*My apologies for the lack of photos on this post. I made my most costly travel error ever when I accidentally dropped my iPhone into a waterfall. I’ll explain more about that on a later post.*
I was meant to arrive on Saturday, but was having such a good time at the Beachouse that I emailed The Green Lion, my project coordinators in Suva, letting them know I would arrive at the bus station at 3:00pm on Sunday instead. No problem.
I also meant to take the express bus on Sunday morning, but instead Ross and his girlfriend Christie (UK) happily offered to drive me in their rental car. They had to go to Suva anyways. On the way there, we stopped in Pacific Harbor to grab some food and use the ATM. I noticed the time was just a little past 3pm, but no worries, Fiji Time. Just like many places I’ve been to (Africa being the one that pops in my head the most) Fiji runs on what they like to call Fiji Time. Which means, everything and everybody is going to be late. Not too late, but a little late. It’s the whole chilled out island mantra of the island and the perfect excuse as to why anyone in Fiji is late for anything. Fiji Time. I could dig it but it can also be annoying at times particularly when waiting on food that I ordered. In this case, Fiji time would work in my favor because I was already almost a half hour late. The coordinators are probably waiting at the bus station wondering where the heck I am. But I wasn’t overly concerned because of Fiji Time.
Once we arrived at the bus station, I just had Ross drop me off in the center of it. The bus station was a lot bigger than I imagined and a lot more hectic too. I said my farewells to Ross and Christie, put on my bags and simply began to walk around looking for any sign of someone looking for me.
I’ve done this many times before and each time there is always someone around with a sign that either has my name on it, a yellow smiley face, an IVHQ logo sign, or whatever. I looked and looked. No sign. I did several laps around the entirety of the bus station and no sign of anyone looking for me. Oddly, I wasn’t worried.
I had three options:
- Keep walking around looking for somebody.
- Go into town and sort out purchasing a SIM for my phone to call Green Lion.
- It’s Sunday which means I’m probably not the only new volunteer arriving. I can just wait at the terminal for another foreign volunteer to arrive.
I stuck with option one.
They had to be around here somewhere. There’s no way they would leave the bus station with the possibility of a scared little volunteer all by themselves. I wasn’t scared. This was my fault actually. I told them I’d arrive at 3pm. I didn’t even know if buses actually arrived at three. Then on top of that I was late. I had to figure out a way to make myself look known. Other than my big bags I was carrying, I don’t exactly stick out. Since the day I arrived at the Beachouse, I’ve been mistaken for being a Fijian local by tourists and the locals themselves. Many backpackers assumed I worked at the Beachouse and locals were baffled when I started jabbering in my flat American English.
“Oh I thought you were Fijian!” they would say.
I blended in so well that a group of locals invited me to take part in a traditional wedding later in the week (more about that later)!
I never once got bored of the confusion. I was happy that I had potential to coast through Fiji without sticking out like a sore thumb. It will prove useful for when locals want to hassle me. It dawned on me that the coordinators are probably around but probably think I’m some local, easily mistakable among the crowds of actual locals venting in and out of the Suva bus station. Time to change my presence.
I purposely began to appear lost and confused. I walked slowly and would pause occasionally on my tiptoes looking past the crowds with a “what the heck is going on” look on my face. I did this all in the area of where I thought the best place the coordinators would be. I paced slowly, alert.
“Excuse me?” said a Fijian man wearing a tropical blue shirt and what looked like a black skirt for men. I glanced at him and raised my eyebrows letting him know he had my attention.
“Are you looking for someone?”
“Yeah, I’m looking for the Green Lion.”
“Oh, are you Daniel??”
“Yup I’m him!”
He and the woman next to him began to laugh.
“We saw you walk by many times but thought you were a Fijian!” they exclaimed.
This would be the new story of my life.
He introduced himself as Junior and the woman as Seini. Both are coordinators from the Green Lion who were scheduled to pick me up…at three!
“The bus showed up but there were no volunteers that came out, so we were confused,” Junior said with a smile.
I explained my situation but it was no matter. They were just happy to have found me and I was relieved I didn’t have to walk around aimlessly with my bags any longer. They led me to a local bus. About 40 minutes would be my new home for the next six weeks filled with a bunch of other volunteers from all around the world.
This is the part where I usually start to wonder what my housemates will be like, but weirdly I didn’t think much about it. I was concentrating on what kind of restaurants were on the way and IF there was a McDonald’s nearby (there was). I was also taken by the funky island music on blast in the bus. Every volunteer experience I’ve done, the volunteers have always been more than amazing, with a handful being good friends of mine to this very day, so I was sure this experience would be the same.
Once the bus dropped us off, we walked to the Green Lion office where I filled out a bunch of paperwork and then directed across the street to my new home.
I walked in the house and already there were about a dozen volunteers socializing in the outdoor area. I gave a brief hello and a wave and followed Junior down the hall, downstairs to the boys corridor and to my room. In my room were four bunk beds with someone in each of them except for one, which would be mine.
“Hello,” I said with a stupid smile as I plopped down my bag. “How’s it going?”
One of the boys on the bottom bunk was sprawled out on his side with his right hand supporting his head. “You must be Daniel,” he said in a German accent. “I expected you yesterday.”
He was correct. I was supposed to arrive yesterday. But who is this guy? He introduced himself as Johannes (Germany) but for some reason I kept referring to him as Johannesburg. I got the idea from his chattering that he was the guru of the household. He seemed to know everything about Fiji. The other two in the room were also German. Their names were Timo and Julius, my roommates for the next six weeks. All of them young and all of them experiencing their very first volunteer trip or even solo trip ever! How cute. We made brief small talk before I decided to head upstairs to meet the rest of the crew.
It’s always a bit awkward being the new guy, but turns out that most of the volunteers just arrived hours before me and there were still some coming in later. I introduced myself to about a dozen people and didn’t remember a single name upon the first greet. That usually happens. The same questions follow afterwards: Where are you from? How long are you here for? What placement are you in? Sometimes followed up with: Are you travelling anywhere after Fiji? That last question I chose not to reveal fully just yet. I don’t wanna seem like I’m boasting that I’m currently on a two-year quest to the seven continents. So I just simply would say “Probably Australia.” As a matter of fact, I didn’t have a flight booked anywhere outside of Fiji yet. I wasn’t sure how long I would stick around or where in Australia I would go to first. However, in order to enter Fiji, you need to have proof of a flight departing the country. I found that out at the last minute while I was still in New Zealand. So instead of booking a last minute flight out of Fiji on some random date to some random Australian city, I devised a fake itinerary which worked like magic. (I personally don’t advise this, as it is risky. Go with your gut.) Anyways, back to the subject of my volunteering household.
Among the group of initial greets, a few standouts were a group of college students from Seattle, Ethan- a southerner from North Carolina, Karen – a laid back gal who hails from Seattle, Annika (Germany) and Sara and Leah, two friends from Chicago. We mingled for awhile as other volunteers made their way into the house. A volunteer who has been there for awhile already, Mychaela, lives ten minutes from my mom in Michigan. Look at that! She’s freakin’ hilarious by the way. The last volunteer to stroll in that night introduced himself as Hamish.
“Hamish?” I thought out loud.”What kind of name is that?” It just kinda came out.
“It’s very common actually,” he responded with a grin. He hails from Sydney and this is also his first major solo romp. He sat down next to me and a couple of others I was chatting with and I could already tell from the words coming out of his mouth that this guy is the most Australian Aussie I’ve ever met in my life and I’ve met tons. I thought I’ve heard all the Aussie slang but it was like he spoke an entirely different language. I wasn’t sure at the time if he was toying with me or if this was legit how he speaks. It was legit how he speaks! If anything, his Aussie slang will help prepare me for my pending trip to Australia.
Most of us new volunteers went out the next night to the only bar in town, called Sports Bar. There was nothing sporty about it. Not even a single television. It was kind of a shit hole and we were the only ones there, but still it was a great way to bond with the group I would be spending most of my time with. And no matter how many times I volunteer, no one group is like the other.
Soon I will begin my placement at one of the local primary schools nearby. Like every country I’ve taught in, I expected it to be challenging in a good way. A new culture, new ideals, and different languages always present a few hurdles to bound. In a way, it’s like deducing a puzzle. It always takes a few days but I eventually get the hang of it.
One thing for sure is that I always grow fond of the students I teach and I’m sure the ones here in Fiji will be just as fond-worthy.