Today’s post is in part about the floods on Viti Levu but much more about the Fijian people. From the first hours of our first visit to this country over 10 years ago, the thing you notice about the people is that EVERYONE waves at you when you pass by car or greets you with a hearty “Bula!” if you are walking by. It is not just the people in the tourist areas, it is everyone. It seems as ingrained to them as breathing and is an attitude that I have yet to see matched anywhere else in the world.
The photo above captures a lot of what we saw in the aftermath of the floods. We saw hundreds of houses which had been underwater just a few days before, all of the people’s remaining possessions either on the roof or in the yard to dry out. This particular shot was outside of a small store in the town of Nadi where much of the damage was done. There were probably a hundred people crowding around the gutted store which had been turned into a relief center to provide food and water to the local residents. As you can see by the photo there was still much debris everywhere in the town. Despite all of this, as we drove by we received many waves and many “Bula” calls and smiles on the majority of the faces that we saw – somehow incongruous with the situation but an indication of the mindset of these incredibly resilient people. These boys were among the crowd yet the one seemed to be signaling that all was okay and they would get past this challenge. That spirit was also reflected in the stories that we heard from the people we talked to including those whose first indication of the floods were feeling the water gush over them in their beds at 5 o’clock in the morning. We talked to people who had no damage but had many friends and neighbors who weren’t so lucky, to people who had lost virtually all of their household goods, and people who had stayed in their houses to keep the mud stirred up so that it wouldn’t settle to a hard and smelly covering on everything they owned. All of these people talked openly and cheerfully and almost all of them inquired about our holiday and how it was going – hard to imagine being that thoughtful while going through such an ordeal.
The photo above captures what we saw all around the area of Nadi. This household was totally submerged just 4 days before and it had rained frequently since then. This was one of the first opportunities to try and dry out their remaining clothes, furniture and other belongings.
I should also comment on another thing that struck us. We drove for 4 hours along the coastline from the capital city of Suva to Nadi and then around the Nadi area for 2 days. In every area, the government had already made all the roads passable, fixed many of the washed out bridges to be at least passable, and were at work bringing in water and supplies for the people affected. It appeared to be remarkable progress in a very short timeframe to a disaster which every Fijian we talked to said had never happened before.
I’ll close with one last photo of a young Fijian girl in the marketplace in Lautoka. Its hard not to like everything we saw about the Fijian people – their family orientation, their approach to life and happiness, and their treatment of the vast number of visitors to their beautiful part of the world. Thanks for the lessons in human dignity, resilience, and hospitality!