Tag Archives: Michael J. Blahut III

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.