Third World Fiji

Stumble away from the beach bars and infinity pools making up the isolated resort neighborhoods, and you’ll find an island nation in a state of unresolved modernization. It is easy to be sheltered from the real Fiji, but as small as the main island is, still so easy to wander out and see for yourself the struggles of a population residing in paradise… and turmoil.

Having spent nearly two weeks on the main island of Viti Levu, we’ve made a full loop around the circumference. We ventured over to the less populated eastern side of the island, where the main Kings Highway is nothing more than a gravel road. We’ve seen village after village of simple one room houses with a church and school in the middle of town. We’ve passed acre after acre of sugar cane and waited patiently every time a heard of goats wandered in front of our bus. We have laughed as village school kids run excitedly beside our bus in hopes of being the fastest of his friends. And we’ve remarked heavily on the wide smiles and overwhelmingly optimistic spirit of the people. Always there is happiness. Always a smile and a laugh that could fill a room.

On the outside, Fiji is a picturesque postcard of mind boggling beauty. But throughout our travels, conversations with locals have added complexity to this perfection. We’d both read about the political instability of the country before arriving, but we didn’t entirely understand the story. Travel maximizes your senses, it fills in the gaps. I think we understand the issues that plague Fiji in a way we never would have had we not traveled here.

As an outsider, Fiji’s cultural preservation is a success story. While English was long ago declared the national language, Fijian is wide spread and prosperous. Fiji’s historical core is a nation of small villages, each with a chief- a position of great respect passed down from father to son. There has traditionally been political strength at the village level and less in the central government. But the outside world has caught up, people moving in have opened businesses, populated the cities, and the villages reside in the wake. The nation struggles between the onset of global connectivity and the preservation of it’s tribal culture. Opinions vary across a huge spectrum, the controversial topic being the threat (or benefit, depending on your view) that immigration, civil rights, and technological integration have on cultural preservation. It’s a difficult issue for anyone to approach and not one that can be properly described here on our travel blog. But the struggles this nation faces will not be over anytime soon, there is no simple fix to this equation.

As we bask in our final few days here in Fiji, we are both caught up with the feeling that we don’t want to see this place change. Unlike other islands that have been opened up to tourists, there is still a culture here that resides beyond the eyes of most vacationers. As tourists ourselves, there is a strange guilt that comes with seeing both sides of the spectrum, but we are better people for it. We came here as vacationers- entirely ignorant of anything but the next pretty beach. We leave truly changed by the people, the spirit, and the culture, and hope that we can take at least a bit of the Fiji compassion with us when we go.

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