Sunday 30 April 2023



Z is for Zuche, which means a tree stump.  There are plenty around, as orchids
are often grown on them. Also many tree bits are washed in on the beaches. 


More like the whole log than a stump...but you'll know what I mean.

Zuche is just an excuse to zigzag into other stuff. All the things that I had learnt but for some reason or another couldn't put down here in the posts. Before I get into zipping things up with those, I just wanted to mention that Fiji is a biodiversity hotspot - there are 1700 plant species and 742 species of trees endemic to the islands. Ancient trees line the Queens Road and tower in Albert and Thurston Parks and gardens - absolutely awe inspiring and delightful at the same time, straight out of some fairy tale. 

Queens Road to Lautoka.

Okay, now let's just sum the things I wanted to tell you about but couldn't. 

Adventure sports - lots of options if you are an adrenaline junkie, check out the link here

Paragliding just outside Denarau. 

Baker, Thomas - a Methodist missionary who was killed and cannibalised in 1867 for touching a chief's head, which is considered disrespectful in the Fijian culture. Fijian missionary workers with Baker were also killed and eaten. In 2003, the villagers offered an apology to Baker's descendants in a formal reconciliation ceremony to lift the curse of the massacre from their village. Read more here

Covid in Fiji - The pandemic totally flattened Fiji's tourism industry, but with their 'No jab, no job' policy and vaccine programmes they were able to lift restrictions and the tourists are back, everything is running normally. No masking required since April 2022. All travel restrictions for double vaccinated travellers lifted since February 2023, no tests required on arrival. Find the statistics on the pandemic in this table

Dolphin watching - Spinner dolphins are found year round in Fiji. Check out this link to read about the best dolphin safaris.

Davui - is a conch shell, used as a trumpet/horn, blown as a signal in events of importance to gather people together in Fijian culture. Conch shells are blown in my native Bengal as a part of religious ceremonies - weddings, weaning, new baby coming home and also every morning and evening at the household shrines during daily prayers, so I was chuffed to find this connection. 

Fish and seafood - fresh available at roadside stalls on Queens Road just outside Nadi going towards Sigatoka, or on Kings Road after Lautoka going to Ba. Crabs to die for! Alternatively, Nadi Farmer's Market has a seafood section. You'll have to know to clean and cut/fillet, the vendors won't do it for you. Frozen fillets and cutlets/steaks are available in supermarkets. Best seafood restaurants in my experience - Amalfi and Bonefish. Basic fish fingers, fish and chips etc - Grace Kitchen restaurants, they are a Korean farm to table chain, do a good plate of sushi too. Tiko's in Suva is on many online lists, I haven't seen it open since I've come, unfortunately. 

Bought on the way back from Natadola Beach just on the outskirts of Nadi.
They look seriously angry at being caught, don't they? :) That knife
 was so not up to the job! 

Grog - the English name for Kava aka Yaqona in Fiji. The roots of the Piper methysticum plant powdered and dissolved into water to make a mildly intoxicating drink, ceremonially offered in Fijian culture to guests and drunk as we would drink tea or coffee. Definitely a cultivated taste!

Holidays - Fiji has major holidays around the Christian festivals, it's a Christian majority country - Christmas and Easter. Among the Hindu festivals, Diwali is a public holiday. The Islamic feasts are not holidays, except for one day on the Prophet's birthday. A change from what I'd got used to in the Middle East. Here is the list of holidays in Fiji for 2023

Kidney Beans/Rajma - available in tinned form only. No rajma in the lentils section in any supermarket in Nadi or Lautoka. Found a mixed lentil packet once with 5 different types including Kidney beans.

Life Cinemas  - They run theatres in Suva, Lautoka and Nadi, screen films from Hollywood and Bollywood, some are dubbed in Fijian.

A word about Film Fiji - they are an autonomous statutory body under the Ministry of Commerce, Trade, Tourism and Transport, they grant permits to film in Fiji and help support filmmakers. Fiji does not have a large film industry itself, so far only one Fijian feature film has been made in 2004. However, they appear to be eager to promote Fiji as a locale for films.

There is a Facebook Group called the Fiji Film Fans with 215 members, seems to be based in Suva. I couldn't find any other Cine Club here. 

Fiji held its inaugural Film Festival in June 2022, 7 films from European countries were screened, again in Suva, nil elsewhere.

Milk - available from Rewa Dairy, NZ and Aus brands, full cream, low fat and skimmed varieties, though stock outs are quite common of one or more brands/type. All tetrapack long-life milk only, haven't come across fresh milk in bottles. Soya and almond milk also available, as are brands of powder milk. 

No proper Film Society, no decent bookshops, no writer's groups in Nadi or Lautoka - that's the story so far. Public library with a medium size fiction section in Lautoka, mostly best selling authors, some American, NZ and Australian writers. Pristine nature, skies and ocean to die for, trees generally breathtaking, lots of trekking, walks, outdoors activities available. 

Ovalau - is located on the eastern side of Viti Levu, part of the Lomaiviti group of islands in Fiji. It is the sixth largest island in the country, an eroded volcanic crater with flat land only in the middle. Ovalau is important because it was settled by Europeans in the early 1800s, the first modern town grew there in Levuka, a commercial hub and the centre for the sea cucumber trade. As a result Levuka has many firsts, church, post office, school etc. It has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage site because of its role in Fijian history. Read more about Ovalau and Levuka here

Power outages - quite common in Fiji. Stock up on candles and torches, batteries if you plan to live here. We've had 5-6 outages in one year, so average once every two months. One major failure lasting over a week with no power due to an electrical fault in the house wiring. That was a nightmare but not the power company's doing. 

Pearls - Fiji produces South Sea oyster pearls, larger and more lustrous than fresh water ones. Obviously more expensive than fresh water pearls as oyster pearls occur singly and take more than a year to produce, unlike fresh water ones where each mollusc yields multiple pearls and in shorter time spans. Read about Fiji's pearls here

Reef Herons - The only waterbirds I have spotted in Lautoka and in Suva, the other's are mostly land birds, commonly seen all over - doves, pigeons, mynahs, bulbul, parrot finches.

Reef Heron in Suva. 

Sulu - is a kilt like garment worn by both men and women and is the national dress of Fiji. It was originally introduced by missionaries to signify conversion to Christianity. Read more about the sulu here.

Tagimoucia - is Fiji's national flower, found only on the island called Taveuni, known as the garden island of Fiji. Read more about Taveuni and the flower here


UN and Fiji - Fiji established its Permanent Mission in United Nations in 1970, three days after it gained its independence. It has been a notable contributor to the UN's peacekeeping  efforts through out from 1978 onwards. Even through the political turmoil and coups, when democratic/CW governments have pressurised the UN to stop using Fijian peacekeepers, the UN has mostly declined, so Fijian troops have kept on keeping on. Watch this clip on a peacekeeper's work in South Sudan. And read about the involvement of Fiji in UN Peacekeeping here. But it's not only peacekeeping, Fiji is a strong voice on climate change as well.

Vinaka vaka levu! - means 'thank you very much' in Fijian. 

That about sums everything up. I'm sure I've missed a couple things which will strike me in May, but never mind. I think this is enough to be getting along with.  What do you say?

All this month I've written about Aspects of Fiji, which is where I'm at the mo. And where the sum of its constituent parts is greater than the whole. 

I've learnt a lot in this one year, deepened my understanding about this country and of myself, because every bit of outward learning is also a step inward into one's own self-knowledge. I  had some serious fun. I hope you've enjoyed them too. 

~ Thank you for coming along with me on this trip ~

Posted for the A-Z Challenge 2023

Friday 28 April 2023


...I’m doing the most predictable thing for Y – yes, I am. Sticking photos of yachts and boats here. For a Bengali and, for one who’s lived on islands and seaports in the Middle East for 18+ years, my ignorance about yachts is infinite. It's inexcusable really. Because Bengal, my birthplace, is a land of waters – sea, delta, rivers, streams, lakes on the plains and waterfalls in the mountains. our entire culture is shaped around navigating waters, our metaphors drawn from the rivers, tides and crafts. No yachts there, of course.


I always thought a yacht was one of those sleek little things with graceful sails billowing out from a ridiculously tall mast, that posh people go on and sometimes race in something called a regatta, always held in the playgrounds of the rich and famous, like Saint Tropez.


This is probably due to my alphabet book having a stylised illustration of such a vessel w-a-a-a-y back – Y is for Yacht, a simple curved shape with pointy ends and a straight line rising bang from the middle, two triangles attached to either side of the line, blue squiggly lines underneath the whole thing to represent waves. It's scarred me for life obviously. Be careful which illustrations you pair with the alphabet you teach your children...first impressions are indelible and sadly, often wrong...sigh.

Bahrain and Dubai both have yacht clubs and regattas, incidentally. I’ve been to the Bahrain Yacht Club and Marina Club too, but it’s only after coming to Fiji that the penny has dropped. Talk about a tube light! Anyway, here are some photos, I hope you’ll enjoy them. 

Denarau. Before it became home.

Coming back from the Mamanucas.

Port Denarau. Ordinary day in April. Not this April.

Taken from the Sunset Cruise. 

Lautoka. That's probably a cruiser from overseas. 

Denarau. Most overseas cruise ships would call at the Suva harbour, Lautoka and here.
Some might not go to Lautoka. Some might go to other islands. Denarau is the main
sea entry/exit for tourists.

Wailoaloa. Spot the yachts! Denarau is visible from points along the Nadi Bay.

Suva. That's probably an ocean cruiser, not just any old yacht.

Private yachts at Denarau Marina - I was probably trespassing, yikes! -
sorry, yacht owners.

From Vunivadra. Cruiser come to pick tourists up at the end of the day trip. 

From Stinson Parade, Suva. The Luminosa of Carnival Cruises was leaving the
harbour on the day I was there. Luminosa has a passenger capacity of 2200+
and she dwarfed every other vessel in the harbour. Definitely NOT a yacht!

If you want to know about taking an overseas cruise to Fiji, these links here and here give a great overview. Within Fiji, Captain Cook Cruises, South Sea Cruises and Blue Lagoon Cruises offer cruises, day trips, and resort connections to many of the other Fijian islands. You can charter a vessel for private trips too, for parties and weddings. 

All this month I'm writing about Aspects of Fiji, which is where I'm at the mo, just completed a year this April. And where the sum of its parts is greater than the whole!

Did you know that Fiji has positioned itself to young couples as a great honeymoon destination?

~ Thank you for reading ~

Posted for the A-Z Challenge 2023  

Thursday 27 April 2023

Xasperating, Xcruciating - Xerrified of this Xorrible Xetter!


Spot the X. There are two, not one, but two in this photograph. we come finally to the most dreaded…

As I’ve mentioned before, Fijian does not use X in its alphabet, see for yourself how worthless this letter is – when the the Latin alphabet was adapted for Fijian, folks just gave X the chop completely. Find out how and who devised the Fijian alphabet by reading this article. So...There's no help to be found in the local milieu - no place names, no glib phrases, nope nothing. 

What I'm going to do therefore, is to tell you about some of my observations re the Xasperating and Xcruciating aspects of being an Xpat, some things true for Fiji, some true for the other places I've lived and some everywhere. 

One of the aspects I've found irksome are the banking regulations for foreigners, every country has its own restrictions - in Bahrain the bank issued us local credit cards but wouldn't give us any cheque book facility.  That wasn't a massive issue, we don't use too many cheques anyway. 

In Fiji we can't hold either credit cards or cheque books. Hobson's choice - either we use the Indian cards and pay extra due to the service charges to the Indian banks plus applicable taxes on foreign currency transactions, or pay the entire amounts upfront in cash. Additionally, most merchant establishments in Fiji charge some 2-3% extra on card transactions. So there's at least  a good 7-8% extra on the price one ends up paying if the credit cards are used. Good thing we didn't/don't need to buy any big ticket items! 

However, I still find it inconvenient and a bit uncomfortable to carry  paper money around by the bagful. Especially in those first days, when we needed to sort out the household stuff that's required at every relocation -  since I was told these horror stories of purse snatchings and break-ins the minute I landed. It just added an extra layer of unnecessary jitters. 

Next, there is what I call the currency commotion, which is funny till it isn't. If you're an expat, you'll  have to cope with juggling two kinds of money - one of your home base, the other wherever you live. That's learning a whole set of notes and coins in each country and making sure you're not handing over a note to the cabbie that's ten times more in value than your actual fare, because of course you've been gone for a couple of years, meanwhile new notes have been introduced none of which you know from Adam and the colours have been shuffled around and the fonts are more decorative than clearly legible. And of course you'll have to be able to earn in one currency, take care of your obligations, save and pay your taxes in another and do the arithmetic for both systems of money like it's a piece of cake. 

Now if you're an Indian expat, then you'll have to learn to hold in your brain and convert smoothly between three currencies - the Indian Rupee or INR, the currency of wherever you live and a 'hard currency,' now usually the USD. When I was a kid it was the Sterling Pound. You'll have to constantly decide which one is your own "real money" depending on how long you've been away from your homeland. 

So you go on home leave, look at a textile priced at say, INR 2,000 and think - 'heavens, that's only BHD 9, hand woven length of art, how is that even close to a decent price? How much does the weaver make after costs?'...Or you look at a scarf in your 'away' home and go 'gosh, that's 10,000 rupee right there for a piece of machine-made mass-produced flimsy trash, not even locally made, I'm not buying that, thank you.' You'll never have used a dollar bill to buy a single thing till your children grow up and go to uni in the USA, but you'll be required to calculate your income in that currency from time to time and report all the export markets you research in dollar value.

As soon as you get used to the currency of one country e.g. the Bahraini Dinar (BHD), the god of relocations will hatch a plan to shake things up because hey, this character here is getting too damn snug-settled, so off you go to another one! By now BHD has become your 'real money' in practical terms. Now you'll have the angry voices in your head chatting back to you in four different currencies - INR, BHD, USD and the new country's, say Egyptian Pounds. It'll get seriously crazy - total  cacophony in there!

The next issue is particular to Fiji. In the Middle East everywhere I've been, though government facilities may or may not be up to the mark, there has been no issues with availability of healthcare  - plenty good doctors and top quality medical care. At an extra price for foreigners of course, but it's there, I wouldn't have had to be airlifted home in case of a medical emergency, the sponsor would cover the cost so I didn't have to worry. I must point out though, the Gulf Countries including Bahrain and UAE where I've lived, have vast numbers of unskilled foreign workers who can't afford the pricey, private health care, are not covered for any substantial medical bills and so have to be sent home for treatment. I know of several cases, some of them truly excruciating. 

Fiji is a different ball game entirely. First off, the basics are not there - Fiji has 2.0 hospital beds per 1000 population, which is substantially lower than the world mean at 2.9. There's a shortage of doctors - 0.84 per 1000 people, as compared to a global figure of 1.5 per 1000. Fiji spends 3.8 of its GDP on health care, again much lower than the world average.  (Btw, Kolkata where I come from has figures quite similar or worse than Fiji, but private care is accessible to those who can afford it, much like the ME.) However, figures tell  just half the story.

The other half - what I hear from people, not necessarily expats, is quite unnerving. Birth stories that are total horror shows, road accident victims dying due to lack of care, expats having to move back to their home country because some piffling but specialised problem couldn't be tackled on the island. A few days ago someone from a European country asked in an online expat forum about relocating to Fiji with his pregnant wife and a gazillion horrified people from all sides, both locals and expats,  jumped in and effectively yelled at him - are you nuts?! have the baby in your home country! I've myself had to consult a dermatologist, an experienced specialist, who diagnosed me and then recommended I get the necessary but totally minor surgery when I got home next. All this is not exactly confidence inducing. 

Finally, there are two other aspects - one personal and the other political, they come with the territory of being expat Indians. Political first - you'll not be able to participate in most political processes in the country of your residence, unless it is a democracy, which most countries I've lived in aren't. There are other laws in place that will limit your freedoms, what you can wear in public in Saudi or Iran for instance, whether you can swig beer on a beach or park, if you can watch or import porn into the country, whether you can proselytise, or even volunteer at an NGO.  UAE used to bar WhatsApp voice calls, it allowed texts only when I was in the ME - all those kinds of things. In short, when in Rome you'll have to follow the rules made by Caesar. This I have no issues with. Mildly xasperating, sure, but no biggie. If in some country there are laws I find absolutely xecrable, I'd just not go there (as in Saudi). 

Finally, the personal - the things you leave behind, small and big, each compartmentalised home with its complement of attachment points that can't be carried over. The lack of family support through your crises, the lack of your participation in those of the extended family back home. The births, weddings, funerals that you must celebrate/mourn alone at a remove - particularly the funerals, that's gut wrenching, but it's an integral part of split continent living and you've made the choice knowing the downsides. They'll still knock the breath out of you when they happen, there's no way to prepare for that beforehand. 

I'd originally thought I would write about Xenophilia today - the love for strangeness and novelty, a deep attraction for the unfamiliar. It's the  underlying driver of wanderlust - I wanted to write about some Xenophiliacs here in Fiji, the foreigners who came, who saw and who were conquered by its untouched beauty and its remoteness.  But I'm seriously out of wordcount and you must be out of all patience. We've already talked about  Raymond Burr earlier and David Gilmour yesterday. Here's the link to two more - Maria Rova and Roberta Harris

All this month I'm writing about Aspects of Fiji, which is where I'm at the mo. And where the sum of its xceptional parts is xquisitely greater than the whole!

What do you think - should X be part of the English alphabet? Can we give it the chop like the Fijians have done? Do you know of any other language that uses the Latin script but not X? 

~ Thank you for reading ~

Posted for the A-Z Challenge 2023  

Wednesday 26 April 2023



My first contact with Fiji. Two products I was given on the flight
 in from Singapore. The motifs on the washbag fascinated me,
so I was anyway going to dig into their provenance. While at
it I thought I might as well do the water, too. :)

Just a few lines about the tap water here - that's supplied by Water Authority of Fiji which covers mostly urban areas. Their history and operations are available here. About 12% of the population do not have access to safe drinking water in the remote areas. Most tourist/expat guides to Fiji advise that the tap water in urban areas is safe to drink but out in the villages it is wise to boil your drinking water. I cannot vouch for this personally as I have not used tap water for drinking since I was a kid. My mother boiled and filtered the water ever since I can remember.  I got  used to  bottled water when I left India in the 90s for Bahrain (tap water there at that time was a tad too salty for drinking because the groundwater had been progressively contaminated by the sea). That system has stayed with us right through all the relocations. 

Fiji has substantial groundwater aquifers which have been tapped and developed for bottling. Bottled water is a major export product for Fiji. In 2021, out of total exports of roughly FJD 1 billion, bottled water accounted for a 24% share of the basket (click here to read more). It is far and away the single most dominant product, because the next group, Wood, comes in at around 7%, less than a third. Mineral water exports have been growing at 5-6% p.a. and according to most estimates will continue to a significant export earner. There are several companies supplying the local market, but in this post I'm focussing on the most well known, extensively exported and marketed on a luxe platform - Fiji Water. 

David Gilmour (not the famous PF musician! a Canadian businessman) first invested in Fiji in the 1960s. Remember that in the 60s the tourism market took off here, a number of properties were developed and hotels set up?  Well, David Gilmour bought up property in Fiji with his then business partner Peter Munk and started a hotel chain, which they sold a decade later. Gilmour next bought a private island in the Lomaviti group  called Wakaya Island in 1973 and carried out some major development work there - over 20 kms of road, a church, gym, school, water reservoir, jetty, airstrip, marina and what have you. He also set up an exclusive  luxury resort called Wakaya Club. Over the years, many celebrities have visited and stayed there. In 2016, majority share of the property was sold to  the Seagrams heiress Clare Bronfman, later to be convicted for human trafficking (some creepy-crawlies always manage to find their way in to paradise!) 

Gilmour founded Fiji Water in 1996 after the aquifer at Yaqara Valley was discovered. He sold the operations to Lynda and Stewart Resnick, husband and wife owners of the Wonderful group of California, in 2004. Lynda developed a brand strategy based on the water's exoticness and purity - Earth's Finest Water. By 2008, Fiji Water had become the number 1  in the US bottled water market, ahead of all other brands including Evian. In keeping with its luxury positioning, it uses celebrity endorsements and brand embedding in films like 'Bullet Train,'  TV shows such as 'The Sopranos' and product placement in glam, hi-visibility events.

Source. Fiji Water product placement at the 2019 Golden
Globes Award function. Being seen at high profile locations
and being sipped by high profile celebrities is the route Fiji
Water has taken rather than regular TV commercials. 

There have been myriad controversies about Fiji Water from time to time, some of which can be found here in this article. However, Fiji Water's own website refutes some of these allegations with claims of sustainability, community development and its various CSR initiatives through the Fiji Water Foundation. Lynda and Stewart have faced criticism for their intensive water use in drought prone California for their other projects as well. Read more about that here.

PS I do not use Fiji Water, too expensive to use by the gallon. I might buy a bottle on the road somewhere if I need a drink desperately and no other brand is available. :) 

However, for the life of me I can't see why there is this accusatory tone and finger pointing at Fiji Water because there's a 12% segment of the Fijian population which can't access safe/tap water. Firstly, it's a bit naive to expect a private corporation to take care of sanitation and drinking water needs. Development of infrastructure and basic facilities should be the purview of the government, they can of course get into private-public partnerships, but that's a different discussion altogether.

Does it make sense,  in a plastic-inundated world to encourage the use of millions of single use bottles? Does it make sense to buy bottled water from halfway across the globe instead of using locally bottled water - not to me it doesn't, but then I am not the one who's buying the product, the US market is.  The company is simply catering to a demand, like all corporations do. It is the lawmakers' jobs to see that they do so in a way that benefits the consumers and economy in Fiji as well as US. It is also for the consumers to wake up to the mountains of plastic pollution and demand recyclable, ecofriendly, sustainable packaging alternatives. Unless we are more discerning, it is beyond naive to expect corporations to change. 

All this month I'm writing about Aspects of Fiji, which is where I'm at the mo. And where the sum of its winsome parts is wonderfully greater than the whole!

Did you know that there are twelve species of whales and dolphins native to Fiji? And hundreds of coral species? Also quite a few species of sharks. They all make Fiji one of the most stunning dive sites in the world. Read more here

~ Thank you for reading ~

Posted for the A-Z Challenge 2023  

Tuesday 25 April 2023


After that attack of economy-size verbosity yesterday, I’m just going to stick to some photographs of Viseisei today. Yeah, that’ll do very well. 

On the Queens Road, there was a vivid rainbow that day. On an impulse I asked
the gentleman who was driving me home if he'd turn off towards the sea and
he very graciously obliged.

Viseisei was one of the first places I visited in Fiji. The screenshot shows its
exact position on the route back from the Lautoka library to Denarau. I may be
 impulsive but I'm not vague :) 

Viseisei is a village located on a headland called Vuda Point. 

Children from the village playing in the waters. Vuda Point is where, according to
the local oral traditions, the ancestral Melanesians had landed 3500 years ago.

As per that mythical tradition, a vessel called Kaunitoni carrying the chiefly
Gods - Degei and Lutunasobasoba, sailed from the ancient homelands and
landed here on the north west coast of Viti Levu. 

Local man taking a stroll, he grew up around these parts but works in Suva now,
can't come as often as he'd like. He told me some of the traditions. The legend 
says that the ancestors built the first village at Vuda but then it was abandoned
and they moved further inland.

Viseisei is believed to be the oldest continuously inhabited  settlement in Viti
Levu. Ratu Josefa Iloilo, a former President of Fiji, was from Visesei. Both
QEII and Prince Charles have been received at this village during
royal visits to Fiji. 

Viseisei is a tourist attraction, there are buildings that go back to the 19th
century, a Saturday craft bazaar, a guided tour if you want one. I opted to
walk on the beach instead that day - no regrets, then and now. 

All this month I'm writing about Aspects of Fiji, which is where I'm at the mo. And where the sum of its verdant parts is verifiably greater than the whole!

Did you know that Fiji has 1171 villages in all? Of this 1151 are demarcated, 657 are gazetted. Read about how villages go through the process here.

And just on the off chance that you'll want to know some random, irreleVant facts about this series - the font used throughout is Verdana 12 point, the only other choice would be V for Vrinda. However, that seemed more suitable for fine-printey type of text, something you want hidden rather than read. 

~ Thank you for reading ~

Posted for the A-Z Challenge 2023  

Monday 24 April 2023


Understanding a country takes time, it’s not something that’s done and dusted in a year. It’s never done actually, no matter how long one spends embedded in it, even a trailing spouse with no work pressures and all the time in the world to nose around. A country and its culture don’t necessarily end at its borders, its history is always being made and an iceberg, its trajectory in all aspects, cultural, socio-economic, political, geographical, its own unique but evolving fingerprint. There’s no question of getting to know it exhaustively.


To know it does require a certain acceptance on an as-is-where-is basis – to start with a clean slate, to suspend judgement and disbelief, perhaps an additional tendency to a fascination with/abhorrence of  the unfamiliar. Above all, it requires the suspension of this secret sense of mini-superiority most expats seem to have about how things are always  ‘better back there.’ With ‘there’ being defined as the homeland, or some aspirational nation that they want to migrate to, or even the last posting. And an attitude of 'but-for-so-and-so(insert preferred stereotypical group here)-this-place-would-fall-apart-in-two-days-tops.' I used to think that only Indian expats behaved this way till my non-Indian friends in Bahrain emphatically said that some of their compatriots were the exact same. Ghastliness, just like its opposite, doesn't end at borders either.

An expat is an outsider, albeit a massively privileged one. An outsider with an insider view, a perspective that is denied to most tourists. This can be an advantage as well as a handicap depending on the way it's leveraged. Finally, there are the individual biases playing into the whole thing also. In short, there’s a lot of baggage to shed and no one is ever sure that s/he has been able to do that, be dispassionate and evenhanded with everything. Ultimately, it's not the place/culture but one’s individual reactions to it that determine the experience and the takeaways from it. 

Sheesh, why on earth am I subjecting you to this massive harangue? Sorry, let me tell you instead about the Universal Meditation Centre here just outside Nadi. It is part of a complex run by the Ramakrisha Mission, a mammoth Indian NGO and spiritual organisation, based just outside Calcutta with a worldwide presence, as can be seen from the screengrab below. Read more about the parent organisation by clicking here

Source. They're present in all continents except Antarctica. In some places they
are present as Ramakrishna Mission and in others as The Vedanta Society. 

In India, they run a humongous number of schools, medical facilities from small village clinics to huge hospitals, institutes of higher learning, orphanages, women's help centres and block level social welfare services like well digging, mobile clinics and solar power installations in remote areas. They work with marginalised sections of the society for economic upliftment and restoration of dignity. In many cases, their monks go to the remotest, most inaccessible, lawless and violence prone areas where others fear to tread, and the criminals on both the warring sides know what's good for them and leave the monks alone. They are one of the foremost NGOs associated with disaster relief everywhere in India. In other words, they have a unflappable, unswerving finger in every social welfare service pie you can imagine.  Maybe pie is not the right term, because there's a smell of commercialisation about it - RKM doesn't have a commercial agenda. 

Let me clarify I'm neither their religious devotee nor a donor, to any spiritual organisation, I prefer my NGOs secular. Like most Bengalis and Indians, I'm a fan of the Upanishads (ooh, that too fits the letter of the day, how nifty!), whatever little I have read and understood, an admirer of Swami Vivekananda too. I am a great fan also of the poetry inherent in all religious texts and of the non-stop, wide ranging service the Ramakrishna Mission provides everywhere they go. However, I'm not here to amplify any spiritual message or to advocate any course of action. You have your karmayoga and I have mine, and I'm perfectly content if never the twain meet. The more they diverge, the more diverse the routes, the richer our combined worlds become, the greater the treat for the eyes and for the mind. 

At the gate. They've moved to this site recently,  7-8 years ago, as the previous
site inside Nadi town was prone to flooding. 

The Ramakrishna Mission has been operating in Fiji since 1937, the only Pacific small island nation where they've been working for nearly 90 years. Within the compound they have a high school (Yrs 9-13, the enrollment is around 1000), a medical clinic, a technical/vocational training centre and the star of the day, aforementioned meditation centre. All facilities, as per the RKM philosophy, is open to believers of all faiths. The student population in the school is majority Christian Methodist. The Universal Meditation Centre, in keeping with their broader philosophy of acceptance of all faiths, does not have any Hindu deities, only the images of the three main personalities behind the RK Movement - Ramakrishna Paramhansa, his wife Sarada Devi and Swami Vivekananda, this holds for all their ashrams and meditation centres globally. The one in Nadi also has the name of Allah and an image of Jesus which the meditators face. Here is a photo of students from the school come in to meditate at the centre.  

Students of the SVC meditating at the Universal Meditation Centre. Universalism is the guiding
principle  of RKM's core philosophy, adapted from the Vedanta. 

As with India, RKM in Fiji is actively involved in many social welfare schemes and is one of the leading NGOs to jump into disaster relief work after extreme weather events, which a  regular feature of Fiji.  To get an indication of their efforts after cyclone Winston click here and here

All this month I'm writing about Aspects of Fiji, which is where I'm at the mo. And where the sum of its untouched, pristine  parts is unimaginably greater than the whole!

Did you know that the Union Jack is part of the Fiji flag? 

Source. Read how the Fiji flag came to be by clicking on the link

~ Thank you for reading ~

Posted for the A-Z Challenge 2023