Diary of The Travelling Seanchai
2007-09-28 to 2007-10-03
There was a 4 piece male guitar band in the airport as we arrived and their beautiful harmonies put everyone in a good mood, right before we saw the great wall of China of customs queues! Here they have `Fiji time` and you need a Zen like patience to deal with it but I was in no great hurry and reveled in being on the island that my uncle had arrived into in 1951 as a missionary.
Fr PJ had passed away last year so this was as much a pilgrimage of sorts as anything else, I really wanted to see the land that he had dedicated 17 years of his life to and had visited so many times afterwards. I have been told that I have got my adventurous and travelling spirit from him so it was truly special for me to be here.
Like most of the `third world` countries I have been to, the welcome and kindness of the Fijian people (and in particular the staff of my hotel) was first class (and definitely not `first world`!) I had booked a bus to Suva, the countries capital, to visit the Columban Fathers who knew my uncle when he was a missionary here. It was great to be standing in the house that my uncle had been before and that night I was fortunate enough to be invited to a ceremony which included Tongan, Samoan and Fijian song and dance.
The older men revelled in expressing themselves through these mediums and showed immense pride whereas the younger boys were a little bit self conscious, I thought that that was in direct contrast to what I was used to where the kids would be carefree and the older you got, the more reserved you would be.
Another big contrast was the Kava session to our normal drinking sessions. Kava is derived from the root of a plant and has no alcohol in it, it doesn`t need any as it is a mild narcotic. It is offered to you, you clap your hands once, drink it all down, then spin back the empty bowl and clap your hands three times. I loved it! Fr Pat had warned the pourer not to give me too much as it was my first time and he didn`t want me to get sick. But when I showed absolutely no affects at all I started to worry.
“Fr. Pat, I think I am doing it wrong, shouldn`t I be feeling some sensation?” I asked him.
“No tingling of your tongue, no numbing of your jaw, no soft ache in your belly?” he replied, slightly bemused. When I answered no to all three, he really was at a loss especially considering the huge men that we were surrounded by were all getting seriously dozy. It has (or is supposed to have) a soporific and a mild laxative affect (a very dangerous combination I feel!) and as I looked around I couldn`t believe how sluggish the men were becoming as I was getting more wide eyed and awake every minute.
We had been put in the guest of honour position, the white chiefs, and it was incumbent on us as a result to stay on a little extra which was fine by me. I kept drinking away hoping for whatever was supposed to happen to me to kick in. Some musicians started singing (the harmonies again were superb) to which they received applause but as they drank more Kava, their intervals between each song became more pronounced and the listless listeners couldn`t even summon up the strength to clap anymore!
When we drink we are quiet at the start of the evening and it builds up into a crescendo of loudness by the end, but not here, it starts off loud and full of chatter and slowly winds down all evening and then it`s bed time! There is definitely some merit in it! The men and women sat in seperate areas and it was an honour to be amongst them, particularly when some of the young men were not allowed join the mens group.
The next day I had a tour of Suva and then boarded a local bus back to Nadi, always a fun experience even if you don`t get the leg room. I was one of the only Kivavalangi on board (white person but strictly translated as “Person who wears shoes”)
The next day I sailed to Beachcomber Island, one of the 300 hundred islands around Fiji and definitely its most famous party island. It`s owned by a Limerick man (my own home town) and 80% of the island is taken up by the resort! Activities and food are provided all day and at night, the `island` lets its collective hair down and parties on the sand covered floors of the only bar! I got to speak to the owner, Dan Costelloe, who knew my uncle very well but hadn`t heard of his passing. He was the physical embodiment of Santa Claus and had a wonderful nature to match. 84 of us shared the one dorm and suprisingly (and in no small part down to the partying aspect of the island), I got a wonderful nights sleep.
Next day I set off for Mana island for some rest and relaxation but when I met four girls from Ireland, I knew that that was out of the question. I rarely meet Irish people on my travels (comparatively speaking) and it was good to be able to introduce myself as Diarmuid again. That night some of the local kids put on a show for us and I don`t think that cute really captures what they were like! More than one or two of the girls were thinking about abduction except it would have meant that they would have had to dump some clothes to make room in their bags and that was never going to happen!
Dan, a Scouse lad who I`d met on Beachcomber was there too, and at the end of the night we were walking home when I heard some music coming from a nearby hall. We peered in the window and there was a group having a Kava celebration ceremony (for a christening) and singing songs. They saw us and invited us in and when I explained who I was, one of the old men in there told me he knew Fr PJ! It was unreal, on this little island, in this hall was someone who had met my uncle.
Again we were given the position of honour and we were given books so that we could join in on the singing aswell! The people all laughed at our attempts to sing these songs and how we drank the Kava while all the time maintaining the clapping ceremony. It was one of the great nights of my travels.
But all too soon, two days later, it was time to head back to Nadi and get on a plane to leave this paradise. One of the truly inspired Marketing slogans I had seen was, ” Isle of Smiles, Miles of Isles` and it was so true. I was so proud of the impact that my uncle had had on the people of this country and I assured myself that this would not be last time coming.
I wonder if one day I will have an impact like that on some other people, I hope so….
I`m not a drug dealer, I don`t need a cavity search…