Adventure, Art, essay

The First Year in Fiji

Fiji_Illustration by Aileen Torres Bennett
Illustration by Aileen Torres-Bennett

It’s been a little over a year since we moved to Fiji. It was not a smooth transition.

I arrived with a certain set of expectations that the initial reality did not live up to.

Moving to a new environment blurs the boundaries of your world. You are forced to deal with new situations that come with their own limits, and discovering those limits takes time. You learn what you can and cannot live with in the context of your new environment, and you have to go through this process to reach a new equilibrium.

For me, the experience was like walking into a jar, having the jar closed and shaken, then being tumbled out, all discombobulated.

This is life in the raw, and returning to a grounded state requires processing all the new information from your environment and your reactions to it so that you can make sense of the whole situation.

This took me about a year.

The primary challenge was our house. I try to be positive and practice gratitude, but I slipped into a dark state when we arrived to a house that constantly had maintenance issues. It’s an old property, so that’s to be expected, but I had never had to deal with maintaining a house before, and while there were people we could call on for repairs, the constant work was overwhelming. It really threw off my sense of stability.

I reacted by trying to control my new environment, pointing out everything wrong in the house, big and small, and making sure to pursue each needed repair. I wanted everything done right away, but a heavy dose of patience was called for. Unfortunately, patience is not my strong suit, and my frustration rose to an unhealthy level.

Thus, lesson number one: Be persistent, but patient. My expectations had to be tempered to my new environment. The reality is that the house is old, so maintenance issues will continue to crop up.

Another challenge is the weather. We were warned before we moved to Suva that it rains a lot here. When we lived in Jamaica, there would be heavy rain followed by sunny skies in the same day, so I expected a similar pattern.

I was wrong. It rains so much in Suva that weeks can go by without a break. The tropical downpours can seem endless, and they often trigger mold breakouts and bug issues in the house. It’s hard to drive on the roads during heavy rains, so we often just stay put. It can make one a little stir crazy and pining for the sun.

But the bottom line is that we chose to live here, and that comes with pros and cons, as with any situation.

The bright side is that Fiji offers a good lifestyle surrounded by friendly folks.

I’m glad for the slower pace of life here and the space that a house gives us. I’m practicing guitar and drawing more and teaching myself to play piano. I like to walk around our neighborhood, and I feel a part of the community. We find that Fijians are generally friendly people, which has helped put me at ease.

What set me definitively back on track was returning to the U.S. for about a month recently. We enjoyed traveling in the West and East Coasts and got to savor what I miss about life in the U.S.–namely, convenience and a plethora of options.

When we touched down in Suva on our return to Fiji, it felt like our new home, and I was glad to be back. Our trip to the U.S. reminded me how grateful I am to be American and have access to the benefits of life in the U.S., and it also reminded me that I’m grateful to have the opportunity to live abroad and make a new home in Fiji. We’ll only be here for a few years, so we’ve got to enjoy it while it lasts.

To that end, during our first year here, we have adopted a local dog and travel around the island with him. We’ve got the fishmonger and butcher and coffee and wine purveyors on call, all with affordable prices, and they deliver right to our door. We stroll around the neighborhood, and the folks at the local shops know us. We get to stare at the amazing coastline on a sunny day, with the mountains overlooking the harbor. We dive and kayak locally. I have the space and time to work on my art.

It’s a good life, really. Actually, I would call it great. Not perfect, of course, because nothing ever is. But it’s pretty darn close.