Nadi airport on the main island of Fiji, first contact with a Pacific island. I arrive for two weeks and am going to try to live in a local way for that time, that means not looking beyond the present. In the arrival hall, a travel agent unsuccessfully tries to sell me an all-inclusive tour. Despite my stubbornness not to book one of his excursions, he keeps on smiling and gives me a precious piece of advice which will prove to be essential for the next stage of my trip. In substance, he encourages me no to stay on the main island (Viti Levu where there are the towns of Nadi, Lautoka or Suva) and get to the small islands which are the heart of the Fijian spirit.
The population is a mix of Melanesians and Indians whose ancestors emigrated to Fiji in order to work in the sugar cane fields. These workers finally stayed and today represent 40% of the total population. This racial disparity is the main cause of the political instability where each community reproaches the other one its hegemonic desires. These last years, 2 coups d'état shook the country and consequently, the tourism dramatically dropped down.
Nadi is not really appealing. The next day, I hop on a minivan and head eastwards. My intention is to stop in the village of Pacific Harbour where we can dive with sharks. Unfortunately, I haven't booked in advance and the dive center is full for the next three days. Too much waiting, I pack my bag and set off again the next day. After one hour by car, I reach the capital city Suva where I board on a ferry in direction of the island of Taveuni. A long 20-hour cruise which drops me off on one of those remote islands where I hope to meet the Fijian culture and joie de vivre (exhilaration) praised by the travel agent at the airport. The ferry moors to a mere pontoon with no building around. A few taxis wait for the passengers but I prefer to stretch out my leg by walking along the coconut-tree-flanked coastal road. On the way, I stop at a dive center where I book an outing for the next day then I take to the way again towards the village of Naqara. A short hour of stroll where I pass alongside the local dwellings stifled by an invading vegetation. Native people offer me large smiles followed by a welcoming « Bula » (Welcome or good morning in Fijian). Life serenely goes on this small bit of land.
The dive center stands comparison with the villagers, laid-back atmosphere, certain joie de vivre and contagious smiles. On the boat, the warm-hearted ambiance carries on, we talk about rugby and I state that I'm coming from a city (Toulon) where rugby resembles a religion and is the topic of countless impassioned conversations. During our chat, I says that two Fijian players belong to the team (Sissa Koyamaibole et Gabiriele Lovobalavu). To these words, Jimmy, who officiates as captain of the boat this morning, suddenly turns back and says « you know Gabiriele Lovobalavu ! ». He informs me that his elder brother Kanito lives and works on the island in position of health inspector for the ministry of Health. He takes his phone, immediately calls him and an appointment is got for the next day. On top of the exceptional seabed that the Somosomo strait and the Rainbow reef offer, I'll be able to dip into the Fijian intimacy.
The next day, I go to the police station where all the team mustered around a bowl of Kava to celebrate an event I forgot the name. That's here Kanito have given the appointment to me. I sit down as discreetly as possible when someone holds a microphone out to me asking to introduce myself. About thirty of pairs of eyes riveted on me, I stand up and explain why I'm here ; Then I keep on shaking the hands of all the guests. The following of the meeting is more informal when every two minutes someone holds out to me a coconut bowl full of kava I must knock back. The kava is the national beverage, a pounded root mixed with water which has the taste and the colour of the muddy water. With friends, family or workmates, there is no lack of opportunities to meet around this elixir.
outside this celebration, I take part of the sporting events as spectator with an athletic event and then a rugby tournament where each team represents a parish of the island. Guaranteed fervour around the playground. I will finish my evening at the Kanito's house with his family. Great time of sharing and laughing around the dinner with a special feature. At the other end of the world, a poster of the rugby club toulonnais is hanged to the wall.