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On Fiji Islands – Nadi – Chapter 1.2

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.

I say, are you all right?
Fine as frog’s hair!

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.

Hi! I’m Krishna,” the Indian said. “Hire my taxi all morning? I show you sugar plantations, Fijian village and cultural centre, duty-free camera shops in Lautoka, and good curry restaurant. Only twenty-five dollar.
He beamed. I could tell that Derek was already persuaded.

Okay? Okay? Krishna said.
Okay, said Derek.
Twenty, I said.
Okay, said Krishna.

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

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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