Of all the greetings we’ve learned on this trip, the Fijian bula bula has to be our favorite. It’s pretty much impossible to say hello in this country without a smile on your face. Bula bula, Fiji! The Carisches have landed!
We arrived in the city of Nadi after three long, but uneventful flights. This time we didn’t have any confusing baggage drama in Bangkok, and instead were welcomed to the country with a live traditional Fijian band playing in the customs area. After our 24 hours of continuous travel, we dozed on and off during the 3-hour drive around the coast of Fiji’s biggest island, Viti Levu.
The country of Fiji spans more than a million square kilometers of the South Pacific Ocean and is comprised of more than three hundred islands, with humans inhabiting just over a hundred of them. The area has a tumultuous and gruesome history because most Fijian tribes practiced cannibalism. With its warrior culture, frequent tribal battles and hunting of humans, Fiji was an extremely dangerous place for the first traders and missionaries. As more and more locals converted to Christianity throughout the 1800s, cannibalism died out. The practice was formally abolished in 1870 by the ruling king, although some historians argue it continued in isolated areas well into the 20th century.
Fiji also has an interesting population. In the mid-1800s indentured servants from India began arriving in large numbers to work on the expanding sugar cane and palm plantations. As the Indo-Fijian society grew to make up almost half the country’s population, it maintained the Indian culture, traditions and religions. Animosity and discrimination between the Fijian and Indo-Fijian citizens created significant strain on Fiji’s political stability in the past. Today Fiji is a peaceful, stable society where the various celebrations and religious holidays are observed and respected, but tensions between the two ethnic groups can be felt at times, particularly around elections. Despite some of the differences among its people, Fiji is an extremely welcoming and friendly place. A recent report on world happiness named Fijians the happiest people on the planet, and we’ve certainly seen evidence of that during our time here.
Chattanooga friends of ours moved to Suva, Fiji several years ago for a job with the United Nations. We couldn’t pass up the opportunity to see Reuben, Diana, Leah and Ike in paradise. They invited us to stay with them in their beautiful home on a hill overlooking the ocean, which has room for all nine of us. This is now the second time our crew has temporarily moved in with another family, the first being the six weeks we spent in the apartment of our relatives in Andorra last summer.
I have to say, the communal living thing has a lot of benefits I’d never anticipated. I think the biggest plus side to two-family cohabitation is what I call the “sister wife effect.” Time at the grocery gets split in half, we finish each other’s tasks around the house, two sets of maternal eyes watch over the kids and we always have built-in girl talk. I’m sure we’ll miss life with our Fiji friends when we leave just as we missed our Andorran family when we moved on from their house. Granted, our hosts will probably be glad to get back to their normal lives without our crazy crew around all the time.
We’re having a great time with the Summerlins. Reuben and Diana have taken us to some delicious Fijian restaurants, toured us around the area, and connected us to volunteer opportunities. We’re saying bula bula a lot and have added vinaka vakalevu (thank you very much) to our vocabulary. We’re one big happy cohabiting family here in Fiji and looking forward to a fun month ahead in our temporary island home.