“G’day,” Jerry said. “Those spear chuckers looked like they meant business. Big chaps these Fijians. I reckon they were well fed in the old days. Did you hear about the cannibal who passed his brother in the jungle?”
The master of ceremonies announced the last song. A Fijian woman got up in front of the microphone and gave a running commentary in English against the background of the lilting, soulful chant:
“Isa Lei is a Fijian farewell song, which has many, many meanings. It expresses happiness, joy, and sorrow; beauty, and lingering memories of happy events, hope, and love.
“What does Isa Lei mean? Isa Lei means ‘so sorry.’ Isa Lei means ‘so sad to know that you are departing from our dear islands.’ Isa Lei says that you are going. Isa Lei means ‘be kind, be truth,’ and longs for the time when again we shall be meeting you.”
“I could live in this country,” Derek said. “I’d like to live somewhere where the only ice you see is in your drink.” A country and-western band-these musicians were also Fijian-struck up tunelessly in the bar. “There were lots of Yanks here in the war,” he added. Gorky overheard.
“Yanks, huh? You Frostbacks watch your language.” He ordered something called a “Nadi sunset special.” It seemed to be a blend of rum, grenadine, and coconut milk, and arrived with a hibiscus bloom floating on the surface. Gorky transferred the flower to his ear, where it sprouted forlornly from his brush cut.
“Now this is what I call a global village experience,” he said.
“You guys want girls?” asked Krishna as we approached the Nadi Hotel. “Not tonight.” “Only twenty dollar.” “That’s a lot of money round here,” Derek said. “Ten for the girl, ten for me.”
“Isn’t that rather a large commission?”
“I’m their agent. Everybody need an agent. Let me know if you change your mind, anytime. Everyone in Nadi Town know Krishna.”
It was past midnight when we got back to the room. Derek opened the small fridge (an excellent feature, this) and poured two big scotches.
“Most of the hookers are Indian; I used to see them all the time in Suva. The Fijians do it for fun, the Indians for money. It’s the story of this country. Most of the really poor are Indians, and so are most of the rich-apart from a handful of Europeans and Chinese. A Fijian woman down on her luck can always go back to her village. An Indian has to sell her labour or herself.”
Historian, novelist, and essayist Ronald Wright is the award-winning author of nine books of nonfiction and fiction published in 16 languages and more than 50 countries. Much of his work explores the relationships between past and present, peoples and power, other cultures and our own.
On Fiji Islands, was published in 1986 to critical acclaim. He has graciously allowed Fijiguide.com to serialize his work for your enjoyment. We welcome your comments.
©2018 Ronald Wright