The White Ghetto

Tuesday we returned to Fiji (we were there earlier this year). I knew it would only be a three-hour flight leaving at 9am, but I forgot about the three additional hours of time zone change (one of which was Fiji’s daylight savings time), so we arrived around 3pm. We rented a beater car, and went to Siral’s house. We are helping Siral’s family build an elevated addition to their house which was indundated by floods twice this year, and once a couple years ago. Hopefully this new section built on stilts can be a refuge for them when climate change makes the floods keep coming in the future. The rainy season starts this month. They have made much progress on it — the stilts were all up and anchored in the ground, and the floor joists were all there. We left for the 2.5-hour drive to Rakiraki on the north side of the island. The drive wasn’t fun — the road was rough, it got dark before we arrived, and the headlights of the car pointed off to the side instead of onto the road. But finally we found the hotel, it fed us, and all was good again.

Wednesday we took it easy, relaxing with Siral, before the insanity of the eclipse cruise with eight other friends. We went into town, met Siral’s cousin who lives nearby, and bought postcard stamps. We all drove to the end of a road on the shoreline, and had a nice conversation with a guy who operates a small boat which hauls stuff out to an island where a resort is being renovated. Then we went to Siral’s cousin’s house. It turns out his cousin is a kava farmer, so we bought two kilograms of kava roots for a yaqona ceremony on Friday. Then we went to a nearby resort and had lunch. Not much happened the rest of the day.

Thursday we drove back to Nadi, with the assistance of sunlight. Siral and his uncle cleaned the dirt off of the kava. They explained that the powdered kava you get in the markets doesn’t have the dirt cleaned off, and it doesn’t taste as good. At Siral’s house, we had another of his mother’s Indian lunches, putting all hotel meals to shame. As usual, there was way more food than we could eat, but the construction workers would help later on. In the previous two days, the flooring had all been laid. After lunch, we went to a local kava pounding business which turned the roots into powder. The roots were put in a steel trough, and two large steel poles were alternately lifted and dropped onto the kava. The machine made quite a delightful rhythm, which was added to by the sound of the stick the attendant was using to stir the kava. We continued on to a hotel on Denarau Island, which is a resort ghetto of golf courses, very large hotel resorts with perfectly trimmed lawns and foliage, and a marina. It looks quite out of place in Nadi and Fiji. We stayed there because our eight friends joining us on the eclipse cruise were also staying there. After dropping off our bags in our room at the Westin, the porter with the electric cart gave us a ride over to the bar in the Sheraton where all our friends were — Westin and Sheraton are functionally all the same enormous hotel.

Friday we walked around Nadi town, looking for souvenirs, and touring the colorful Indian temple. In the afternoon two of the other eclipse guests joined us for a trip to Siral’s house, where we had a kava ceremony in the new shaded area underneath the construction, presided over by his Fijian “brother”. The kava itself doesn’t do much, but it was a most pleasant afternoon, and an opportunity to hang out for a few hours with people from an entirely different culture.