Reunited with the Fiji of my dreams in the markets of Suva

Boats in harbor in Suva, Fiji

I'm thankful for magic today, the kind I'm used to in India, the kind that places two pals who have been separated for five years in the same market at the same time. What started out as an overly confident internal monologue – one repeating to the eyes that the people they see are familiar – turned out to be based on truth, on a belief that not only is the world small but Fiji even smaller, especially with Facebook and a little prior warning. Here's what happened the moment we hit Suva.

Chance reunions

Piling our loads on our backs, Chaney, Bethany, and I started walking towards Suva central and potential accommodations for the night. My eyes bounced from markets with sulus to passing Indo-Fijian faces to mangos the size of a foot.

I heard a squeal and didn't react outwardly, but internally, my over-stimulated time-traveling mind wondered if that was someone recognizing me...five years later...in a city I only passed through on occasion. It sounds big-headed, but I still let my mind go there, choosing to see it more as "small world acceptance."

My head was turned right, eyeing the produce and vendors, but a presence came to my left saying:

Welcome to Fiji!

I reacted in amazement before the information reached my brain: Siteri was standing in front of me...at the market in Suva...spotted me the moment I arrived with no other knowledge than my flight time. I guess I could have anticipated this crossing of paths in retrospect, because we had been connecting on Facebook, little blue lines coming onto my screen from a dream I once had. Regardless of the plausibility of the chance encounter, I was now face-to-face with tangible evidence of my long and confusing stint in Fiji, a time I still chew on in my mind for more clarity and takeaways.

Her name is Siteri, and she is my umbilical cord to Nakavika.

Courtesy of Siteri / Facebook
Courtesy of Siteri / Facebook

Siteri has a perspective on our project in her home village that no one else can provide. She witnessed up close (or from a short distance) all the factors that affected its outcome. She also is one of the few females in the village who understood our personalities and humor, as well as someone who shared our interest in more educational opportunities in Nakavika. She was loving, supportive, communicative then, and this time around, five years later, she still expresses this through connecting us to people, paving the way for our visit, and informing me about all the people she felt I needed updates on.

She's my advocate in a place and a situation I feel torn by and self-conscious about. And her whole family makes me feel safe and welcome.

In my shocked state, I introduced Siteri to Bethany and Chaney and told her we were on our way to accommodations unknown. She offered to walk us, and just like that, in an instant, I went from wandering detached to walking with connection, the way I was used to in this island nation. The only things anchoring me to 2014 versus completely time traveling to 2009 were the two friendly colleagues right behind me. I was really thankful they were there.

Matching memory to reality

That's the Indian restaurant Garrett went to when he hurt his foot.

In between the I-can't-believe-I'm-seeing-you's and giggles of amazement, I scanned the streets for reminders of our time in Suva: government buildings we passed regularly, the movie theater where we sulked the day after leaving the village, the bar where we had a final beer before everyone parted ways.

Suva, Albert Park, Fiji
Suva, Albert Park, Fiji

Siteri smiled and looked behind her, and I followed her gaze to a man now walking casually behind Chaney.

That's my boyfriend.

I smiled at her nonchalance and turned to give a big wave to the man in Siteri's life. We were like a snowball rolling through Suva, acquiring more friends every three blocks.

And that is exactly my focus for being here once again: to reconnect with friends and students with whom I once worked, celebrated, and cried.

Accompaniment ...or not

All I look forward to is witnessing and being a part of daily village life, to better affix my memories to my current perspective. If anyone can clarify ways of thinking that don't come natural to me, they will be cooks for my mind, the holders of my attention. I am hoping for contributors to my closure, and I feel like it is becoming clearer what I need most in terms of closure, what I'm sad to be missing.

IMG_0356

I thought I came to Fiji the second time with enough preparation and an open, absorbent mind for the rest, but I realize now how little I knew about what I was doing (clearly...because I went for it). I don't think I can point to my Grandma's sickness at the time as an excuse for diving in that way. Sentenced to a quick downward spiral of health, she was going to suffer, and I had no means of alleviating or controlling that (I hadn't yet become aware of my control issues in 2009). But I could revisit a place I thought I could impact and just start tap dancing, making noise and moves that seem like something. It wasn't offensive or destructive tap dancing; I just think what resulted was unsustainable and paired, for some, with an awkward aftertaste.

Walking around the mangroves in Suva.

Accompaniment was the word on my mind today. That's Paul Farmer's description for quality engagement in the fight for equity...the way he "aids." I think I pretended to accompany five years ago but did not succeed, not by a long shot. Like poor inception, the host knew it was a foreign idea, planted by a mind incapable of truly knowing the host.

What I mean by this is our project, based on what I thought was a desire to improve on English and develop knowledge of health issues, was a projection of ourselves and not entirely a desire conceived by those it affected.

I think my mind was as open as I could make it at the time, but I needed an extreme learning experience like Fiji to make me question my biggest beliefs, the ones so engrained they couldn't be defined.

Now, after years of difficult work environments, unfamiliar homes, and evolving job descriptions, I am better able to identify and accept my own failures and consider myself open to different ways of thinking.

These all came flooding back, these feelings of doubt, hope, and determination, as a result of grounding my Fiji dream in reality, from placing my feet back on the soil of Viti Levu. And the moment Siteri spotted me in the market was the moment I knew peace of mind was possible.

Continue reading about my return to Nakavika.