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Edition 399 – South Pacific

We grabbed our bags off the carousel, flung them onto one of the ubiquitous airport trolleys and made our way for the exit. The friendly face holding the sign of the company that arranged our transfer from Nadi Airport, in Fiji, to the Shangri La Yanuca Island, took us outside into the humid warmth of the night time air and introduced us to our driver.

“Bula – I am Suuli” explained the Fijian gentleman whose giant hands outstretched to greet ours. It was my second ever trip to Fiji, the first occurring only five weeks beforehand. For Trish, her first to this South Pacific island paradise.

Our reason for being in Fiji was part business, part pleasure. I was attending a conference, as well as giving a presentation at one of the sessions. A couple of days, either side, would allow us to have a bit of R&R prior to the last burst of activity leading into the Christmas break.

For the next hour, Suuli told us about his life. He grew up on Lakeba Island, in the south eastern waters of the Fiji Islands. We learned that his island word for “Hello” or “Welcome” was actually not “Bula”, but a derivative of the Tongan phrase “Malo e lelei”. He explained that his island home of 1400 people and 7 villages, was closer to Tonga than Viti Levu, the main island of Fiji. Life growing up there was simple. There was one freezer on the island, so sustenance consisted of what was harvested, or caught, on a daily basis.

We were told of how each of the Fijian islands has a chief. The Chief is appointed by the community, and is turned to for guidance and wisdom. It is the community that maintains order. If anyone is particularly out of hand, that’s when the Police are called in.

As we drove through the dark night, with light rain falling on the windscreen, Suuli told us of the three core values that he was raised on, being:

  1. Honesty.
  2. Love.
  3. Respect.

They reminded me of those family businesses that I see succeed and those that don’t, and how there’s a correlation, across the seas and across cultures, to both.

He and his wife shared 10 children – 6 boys and 4 girls – ranging in age from 28 to 5. We joked that as our arrival was late into Nadi, we should just stop in at his place for the night, then he could drop us at the resort the next morning. His infectious, giggly laugh was in full agreement and it would not have surprised me had we actually detoured to his home. There certainly would have been enough beds!

On this Monday, he’d driven the hour to and hour back from the resorts, six times. He’d also driven three car loads of people to Denarau Island – a short 20 minute hop from the airport. He’d started early and was finishing late. Yet, he was grateful for the opportunity to be working full time again, given Fiji only opened its borders back up to international travel in December 2021.

As we drove up the driveway to the resort, Suuli graciously thanked us for travelling with him and for venturing to Fiji. It was completely unscripted and all from the heart – the big heart of a big man who had a big passion for Fijian Rugby.

I’ve loved travel forever. As a boy growing up, not a single family holiday featured in my life – it simply wasn’t something my parents did. So, I lived my fascination of the world through an atlas, or various reference books found in the school or local public libraries.  The pictures were mesmerising. The stories were engaging. Yet, none of them makes up for the wonder when, for an hour of your life, you’re completely taken by someone whose story is so different to yours, you can’t help but be swept away by it.

This Week’s Tip

“Our perspective of our own lives, and of our circumstances, is brought into stark focus
when you travel somewhere that is so completely different to where you are from.”