essay, Food, garden

The Pandemic Arrives (for Real) in Fiji

We had been largely spared from the coronavirus pandemic when it first began to spread around the world last year. A few cases were found in Fiji in March 2020, and the government acted quickly to quarantine them and conduct contact tracing. There was a lockdown to try to prevent or slow viral spread, and after that initial, temporary brush with the virus, the country was relatively safe. The virus did not spread like crazy, and Fiji was considered to be COVID contained after the first cases were quarantined and cleared.

Unlike the rest of the world, we were moving around normally within the country. (A bunch of Google execs heard that Fiji was practically COVID free, and they flew over via jet and set up shop on a private island here.) We got to take advantage of the hotel and rental prices that had been slashed to entice locals to venture out through their country. For tourism businesses that were able to stay open at lower capacity, every little bit of business helped, and we were happy to pump some money into the local economy by visiting some of them. We were able to enjoy traveling with fewer crowds during the last year. I must admit: It was nice while it lasted.

But it was only a matter of time before the pandemic would catch up to Fiji.

In April 2021, the main event happened: The virus landed on an incoming international flight, and a handful of people associated with that flight did not follow COVID containment procedures, which triggered the spread of the virus. Since then, Fiji has had ongoing lockdowns and curfews as the virus proliferates.

Fortunately, a vaccine became available in-country in March 2021, the month before the pandemic really hit the country. Vaccine doses are being donated to Fiji, and the government has set up stations for those who want to get vaccinated.

We got vaccinated, too, with a variant that was shipped to our diplomatic community. We are fully vaccinated this week, and that’s a great relief.

In keeping with the lockdowns and curfews, we’ve rarely ventured out. We had stocked up on groceries and are supplementing with items here and there from bodegas and outdoor produce vendors around the corner.

During Memorial Day weekend, when the weather was good, we donned masks and wandered around the neighborhood with our dogs. I hadn’t walked the dogs in ages, and the activity was a chance to reacquaint myself with the local streets.

The atmosphere is much quieter with less people out and about, and that made for a relaxing walk. (Normally, drivers whiz by and aggressive dogs, both strays and those with owners, are a stressful backdrop.)

We paused when we saw a family that had set up a stall in front of their home, across from the park. They were selling produce and plants. (It’s typical to see vendors set up on the side of the road to sell fresh fruit and veggies.) There were several generations of the family represented behind a table underneath a canopy.

We bought ferns, beans and what they call an “umbrella plant.” We asked how to cook the ferns, and they recommended tossing them with coconut cream. They generously offered to de-stem the ferns for us. The mother and daughter sat on the ground and patiently removed the leaves of the ferns, then wrapped the bundle in a newspaper before handing it to us.

As they were tending to the ferns, the grandmother disappeared into the yard and came back with a sprig of umbrella plant. She gave it to us for free, and I placed it into the plastic bag that held the main umbrella plant we chose. We thanked the family for their generosity.

When we got home, I stuck the sprig into the ground in our yard to get the roots going. I then planted the main umbrella plant. It will be a pleasure to watch them grow, along with the other plants in our lush, tropical garden.

As for the ferns, we mixed the leaves into a coconut alfredo pappardelle dish to add color and nutrition.

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