Tuesday, 30 October 2012

It's a Small, Busy World

This morning I went for a walk after I walked Anna down to the bus stop. On my short jaunt down Maunikau Road, I ran into one of the ladies that I met at the Fiji Museum fundraising morning a couple of weeks ago. Later, while returned to the university I started chatting to a fellow going in the same direction. He works for a removal company and was heading to the university to pack up the house of John’s colleague and good friend. When we arrived at the university back gate, my new friend stopped to speak to the security guard that we always say good morning to and it turned out to be his brother. The world seems even smaller here than it does in North East England and that’s saying something.

We’ve had a busy few days. On Friday, Anna had a day off school to deal with renewing her US passport at the embassy. I had allowed for the entire morning to sort it out, my only experience with US embassies being the humourless pedants in London. I needn’t have bothered, the staff at the Suva embassy were a delight and we were in and out in less than an hour. We then headed into town to do some clothes shopping. We lunched at the food court at the top of the Tappoo building where we had the most delicious vegetable biryani that I’ve ever eaten. The Indian food here is wonderful and I plan on eating as much of it as possible.

While we were out, John rang to say that our shipment from the UK was going to be delivered imminently. As we weren’t expecting it until later this week, we raced home to quickly tidy up and ready ourselves for the delivery of the 29 boxes last seen at the beginning of August. (Actually we had been told that the delivery would take between 6-8 weeks, but it took nearly 12. We were also told that each box would be surrounded by an inflatable sleeve to protect it. They weren't.)

The first thing that I pulled out of a box was a winter coat, which I had packed it for trips to cold climates. Even so, as I was drenched in sweat, I could hardly bring myself to touch it. The two things that Anna was desperate for were her Harry Potter books and her electric piano. As the piano had never been out of the box after purchasing, we were relieved when it made appropriate sounds once plugged in and assembled by the moving men for the small fee of six small bottles of Fiji Gold. As one of Anna’s school friends said, it was like Christmas day – my knives, my coffee maker, my cookbooks! Each item with a story, each one dear enough for me to have not wanted to part with it.

Our house was so tidy when we didn't have any belongings.

Early Saturday morning (when I should have been lying in bed drinking good coffee and reading cookbooks) Randy, John’s colleague, and his wife Konai took me to the market. Randy’s an ethno-biologist who has lived here since the late sixties so his insights into the fruit, vegetables and seafood were fascinating. (Click here for his book on the plants of USP which I highly recommend for anyone living here). He also appeared to know virtually everyone in the market. I struggled to keep up with him and nearly had to employ a barrow boy when my eyes were bigger than my carrying capacity and I bought five pineapples. Have I mentioned the delicious fruit here? My personal favourites are deep orange Hawaiian papaya/pawpaw, delicious with Filipino lime – known as kumquat here - squeeze on it and the amazingly sweet and juicy pineapples.

 I'm working up the nerve to try to cook some of this stuff.

Due to my anaphylaxis to handling eggplant, I will only be attending the market in close-toed shoes.

This is a bountiful island country. As one taxi driver said to me, while in other countries people die from thirst or famine, here there is so much surplus that some of the fruit gets left for the birds and bats. The market is full of locally grown produce – fresh coriander (called dhania), rourou (taro leaf), cucumber, tomatoes, pumpkin, green beans, ginger, fiddleheads and loads of stuff that I don’t know plus a jaw-dropping variety of seafood. If you stick to eating local produce and keep your grocery purchases of western items like cheese and mayonnaise to a minimum you could eat very cheaply. There is also cooked food, which I will have to learn to negotiate. In particular, I am tempted by the tapioca cooked with burnt sugar in a banana leaf.

The fruit on photo on the left is as forgettable as its name. Love the woven baskets of roots.

On Sunday, we went down to the Hobie sailing club at Suva Point. One of the first things that John did when he got to Fiji was join the Hobie club. It’s a functional sailing club rather than a yacht club. There is a small wooden building with toilets and showers next to a slipway with a grassy area covered in Hobie Cats. The water is not the clear blue water that you think of when you picture the tropics – it’s pretty brown and stirred up. But the bay is protected by the reef and there is a sandbar within a fairly short sail to aim for. The members are keen on racing each other as well.

In the olden days (late 80s and early 90s) John and I were members of the St Croix Yacht Club and owned a Hobie 16 which we raced regularly. I was a lot more flexible back then and the act of hiking out on the trapeze was done with speed and grace (that’s how I remember it anyway).  Twenty-odd years later, hiking out is a lot scarier and less exhilarating than I remember. I also looked like an arthritic crab when I moved about on the boat. I felt like one too. I’ve been on 600mg of ibuprofen regularly since then to ease the pain in my shoulder. Damn you, old age!

Anna overcame her reluctance and went out with John – her first time on a Hobie. They were gone for ages (I could only manage around 45 minutes in the sun) and she came back without too many bruises and no lasting ill-effect that I’m aware of. Ah youth!


  1. You'd have needed your coat here ... halloween in full swing, Hexham fireworks on Saturday ... wearing mufflers indoors ... can't imagine your heat or what forgettable fruit tastes like ... it must be great to be moving in properly xx Paul

  2. Hi Mary,
    You put a link on Suva Expats (about roti) and I realised you are a new neighbour. I have had a bit more of a read of the blog and I think we need to meet properly and have a coffee. I feel like I could answer lots of your questions. I had a friend who lived in your house and we had regular market shopping trips. And I moved to Fiji from (Midlands) England but am not English. Come and knock on my door one day or I will come to you!
    PS.I live at 53A - I think you met me once on the path and have met my hubby Steve.
    PPS. So not a axe wielding manic type.