What I pictured all of Fiji to be like when I found out I was going:
1. Warm, Pacific waters, sparkling and glittering with every ray of sun
2. White sand beaches, as soft as silk and comfortably hot underneath my toes
3. People sipping out of coconut shells, juicy tropical fruits easily available, and maybe some leis (or is that just Hawaii?)
Needless to say, I was naïvely prepared for my trip to Fiji’s third largest city, Nadi. At first, the slightly inland city reminded me much of a low-income, non-touristy Florida. However there were so many things that made it unique. There were landmarks, mosques and an amazing, neon Hindu temple, but for me the most significant place in Nadi is the outdoor market place.
Busy, busy, busy. People moving this way and that! Colors! Voices! The market place was an ant farm of shoppers, grazers and vocal saleswomen. A vast sea of tarps and cloths were folded on the ground, stained and ragged but sufficient in separating one seller’s produce from another.
Women clad in colorful saris smiled at me with crooked teeth, while other women in loose, cotton shirts smiled with no teeth at all. Many sat cross legged and barefooted in front of their collection of goods, a baby swaddled in their arms or a child sitting next to them, calling out to the shoppers going to and fro.
“Balawa! Kaveti! Karoti! Voli-a oqo!” Pineapple! Cabbage! Carrots! Buy here!
The chatter of the market was a continuous buzz—the voices of shoppers gossiping, children yelling, and negotiations over a price. Words, casually spoken in a language so different from my own, floated happily through the air, exciting my ears.
Produce was laid out neatly in rows or scattered in random clusters, and a terrific variety of fruits, vegetables, and herbs there was. Eggplant, deep purple, shone in front of me while utterly unripe bananas lay in bunches behind them. A man held a fuzzy, brown coconut in his open palm, levying it, bartering with the seller. To my right I noticed a scrawny boy snatch up a dark fig with his thin fingers and pop it in his mouth before fleeing.
There were cucumbers in an infinite amount of rows, teenage boys juggling oranges, and yellow, green, red and orange tomatoes stacked in woven baskets. A handful of bean sprouts blew across the ground in the breeze. Ginger and husks of nutmeg lay next to small piles of dried herbs openly sitting on paper plates or nestled in brittle baskets. I could smell the mint leaves.
My heart raced at the commotion and vivacity of the market. It wasn’t a relaxing, tropical atmosphere like I had pictured all of Fiji to be. It was the people going about their daily lives, some of them in poverty, but all of them in the comfort of their home country.
It’s easy to forget from the pictures and travel brochures how your trip or vacation is not just in some far, different land, but in somebody’s home. For me, the Pacific island I had illusioned vanished like sand through a strainer, but looking back I am not disappointed. Instead, I am grateful that the buzz and bustle of the market place gave me an authentic taste of real, Fijian life.