention to the fact I had stayed with them all day, ate, drank, hung out, and was now ready to head back. It felt as though they were ignoring me on purpose. I was tired of the melodies playing on the broken radio. They weren’t amusing anymore. My eyes kept flying around the room and I couldn’t sit straight. Shortly after, more people began arriving at the tepee and serving their own dishes, and eating at their own paces. I couldn’t see or feel the sun anymore. The room was dark and it was hard for me to focus with my eyes. I started feeling scared and grasped my fannypack in desperation. Va was almost done with his dinner by now. The Fijian voices in the room had completely transformed from being harmonious and sweet, to machiavellic. I decided to step outside of the tepee and breathe some fresh air.
The night was as dark as the insides of a whale’s mouth. All I could see were the whites of the villagers’ eyes. There wasn’t one star in the sky; therefore, it was hard for me to distinguish where the division of the earth and the sky was. The hot curry had filled my belly and the kava made me clumsily step back into the tepee once again.
-“Va, when can we leave?”, I asked once again. “I’m tired”.
I suddenly decided I had to get the hell out of that place. I would walk back even if I had to do it alone.
– “Sarah?”, said the taller one of Va’s aunts. She once again signaled me with her finger.
What the hell did she want?, I wondered. I couldn’t reason at this point, however, I followed her outside the tepee for some stupid reason. All I could see were the whites of her eyes, for it was completely pitch black. I could hardly even stand straight.
– “My cousin sells beers in the village. Buy for us?”, she said.
I could hardly comprehend and suddenly felt an even stronger energy filled with rage, vertigo, and vehemence running rapidly through my veins. I thought I was going to pass out right at that moment. Even so, I kept my cool of the outside and tried to control myself. I couldn’t see anything; it was as though I was speaking with a ghost.
– “No!”, I said. “I have no more money. I bought you and your whole village all this food, plus rum, and you still expect something?! I’m going home now” I responded sturdily.
I began walking inside realizing that I had left my shoes inside the tepee, and suddenly, she grabbed my arm forcibly. It almost stopped my circulation. My body shaked. I pushed her away.
– “Let me go!”, I said.
She approached me once again and in the most insane murmur she whispered into my ear.
– “We are friends, I think. Friends help other friends, right?”
I could feel her cold curry breath pulsing against my ear.
I ran back into the tepee, grabbed my shoes, and told Va I was leaving immediately. I was so freaking angry, drowsy, and ready to evacuate from there, that it didn’t even make a difference anymore. I was willing to do anything it took. Va followed behind me, and told me he would walk me back to the cabin. The lack of light created more confusion. Not only was I completely out of it, but I also couldn’t even see the piece of ground where I was standing. I heard a voice shouting to me from behind. It was coming from the tepee.
– “Sarah! We get beers and tomorrow I bring you bill”, said the woman.
I cursed her under my breath for the rest of the way. I tripped and scrapped my knee as we left the village. I could see absolutely nothing. No street light, no lamps, nothing at all. Va led the way. He knew the village like the palm of his hand. I felt as though I was completely blind. The only guide I had to lead me was the noise of his flip-flops on the ground.
I followed the sound all the way back. Somehow I trusted it. An occasional car would sometimes pass by, honk at us, and shine its bright lights. It was the only grasp of control and consciousness I experienced throughout the whole walk back. Even so, the cars still scared me because their appearance was completely unexpected and I kept thinking I would surely get run over by one of them.
I don’t know how, but somehow, after this lengthy, gloomy, and pitch black tunnel, I finally saw a light. It was a tiny light bulb flickering on and off as though it was about to burn out. The words Suvaloo Bungalows were carved into the piece of wood where the light sputtered. My body felt a sudden flush of relief. I was back.