A Pinch of Bad on an Island of Good
If any of you have ever been to a third world country you must have experienced some sort of aggressive pan handling, or person scheming to get money from you. That is to be expected though. If I were a poor person in another country and I saw a rich white kid, damn right I would try to get something out of him. Every place in the world has its good and bad people. Over the course of my three week trip to Fiji I probably met 1,000 good people. In all of those people I only met a few bad ones. Fiji is an amazing, friendly, loving, real place. There is so much greatness, and integrity to talk about that happens there. Far too much for me to speak about. So I am going to talk about my experience with a man named Jerry.
My friend Larkin and I are waiting along the dirt road for one of the few taxis on the island. The island of Savu Savu is a small island about ten kilometers long. It has multiple villages all of which consist of metal or wood shacks. The people eat and sleep on the floor. These people are poor, but there is no shortage of food in Fiji. So they manage to survive a happy very simple life. Its hot out and we are under a palm tree. We had just eaten a lunch of chicken curry and yams. Pretty tasty you might be thinking, and it was at first. But after the tenth day of eating that you may think differently. Anyways After 15 minutes the dust cloud of the taxi comes in to view from a few hundred yards away. We have formed a routine here in Fiji. After two weeks if we are not going on any excursions, we stay in the village for the morning, and then catch a taxi into the so called town. There we will meet random people, snorkel, shop, and legally enjoy a couple Fiji bitters at the bar. The taxi is coming near and we see it has a rather large Fijian man in the back. You see in Fiji there are two main ethnic groups-Indians, like Ms. Nand, and Fijians, who look more African than Hindu-with curly hair and generally a built rough Pacific Islander look and many tattoos. The cab pulls up and the man yells, "Come in my boys!" -- A common courtesy in this village to share a taxi into town. Mainly because people don't want to spend money, and there are only a dozen taxis on the island. We hop in and greet the man and the taxi driver, "Bula Bula"-hello. We then head to town about four miles away. We make small chat in the car ride, but it's hard because Hindu pop is blasting out the low quality speakers, and the road is bumpy and the car is loud. The interior of the taxi is plastic with flowers on it; there are cloth curtains on the windows and no glass. This car looks like something out of 1980's post apocalyptic action film The Road Warrior. A customized automobile driving around in the dust. On the back of the head rests there are signs that say "No smoking, wear seat belt please" The cab driver is smoking a cigar, and has no seat belt on. As we drive through the island we pass by many Fijian people. Children playing in the streets, men coming out of the brush with machetes, women carrying bundles of crops. On a small island of 3,000 people every one we pass spots us in the cab and waves. Larkin and I being the only white kids on the entire island, get a lot of attention. We are constantly greeted, waved at, pointed at, and observed by everyone on the island. It is a bizarre feeling, like we are some sort of celebrities. We arrive at the town and hop out in the middle of the street. Along with the large man we will soon come to know as Jerry. We do not have to pay for the taxi because the return taxis from the village of "Nucubulava" are free back into town. But we tip the driver two bucks anyways. "Bula Venaca" we said to our car ride buddies. We then move on with our day. Eating grilled fish at a little shack, snorkeling in the marina, being ripped off by vendors at market, and playing rock paper scissors with literally hundreds of little kids. After a few hours in town, we decide to head back to the village for the evening soccer match. It is held on a dirt field where about sixty men play a crude, but intense match of soccer every evening. Most of the men have no shoes and have just come from a day of hard labor. Some days a volleyball is used, other times a ripped up canvas ball. But they have fun no matter what. We have been partaking in this every evening. So, we get to the street and are about to hail a cab when the large man from the earlier cab ride greets us. He asks if we would like to split the cab and head home together. So we say sure. He then says "Just one quick stop and I'm Jerry." We introduce ourselves and follow him to the market. As we walk with him, he tells us all about himself. We learn he used to be a police man here on the Island of Suva. If you know anything about Suva, you would know the police have about as much authority as anyone. We learn he is a father, he now works at one of the hotels on the south part of the island, he tells us of his experiences in the police. Jerry talks quite a bit, mostly of Fiji, and its greatness. After about 15 minutes in the market, Jerry takes us to the street and says, "One more stop, very quick my boys". This was a bit annoying, but we don't mind too much. Following him down a few blocks to where we stop at a small food stand. Jerry gets in a heated bargain argument with an elderly Fijian woman about the price of some beans. He gets the low price and we stroll off. I notice Jerry exercising his mild authority of being an ex-police man to the vendors. We then follow him instinctively to another shop as he goes on bragging and talking about all sorts of things. This man Jerry is starting to be less and less of a friendly Fijian man. We go to some odd home appliance store named, 'Pots and Stuff'. We follow Jerry upstairs to a salesroom, where he tells us to wait. We sit on a couch and watch as Jerry gets in yet another heated argument in Fijian. This time over what appears to be the payment of a small outdoor washing machine. We leave after about 20 minutes. We have now gone with Jerry to three shops and spent about an hour with him. Larkin and I make eye contact as to say, "This guys a bastard" mutually being annoyed that he is dragging us around on errands with him. He apologizes and then goes on to say that we must go pick up one more thing, but assures us he will pay for the cab. We have waited this long, so we might as well go on one more errand with Jerry. We walk to a green building full of counterfeit sports gear. Fake Nike shoes, fake soccer balls that are glued together rather than stitched. Jerry keeps on picking up items and showing us them. I assumed Jerry wanted us to buy him something. He doesn't directly ask but he is obviously trying to get us too. We don't give in. So, he then says we are ready to go. We go to wait for a cab and Jerry yells across the street at two people. A boyish looking young man about 20-Hindu looking with a mustache and another rather large Fijian man with many tattoos. These are friends of Jerry's. Jerry introduces us as if we were his prized possessions. Clearly happy to have become acquaintances with these two little white boys. The men all have a loud, expressive discussion in Fijian, consisting of many shouts, laughs and hand motions. They talk for about five minutes. As Larkin and I stand there in silence, becoming quite annoyed. Then all of us squeeze into a cab. Larkin is lucky enough to get shotgun, and I am squished in the back of a 1990's Honda civic with two 200 lbs. Fijian men and a small Hindu boy sitting on Jerry's lap. Goddamn it I think to myself.
As we ride the dirt road to the other end of the island, Jerry is aggressively stuffing his mouth with these chili flavored peas of some sort from the market. He talks a lot with a booming thick Fijian accent. Talk of women, Fiji, Police, again and again. Then he asks the question. "Do you have any CDs?" Unclear, I ask him to clarify. I find out what he is asking is if I have any DVDs to give him. He wants me to give him the American movies to watch at his shack in the village. I tell him my uncle, who we were, staying with, might have some, but will probably not want to give them out. Jerry then asks, "How about the boom boom CDs"? I do not know how to respond. He gives me a strange look and says in his thick Fijian accent "You know, the sexual man and women CDs?" The rather large Fijian man and small Hindu boy holler and laugh at this hysterically. This man is now asking me for porn movies. I tell him no, with out trying to be nice about it, for I have had enough of this man Jerry. He rambles on about some more random B.S. Larkin and I have made up our opinion about this man. Jerry is not another friendly decent Fijian man. This man and his friends are not to be trusted and we do not like them. We sit through another ten minutes in the car with Jerry talking, and the small Hindu boy and rather large Fijian man cackling like hyenas. We finally arrive at the village. As the car pulls to a stop Jerry looks to me and says, "That's 12 dollars my boy." I am in disbelief at this point. This man offers to pay for our cab, then drags us around on errands with him for two hours and asks us for porno DVDs. Now he wants us to pay for the cab? "Bula Venaca" I say. I then throw a 10 dollar bill at Jerry, hoping to never see the horny, full of himself, scheming bastard again, As Larkin and I walk away Jerry is still yelling "the CDs! Bring the CD's my boys!" Larkin and I ignore him and walk down the beach to our hut.
This was my first experience of a person trying to take advantage of me in a foreign country. Many valuable lessons are too be learned from traveling. I learned that no matter what beautiful place, with genuine nice people you are in. There are always going to be people looking to wrong you. Over all I should have known better the next night when a man named Peter offered to take us to the club with him… but that's a story I'll save for when Ms. Kenney Hall isn't around.