The next day I showered as usual. The showers have no ceilings and so you look up to see the blue sky, the showerhead, and ivy growing behind it. Relaxing. The water is cold though! Then I caught a 45-minute bus to Lautoka that cost $1.50. The bus stopped once because its muffler started dragging on the road! The driver just pulled it from underneath and stuffed it in the baggage area underneath. Lautoka is known as Sugar City because sugar cane grows all around it and rum is made there. Vijay Singh, the golfer, is from there, as were the day shift girls. Lautoka was very pleasant. I couldn’t get to the shore although I could see it. This part was all rocky — most go to the islands for the water. Lautoka was packed with shoppers as our bus pulled up to the station. I got out and admired the Indian foot/treat carts full of brightly-colored goodies that people were snapping up quickly. Right next to the station was a big market area in an open warehouse. Literally a whole farmer’s market full of homegrown veggies and fruits, many of which I couldn’t recognize. Along the outskirt I found an older Indian woman selling cheap masks so I bought one. Much cheaper than anywhere else I’d found. She gave me “a good price”, naturally. I ran into some white tourists there so I was admittedly happy to see them and then I found out they were kooky missionaries so I left them!
I walked up and down the shopping streets. I wanted to get a Fijian Bible since my mom collects them in different languages but the “bookstores” mainly sold children’s textbooks. Yes, yes, I should’ve tried the church but I’d prefer not to take one of THEIR Bibles, even if I paid! I found Parade Street, a boulevard with palm trees lining the middle divider. This was Lautoka’s pride. There was also a mini rail line that only fit small passenger skiffs for a few people. I’m not sure what the point was. Next to this street was a big park and soccer stadium. People played volleyball on the basketball courts. A lot of people sat in the shade in the park for some promotional activities for tomorrow’s national holiday, National Youth Day. One piece of signage was a Pepsi logo with David Beckham. It really struck me how the Brits owned everywhere I’d been. They stole Australia from unsuspecting Aborigines who thought white skin was the mark of gods. Then they filled the place with convicts. Aborigines endured missionaries who gave them educations but also Anglicized their names and insisted on Christianity. Fiji was a former colony also and most Fijians were more white than Fijian anymore. I myself am American and we had a, uh, split with the UK ourselves. But the sheer reach of the British is quite amazing. Anyway I ducked into an AC’d Internet cafe tucked away so that I wasn’t sure how dodgy it’d be. I guess it was one of only a few because it was packed with Brits and locals and Asians alike. The guy running it was a stern-looking chubby merchant kind of guy. Indian, lucrative, dark eyes scanning for business opportunity. Afterward I stopped by a warrior phone booth and heard your calming, beautiful voice on the phone. Every time I talked to you while abroad, your voice captivated me and whisked me out of that place and into an imagined world where only you and I mattered. It was like a respite, a vacation, a rejuvenation of spirit.
After that I took a bus home. It rained along the way so it smelled fresh and the green plants looked lush and the views of the island were splattered with breaks of sunshine. I got off at the intersection with the lodge’s road. I had to pay $5 to a waiting carrier (a pickup) to take me the rest of the way.
I talked to a girl named Sonya who was staying there but spent most of her time with an Indian friend who took her to various Indian communities around the island. She’s from the Czech Republic. She was a weird character. She insisted on talking to me (it was mainly her talking), mainly about her idea to write a Harry Potter-ish book that would make her rich so she could buy a hotel in Fiji, the highlight being her private helicopter taking her from a house in the foothills over to the hotel. She wants to charge $1,000/night for expensive clientele.
Impressive until she continued… Apparently she’s deeply infatuated with an Italian professor who she wants to marry and give children to. But he’s a player and she sort of ignores that. He is non-committal to her so she traveled to Fiji to show him she could be independent. She wants her book and hotel in order to persuade him to follow her instead. Her stories were compounded tragically by her repeating them over and over to the point that I wondered if it was just a language barrier. She had really only learned English seriously since coming to Fiji. Obviously she’s linguistically gifted — she reads her dictionary, not books. So maybe she repeated herself so much in order to reinforce language she knew. Or maybe she was just obsessed or even psychologically damaged.
I’m not sure why she wanted to talk to me about all this.I really doubt she was attracted to me given this Italian professor she said resembled Al Pacino. She felt comfortable showing me her travel photos and talked to me at length while she tanned, and while, grr, I was just trying to swim! She had a consistent chronic cough she thought Fiji’s climate might get rid of. Her friend drove her two miles into the mountains where an old Indian healer lived. He poured water on her head and she said it was yellow as it poured onto her hands, washing away the sick, yellow illness. He also gave her a liter of water with some curative elixir. She was convinced it would work but it didn’t. She went back the day I left.
The whole thing was weird but I was bored and just hung out in the common area of the lodge the rest of my time. I think she was travel-weary and lonely and wanted to just talked to someone who had lived somewhere besides Fiji.
Otherwise the lodge was sleepy and slow. A backpacker couple of a young Brit and a young Dutchy (or Belgian?) kept to themselves, probably just fucking a lot.
Michelle’s nephew stayed there a couple days so I talked to him a lot. He was shy at first; about 14 years old. He was less shy after I told him he has a good speaking voice, and after I played ping pong and pool with him. He said he had barely played ping pong but he was pretty good!
I learned by talking to him that if he wasn’t gay, he was very effeminate. Not that I minded, but it seemed rare in a place like Fiji. However I learned that Suva is a pretty wired place and their family is pretty well-off and cultured. Iman, his name, is part of a generation raised on MTV and pop culture. When we started talking music, I mentioned the reality show where the Pussy Cat Dolls are recruiting a new member, and Iman freaked out; they’re his favorite. He’d missed the last episode but I caught part of it in the hotel so he was rapt with interest as I told him about it. He’d rattle off names of actresses he thought were tramps or sluts. I of course named my favorites: Angelina, Jessica Alba, Cate Blanchett…he wasn’t impressed. I think at that point he saw a frog and shrieked. He was pretty hilarious to talk to and he’d fight with the girls on staff like they were siblings. So I hung out with them and had a good time. I told Iman about you and he was infatuated. I told him your name was Desjardins and he near fainted. I said you dressed elegantly and went to the amazing shops to buy shoes at lunch downtown and he said he just HAD to meet you. He was super impressed. I promised to give him your e-mail and that the next time I came back, you’d be with me and he’d show us Suva. I found it funny his e-mail addy is pcd_lover, for the Pussy Cat Dolls. His addy didn’t seem to work though.
After dinner Michelle really enjoyed chats with us — even the backpacker couple stayed once for it. Michelle mixed margaritas for her and me one night. Another, she introduced me to the joy of Frangelica, a hazelnut liqueur like a cross between Nutella and Bailey’s. Mmm… Then Iman would freak out about hearing ghosts at night and insisted we leave lemon leaves under our pillows to ward them off.
The last highlight of my stay was thanks to a local Fijian named Sobo. He was part of a team hired to construct an overhang to extend the lodge’s patio. They’d put up stone pillars already and were working on a wooden support structure above i.t I started talking with him and that pen died. Anyway he invited me to his village nearby and of course I accepted! The next morning we walked a bit down the hill and through a shortcut behind some crops and someone’s backyard. Before leaving, I had told Kanshma and she said not to tell Michelle because she didn’t like Sobo or the villagers or something. So I didn’t know what I was getting myself into! Sobo is probably a little younger than me. He plays on the village’s rugby team (the young men are all pretty stocky) that would be going to Suva next weekend for a big Fijian competition.
We reached Lamboutini Village. First we saw the church, and, since it was a holiday, all the kids were gathered there playing and talking. They saw me and hushed up in curiosity! I waved and they waved and braver ones followed us as we walked around. I met a lot of people for such a small village and chatted with each person and saw their homes, all built by hand. Little kids played peekaboo from their windows and doors and one time I walked by a window just as a kid leaned in to peer out and he almost fell back on his ass in surprise! I met Sobo’s mom who was wearing a California shirt so I told her I’d lived there and her face lit up more than it already was. In fact everyone here was very cheerful and welcoming and eager to say hello! It was awesome. I even met Sobo’s pregnant girlfriend — he’d just built their house, effectively moving 20-30 feet out of the family house! I shook firm hands with the other rugby players and was glad I wasn’t playing against them!
We ran into the biggest farmer in the village who by his ownership of all the nearby crops must have been very important to them despite his young age. We walked past pineapple and corn and kasava, a local root supposedly Lamboutini’s trademark dish when prepared (for every village has its own specialty). We came across a stone well. Apparently back in WWI or in the 30’s, American soldiers had been stationed here for security. IT was weird coming all this way to find a place other soldiers had already been. Near the well was the farmer’s pig pen, full of piglets.
Back in the town there were strange short blocks arranged in an organized rectangle. As it turned out, it used to be the base for raised Army barracks and I realized that’s why the design seemed familiar to me. Those raised stilt buildings are still very common — even the buildings I lived in the Army today were like them.
I met more people and saw the common building where elections and other public meetings occurred. The police drove by in a normal car; they dressed like casual off-duty police would, in preppy clothes. I only saw one guy working, since it was a holiday. I jokingly told him he should put off the weedwacking until tomorrow but he wanted to get it done. He was by far the biggest person in the village — a mountain of muscle, but very friendly and nice!
Next Sobo showed me the Lamboutini River. A small road bridge passed over it and two Fijian kids had just caught an eel there. They were hacking it to death with a big knife. An Indian kid watched them and told me these kids fished there every day. The Indian was a soccer player for fun.
Finally Sobo and I walked up to the lodge and took a photo together and said goodbye. I gave him my e-mail but he hasn’t written yet.
Besides the horrible mozzie bites on my feet that kept me awake at night, that’s about it from Fiji. On my last day I barely had enough cash to pay my food bill so Kanshma hooked me up with a toasted cheese and tomato sandwich for lunch. I played some ping pong with Iman and said goodbye to all the lazy dogs and then caught the free taxi to the airport. Once there I bought some gifts from Jack’s because they had Fijian stuff that looked good and didn’t cost rip-off prices. My flight wasn’t until 10PM so I read my China book, played Lumines 2 on my PSP, and ate a meal at the restaurant there. The coffee shop had fruit smoothies so I got one. I cannot express to you just how much I just outright enjoy fruit smoothies. I prefer ones that are sweet and have some yogurt in them for consistency. But they’re just so delicious and refreshing! After workouts back home I switch between going to Jamba Juice (their banana-blueberry drink that the girl knows to make me every time) and Frullati in the mall for their strawberry-peach-banana.
At 7PM the ticket counter for my flight opened. At this point there were only two flights left: mine and one to Auckland. Yet the terminal was packed! Lots of Fijian and Indian families seeing off loved ones. And oh yes… Americans. Now, my entire trip, I’d barely seen any of them. I guess I turned. Because it didn’t take long for my skin to crawl when I heard very boisterous, nasally, whiny Americans bitching about insignificant details! It was dreadful. I got in line and waited forever. Maybe 50-70 people were ahead of me. I should’ve gotten in line earlier! Americans were in full bloom: beet-red skin from tanning, pointless chit-chat, clueless people not knowing if this was the right line — uh…what other fucking line is there?, tacky tourist clothing too small for their fatness, ugly people with no elegance or self-respect… hell, there was this surfer guy with a blonde wig who didn’t even have a shirt on. He was old. COME ON! Ridiculous!! I quietly read my book in line for the next hour. The surfers took a lot of time at the counter because they had their stupid big boards. It really comforts me to know that these guys travel all over the world, trashing beaches and probably swearing at some small cafe owner because he doesn’t sell hamburgers and fucking Mountain Dew.
Right… So anyway I finally got my ticket and went through customs and security. No problems. The duty-free stores stayed open until our flight left so I browsed them. There were always way too many salesclerks for each customer and most I don’t think spoke English so you can only guess what they did and actually got paid! I talked to a security guard named Ben. I asked about his rank. He said he remembered me from when I flew in. There were Nike posters of some athlete I didn’t know (to be honest I was shocked) and one Fijian lady told me it was Wesaleh Sarebe, the great Fijian rugby player. Huh!
On the plane there was an empty seat between me (aisle) and a young Indian guy whose name was Jaynish, or Jay. As it turns out he was very cheerful and fun to talk to. He studied engineering at Suva’s uni and just got a job for Air Pacific maintaining the software system that did diagnostics on planes as they started up. Obviously a smart guy who hit a big opportunity at only 22 or so! He showed me the hangar he worked in as we taxied out. He was heading to Seattle for a one-week training course all paid for by the company. His first time to the States. I wished him the best and hoped he would get a favorable impression of my beloved homeland. I warned him not to take the TSA and LAX security personally since they’re all shitheads. He joked that he was brown and so they’d scrutinize him and American girls wouldn’t like him. I laughed with him and sadly he was probably right. But I gave him some tips on American girls (being the definition of field expert, of course) and we settled in for the flight. Mostly I read the China book but tried watching Pursuit of Happyness with Will Smith before I couldn’t choke back the vomit anymore. Look, I know it’s a true story but Will Smith is too corny and so was the dialogue. We crossed the international dateline and had the shades pulled down. It was light outside but we all managed to sleep. Jay opened his shade once and near bloody blinded me! It felt like a short flight.
Fuck LAX. We landed. I got through customs fast as our line was short. I felt sorry for non-Americans who had to wait in these ridiculously long lines to talk to some surly idiot prowling for terrorists. Also I walked past a Sikh family and a security guard. He asked this old white dude how he was doing and the dumb hick exclaimed loudly, “Glad to be back in the US of A, let me tell you!!” as if he just escaped from Auschwitz or something. Then I stood at the bagge carousel for literally 50 minute.s It wasn’t as though bags even came out. Nothing happened. Each load of bags seemed separated by 20 minutes. Fuck! I was going to miss my connection! Finally my backpack came. There were two security exit lines so I chose the shorter one. This one of course was much slower. Sigh… I saw another line but it filled up fast. Everyone still got through faster than me, even this mob of super tall, super elegant Chinese stewardesses in immaculate uniforms. I was impressed and knew I was about to get Brunhilda and Queery McGay (not that there’s anything wrong with that) on my American Airlines flight. Some airlines pick really beautiful, talkative, patient, friendly hostesses. Not American! They select only the two types above! Once I got through that line, ther was ANOTHER line, with NO purpose. After standing there we were told we could move through. Thanks.
Then I reached the international terminal exit. This is great because you have a bunch of people who can’t speak English and everyone else who’se very confusded about where to go. You actually have to walk outside for five minutes around an unmarked bend by the taxi lane to get to the domestic terminal. I actually had to gather some people with me to show them where to go. No LAX employees were there to help. Luckily they had some fat, whiny, mean employees yelling at people to stay away from the baggage carousel inside! So I went to ticketing. I was told my backpack was checked all the way through in Fiji so Iw ent to the x-ray guys. They looked at my bag and told me to stand in the ticket line. I showed my boarding pass. “The line, sir…” Sigh. I went to the self-serfice line. There shouldn’t have been a line since kiosks were open, a fact that another loud, mean bitch informed us of. I told her my plight and she immediately snapped at me to get in the main line. I said I had a boarding pass and I was going to miss my flight in half an hour. She said it was too late, get in the main line and they’ll re-schedule. “Thanks for all your help,” I steamed as I walked off.
I got sympathetic shakings of heads from others. The lady then came up to me and asked for my ticket. Then she said she’d take my bag. “Will I make it?” “Yes.” “Are you going to ‘lose’ my bag now?” I wanted to ask.
My next trial was security. God bless the TSA. They had one guy controlling the break in the line before the pre-screening for the main security. Efficient! The guy told me to wait here so as not to block the intersection. The npeople walked past him and me and got in line. I was like, “Uh… Okay, do what you want…” Then the guy waved me to move up. Thanks! Then pre-screening. Then main security. “Please remove your flip-flops, sir…” “It said shoes. Now all footwear?” “ALL FOOTWEAR.” Damn, they discovered my Timberland Terrorist C-4 Explosive sandals! Then the dumbass behind the x-ray machine had to re-scan my bag (probably wasn’t paying attention) and THEN had me open my bag. “Do you have metal?” “Yes, this.” “What is that?” “Uh, it’s a Sony PSP and that’s an MP3 player.” I’m so glad they’re keeping the skies safe. At least make me turn the shit on if you’re going to act like a suspicious security professional. FINALLY, my terminal. But oh! Plane’s late, we’re leaving later. Sorry you were so stressed out for the last two hours that it took you to go 100 yards!
On the plane I sat next to Rosa, an old lady with a hunch who lives in Midland-Odessa. These are two cities close to each other in West Texas. Odessa notoriously smells like oil from the freeway because it’s a big oil production place. It’s home to many Texas yokels.
Rosa was visiting her daughter for her daughter’s husband’s funeral. Cheery. Rosa is super religious. Most people say they want to travel to places like Hawai’i or Europe. Rosa wanted to visit this really big church on a hill in Mesquite, TX.
Her sons are all preachers. I told her I was in the Army and went to Iraq and that quieted her a bit. She’s a crazy Christian but there’s the rabid pro-war kind and there’s her kind, the kind that fears war. She would stop talking sometimes and then I’d put headphones on and she’d start talking again! She used to be a Wal-Mart greeter (this was her given profession, after I asked. I figured she might tell me her life-long passion of careers, or that she was a religious housewife. Nope.) She made sure I knew how gifted her 15-year-old nephew was, who’s already in college. I actually enjoyed hearing her talk about her 15 grandchildren and children.
Finally I got home and Daniel and Maryam picked me up. We lamented the Mavericks’ loss and met my mom (also just came back, from China) at Luna de Noche where Mom told us all about China. This is how my trip ends. My feet still covered in itchy mozzie bites.
Some notes: I do want to transcribe this (God that will take forever!) but I want you to own it first, to read it first. Later I will borrow it and type it out till my head explodes.
Geoff would use the phrase (nurkin’ in the gurkin'”, which meant fucking in the kitchen. Upplaa! Rich said he’d learned in Australia “dry as a dead dingo’s donger.” Finally, in Australia, Bundaberg sells that canned Rum and Coke, or Cuba Libre as my mom insists it’s called. We can’t get it here in a can and this I find very tragic.
So that’s the end. When I left, I feel I was much different than how I am now. I was worried when I left because of my school decision. I was worried because I would miss Georgetown’s open house. But I think most of all I was worried because I was going without you. In Akeelah and the Bee, she says at the end that there’s a word for when you feel safe, at peace, and not worried. That word is love. I’ve taken that to heart, for when I’m uncertain it’s often because it’s intrinsically against my values. So for that I apologize for leaving you despite our already being geographically separated. However, I am ecstatic to get to see you so soon afterwards! I really needed to see you.
Australia served as a rite of passage for me, as well as a test to see how I’d do on my own in a new environment with people very unlike me. It turns out I related to them just fine. It was the trip of a lifetime and a separator of Army life and my new life. I have hardened experiences to interrupt all my 5 years of Army ones. I have come home confident in myself, happy and excited about Georgetown, and motivated to pursue my dreams.