The International Writers Magazine: Hot Spots
A Quiet Coup: Letter from Levuka (Fiji)
John M. Edwards
An American backpacker, forced by the vagaries of an Around the World STA Ticket ($999.00) to land in Fiji during their first-ever military coup finds that being the dealmaker ensures a five-dollar luxury beach resort in this troubled paradise
“BULA! COME TO MY WILLAGE!”
“Uh, I really can’t: my friends are waiting for me back at the hotel.”
There is something a little unnerving about coming to a South Pacific island chain known for its beaches—right in the middle of a military coup.
The first one ever in Fiji, in fact.
“My name is Malachi, and I will be happy to be your guide, Your Highness!” the Melanesian said, bowing in a gentlemanly manner.
Unfortunately, after departing the British Empire, the native Fijians and imported Indians just seemed to have a little bit of trouble getting along. One Indian I had met back in Nandi expected Omar Khaddafi to help them out. (Omar was trained by the British military before he became the controversial dictator of Libya.) One Fijian I met on Nanau-I-Ra said that only Christians should be allowed on the islands. Expat Merry Salzman, the daughter of “James Bond”-films-director Harry Salzman--and also an alleged pharmacologist for the Grateful Dead--said the United States just might have a nuclear sub idling somewhere nearby.
So even though Colonel Rambuka had staged a coup unseating the first Indian president in their postcolonial history, Doctor Bavandra, and many of the tourists stuck on the island were desperate to get out, there was no way out. All airlines stopped coming here period because of a guy trying to hijack a plane with, I believe, fingernail clippers of all things. Therefore I decided, hey, maybe I can at least stay in this troubled paradise cheaply, bargaining down the rates of luxury resorts to five dollars or so.
Anyway, it was a little boring listening to the radio news blackout every day, endlessly repeating, “Today the weather is mostly fine!”
There was a wild rumor also that all international phonecalls home were strictly monitored.
But as a sort of unofficial observer, with UN connections, I can safely say that at least no one was killed.
“Come to my willage and we will drink kava together, Your Majesty,” the obviously drunk Fijian suggested slyly. “It is cheap to buy a house in my willage and we will drink kava together.”
As you probably already know kava is the local alternative to the “coffee klatch,” a mild hallucinogen made from the crushed-up leaves of the yangona plant (a.k.a, piper methesticum). During a kava ceremony the “drug” is wrapped in a rag and soaked in a wooden bowl, which is passed with a clap or two, the psychic sludge resembling dirty dishwater and tasting like it too. If you drink too much kava you are “moka singha” in the morning, or what the French call “guelle de bois” (face of wood).
Obviously, someone might have tipped off this local character that I had a “FOREIGN SERVICE” stamp in my passport.
“There are nine senses of the soul in the body: two eyes, two ears, two nostrils, the bellybutton, the peepee, and the butthole!” He began to shake with uproarious laughter.
“Yeah, I guess so, well, sorry, I really must be going now.”
“I am feeling wery sad, wery sad, because my nice dada just died.”
“I’m very sorry to here that.”
“Come to my willage, Your Highness!”
I turned around like a snapped rubber band and headed back to my hotel, while he stood bobbing and swaying upon the path, passing a little graveyard with seashells embedded in the headstones, somewhere near the Ovalau Social Club, where you can shoot snooker and toast the Queen with well-wishers wearing starched uniforms, plus epaulettes.
The manager of the hotel was standing at the entrance, with a wide-eyed look resembling stage fright.
I entered briskly and she shut the door, slam! Then she said, “That is a very bad man!”
“He said his name was Malachi,“ I said, feeling slightly like a Hawthornian lay figure--Young Goodman John.
A cool-as-a-cucumber Brit, whom we all speculated might be either SAS or RAF, chugging a Fiji Bitter said, with at least some mirth, “You know, that is an alternative name for The Devil!”
(POSTSCRIPT: Of course I did finally leave Fiji by cutting in front of the line at the mobbed US Embassy in Suva, where the staff ordered in a special plane to get the few remaining American tourists out. But by all accounts, Fiji has once again, besides two more coups, I believe, returned to being a beach resort paradise—at least, according to all the consumer glossies.)
© John M. Edwards, October 2012
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