Sunday, January 15, 2006

8 Seven days in Fiji - Mystery Trip

Mystery Trip

“If your class had ended at 4 PM instead of 6 PM,” he said, “ you would now be looking at the most beautiful sunset in all Fiji. I tried to take a picture of it but it was really to dark. A Google search reveals what I should have seen:

As we drove on into the night we would occasionally drive through Fijian villages. A large sign and a speed bump would precede the village entrance. The speed limit would drop from 80 km/hr to 20 km/hr. Fijian villages at night are a busy place. People milling back and forth with the occasional roadside stand selling roast goat from a charcoal stoked fire. Every house had a front porch with a single fluorescent light welcoming the milling crowd. Every few houses there would be a gathering, men mostly, sitting on the floor drinking kava and speaking in hushed tones of the important things while women and children milled about chatting and giggling. Fijians walking along and across the highway as though there was no traffic would occasionally turn, wave a welcome and cry “Bula,” welcome. Aruind pushed on. There were long stretches of empty highway and Aruind would gun the engine as we went up and down the hills.

I asked Aruind if there were any large animals that could jump out in front of a car and cause damage? He looked at me quizzically. I told him of the majestic beauty of the American Deer, that prancing, horned animal that grace the forests of Americas Northeast, an animal that will occasionally impale itself on the front of a passing automobile causing catastrophic damage.

Aruind thought for a moment and said with a smile, “There are wild pigs that can run into the street but they don’t often cause damage. The only big animals we have here that won’t get out of the street and can damage your car are the Fiji people.” As we drove along I began to notice that indeed there were lots of “Fiji people” walking along the highway at night along these seemingly lonely stretches of highway.

Fiji is blessed with natural resources in the form an abundance of hydroelectric power. Every shack in Fiji has power but few homes have a landline telephone. Fortunately the cell phone infrastructure is excellent and everyone has a cell phone. We had been driving for almost four hours when Aruind got a cell phone call from his wife. The instructions were to pick up some cousin bring him home and have some tea. Aruind asked if I would I mind a ten-minute detour? Heck no, more adventure.

We turned off the main road and into what looked like a typical suburban subdivision. Aruind’s cousin was waiting for us at the intersection and hopped in the back seat. “One town,” Aruind said. “Fiji people here, Indian people there,” he said as we turned down a small dirt road. We made several turns and finally arrived in Aruind’s compound. It was dark out so I may not have seen what was really there but the compound looked like it was perhaps 90 feet long by forty feet wide and enclosed by a six to eight foot tall privet hedge or an equally tall chain link fence covered in vines. We pulled up to an open-ended garage and stopped. For the moment the headlights served as our only light.

Aruind’s house had been built by his father and grandfather just a short 100 feet from the Pacific Ocean. Tea was served in the garage. I sat on a bench made from a half log and Aruind sat on a small stool. As we sat sipping tea we talked about the construction. The floor was a poured concrete slab into which 2x4’s had been set. Also sets in the concrete were large eyebolts. The walls, both interior and exterior as well as the roof were of corrugated steel. Through each corrugated steel panel ran a quarter inch cable terminating in a turnbuckle at the eyebolts. At the center of each room was a single incandescent light bulb. Enough to see but not enough to do detailed work like reading.

I asked Aruind about cyclones, as hurricanes in this part of the pacific are called. He pulled on a cable and said with a smile, “This house may be underwater in a cyclone but its not going anywhere.” Occasionally they get very bad cyclones but Fiji is located directly in the middle of the spawning ground for south pacific Typhoons and as such they are usually relatively mild as they pass by. Fiji has not had a cyclone for five years and Aruind predicted that the next one would be very bad. A lot of building has taken place since then.

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