We were in Fiji about a month ago. A few days after we left we saw stories on the news about the devastating floods in Nadi, the town where the international airport is located, a few miles away from Denarau where we stayed. We saw video of people floating down the main street in rafts and using power boats to rescue people stranded in the rising water. They got 18” of rain in twenty-four hours. Two weeks later another equally large storm passed through, before they got a chance to recover from the first one. When the story disappeared from the news, it disappeared from our minds. There’a always a new calamity.
As we left the port in Lautoka the guide pointed out various construction projects initiated by the Chinese, including a huge warehouse for all the goods they send here. They were also building a significant factory. We have seen the same sort of activity in Africa. The only sign of a US presence here was a McDonald’s. Every major nation has their day in the sunshine. Once the sun never set on the British empire, arguably succeeded by the US, but as we look ahead twenty years, the world will belong to China no matter how many tariffs we raise. Lautoka is a bustling, prosperous looking town due to the fortunes made here raising sugar. During the cutting season a shuttle train putts along the main street and a new Sugar Queen is crowned at the annual festival. Giant storage tanks near the port contain molasses. Rum is also a sugar based local product.
Our guide talked around about cannibalism, just as the guide did yesterday. He told the story of a missionary who had made great inroads into the villages around here until he got swept away with things, drinking too much kava and touching the head of the chief in affection. This affectionate move got him killed and eaten. Touching the chief's head is a major taboo. Jokes were made about the “other white meat” and the guide said they ate every part of him including his leather shoes. He said they were especially hard to chew and remnants of the shoes are displayed in a local museum. I hope he was joking, but I couldn’t tell for sure. He said that Fiji has 334 islands at low tide: 333 at high tide. That is no joke. An island just outside our cabin window that had over twenty homes on it appeared to be inches above the water line on a placid, sunny day. I would like to come back in a few years and see if it is still there.
Today we visited Nawaka Village, a small town used to hosting tourists interested in learning about traditional village life. When we first arrived the residents had a bit of a scramble; they thought we were coming tomorrow. They are not the only one confused by their close proximity to the International Dateline, where communication from our part of the world often misses it by a day. They apologized for the condition of their village, which looked neat and tidy to us. They were hard hit by that torrential rain we’d heard about and spend three weeks marooned in their church, the only building in town that was dry after one river broke out of its banks and another smashed through a dam. It sounded like the government had done a good job supplying the with bottled water and food, but home and content damage was pretty much up to them. We were the first group to visit in three months and they were extremely gracious and welcoming. After the traditional welcoming ceremony including kava, we broke into small groups and toured the town. By far the nicest home belonged to the chief. It was up on a hill and had glass windows and a thatched roof. Even though the chief is 40, he still has not married and sired an heir. Our local guide thought that one of her daughters could do the job. The chief has an indoor toilet for himself, but those who visit use the outhouse nearby. Only half the residents of Nawaka have indoor plumbing. His sisters live next door and cook for him. Oh, joy!
After the tour we gathered for a singing and dancing performance. Considering the fact that we came a day before they expected us, they were as well rehearsed as any Broadway cast. They grow up singing these songs and doing these dances. A flock of children watched from nearby, absorbing the culture. Some of the men’s dances were very aggressive and war-like and reminded us of Maori performances we’ve seen in New Zealand.
On the drive back we saw a few spots were hundreds of people were standing in lines, patiently waiting for a chance to apply for additional government assistance in rebuilding their homes damaged by the recent flood. Our guide said the water in his home went up to his neck and destroyed all its contents and appliances. He was a great guide anyway, but after hearing his experiences many of us opened our wallets.
Now we look ahead to many days of sailing over 2,000 miles before we arrive in Hawaii. We think we will cross the International Dateline tomorrow and have two May 1’s; one on this side and one o the other side. We will sail east for six or seven days; it’s hard to say for sure. I’ll try to keep counting.