Arriving in Nadi

Stifling a sigh, I kneel down and re-address my left lace. I pause — there’s a memory. It’s that smell, the source revealing a young woman scurrying along dishevelled carpet, the wheels of her suitcase tipping side to side; mum wears that perfume. Reluctantly pulling myself out of a hazy Christmas at Manor Farm Close, I get up and move on towards gate 8.

Delicate shafts of sunlight seep through unpolished windows as I take a seat beside a muttering lady, who tries desperately to conceal impatient aggravation towards the receiving end of her mobile. My left lace has undone again. Smiling at my childlike observations, I float into a relaxed headspace. Time passes; the air hostess with the kind smile offers me sour coffee and I’ve sunken deep into seat 38D. Eyelids flutter open; a timid voice re-introduces himself as the pilot, informing us of our impending arrival. It truly sets, like a hard-boiled egg which rests heavily in my stomach, that I’ve left behind the safety veil of New Zealand. We bump softly onto the ground and Fiji awaits like a hug long overdue. It’s overwhelming and I can’t breathe, but I beam like a lovestruck teenager and resist the urge to reach out in front of me to stroke the humidity. Through squinting eyes that aren’t yet adjusted to the bright sun, I pan the modest arrival room for someone I’ve never met. Meeting a gaze of similar intensity, I tilt my head slightly with a suggestive grin and Mathew immediately embraces me in a kind welcome. Suddenly attentive to the beads of sweat forming on the boundary of my hairline, my gaze moves to a gap in the roof in silent prayer for breeze.

Nadi, along with the rest of the rest of Southern Viti Levu, was one of the least affected by the Cyclone. I hadn’t known what to expect, but I’m slightly taken aback by Nadi’s seemingly unaffected environment. Were it not for the near naked palm trees, with little but their furrowed stems left efflorescent, id’ve never guessed a category 5 tropical cyclone had ravaged over 60,000 misplaced and without homes. The drive back to Mathew’s, where I’d stay for the next two nights, was a gift to the senses. New scents of hot earth and potent bus fumes blast through the open window, whilst pastel colours radiate from coarse walls, intensified by the afternoon sun. My new friend shares vibrant conversation, as he navigates the densely populated roads with ease. I try hard to be attentive, but the sounds of the world outside entice me to share my attention with them. We stop to get some supplies from a local market, and something inside me sighs a breath of satisfaction. New Zealand is aesthetically spectacular, but it lacks cultural saturation. Maori civilisation is thoroughly beautiful, but it’s been (over the course of questionable european presence) wrongly westernised and concealed. For a while I’d been seeking the raw and the worn South Pacific. The large corrugated space is lined with tables of vegetables sporting spikes, textures, and patterns that encapsulate me. Every face has a smile, and whilst we ponder the many isles of abundant colour, I grasp some insight into Fijian customs. I try to control my grin.

A few hours pass and I’m sitting on the back of a threadbare saddle, gazing upon a deep orange haze cast over the ocean from the setting sun. It’s arms stretch over the entire horizon as it clutches the southern hemisphere for one last embrace before nightfall. My mouth still tingles from the Kava, gifted to me in the market, and I conclude that I drank a little too much coconut water. Sam, who rides beside me, describes his family home nestled in the dimly lit mountains behind. I notice that the sky here seems huge and the clouds float gracefully beside each other in their vast freedom. So the night ends with a Kava circle under a mottled straw sky: “Bula!” Clap, clap clap.

I am here.

Originally published at following-clover.com on March 14, 2016.