Something pierces the awkward tension of people being herded together with little in common other than a destination. It’s the curiosity of a camera crew that brings everyone’s gaze from the television screen whose sole purpose is to remind passengers that Air Pacific flight 811 to Fiji is still delayed.
Everyone stares at the multiple pairs of people in matching colors who are explaining their excitement for something to a video camera. That something, I found out, is a “travel documentary.” To anyone who watches the “Amazing Race,” it’s apparent that a new season has started filming at LAX.
As my freshly branded husband and I look on and catch bits and pieces of “interviews” with the “travel documentary” participants, I smirk and coyly say, “We could do that, and I bet we could win.”
He doesn’t deny it. We’ve been fortunate to travel together. We have never argued over the map or directions or disagreed about the next destination. Plus, being challenged to understand and traverse a foreign country just sounds, well, fun.
The trip to Fiji was determined with a simple statement: If I plan the wedding, then you plan the honeymoon. He agreed and Fiji was his choice. Images swirled in my head of beautiful blue waters, white sand beaches, lush green jungles and pina coladas made with real coconut. Everything I envisioned Fiji to be was in Fiji, including the seaside cabana and miniature airport without even so much as a security checkpoint.
When the tires of the small prop plane hit the tarmac outside of the city of Savusavu on Fiji’s second largest island of Vanua Leva, I was excited to explore. The resort seemed to spring right out of the tropical green jungle and then melt into the crisp azure-colored ocean waters. Picturesque, really.
We had envisioned a trip of hiking, snorkeling and beach lounging and what we got was an eye opener.
During a trip into Savusavu to snorkel at a place called Split Rock, it became evident how different we were from the people who welcomed us into their culture. Savusavu has a population of a little more than 3,000. The nation of Fiji has a population of a smidge more than 850,000. In 2010, the Las Vegas metro population was estimated at 1.9 million.
Less than one-third of the island of Vanua Leva’s roads are paved. The school in Savusavu is smaller than some of the churches and if you’re looking for government assistance, it’s all in one two-story building across the street from a supermarket that is smaller than the bakery section in most American Wal-Marts. Don’t forget that everyone is on “Fiji time,” so the office might or might not be open when people show up at its doors.
We traveled to a village to climb to the top of a waterfall. We met and spent time with the people living there after asking their chief’s permission to visit his village’s revered falls. During the visit we learned that most villages on the island of Vanua Leva don’t have running water and electricity, and if they do, it’s a luxury.
Once at the top of the waterfall, after climbing barefoot for about 900 near-vertical feet, I was told by a village elder, “Your name will go in our record books because no woman has ever climbed to the top of the falls.”
During the ride back to the resort, the Fijian who accompanied us to the village explained that the boys who go to school have homework but the girls do not. The girls are expected to learn how to take care of the house and children. There are no lunches at school, every parent must provide food for their child. A family of four is rare, families of eight or more are common.
Upon packing to return home, a nice man working at the resort suggested that when we return to Fiji we should stay with him in his village and experience how “family” lives. We were honored and struck by his kindness and exchanged contact information with the best intentions of taking him up on his incredibly generous offer in the future.
With time to reflect during a 10-hour flight to Los Angeles, I couldn’t help but feel guilty for the luxuries I have in my life. Touching down at LAX seemed overwhelming. I no longer looked at the televisions screens displaying reality shows and sports in the food court as convenient but as a nuisance after a week of no television, cell phones or email. Every ding of a text message or loud phone conversation around me seemed like a harsh “welcome-home” reminder of what I was happy to step away from.
While it would be easy to question how people manage with a lack what we see as necessities, it’s easy to see why the people of Fiji don’t complain about what they don’t have. They’re happy with what they do have — family, friends and community — and they make it a priority.
Cortney Maddock is a freelance writer in Sparks. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.