An island paradise. A tropical heaven. Fiji has long been thought of as a holidaying destination to rewind and relax.
Not for me. Fiji holds a different place in my heart. It will always be the place where I started school, the place where I learnt to ride a bike, the place where I got the scar on my chin and the place where I experienced things others dream of.
I was 4, so we are talking a good 18 years ago now (wow that seems like a long time!). We lived in Albury, New South Wales and then my dad got a job at a company in Suva, Fiji. Mum and dad thought, hey why not! When are you ever going to get the chance to do that again? So they packed up me, my brother and all our stuff, and we moved to the Pacific.
Being my typical self, I made things pretty interesting on our arrival. It was Easter weekend, and I was REALLY excited to be there. We were staying in a temporary apartment until we found a house, and as kids do, I started jumping on my bed trying to exert some of the excited energy that was building up in me. Big mistake. Being a temporary place, the bed had wheels. Being Fiji, the floor was tiled. Yep you guessed it, smack bang chin first onto the floor.
Screaming my head off with blood cascading out of my face, mum and dad took me to the hospital where they stitched me up. But then once Easter had ended, we went to the doctors to get the stitches checked out, and got a big lecture from the doctor. Apparently we weren’t supposed to go to the hospital because things weren’t always on the clean side, so she then took out the stitches and started all over again. Needless to say, I have learnt my lesson and never jumped on a bed with wheels again. Normal beds? Oh I jump on them all the time.
We found a house just outside of Suva, and it was pretty awesome. We had a swimming pool, and basically a tropical jungle in our backyard. Our Fijian friends would climb the coconut trees and chop down coconuts for us and we would steal mangoes from our neighbours tree when they weren’t home.
My favourite times though were when it rained, and the hill up to our personal jungle would become a muddy waterfall. Not great for trying to walk up there, but absolutely perfect for a mud slide :).
Fiji was the place where a lot of things started for me. That big expanse of concrete you see in front of our house…thats where I learnt to ride a bike. With and without training wheels. Our swimming pool was were I learnt to swim and I became a master at diving in the deep end and getting to the other side in one breath.
It was also were I started school. There were quite a lot of Australians in Suva at the time, and we went to the International School where kids of all different nationalities attended. They still did everything in English, but the boys uniforms were sulus and it was a rarity to see kids in shoes. My mum is a teacher and she started out on the governors board of the school, but ended up teaching there as well. It was a pretty cool place. In absolutely no way was my learning hindered because of it, if anything my brother and I were so much better off. We understood at a young age the value of interacting with other cultures.
We had a lot of fun events and ceremonies at the school, and this photo below was from the school concert. I was not so original and was a cat, but my brother’s costume was amazing. He was dressed up in the traditional meke attire complete with sulu and grass skirt. Oh and by the way, a sulu is a large bit of cloth that is worn as a wrap around by both men and women. It’s versatile, it’s easy and it’s cool.
On weekends and during the holidays, our family would indulge ourselves and enjoy the many wonderful things Fiji had to offer. We frequented the yacht club where my brother would sail and mum and dad would drink and chat with all the other parents. I preferred to play cops and robbers with the kids, or go around introducing myself to the owners of all the visiting yachts. Mum continually likes to tell me of the numerous times I wandered off, and they would find me on some random American’s boat playing with their kids. Probably not very smart or safe, but that was just what it was like there, everyone was friendly and having a good time.
The yacht club was also were we met David. He had spent his life savings on a beautiful yacht and would take us on sailing trips to the different islands. Our favourite place to go was the little island of Naukilau. You could walk around the whole island in half an hour and fishermen wandered along the shore selling freshly caught lobster for ten dollars (and by freshly caught, I mean caught ten minutes ago). There was also an amazing fig tree in the very centre of the island which was a ready-made tree house. It was the size-of-a-building-huge, and we would spent hours climbing over the roots and through the branches.
There were also times, particularly when family were visiting, that we would really indulge and visit the beautiful resorts in Nadi. It was a time to relax and enjoy our time with family, swimming, building sand castles and generally lazing about. But it wasn’t just when we were at the resorts that we would do this, I did it pretty much every weekend. I mentioned my brother sailed, well there were usually events that would mean going to other islands in Fiji for races. He would sail, mum and dad would cheer him on, and I would build sand castles and laze about.
Now there are so many other stories I could tell you and thousands of other photos I could share. But I just wanted to show you how lucky our family was to experience and grow up in such a beautiful place. We spent 3 and 1/2 years in Fiji, and it is something that I will never forget. There are always little things that remind me of our time there. When I complain how it costs 3 dollars for a mango, I think of when we could buy 10 for a dollar from the Suva markets. When it’s too cold to go swimming in the sea, I think of how the water temperature was 25 degrees on a cold day. When someone asks me were I went to school, I say ‘well….it all started in Fiji.’