When Winston says Bula

This is going to be a post unlike any I’ve ever written before. This is, word for word, an entry from my journal. I wrote it after my friends and I visited an island near Nagigi village here in Fiji with two locals, Meli and Isaac. It’s not as polished as a typical post, but I want to share it exactly as it flowed from my pen.

For the sake of understanding, Winston is the category 5 cyclone that hit Fiji last February, and Bula is the Fijian word for hello.


Pronounced Nangingi. We went out to an island today. All of us, guided by two local guys, swam out across a reef that was devastated by the cyclone. It was sad talking to Meli about the island. He said it used to be beautiful. To him it was not. It was amazing to me, though. I wish I could have seen it before.

It must have been terrifying to watch the waves crashing over the island.

I was sitting on a plank bench that split at one end when I applied my weight to it.The clearing behind me had a thin wire grill over a stone fire pit, and a pile of old Fiji Gold bottles under two slightly rusted sheets of corrugated metal. Isaac sat above me on a rebar drying rack. Laughing and the sounds of exhuberant splashing from Meli and the others drifted in from behind him.

Isaac looked at the shore. “There used to be five houses right on the beach.” That was before rampaging waves and Winston’s fury decimated the village.

I played with the bits of coral that blanketed the beach. Coral that ad once filled the blanched expanse we crossed to get there. Coral that would take at least a thousand years to grow back to its full splendor.

You can tell they’re sad. Every time the mention the cyclone, their eyes drift back to the former beauties they enjoyed.

Meli used to camp on the Island. Bring girls, friends, and beer. The bats don’t live there any more because Winston washed their food away. Maddi was glad that there were no more bats, but this was Meli’s island. He swam these waters long before I even knew that Fiji existed.

It was the worst storm anyone had ever seen. Our transport driver, Kalika, was 52 years old and he had never seen this level of destruction. Fiji is for Fijians, he said. Winston seemed to disagree. When Isaac says bula, you smile and say bula right back. When Winston says bula, you pray and run for high ground.

While the had the worst storm in years, we had the worst election in years. A storm of our own that sent waves crashing over the beautiful things that had grown on our island. The chaos of that election had even reached Fiji.

As we sat there under the trees, Isaac asked, “What do you think of Donald Trump?” All I could say was that I’m ashamed of the man who represents my country. The man whose ignorant bluster opened the door for true devils to come and wash away our reef.

If we survive these next 8 years, it will take a long time for our coral to grow back.

As always, thanks for reading. My GoFundMe will be active for the whole time I’m in Fiji, and I‘ll appreciate any amount that you feel like donating. All of it will go directly to HELP International to support their volunteer programs worldwide. I hope you enjoyed this unconventional offering. Please follow me on Twitter @JeremyCummings3 or on Instagram @so.tall.im.in.space to see what happens for the rest of my time in Fiji.

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