, , ,

In April 2013, on one of the Yasawa islands in Fiji, I had one of the most enlightening conversations I could hope for. These conversations, or at least the part that made them enlightening, are invariably brief. Long conversations are long because one of the involved parties wants to prove they are smarter than one or all of the others. The conversation, between me and a woman who was schoolteacher, priest and general manager of the ‘resort’ I was staying at, took place in a hut, a.k.a. reception and main office of said resort. Unlike most conversations you’d have recently had, it involved NO consumption of calories (“let’s catch up over a coffee”), NO work interruption (“let me send this email and then we talk”), NO media dominated surroundings (“Oh, the X factor is on, look at him/her/that barrel of lard, I hope he/she/it gets eliminated”) or other such like. I had just completed an hours walk on the beach, she had just got up from her afternoon nap. I saw her and initiated a chat based on the fact that we also saw each other at the church service that she had conducted the day before. I asked about the everyday life of the local people, on this island of about 100 people excluding tourists. I knew they survive on very little, 2$ a day I heard somewhere and it did not seem far off what I was seeing. Tin structures used as houses, no shops, no hospital or health center, no doctor on the island, no access to medication, only a school for children up to age 12, a church with no windows and very little else in, and most structures severely damaged by a cyclone in December. Big sacks of rice around, the main ingredient of 80% of meals, with coconut coming a distant second, also in abundance on the ground. All this, surrounded by fantastic tropical forest and tropical see, including reefs. (Nature giveth and nature taketh away). All around, young parents with their children, teaching them to sing or playing with them, or leaving them to play by themsleves. ImageAll of them, all of the time that I was there, were smiling and waiving to all the tourists. I tried to put myself in their shoes for a second and jumped out at the lowest hurdle. The number of tourists I would smile at at any given day is in single digit. I asked whether the younger people of the island wanted to leave.

“No, not at all”, she said. “You see, we are not like you, Europeans. We have little money so we don’t travel, we can’t. But we are happy. We have what we need.”
At random intervals during the day the locals would stop whatever they were doing and play the guitar, sing, or play volleyball. If you were expecting them to do something, they would often say “Fiji time” (English translation: “there is no hurry”) They laughed a lot. I still remember this: “We are happy. We have what we need”