Saturday, 28 February 2015

Standing on the Edge

I leave Fiji lamenting and rejoicing in almost equal measure. So excited to get back to my own house, with my garden, old friends, family, pubs, walks, castles and cold delicious water straight from the tap. So sad to leave my wonderful colleagues, our great friends, relaxed social life and the coral reefs. However, I will not miss the grapefruit-sized toads that I occasionally find sitting in the cats’ food bowl. Every time I catch one to take it outside - a quivering, wriggling mass wrapped in a tea towel - I’m reminded of the Indiana Jones Aztec sacrifice scene and imagine myself holding a beating human heart. I’m not going to lie, it is disturbing.

Well, my bags are packed, the cats confined to the house (totally oblivious to their impending epic "adventure"), I've returned all the things that I've borrowed (I hope), said goodbye to everyone (including some people more than once) and have got to the point where there is really nothing to do except wander around the house wondering if I've packed the right stuff to keep me going until the shipment arrives in the UK in a couple months.

Poor unsuspecting kitties think that they've found a cozy place to sleep....
The contents of my suitcase are quite bizarre – it does look a bit a like the time I let a four year old pack her own suitcase for a holiday – while adorable, it was hardly appropriate to spend an entire week in a swimming cozzie, a pair of wellies, odd socks, a sequined dress and a tutu.  Having said that, each item’s inclusion has some sort of logic to it, supported by an internal narrative as I handle each one.

The three bags of Cheese Twisties? Those are for Fiji-homesick daughter, who despite having access to all of the comforts of M&S, Waitrose, etc… longs for the Pacific’s favourite snack. Due to rubbish quality control at the factory, I carefully squeezed each pack to make sure that they were full of plump Twisties. So if anyone saw me fondling packets of snack food at MH, that’s what I was doing. Really.

The PedEgg has made the grade because my feet are the unhappiest bit of me about going back to a temperate climate. As a fellow Suvan posted recently – wearing flip flops 365 days a year never gets old. My feet weep at the thought of being sentenced to entire months confined to winter boots (even if they look great in them). So I've made a deal with my feet. I will occasionally allow them out of their socks and pamper them.

My cooking knives come with me along with my mother’s metal spatula that she got when she got married in 1952 and my favourite garlic press. Anyone that knows me will understand that the inclusion of these items are non-negotiable.

Some of the contents of my bag reproach me. Why on earth did I bring precious family documents, some of which over 150 years old to Suva? I was going to dedicate the time when I wasn't gainfully employed scanning and cataloging them all. Of course I was. Instead they sat in a plastic box with paper-bag wrapped packages of cat litter to try to prevent them mouldering in the humidity while I spent my early months here marveling how much time it took to accomplish so little.  So now some come back with me in my carry-on while the rest awaits the return sea voyage to the UK.

Then of course there are gifts, including Pacific-themed artwork done by a friend which shall have pride of place once it’s framed. A colleague gave me a Fijian flag - she felt it was important that I had a version of the old flag before the revamped version, free of the colonial relic of the Union Jack, is rolled out. I shall hang it up every October 10th (Fiji Day) in my window in rural Northumberland, which will be confusing for the locals but will keep me connected to this wonderful country and the time that we spent here.

If you're wondering if I packed any clothes, well, I have so few cold-weather clothes (having been in cold weather for approximately 3 weeks in 2-1/2 years), that I even have room for my fabulous enormous cheeseboard made from part of a wine barrel that I got for Christmas in New Zealand. Now if I can just squeeze in some instant kimchi noodles, my packing will be complete.

Ni sa moce Fiji – I am going to miss you.

Thursday, 19 February 2015

The End is Nigh

As my Fijian adventure comes to a close, I feel as though I am seeing many aspect of living in Suva in a new light. Things that I’d taken for granted have suddenly taken on a charm that until now has been hidden from me (probably through a veil of sweat), while other things that aren’t quite so charming have become immensely more bearable. The obsequious man that runs the little restaurant that I frequent near work that I suspect overcharges me on a regular basis? Over the last few days he’s started to feel like my best friend. Want to use your sharp elbows to get in front of me in the queue? Be my guest – soon I’ll be back in Blighty where everyone knows the rules of queuing and people like you would be crushed under an opprobrious avalanche of tutting and shaking heads.

The taste of Maya Dhaba’s crispy garlic naan bread dipped in butter chicken has already joined the pantheon of great taste related memories of my food-obsessed life. But, my God, the weather… What can I say about Suva weather that hasn't been said thousands of times before? After an afternoon of extreme tropic torpor with no electricity and no air movement, during which the cats and I all slept in a slightly comatose state with our eyes half open, I’ll be welcoming the biting cold wind off of the North Sea with open arms. Of course, I’ll be wearing my merino wool jacket and down parka that I bought in New Zealand in anticipation of just such an eventuality.

My time in Suva has been incredibly rewarding and I’m immensely grateful to the friends that I’ve made during my time here – the ones that been my Fiji “family”, who have talked me through bad Fiji weeks, rejoiced in mine and my family’s achievements and were available to pop open a bottle of something fizzy to celebrate for no other reason than it was Friday (or Tuesday. Or Monday). It’s amazing how close you can get to people when you’re thrown together for such an intense time. One blogger likens it to “dog years” - for every year you've known someone in an expat situation, it’s like knowing them for seven.

Too hot to be a cat
There are few things that I really, really won’t miss about expat life here. One of my biggest irritations is with some of the expat women of this town. Really, what decade are we in when one of the first questions you get asked at a function is “what does your husband do?” That question belongs in the dustbin of history. Seriously, being a trailing spouse can be lobotomising enough without having to leave the sense of identity that comes with your career, skills and interests at the immigration desk.

There is something profoundly sad about knowing that our Suva experience, with its distinct cast of characters, will never exist in time again. It’s all part of the great emotional rollercoaster ride that I’m currently on. I go from premature deep nostalgia for things that I’m going to miss to extreme anticipation for doing recreational things that do not involve alcohol, eating or sweating profusely (or all three things at once). Underlying all of this is a sense of grief at the closure of another life chapter. Though I’m anticipating an exciting next adventure, I’ll certainly be sad to see this one come to an end.