May 24, 2024
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Lautoka City Bus - Classic Buses Ltd

On Fiji Islands — Nadi — Chapter 1.6

The narrow tracks of a sugar railway now ran beside the road. A train appeared with a vulgar blast on its electric horn: a boxy yellow engine pulling a dozen flat:-bed cars piled high and wide with blackened cane. The railway, the shiny Toyota and its Hindu icon, the women in saris with pots on their heads, the holy zebu cattle wandering insolently over fields and gardens-all had a dis­orienting effect. I felt I had no measure of the place. Was this the Third World or the First? The Old World or the New? 

And Lautoka: a crisp modern town of twenty thousand; white concrete shops displaying cameras and videos; names like Maneklal Duty Free Camera Emporium, Vishnu Patel Jewellers (“nose and ear piercing a specialty”); and down the middle of the main street, as if to remind everyone what this town is about, a sugar railway beside a row of royal palms. On the waterfront, a graceful park.

There, some bushy-haired Fijians on a bench beneath a poinciana call out“Bula!” and Derek, to show his command of the language, answers them more formally, “Ni sa bula” (“Health to you”). And to fix the word in my mind he points out the trilingual sign of a chemist, in English, Hindi script, and Fijian: Vale Ni Wai Ni Bula, House of the Waters of Health. 

Later that afternoon, back at the Nadi Hotel, we sat in the garden and played chess. Out of the sun, the air was indeed “soft,” as Derek had said. Clothes, from a practical point of view, were not needed, yet there was enough of a breeze that one felt no discomfort in shirt and jeans. We ordered draft Fiji Bitter-a good beer made locally by an Australian firm-and drank in drowsy silence. The only sounds were the quarreling cheeps of myna birds (which came to Fiji with the Indians), a dog’s bark, and fussing from the chickens that lived behind the hotel kitchen. Yes, the air was soft, suffused with whiffs of wood smoke, incense, curry, and Derek’s strong tobacco. 

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 acclaimHe has graciously allowed to serialize his work for your enjoyment. We welcome your comments.

©2018 Ronald Wright


Ronald Wright

Ronald Wright (born 1948, London, United Kingdom) is a Canadian author who has written books of travel, history and fiction. His nonfiction includes the bestseller Stolen Continents, winner of the Gordon Montador Award and chosen as a book of the year by the Independent and the Sunday Times. His first novel, A Scientific Romance, won the 1997 David Higham Prize for Fiction and was chosen a book of the year by the Globe and Mail, the Sunday Times, and the New York Times.

Wright was selected to give the 2004 Massey Lectures. His contribution, A Short History of Progress, looks at the modern human predicament in light of the 10,000-year experiment with civilization. In it he concludes that human civilization, to survive, would need to become environmentally sustainable, with specific reference to global warming and climate change.

His next work What is America?: A Short History of the New World Order continues the thread begun in A Short History of Progress by examining what Wright calls "the Columbian Age" and consequently the nature and historical origins of modern American imperium.

His latest book The Gold Eaters, a novel set during the Spanish invasion of the Inca Empire in the 1520s-1540s, was published in 2015.

Ronald Wright is also a frequent contributor to the Times Literary Supplement, and has written and presented documentaries for radio and television on both sides of the Atlantic. He studied archaeology at Cambridge University and later at the University of Calgary, where he was awarded an honorary doctorate in 1996. He lives in British Columbia.

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