Calves and Coconuts: Beqa Island

“Red for danger.”

A game of bocce ball gets heated on a lazy afternoon in the middle of the South Pacific. The competition is green versus red–Fiji versus USA–and of course, everybody wants to be Fiji.

“Go Fiji!” clatters in the shoreside air, causing curious heads to poke out from around wheelbarrows and huts. But further out, the humidity hanging above low-tide waters is not disturbed. There are, maybe, 3,000 people total on this island. There are, maybe, 50 in the immediate vicinity. And beyond that? The main island of Fiji just to the north, before thousands and thousands of miles of indifferent ocean.

I think back to a particular walk home up the cobblestone streets of Prague, talking to my friend, Tyna. She has worked for the NYU abroad program in Prague for years, welcoming a new batch of bright-eyed, study abroad students every semester, and bidding them farewell, three and a half months later.

“Maybe for a student, it’s study abroad, it’s vacation,” she was saying. We were discussing relationships, and what it’s like to form them with people who are, by definition, temporary. “You come, you have fun for a few months, and then you go back to your real life somewhere else.”

“But this is my real life,” she explained. “This is reality, and I have to deal with what happens even after you’re gone.”

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The Lalati Resort is textbook paradise. A row of thatched-roof bungalows winds down a stretch of beach, lagoon waters lapping at the pebbled pathway. Across the emerald lagoon, a Jurassic Park island silhouette looms up–empty, but for one lone farmer who lives tucked in the hillside on his own.

On the other side of the dock (from where you come and go via motorboat), there’s a path leading to Lalati Village you can take when the tide is too high to walk along the water. There, a community of about 100 people lives on their village land, mere meters away from the resort they operate, but do not own. The scuba diving, the warm water, the hiking, the snorkeling, the boating, the bats, the spiders, the reef sharks, the star-soaked night sky, whatever–among the splendor of this precise geographic area, the greatest treasure is the people.

 

So when it comes to vacationing in people’s lives. Additionally, when it comes to commodifying the “local experience”–perhaps the rule can be to return the investment. To start. The Loloma Foundation provides medical and dental care to rural Fijians, free of charge.  It provides resources for young people to attend and be successful in school. It increases access to clean drinking water. And I’m going to write more about the foundation another time, too–but for now, if you’re looking for a place to invest $1, $10, $100 to concretely make people’s lives better? You can.

Fiji. Where you learn to identify members of a boat crew by their calves, strolling the bannister from stem to stern, sitting above the captain with their feet hanging down before the windshield. Where, when life is good, you say you’re “good as a coconut.” More to come.

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