A Fijian recipe for disaster

I’d followed him into the bazaar like a dumb animal.
“We will make ika-va-ko-lo-lo,” he said, rolling the word and flashing a white smile from his handsome face. “Ika-va-ko-lo-lo. Fish with coconuts. We need coconuts and green chilli.”
“This is... kind... but are you sure?” I stammered, as he’d bent down to examine a fibrous nut on a cloth spread out between an old woman’s legs. I was still hoping for an escape.
“No. Not a problem. Today you eat with my family. Tomorrow my brother will collect you from the hostel and take you to our village in the mountains.”
At his tourist information booth, the flyer had promised a glimpse of life in the island’s interior: staying in a Bure, fire-pit cooking, fishing trips and walks in the rain forest.
“Look we are in the guide.” He’d tapped a photocopied page of a well-known guidebook.
During the day, the streets of Nadi town were dirty and sweltering and men called after me. At night they were pitch black and the hostel owner warned me not to walk them alone. I’d wanted to see the real Fiji, before my diving course at a sanitised beach resort started, so I’d handed him the equivalent of 100 US dollars deposit. He took the grubby notes, folded them into his jeans pocket and announced that I would come to his house for dinner.
“As a welcome to Fijian culture.”
“Will your family be there?” I’d asked, not knowing how to say no.
“We must buy some kava kava for you to take to the village chief.” He walked from the coconut stall to a place where old men sat around piles of soil covered roots. I’d already drunk a bowlful of the liquid, prepared from the plant, as I’d sat at his stall. It tasted of dirt and bitter green tea and I knew it was mildly narcotic.
“Here. This one.” He selected the largest bundle of roots, adding, “That will be ten Fijian.”
I scrabbled in my purse for the money.
“Now the fish.”
He bartered for three pink fish that lay alone on dark green leaves. I handed over more notes.
“We will take a taxi.” He said, as I followed him out into the sun.
“Really, a taxi? ...can’t we walk to your house?” I swallowed.
“No. It is hot.”
“Is it far?”
“No not far, but it is too hot.” He said, adding finally, “No problem. I pay.”
The taxi drove along mud streets, lined by shanty houses, turning this way and that until I was utterly lost. The family - two cousins and a girlfriend - were lounging on plastic chairs in the kitchen, smoking and drinking beer, when I arrived.
“First, kava kava.” My guide announced.
There had been a number of opportunities but I really should have told him that I wanted to go back at that point. Instead, I watched as he ground a piece of the root, mixed it with water and then removed his t-shirt and sieved the liquid through it.
“You like ganja?” One of the men asked.
I shook my head and turned to the girl to ask about her family.
After the third round of kava kava, the guide took a machete and hacked the coconuts in half on the porch. He scraped their flesh into a basin and squeezed coconut cream from it.
I could see the sun was setting.
“Is there a telephone so I can call my hostel?” I said.
“No telephone. We don’t have electricity here.”
When it was cooked, the fish flaked beautifully into the creamy sauce, but the sky outside was dark.

“Come,” he said, pulling my hand once the meal was over. “I am tired. Come lie with me.”
“I want to go back now.” I dragged my hand back, feeling my heart pounding.
He shrugged his shoulders and went into the next room.
“I want to get a taxi…” I called. The other men laughed.
“Come, girl, no hurry.” His voice came from the room.
The girlfriend was watching me.
“Please. You will help me get a taxi.” I said, looking straight into her dark eyes.
She nodded.
Once we were out in the darkness we ran until we came to a busy road.

“Where have you been?” The hostel owner hissed, as she opened the gate to find me placing notes into the girl’s outstretched hand.
“With… friends.” I said, fighting back the tears.

H Watson

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