Chapter 1.2 – Nadi
When the plane touched down the ethnobotanist awoke, cupped his ears in his hands, and began to complain in a fractious voice about the engine noise. The three of us looked, I suppose, like the monkeys on the log-Hear-No..Evil, See-No-Evil, Speak-No-Evil-Gorky, tiny and hunched; Derek, rotund and bald, half hidden behind opaque glasses and the smoke of endless hand-rolled cigarettes; and myself, with lips stiffly pursed, not wanting to talk to Gorky: D. H. Lawrence’s “white monkeys” entering a land of the dark races.
Gorky rose for his hat, almost reached the overhead bin, then collapsed like a deckchair.
He rose a second time, managed to reach the hat-a bush hat with the brim buttoned up at one side, intended no doubt to match his stained safari suit-then appeared to be seized by it and pulled across the aisle, where he measured his length on some empty seats.
Derek and I escaped; soon afterwards we saw our neighbour “deplaned,” as they say, in a wheelchair, and bundled into a van belonging to the Nadi Travelodge.
Derek came back to the breakfast table with a Fiji Times and a longhaired young Indian.
Krishna’s taxi was a Toyota Crown, powered by diesel and protected by a Hindu icon of his namesake next to the cigarette lighter. Most people on the Nadi streets and along the ‘roadside were Indians-shopkeepers, cabbies, sari-swaddled women, farmers dangling machetes-descendants of indentured workers brought to Fiji before the First World War. Krishna was wearing what amounts to a uniform among the younger Indian men: widely flared bellbottoms, tight and low on the hip, a shark’s tooth on a silver chain around his neck, an enormous gold watch draped loosely like a dancing girl’s bracelet on his slender wrist, and a Hawaiian shirt with the word “Fiji” in red letters lurking amid orange vegetation.
The Lautoka road passed several new hotels-concrete shoeboxes surrounded by thatched bowers symbolic of the South Seas. Not far beyond these was the “cultural centre,” built in the same rustic style-a collection of tourist stalls beside the road. Krishna stayed in his taxi; we went inside. The place had an air of doubtful authenticity, a suspicion confirmed by wooden masks displayed for sale on the walls. The ancient Fijians didn’t make wooden masks–these were artifacts of the Nairobi airport tradition, the Third World’s revenge for glass beads and gaspipe muskets.
On Fiji Islands, was published in 1983 to critical acclaim. Ron has graciously allowed Fijiguide.com to serialize his work for your enjoyment. We welcome your comments.
©2011 Ronald Wright