Tag Archives: Fiji

‘NEW FLAGS FLYING: PACIFIC LEADERSHIP’ BY IAN JOHNSTONE, MICHAEL POWLES

‘New Flags Flying: Pacific Leadership’ is a book edited by Ian Johnstone and Michael Powles. It documents the political history of fourteen Pacific Island nations.

NEW FLAGS FLYING

Summary

After ruling the Pacific Islands for a hundred years, Great Britain, Australia, New Zealand, and the USA decide to grant independence to most of the states.

The change from being colonial subjects to self-governance turns out to be harder than anyone could have predicted. Local politicians try their best to lead their countries into this new chapter in history. 

Review 

Politics is not an easy subject to broach. It is often mundane and not very ‘accessible’ to an ordinary person not particularly interested in affairs of state and diplomacy. But this book deals with it in the most engaging way possible. Ian Johnstone and Michael Powles created a gripping read you, quite honestly, are not able to put down.

First and foremost, I have to praise the language, which is simple, uncomplicated, and easy to understand. The authors could have used fancy (and rather mystifying) political jargon and inundated us with professional terms and expressions, but then the book wouldn’t be intelligible to all people. It would be a title addressed exclusively to experts. I am glad that Ian Johnstone and Michael Powles chose a different path and decided to aim the volume at general audience who simply would like to familiarize themselves with the political history of the region.

‘New Flags Flying’ provides considerable insights into a time when Pacific Island states were undergoing colossal changes. Recounted by leaders who were a main force in shaping the events, the book is a scrupulously honest depiction of the countries’ journeys to independence or self-government. Tui Atua Tupua Tamasese Efi, Tofilau Eti Alesana, John Webb, Sir Tom Davis, Dr Ludwig Keke, HM King Taufa’ahau Tupou IV, Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara, Hon. Young Vivian, Sir Michael Somare, Hon. Solomon Mamalon, Sir Peter Kenilorea, Hon. Bikenibeu Paeniu, Sir Ieremia Tabai, Fr Walter Lini, Kessai Note, John Haglelgam, Sandra Sumang Pierantozzi, Hon. Fiame Naomi Mata’afa, and Dame Carol Kidu share their personal experiences of taking their people into a very uncertain, at least at that time, future. The stories they tell – very emotional and thought-provoking – disclose not only the hopes and ambitions they had but also the struggles they had to face. Because no other part of our globe is more vulnerable to challenges and difficulties than Oceania; just as no other part of our globe demonstrates more resilience and ability to cope than those little islands do.

The interviews are accompanied by comprehensive commentary, background information, chronological summaries of significant events, and old photographs, which make the book even more interesting to delve into.

Now, although the title will be a fascinating read for every person who loves the Pacific Islands, for the Islanders themselves it should be of extra special value, as it contains lessons they can and ought to draw from. Why not use the past to improve the present and shape the future? Pacific policymakers should have this book sitting on their desks.

‘New Flags Flying’ is a great piece of literature. I can only congratulate the editors on the job well done and tell you that their work is definitely worthy of your time and attention. I could not recommend it more!

‘THE POPPY PROJECT: HOW FIJI’S MOST FAMOUS DOG GOT SAVED’ BY FIONA INGRAM

‘The Poppy Project: How Fiji’s Most Famous Dog Got Saved!’ is a short book that tells the story of Poppy, a badly injured dog found in Fiji. It was written by Fiona Ingram, a well-known children’s author.

THE POPPY PROJECT

Summary

As a pig-hunting dog, Poppy is used to a machete. But when one day her owner misses his target, a terrible accident happens.

With her nose and upper jaw cut off, Poppy is left to fend for herself. A true miracle occurs when she gets found by a local teacher and then taken to the Animals Fiji Clinic. Caring for such a badly-wounded dog is not easy, especially if money becomes a problem. But with a little help from good people – and Facebook – anything can be achieved.

Review

This book, or I should rather say a short story, is just lovely. It’s not a masterpiece in terms of style, but it’s definitely worth reading as it touches on a very sensitive and – sadly – quite neglected topic.

The story itself is movie-ready. It could be the next ‘Marley and Me’, only better and with a happy ending. An average person will probably find it hard to believe though. How can a dog with half of its muzzle missing survive? How is that even possible? What is more, how is that possible in a country like Fiji, where proper veterinary care is virtually non-existent? Well, I guess this is what we all call ‘a miracle’. Yes, Poppy’s life is one great miracle. A miracle that wouldn’t have happened if it hadn’t been for Good Samaritans.

The way Fiona Ingram told the whole story is very simple yet extremely moving. Some of the fragments really tug at the heartstrings, making readers fall completely in love with Poppy, but also leaving them deeply saddened or even on the verge of tears. Mind you, it’s hard not to cry while reading about such tragic events, especially if words are accompanied by expressive photos. Any compassionate human being will feel for that poor little dog, whose bravery and unswerving will to survive is so impressive that you just can’t remain unmoved. Which is why the sad story ends on a positive note – with Poppy (warning: spoiler here!) finding her forever family.

As I have already mentioned, this is not your ordinary book. This is not a book you’d choose if you wanted to take delight in literary mastery. It’s a book with a mission. It was created to tell Poppy’s story, but also – or rather most importantly – to raise awareness. People should know that animals have feelings; that they experience pain and beam with happiness when someone shows them affection. And it is our responsibility as human beings to take good care of them: feed them, help them whenever they need our help, love them. Because animals are not things we can leave if we feel like it; they are not things we can kick, hit, or throw rocks at. They are not!

‘The Poppy Project’ should be a mandatory read for children and adults alike. This uplifting tale will make you believe that hope never dies, and that it’s worth being a person who is always ready to help others.

Personally, I would like to thank Animals Fiji for being there for Poppy and all the animals they have had under their care. Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!

‘THE HAPPY ISLES OF OCEANIA: PADDLING THE PACIFIC’ BY PAUL THEROUX

‘The Happy Isles of Oceania: Paddling the Pacific’ is Paul Theroux’s memoir-cum-travelogue that documents his journey across the Blue Continent.

THE HAPPY ISLES OF OCEANIA

Summary

What does a man do when faced with a failing marriage and the possibility of having skin cancer? He starts his fight. He’s determined to win the battles. Or he gives up and does nothing. Or – just like Paul – he runs away; as far from his home as he can. Is there a better destination that the alluring islands of the Pacific? Absolutely not.

Beginning in Australia and New Zealand, he gets his first taste of Oceania. The mysterious Blue Continent and an overwhelming need to be alone in the wilderness makes him grab his collapsible kayak and venture into the great unknown. Trying to immerse himself in the indigenous cultures of the region, he travels from Papua New Guinea to the Solomon Archipelago, from Vanuatu to Fiji, from the islands of south Polynesia to heavenly Hawaii. Each of these places lets him escape his bitter reality, until – finally – he rediscovers the flavor of life anew.

Review

Have you ever had a love/hate relationship with a book? I have. And this is THE book.

Yes, I absolutely love it. This is one of the best titles in the travel genre, hands down. It’s funny, engaging, and it shows rather than tells. But it also annoys me beyond words. Literally, it makes me utterly mad. As it is quite rude to commence with the downsides, let’s start with the positives, shall we?

It cannot be denied that Paul Theroux possesses the literary genius. His prodigious talent with words captivates readers, compelling them to devour page after page until they swiftly reach the end of his more or less irritating yet extremely intriguing story. And even though he states at the end of the last chapter that he is not a travel writer, this personal account proves otherwise – it is the very epitome of the ‘been there, wrote the book’ genre; and a terrific one at that!

It is impossible to miss his flowing prose that is thoroughly appealing, impeccable language, or the authentically funny (at least more often than not) sense of humour. The author doesn’t bother readers with detailed and vivid descriptions of the places he travels to. Instead, he devotes his attention to people – mainly native inhabitants – and their ways of being. He absorbs everything that surrounds him – from the atmosphere of the so-called paradise to the idiosyncrasies of the cultures he encounters. He explores, he observes, he draws his own conclusions. He is not afraid to ask even the most personal questions, and the more honest the answer the more happy he seems to be. Because the islands clearly cheer him up. What started as a great escape, turned out to be a great and often amusing adventure. Which, by the way, should surprise absolutely no one – when in paradise, you can’t help but beam with sheer happiness. Even if that paradise sometimes uncovers its darker side.

Yes, let’s be frank here, no corner of this globe can be given the label of ‘a wonderland’. But if there is one place on our planet Earth that can be regarded as the slice of heaven, this is Oceania. With its kind, smiling, welcoming people it is the closest thing to paradise you’ll be able to find. And yet Paul Theroux failed to notice that. Throughout the book he proudly displays his sardonic attitude, throwing around disgustingly subjective comments about the locals that are genuinely hard to read at times. He writes, for example, that the prettiest women he saw in the Pacific were in Tonga; only to add in the very same sentence that they were also ‘the ugliest, hairy things with bad skin’. Additionally, you may learn that the people of Tanna were (I consciously retain the past form; after all, we don’t know if this viewpoint still holds true for Mr Theroux today) ‘small, scowling knob-headed blacks with short legs and big dusty feet’. Samoans – on the other hand – are lovingly described as ‘rather gloatingly rude’. It seems that only the inhabitants of the Cooks deserved some compliments. In Theroux’s eyes they weren’t ‘greedy or lazy’; actually, they were ‘hospitable, generous, and friendly’. I can understand having your own opinions. But I can’t understand being a xenophobe.

Is this book worthy of your time and attention? Absolutely. It is an outstanding piece of travel literature. It is entertaining and…well…very informative. It lets you discover that one may be a terrific writer, but a not so terrific person.

A CHAT WITH… WILL LUTWICK

Not every Peace Corps volunteer is lucky enough to be sent to the quintessential tropical paradise. Will Lutwick, the author of ‘Dodging Machetes: How I Survived Forbidden Love, Bad Behavior, and the Peace Corps in Fiji’, was given exactly such an opportunity. In 1968 he arrived in the South Pacific not knowing at the time that his service would impact his whole life. In what way? And what was Fiji really like in the 1970s? To find out, just read the interview.

WILL LUTWICK

Pasifika Tales: If you were to name one thing that reminds you of Fiji, what would it be?

Will Lutwick: Palm-tree lined tropical paradise on the surface. Intrigue beneath it.

PT: Quite honestly… Would you say that Fiji changed your life?

WL: Yes. It did. I had to do a lot of growing up fast there. I was 22 when I arrived. Regarding the work, I had the degrees, but not enough business experience to initially be of much help working at a wholesale food cooperative and later marketing passion fruit. The challenge was less about traditional business issues and more about working with multiple cultures – native Fijian and emigrant Indian. Also there were hidden agendas amongst the players about what to do with me. It was the stuff they don’t teach you in business school that were the obstacles, but confronting them was where I learned the most.

On the social front, I found myself challenging an old-world culture with new age openness. The result was a disruption within that culture and particularly within Rani’s family. My Indian girlfriend and eventual wife had to leave Fiji with me. So coming home to the US, with a new wife who had just gone through hell was the biggest life change of all.

PT: Your book sheds some light on Fiji’s society. Actually, it is a real eye-opener. How difficult was it for you – a young man from the Western world – to understand the culture of Indo-Fijians?

WL: Although that period (1969-70) was a time of great openness in western society, those changes were only beginning to happen. My generation (early baby boomer) actually grew up in mostly secluded and clannish environments. I was raised in a totally racially segregated society in Richmond, Virginia, the capital of the Confederacy. I write in ‘Dodging Machetes’ how I joined the burgeoning civil rights movement when it confronted my local Jim Crow culture which had been the remnant of slavery for a century. So we all had roots in more closed ethnic societies and were not unfamiliar with a culture where there were only certain people you were supposed to get romantically involved with.

I tried not to take the Indo-Fijian social reaction to me personally. I was dealing with an ethos of thousands of years of arranged marriages, religious, ethnic, and caste restrictions, and an understandable resentment towards how the British Colonial system had treated its subjects. Even though I was not British, I was considered European. Most of the Indians (or their ancestors) in Fiji had arrived there over the prior century via involuntary servitude, brought to Fiji as virtual slaves for five years to work the sugar plantations. At that point they were free to go home, so many chose to stay in the islands as life back in India was no picnic at the beach either.

PT: What did you learn during your stay?

WL: I learnt that what you value may be worth fighting for, but the road will be long, hard, and winding. Stay the course. And be nice to others on your way. Everyone has their own agenda and yours is not the only one that matters.

PT: ‘Dodging Machetes’ is a very personal and honest memoir. Did you have any doubts about writing it?

WL: I didn’t decide to write it until a few years before publication date, so by then some of the people it might offend had passed on. I was particularly concerned about how it would affect Rani (not her real name) who is still alive. Most of the violence happened to her and within her family and I wanted to be respectful of their privacy. She was cooperative with me when I wrote the book. She was very generous in her support of the book even though she would have preferred not to have our story out there for certain family members to perhaps find.

So yes, I did have strong doubts about pursuing publication throughout the writing and editing processes, because of the potential impact on many individuals besides myself. But I eventually felt the benefits outweighed the risks and went through with publication. I did try to protect people’s identities and so changed most character names and some identifying characteristics.

PT: What was Rani’s (let’s stick to that name) – your Fijian love and ex-wife – reaction when she first learnt about your plans to pen a memoir?

WL: She did not like the idea at first. But later she saw the value that her story might mean to others.

PT: The book ends with you and Rani moving to the US. Do you mind sharing what happened afterwards?

WL: In the Epilogue we have moved to the United States and decided to start our new life together in San Francisco. I thought this was a good cut-off point for a memoir: figuratively riding off into the sunset to live happily ever after.

Of course life is not that complete or simple. Rani had difficulties adjusting not only to living in the United States, but even more in healing from the severe emotional wounds suffered during our courtship. I think she went through a form of post-traumatic stress disorder. On the surface she adapted fine. She got a job as a secretary at a local university. She enjoyed our social life with others, and we had good times together. But we split apart after five years and legally divorced in another five years.

Each of us remarried within another five years and thirty years after that point, both of those marriages are still flourishing.

Even at the darkest moments, I never regretted carrying my relationship with Rani forward to the next level, even when it ended. We did what was right for us and made it a little easier for those who came later. I learned after writing the book that Indian-European marriages in Fiji became somewhat ordinary within a couple of decades after we paved the way. That’s not why I married her, but I’m proud to hear of that side effect.

PT: You’ve mentioned that Rani had difficulties adjusting to living in the US. How did she cope with cross-cultural transition?

WL: On the surface it went well. People in the States were generally open and curious about her – Asian Indians were surprisingly rare in the US then. When she would say she was Indian, the typical response was, ‘Which tribe?’. San Francisco in the 1970s was a very open society and we thrived in such an environment where we did not feel we were under the microscope any more. Rani was fluent in English. She got a steady job way more quickly than I did.

But she had never been off her island previously. So being amongst many people, freeways, gigantic buildings – it was all somewhat overpowering at first, but she adapted over time. The real difficulty was in the wounds left by the family trauma. And she was living in a society, totally cut off from other Indians, a strong reversal of what she had lived in all her life.

PT: Let’s get back to Fiji. What is one thing people don’t know about the country?

WL: Both native Fijians and Indo-Fijians practice firewalking. They have both inherited it from their different cultures. The tourists see only the Fijian version done by the natives in colorful ceremonies.

PT: Have you had a chance to come back there? If not, would you like to?

WL: I never went back to Fiji. Although I would have liked to do so earlier, a trip to Fiji never quite rose to the top of my list. I am aware of what changes have happened there in recent decades and the world is so much smaller now. Isolated tropical islands are not so isolated any more. For now, I am happy to remember Fiji frozen in 1970, when I said goodbye.

PT: Do you have any recommendations on what to see in Fiji?

WL: I’ve been away for 45 years and it was never a tourist destination for me, so I don’t think any response I might give you can do that question justice. So many others who have visited there later can do a much better job than I can. I do hope tourists can visit a native village to get a sense of what that communal life was like. Like everywhere, you’ll find more of the authentic nature of the country the farther you get off the beaten path. As small as Fiji is, that shouldn’t be too difficult.

‘DODGING MACHETES: HOW I SURVIVED FORBIDDEN LOVE, BAD BEHAVIOR, AND THE PEACE CORPS IN FIJI’ BY WILL LUTWICK

‘Dodging Machetes: How I Survived Forbidden Love, Bad Behavior, and the Peace Corps in Fiji’ is Will Lutwick’s memoir that recounts his life-changing adventure in Melanesia.

DODGING MACHETES

Summary

At the tender age of 22, Will decides to join the Peace Corps and soon after that is sent to the quintessential tropical paradise called Fiji.

Will’s volunteer life in bustling Suva is nothing but ordinary until he meets his beautiful co-worker, Rani. The Indian woman turns out to be quite a rebellious young lady who isn’t afraid to take risks. Mesmerized by her allure, Will finds himself incapable of leaving her alone. After a few ‘friend dates’, they both agree to take their relationship to the next level. The only problem is that dating is taboo in Fiji’s Hindu community, much less dating someone of a different race.

Review

It is absolutely impossible to read this book and not cry tears of laughter. Will Lutwick’s story – however cheesy it initially appears – is the most incredible, the most bizarre, and the most hilarious tale you’ll probably ever hold in your hands. And, just to assure you, it describes real people and events, not imaginary ones.

At first glance, the memoir seems to be your conventional romance set in the lush landscapes of the Fiji islands: a boy arrives in a foreign country, meets the girl of his dreams, they fall head over heels in love with each other and then – against all odds – live happily ever after till death do them part (or an alternative version: they decide they can’t be together because of the vast distance that separates their homelands). Well, that would be too simple. In Will Lutwick’s book, the story goes more like this: a boy arrives in a foreign country, is struck by the exotic beauty of his lovely colleague, gets warned not to even attempt to hit on her, ignores the warnings, begins a relationship with the aforementioned colleague, learns what ‘cultural differences’ really mean, tries not to get killed by the girl’s highly traditional Hindu family and the whole Indo-Fijian community, comes up with a clever plan to save their love (and lives, for that matter), proudly succeeds. Sounds interesting, doesn’t it? Although the author’s experiences are indeed very intriguing, it’s what he learnt from them that makes the book so amazingly engaging.

There aren’t many non-academic publications that cover multiculturalism in Fiji. This title is a rare breed. Will Lutwick had an unparalleled opportunity to get to know the folkways of both native Fijians and emigrant Indians, which he subtly contrasts with each other, pointing out the similarities and differences between the two cultures. Of course, his main focus leans heavily towards the Hindu community – their conservative mindsets and ways of being. With disarming honesty, he writes about his (forbidden) love affair with Rani and the serious consequences it brought. He sheds light on deep-seated taboos, the concept of arranged marriages, caste system, and women’s rights (or rather, the lack thereof). He outlines dos and don’ts; he explains the strict ‘rules of engagement’. And he does it in the most compelling way possible. As a reader, you are not bored even for a split second.

Yes, the book is a real page-turner, which is largely the result of the author’s pleasant writing style – clear, concise, very straightforward, surprisingly dialogue-centred. Despite being considered a travel memoir, the title is not filled with a plethora of vivid, picture-like descriptions. You may not be able to imagine every corner of the Fijian archipelago, but you will most certainly learn quite a bit about its inhabitants and their fascinating cultures.

I could not recommend ‘Dodging Machetes’ more. This masterful blend of real-life account and novel-like storytelling is light-hearted, amusing, and wonderfully unravelling. Travel literature… It just doesn’t get any better than this.

‘REACH FOR PARADISE’ BY ANDREW RAYNER

‘Reach for Paradise’ is Andrew Rayner’s chronicle of his eight-year-long voyage through the islands of the Pacific Ocean.

REACH FOR PARADISE

Summary

Andrew has always dreamt of visiting the islands of the South Seas, so much celebrated for being a slice of paradise on earth. When the opportunity to fulfill that dream finally arises, he buys a boat and eagerly starts his great journey of discovery.

The Blue Continent makes an enormous impression on the Englishman. As he travels from bay to bay, he immerses himself in everything the region has to offer. From romantic Tahiti, to the islands where time begins, to the place in which money grows on trees – each and every corner exudes irresistible charm that Andrew finds impossible to resist. The breathtaking beauty that surrounds him, the fascinating cultures he encounters, and the wonderful people he meets make his adventure a truly unforgettable experience.

Review

I have never seen a more beautiful book. And by ‘beautiful’ I mean ‘aesthetically pleasing’. ‘Reach for Paradise’ simply delights. From the moment you lay eyes on the cover, you are completely mesmerized by the stunning design. Andrew Rayner’s words are embellished with photographs, exquisite colourful illustrations, and maps created by his wife, Robin, who herself is an enormously talented person. Her paintings – which you’d want to see framed and hanging on a wall in your house – wonderfully convey the magical allure of the islands, helping you imagine their tropical scenery. Each and every page of this publication is a celebration of art, literature, and – of course – the great Pacific.

Just as the book is beautiful, it is also difficult to categorize. You may now start wondering what genre it belongs to. I made an attempt to solve this mystery. With no success. It’s not entirely a travelogue, nor is it a personal memoir. It’s a mix of both, and more. The author’s reminiscences and anecdotes are combined with insightful, often anthropological observations that offer you a rare glimpse into the folkways of indigenous societies. It can be noticed that Andrew Rayner went to extraordinary lengths to keep his representation of the islands and their inhabitants accurate, faithful, and objective. He didn’t just travel through the Blue Continent, he studied it. He cared enough to explore its history and acquaint himself with the nuances of its cultures. Having analyzed numerous works devoted to the subjects, some of which make a guest appearance in the book, he wrote his account with a fullness of knowledge – dare I say – few men possess.

Now, if you think that is all you’re going to find in ‘Reach for Paradise’, you couldn’t be more mistaken. The volume is a well-researched guide – a mine of useful, valuable information that may come in handy for those who plan to set sail for the South Seas. By no means is this a cruising manual with tips and advices regarding nautical excursions. Nonetheless, it is definitely worth keeping onboard…as a source of great inspiration. Vivid and comprehensive descriptions that reveal Oceania’s hidden marvels will give you a good enough reason to go there. You don’t intend to travel? Well, after reading this book you’ll feel the overwhelming temptation to embark on your very own voyage to the isles of paradise.

Andrew Rayner created a beauty that is a sheer joy to hold in hands. His stories – brilliantly written and thoroughly absorbing – stir the imagination, igniting your inner wanderlust. This is travel literature at its best and, without the slightest doubt, one of the finest publications regarding the Pacific Islands. If this blue corner of our globe holds a special place in your heart, do not hesitate to buy this title. It is a must-have!

‘GETTING STONED WITH SAVAGES: A TRIP THROUGH THE ISLANDS OF FIJI AND VANUATU’ BY J. MAARTEN TROOST

‘Getting Stoned with Savages: A Trip Through the Islands of Fiji and Vanuatu’ is an account of Mr and Mrs Troost’s sojourn in the Blue Continent. It is a follow-up to the author’s first book, ‘The Sex Lives of Cannibals: Adrift in the Equatorial Pacific’.

GETTING STONED WITH SAVAGES

Summary

After returning from Kiribati and landing himself a job at the World Bank, Maarten leads an ordinary, uneventful, and extremely boring life that doesn’t quite suit him. Surprisingly, he misses the serene islands of the South Seas and dreams of nothing more than trading his ridiculous uniform for a pair of comfortable flip-flops. Luckily for him, his wife Sylvia is offered a position in Vanuatu.

Immediately upon landing in Melanesia, the couple starts to absorb the local culture. The not-so-remote country turns out to be a delightful yet slightly odd mix of British and French influences with an indigenous twist. In between struggling against typhoons and battling giant centipedes, Maarten discovers the ‘muddy nectar of gods’ and – as a writer who might pen a book – goes on a mission to investigate cannibalism. And when he thinks he has found his slice of heaven (finally!), Sylvia announces she is pregnant. The Troosts decide to decamp for just-a bit-more-civilized Fiji.

Review

Let me tell you one thing. If you happen to lay your hands on a book – any book – with J. Maarten Troost’s name on the cover, buy it without thinking, because you can be sure it’s going to be absolutely fantastic. This man is a master storyteller; one of the most engaging and intriguing travel writers of all time.

At first glance the memoir resembles Troost’s previous work about the Pacific. The format of the chapters, the general concept, the writing style are indeed very similar. However, if you take a closer look, you’ll notice that this is actually an entirely different publication.

Although the author doesn’t skimp on humour, this book is definitely not as uproarious as ‘The Sex Lives of Cannibals’. There is a plausible explanation for this. As we all know, the very first cross-cultural encounter is always – ok, usually – the funniest. When everything around you is new, unexpected, strange, and so foreign, it’s quite easy to amuse people with anecdotes of your adventures or misunderstandings in an exotic land. But when you become a culture-conscious traveller, for whom that ‘alien world’ doesn’t remain a complete mystery anymore, certain situations and behaviours simply fall into the ‘normal, not necessarily shocking’ category. This is exactly what happened to J. Maarten Troost. Over the years spent in the Pacific, he grew accustomed to this corner of the globe and stopped treating it like a planet from another galaxy.

So yes, Troost may not be hilarious this time, but his travelogue is still a marvelously entertaining piece of literature that doesn’t disappoint. Yet again, his wit and jocular personality shine through every page.

The story itself is thoroughly charming but also quite revealing. The author’s experiences in Vanuatu and Fiji introduce readers to the islands of Melanesia, giving them a chance to discover the fascinating peculiarities of both countries. Troost doesn’t focus on local customs and traditions – kava ceremony is the exception to the rule – but rather concentrates on daily life, which in Pasifika is never mundane (bugs, insects, mudslides, active volcanoes… Pure fun, isn’t it?). He also throws in little snippets concerning the region’s history and its often inglorious past.

Of course, as you would expect, the travelogue is exceptionally well written. Light-hearted in tone, it is characterized by fairly straightforward narrative, lively pace, and vivid but not overwhelming descriptions. It’s clearly visible that Troost matured as a writer. But don’t worry – his frolicsome manner may have disappeared somewhere beneath the waves of the Pacific Ocean, but he’s still the same lad.

This candid, often sentimental memoir will make you crave the tropics. You will want to escape to one of those islands and live surrounded by friendly people and giant centipedes. You’ll want to indulge yourself with kava and maybe talk to the natives about cannibalism. You’ll want to enjoy what life has to offer. Well, what can I say… Blame J. Maarten Troost, not me.

A CHAT WITH… MICHAEL BLAHUT

Michael Blahut is one of the authors of a fantastic book called ‘Bula Pops!: A Memoir of a Son’s Peace Corps Service in the Fiji Islands’. If you are curious what he had to say not only about his literary work but also about Fiji, just read the interview.

MICHAEL BLAHUT, MICHAEL BLAHUT III

Pasifika Tales: ‘Bula Pops!’ is quite an unusual book – you co-authored it with your son. How did that happen?

Michael Blahut: I collected his emails and letters from Fiji. After him serving a year there, I went to visit him along with his younger brother, Eli. We spent three weeks there and travelled to three islands. When I came back home, I started to consolidate his notes and formatted them into MS Word. After he returned from Fiji, I continued to work on the book. He was helping me for a month. When he went to California, we continued to refine the book via email.

PT: Why did you decide to write this memoir? Did you just want to share your son’s experience, or did you want to give people a glimpse of life in Fiji?

MB: There were a couple of reasons. First, we wanted to document the experience of living in Fiji because of the many unusual encounters my son had; plus I had experienced it myself first-hand, and I could relate to his situation. Imagine living in a Fijian village, at the top of a hill overlooking the Pacific Ocean, and enjoying this every day.  The view was priceless.

Second, it was his Peace Corps experience, which he will draw upon every day for knowledge and solutions. His stories were funny and realistic; he showed his emotions and feelings.

PT: As you’ve mentioned, you had a chance to visit that South Pacific country. What was your first impression?

MB: It is a third world country, and do not let people tell you differently. There are resorts there that shelter the outside villages and the way people live. Staying the first night in my son’s village was an eye opener. The dogs were fighting and lizards were running up my leg. I had to go outside to use the bathroom, which was also part shower stall. I thought: ‘What am I doing here?’ But that all changed as I adapted. The water was beautiful and warm.

PT: Did Fiji live up to your expectations?

MB: I wasn’t sure what to expect. In the end, it was a wonderful experience. Snorkeling in the ocean and experiencing Fiji time. The people were friendly and helpful. It also helped that my son had learned Fijian and he could converse with the natives.

PT: You were in Fiji for a short period of time. Your son lived there for over 2 years. What were his thoughts of the country, its people and their culture?

MB: He was able to work for the Chief of his province and learned how the Fijians controlled the land, and the Fijian-Indians could only lease it. My son worked closely with many people. Some of them weren’t too motivated to do things or make changes. No guns are allowed in Fiji, so there are no shootings or real bad crimes. The Fijian diet consists of a lot of carbohydrates, and many of the Fijians are big people. There is a conflict between the Indians, who take up 50% of the population, and the native Fijians, who rule. The Fijian food is bland, the Indian food has more spices. It is a country that continues to grow, but they are slow to react to changes.

PT: It’s hard not to become a different person after living abroad for such a long time. In your opinion, how did the sojourn change your son?

MB: He felt a stronger need to connect with people and help them in more ways. He is now attending medical school at the West Virginia School of Osteopathic Medicine.

PT: Would either of you like to come back there one day?

MB: Yes, we talked about it. He still stays in touch with one Fijian there. We may come back when we find time in the future. This would definitely complete my son’s journey.

‘BULA POPS!: A MEMOIR OF A SON’S PEACE CORPS SERVICE IN THE FIJI ISLANDS’ BY MICHAEL J. BLAHUT, MICHAEL J. BLAHUT III

‘Bula Pops!: A Memoir of a Son’s Peace Corps Service in the Fiji Islands’ is a book written by a father/son duo, Michael J. Blahut and Michael J. Blahut III. It recounts the experiences and adventures they had while living in the small Melanesian country.

BULA POPS

Summary

Michael, or Maikeli as he is known by his Fijian friends, serves as a Peace Corps volunteer in the village of Cuvu. Being an expert in Environmental Science, he tries to help the local community create a healthier and more sustainable lifestyle. However, this is not an easy task, as most of the inhabitants don’t feel the need for a change. But Maikeli doesn’t give up. In between the kava drinking sessions, he advises, educates, tutors, and explains. From beekeeping to building composting toilets, he shares his ideas in an attempt to improve his new neighbours’ lives. And as time goes by, he learns what it really means to be a stranger in a foreign land.

Review

‘Bula’ – which means ‘hello’ or ‘welcome’ – is the standard Fijian greeting, and ‘pops’ is what the younger Blahut calls his father. This short sentence, ‘Bula Pops!’, would open every single message Michael III sent from the Blue Continent. It wasn’t just a way to say: ‘Hi dad!’; it was a promise of delivering yet another engrossing tale, anecdote, or narrative. And those were promises well kept. If you have ever wondered what it’s like to live in a small Pacific village, the Blahuts’ memoir will give you a pretty good idea. This is probably one of the best non-academic works on the Fijian culture. On top of that, it is an extremely enjoyable read; so irresistible it’s hard to put it down.

Somewhat surprising – in a positive way – is the structure of the book. The account is composed mainly of Michael III’s letters and embellished with his father’s stories, comments, and explanations. Such mixed point of view gives readers a better understanding of the authors’ words, not to mention it makes the title even more colourful and interesting.

And yes, this book is immensely interesting! Michael III doesn’t only describe his two-year-long service, he shares his personal experiences. As a keen and perceptive observer, he provides an absolutely fascinating and a very thorough insight into the reality of life in the Pacific Islands, shedding some light on the customs and traditions he had a chance to discover. He also compares the western world and the small, undeveloped nation. Although the latter may not have the luxuries of modernity, its people are blissfully happy, for they can find happiness in the smallest of things. It then comes as no surprise that Michael’s words are always full of respect for the Fijians. They accepted him into their close-knit community, making him feel like a member of the group.

This memoir is not a literary masterpiece. The language is plain and simple; the depictions do not paint a vivid picture in your mind. But to be honest, it doesn’t matter. It’s a book so enthralling that you will not want it to end. Written with a subtle sense of humour and spiked with the most compelling tales, it unravels the hidden secrets of magical Fiji. I highly recommend it. It doesn’t disappoint.

‘BULA: SAILING ACROSS THE PACIFIC’ BY BRYAN CARSON

‘Bula: Sailing Across the Pacific’ is an adventure book that tells the story of Bryan Carson’s three-year-long voyage through the islands of the South Seas.

BULA SAILING ACROSS THE PACIFIC

Summary

At the age of 29, Bryan comes to the realization that working for the corporate world is not his calling. He dreams of an escape, something new and exciting. As he doesn’t want to waste any more time, he buys a boat and decides to sail across the Pacific Ocean.

Along with his friend Figman, Bryan makes a safe passage to French Polynesia. After spending some quality time in Tahiti, he travels up north and visits the islands of Kiribati. Then, on his way to Hawaii, he gets caught in the ferocious storm but eventually manages to reach the archipelago. There he meets a girl named Misty, who accompanies him to Palmyra and American Samoa. In Pago Pago, the pair is joined by Muzzy, a sailor from New Zealand willing to show them the dark passage to the Kingdom of Tonga.

In the Friendly Islands, the boys say goodbye to their female crewmember, then leave Polynesia behind and sail to Fiji and New Caledonia, before ending their adventure in beautiful Australia.

Review

This book is basically a written version of ‘The Hangover’, except that its story takes place on a boat which leisurely drifts through the warm waters of the Blue Continent. By no means is this a piece of serious literature. This title was created to entertain, to enthral, to give readers a little pleasure and enjoyment. I can assure you, if you grab this travelogue, you will get it all.

Of course, you may assume that any three-year-long voyage would be an exciting experience worth documenting in one way or another. That’s probably true; although personally I think this largely depends on a sailor. And Bryan… Well, Bryan is not your ordinary person. His jovial personality and ever-present eagerness to have fun is exactly what makes this account so extremely interesting. He had a blast during his journey and he didn’t mind writing about it in detail. So you’ll get to know the good, the bad, and the ugly; along with the hot, the steamy, the scary, the frightening, the strange, and the oddly bizarre. Each and every tale is spiked with his unique sense of humour, so you’ll definitely have quite a few laughs while reading about his South Seas frolics.

Now, Bryan’s memoir is predominantly about sailing. However, if you expect it to be a technical guide, you might be disappointed. It is nothing like this. You won’t find any useful tips, any practical advices here. But you will find a tremendously engaging narrative that will take you to the rough waters and magical islands of the Pacific Ocean, letting you discover some of the most fascinating cultures in the world. Without leaving your home, you’ll be able to walk on the white beaches and swim in pristine lagoons. You’ll be able to meet local inhabitants and a bunch of crazy tourists. In other words, you will have a hell of a good time.

So if you want to become a member of Bryan’s crew, simply read his book. I highly recommend it. It is a decently written account of a great voyage and I’m positive it will keep you entertained from the very first page. And who knows, maybe it will even inspire you to chase your own dreams?