I arrived in Fiji at around 6pm in the evening. The first thing I noticed were the sunsets – they are absolutely amazing! The resort I booked was really sweet, right on the beach. When I saw the ocean and sunset out the back door, I seriously thought it was a painting. The sea was so still, and the colors were unreal. The sky was something only the hand of God could’ve painted. It really did have the atmosphere of a Fiji paradise. And this time I booked an air-conditioned room, so I was actually able to sleep at night.

The next day I took a walk into town in the morning. Fiji is just as hot and humid as Vanuatu. I stopped by this local marketplace that had such cheap fruit. I bought these 3 fat papayas for only a dollar. In town, I got one of those reminders that I was in a developing country. As I was walking, a man called out to me and we began talking. It was small chit-chat for a while. Then it came – and I knew it would, but just wasn’t thinking about it – he asked me for money so that he could have a drink. It was kinda rehearsed, he first asked if we could have a drink together, but when I said I had to be on way, he just asked for money straight up. I just hate those moments. I know that I could totally afford it. But the thing is, would it really help him? If he was really low on cash, alcohol isn’t the best way to spend it. Maybe food or clothes would’ve been understandable. And the thing is, I don’t know if he’s really desperately poor or not. He had the whole routine conversation down, and probably did it to every tourist. The phrases like, “We are friends now,” “You are a wonderful man,” “Fijians love Americans.” I could’ve told him I was Czechoslovakian and he would’ve said the same thing.

In the afternoon, I met a local taxi driver who offered to take me to some local attractions. The first was the village where Fijians first settled. In the middle was this huge Methodist church. Christianity has a really strong influence in Fiji. There was this monument of a cross over an axe, symbolizing how “Christianity had conquered cannibalism.” The village elder told me how it had “revolutionized Fiji.” It was good to see how missionaries had a positive influence on Fijian culture. What bothered me though was the overly ornate and European style church. It had pews in a cross-style format like in cathedrals, it was labeled a Methodist church, and they all sung Western hymns, just translated into Fijian. I just wish that nothing but the message of Christianity would transform the people and they be able to live their faith within their own culture, not someone else’s.

Next the driver took me to this place called the “Sleeping Giant.” It sounded really cool so I went. Then I found out it was just a tropical flower garden built by an American colonel. Lame. I mean, it was nice and all with some really pretty flowers, but might’ve been more enjoyable if I was a 60-year-old woman. As we drove, he pointed out several places that had been flooded. I was honestly sorry and sympathetic the first few times he said it. But after like 10 times, it just got annoying. He would just randomly point to the road or a field and say, “See that? It was under water.” Apparently it was the weather report that screwed up Fiji. The forecast had said there would be thunderstorms, which is normal for the rainy season, but mentioned nothing about a cyclone or flooding. So when it hit, Fijians were just out and about their normal business and unprepared for the floods. By the time I got there, the waters had receded, but there were still a lot of damages and closed businesses.

The third day I went on a tour, which was probably the best one I’ve ever been on. Due to cancellations, it was just me and this old German guy. We took a motor canoe ride up the river to this village. They showed us around the village, served us a traditional Fijian meal, and then performed some dances for us. We drank ‘kava,’ which is a traditional Fijian drink made from a pepper plant. There’s no alcohol, but it numbs your entire mouth like an anesthetic after one cup. As you drink more, it numbs your whole body and makes you drowsy. Pretty cool. I used to be against the whole thing of using villages as tourist attractions. It always seemed so degrading, presenting people as stone aged and backwards, as if they were some exotic exhibit frozen in time for us to view. And a part of it is enacted of course. The guys that were wearing only grass skirts put on regular clothes after the performance and went back home, to a different village! But on the other hand, it a good way to preserve culture. Plus, these tours are the main source of income for the village. It’s way better than just giving money. In a way, it adds value to the village, because they have something to offer that people would willingly travel long distances and pay for.

Next, we canoed further up the river (about another 45 minutes) to a waterfall. The journey up there was amazing, and I couldn’t take a lot of pictures because it was raining. But we were in a valley with cliffs of lush jungle on both sides. The river was the location where they filmed the movie “Anaconda,” so watch it to get an idea. After swimming around the waterfall, we went on a bamboo raft back down the river. All in all, it was an amazing day. And it changed my whole perspective on tourism. The local tour guide told me how she was so glad that I had booked the tour because then she has a job and income. On the days with no tours, she just stays home with nothing to do. Though tourism does make obvious the income disparity between Westerners and the locals, it doesn’t always have to be that way. Countries can gradually up their level of tourism and subsequently the quality of life. For example, Fiji has way more tourists then Vanuatu, and therefore has higher tourism quality and are able to charge more. In a way, it creates a level of elite status for a developing country, and gradually pulls them out of poverty. Tourism is better than aid, because it gives people jobs and stimulates economy rather than making them dependent. And it provides a fairer trade than other exports like coffee or sweatshops in which the people totally get ripped off. Tourists pay a lot of money, and that money actually reaches normal people who are employed in the business, not to mention the money that goes into stores and restaurants. So long story short, if you wanna help reduce poverty and enjoy yourself, go be a tourist in a developing country.

Well, today is the day I leave Fiji, but not till 9pm. I was trying to decide what I wanted to do the whole day, but just decided to stay in. Right now I’m sitting on the resort patio typing this, writing my thesis, and watching the rain. And a palm branch just fell a few feet from me. I’m so glad I didn’t go out, because right now it is raining HARD! It’s almost kinda scary being right at the edge of the ocean and having all this water fall around you. Hopefully I’ll be able to make it out of Fiji. Next stop, Hawaii!

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