How to be a good guest in Fiji
17 July 2017 | Port Denarau, Fiji
Fijians are some of the friendliest people we've ever met, quick to share a “Bula!” and a smile, directions and advice, and, apparently, quite comfortable extending an invitation to people who would – by American standards – be considered strangers. This open congeniality is one of the many things we like about being in Fiji.
Kumar, the taxi driver who had taken us to the airport three weeks earlier, and had given us his cell number so we could call him on our return, was waiting for us when we exited the airport, bleary-eyed, at 6 o'clock Saturday morning after our eleven hour flight from San Francisco. “Bula!” he said with a big smile, shaking our hands. “Welcome back!” He took one of our bags and showed us to his car.
On the ride back to Port Denarau Marina, where SCOOTS had been berthed while we were away, we three chatted pleasantly. Though Eric and I participated somewhat sleepily, Kumar, it seemed, was always energized, no matter the time of day.
Suddenly, Kumar said, in his rapid-fire, Hindi-tinged, island-accented English, “You must come to my house for dinner.” A pause. “Tomorrow night. We will have chicken curry and dal. You like curry and dal?”
Eric and I glanced at each other, shrugged. “Yes we do. Thank you,” I said. “What should we bring?”
At first Kumar said, “Nothing.” But then he asked, “Have you had kava before?”
“Bring kava then, and anything you want to drink. I'll pick you up at seven o'clock, in front of the Rhum-Ba.” (The Rhum-Ba is a restaurant at the marina.)
When we arrived at the marina, Kumar helped unload our luggage into the marina trolley. “I'll see you here, tomorrow night at seven,” he said. “Remember the kava.”
“Sounds good,” Eric said. We waved goodbye to Kumar and walked down the dock just as the sun was peeking above the mountains in the east, remarking to each other at the open friendliness of the Fijian people, and wondering aloud how to be good guests according to Fijian culture.
After a short nap, we made plans to catch the yellow Dollar Bus from Denarau to Nadi, the closest big town to the marina, to find lunch, kava, and also a gift for Kumar's wife, as we'd heard that kava drinking is mainly a guy thing. Clueless as to what an appropriate gift would be, we stopped in at the marina office to ask Mere, the marina office manager, for advice.
“A set of drinking glasses,” she said, almost immediately. “You can get them at Rup's Big Bear, near Chicken Express. Ask them to wrap them for you.” Then she added, “Are you also bringing kava?”
“Yes,” I said. “Should we bring roots or powder?”
“Powder,” she said. “A ten-dollar bag is the right amount.” We thanked Mere for her excellent advice, and walked across the parking lot to wait for the Dollar Bus.
Arriving in Nadi, we struck up a conversation with a local man who disembarked the bus with us. Following our exchange of “Bula!”'s, he asked us where we were going. (Eric and I don't have a chance of being mistaken for locals here, and Fijians are always stopping to ask us if we need help finding something.) We told him we were looking for a place to eat lunch.
“Not Chinese food,” he said. “There are many Chinese restaurants, but Fijian food is better.”
When we told him that we were in fact looking for a restaurant serving local Fijian food, he said, “I know a place.” He paused for a few moments, apparently figuring out how to give us directions, then said, “Follow me. I'll take you there.”
We followed him down some of Nadi's crowded streets, turning left and right, occasionally dashing across the street through traffic, finally arriving at a small parking lot. “There it is,” he said, pointing to a small restaurant on the top floor of a building adjacent to the parking lot. “Good Fijian food.”
After thanking our guide, we climbed the stairs and enjoyed a tasty lunch of curry and coconut-milk-based fish soup. Afterwards, wanting to be sure that a set of drinking glasses was in fact the right thing to bring for Kumar's wife, I sought a second opinion from our server. “Drinking glasses are a good gift,” she confirmed. “You can find them at Rup's Big Bear. Have them gift-wrapped.” OK then.
Rup's Big Bear was easy to spot as it’s painted bright yellow and sports a picture of a big, friendly-looking teddy bear on the front. We spend some time perusing their inexplicably-extensive selection of drinking glass sets: big ones, small ones, some with decorations painted on the outside. Which to buy? We eventually settled on a set of six large glasses, roughly the shape of beer glasses, without decorations. We bought two sets, wanting to be prepared in case we were suddenly invited to someone else's house. We had both sets gift-wrapped in sparkly blue foil, the only option available.
We found kava in abundance at Nadi's produce market: hundreds of stacks of gnarled brown roots, bowls of tan powder, and small, pre-packaged bags of powder. We bought two ten-dollar bags of kava powder (an extra one just in case we got another kava invitation) from a man whose bloodshot eyes and slow movements as he scooped powder into the small bags intimated that he had been enjoying samples of his wares for most of the day.
Mission complete, we walked back to the bus station, hopped on the Dollar Bus and returned to SCOOTS, weary from our day's shopping and jet lag, but satisfied that we were prepared to be good guests at Kumar's house the following night.