Two Sundays ago I was awoken at 6.30am by the sounds of roosters, just as I was from the exact same bedroom 16 years ago on my last visit to Fiji. After having thiki puri freshly made by my beautifully generous dadi, I sat on the verandah and listened to the sounds of hymns echoing from the churches throughout Ba. And what stunning sounds they were, reminding me where I was and why I decided to come back to my family’s home town after so many years of saying “…but why?”.
The next two days we explored the Ba town and countryside, picking sugar cane and tamarind from the road side trees for snacks, and staring into the mountainous rainforests in amazement at the contrast of scenery from the images the rest of the world sees of these islands. On a trip to my dad’s alma mater, there was a sign on one of the school buildings that said ‘Try your best and leave the rest to God’, reminding students to relieve themselves of the pressure the world puts on them; to have faith that life will always take us down the path we are destined for as long as you give life the best you have to offer.
We then began our road trip down King’s Road, the highway that spans from Lautoka to Suva showing a landscape yet to be modified by tourism and industrial development. Passing through the villages, the people smile and wave as you drive past, as if you were an old friend they were bumping into in the street after 10 years. Children enjoying their school holidays by climbing trees, jumping into the rivers, making toys out of sticks and rocks – not a gadget in sight yet smiles and laughter to fill the globe.
We made it to Suva, the capital city with Auckland-style traffic and where you now have to pay for parking. Massive malls, three storey salwar kameez shops and the same hustle-bustle vibe you would get anywhere. Development here is on the rise. I was reflecting on Fiji’s history of colonisation and slavery (let’s not wrap it in cotton wool with any other word), and why the diaspora’s knowledge of this history is so minimal. I wish we knew more about that journey and I wish we made more of an effort to acknowledge it.
After one night in Suva, we set off down Queen’s Road, which spans the other half of the island. Resorts and tourists are more visible here, but the landscape still beautiful.
We reached Denarau. There’s not much to say about Denarau except that a glass of fruit juice costs $10. Meanwhile my dad and I paid $14 in Nadi town for lunch, this being the rip-off foreigner price. Here you’ll see expats and tourists play golf and go for evening yacht rides. While I appreciate that the island brings a lot of much-needed money and employement into the economy, you could have told me I was anywhere else in the world and I would’ve believed you – starkly different from the rest of the island which we had just driven around in it’s entirety.
Those who know me know that connecting with my roots and ancestry has always been spiritual for me. It feeds my soul. Before I went to Fiji I was lost, losing faith in the world and lacking confidence. I wanted to re-align my compass. The country and its people reminded me to smile, to do my best and trust the Divine plan. I was reminded that my ancestors journeyed the oceans to reach Viti, Aotearoa and even Barbados. The rose above the toughest conditions and taught their children those same values. Their tenacious and resilient blood runs through my veins and I hope I never forget that.