The Two Fiji’s
Kristin and I jabbered like hens all the way home in her American SUV with the steering wheel on the wrong side for the left side driving of Fiji. She had things planned for every day I was there, saving her big surprise for my last night. I was so happy to see her so happy here. She was teaching special ed part time at the same International school that her children attend, volunteering there as well, she had good friends, she and her family have many adventures on the islands of Fiji, and the whole family seems to be thriving.
Kristin doesn’t live in what I think of as “white sand” Fiji, the postcards with the palms swaying and the impossibly blue ocean lapping at the fine, white sand. She lives in the other Fiji, in the largest city, Suva, and the most populated. It’s a hilly town with a working shipyard and views of the ocean everywhere but no tourist beaches nearby. The embassy where her husband, Scott, works is about a five minute drive away from her home. The home has a serious looking metal gate at the bottom of a steep, narrow driveway. She opens this with a finicky remote and we crawl up the driveway and pull in front of a two story white house. There is a heavy metal gate over the glass front door, both doors taking a separate key to unlock. The very alarming alarm sounds because the housekeeper set it and Kristin didn’t realize that until she opened the door. As you walk in the front door, the entire first floor opens before you, with a huge kitchen straight ahead and the living area to the right, so it’s easy for the family to talk together as Kristin works in the kitchen. It’s a perfect party house too, since the kitchen is actually big enough for guests to mingle in. Kristin and Scott do a lot of entertaining as a part of his job and Kristin even had to be interviewed before they accepted this posting, as her entertaining and diplomatic skills were integral to Scott’s work. We finally get everything settled and my luggage put in my room, the biggest room I’ve had since I left home, with my very own bathroom….ahhh.
“Tonight we are going out with two of my girlfriends, Trudi and Diane, at my favorite restaurant, Eden,” Kristin announces. Sounds perfect to me. It’ll just be us girls, Scott is away, working in the Solomons, for my entire stay. The kids, Will and Caroline, have just gotten out of school and they come in with Mela, the live in housekeeper. Will has grown so tall and has changed so much in two years that I barely recognize him, but he is as handsome as ever. Caroline looks just as pretty as I remembered, just taller.
We take a taxi to the restaurant, careening down the roads, making the normally six minute drive in about three minutes, but no worse for wear. Everyone takes taxis in the evening, it’s just easier and you don’t want to have even one drink and then drive, not on these roads and not when taxi’s are so cheap and fast.
Eden is Kristin’s favorite restaurant and I can see why. We are warmly greeted by the owner, an attractive, intelligent, loving woman named Sangeeta, and she and Kristin became friends initially because of their mutual love of cooking and good food. They share recipes and Kristin is often a guinea pig for dishes that Sangeeta wants to put on the menu. She wants to try some Chile Margarita’s on us and we quickly agree to be her taste testers. Trudi and Diane arrive in their own taxi and we settle in for a lovely evening.
Trudi is Australian and her husband works at the Australian High Commission, which is their Embassy here. They both worked for the Australian version of the FBI but she is on hiatus while he is working in Fiji. She is blond, beautiful, funny, yet very elegant. Diane is American and her husband works with Scott. She is Mexican American, as she tells me right up front, and is the perfect contrast to Trudi with her shiny, straight long black hair, dark eyes and beautiful smile. We enjoy our spicy pink margarita’s, which aren’t hot enough for Diane but just right for the rest of us. We are careful not to sip from the side where Sangeeta has delicately placed a hot chile pepper on the edge of the martini glass, where one would normally put a lime slice. We order a variety of things and I wish I’d taken pictures. The calamari was some of the best I’ve had, with light breading and a yummy dipping sauce, the meat in strips rather than the rings I’m used to. Sangeeta brings a new dish she’s testing,beef from Vanuatu, which is the best beef in this area. She has smoked it and explains the complicated smoking process to Kristin but I stopped listening and just chewed. It was so tasty, with a little dollop of bleu cheese sauce on top. We laughed and talked and ate dish after dish, Sangeeta joining us at the table after a while. Trudi and Kristin ordered pig bellies, which I tried, but just couldn’t get over the soft vs. crunchy textures of the bite size pieces. I never really thought I had texture issues but apparently I do. I had Duck Confit, which was deliciously tender and sweet, almost barbecue flavored, not the salty I was expecting, but just as good as any I’d had. We switched to red wine after our cocktails, a Jim Barry Syrah, so tasty that we ordered another bottle. I think we may have had what Trudi calls “Bubbles” somewhere in there but can’t remember! Actually, I later found out that most Kiwi’s and Aussies call champagne “bubbles.”
We finished off with some chocolate mousse. Kristin ordered a Bailey’s and I ordered Teacher’s whiskey. The waitress looked a little confused by my order and I said, “I’ll just have a side of Teacher’s, neat.” Five minutes later, she set down a chocolate mousse in front of each of us. Mine had a brown liquid over it and I looked at Kristin’s to see if hers looked like mine. Hers was dry. I tasted mine and quickly realized that the waitress had poured the Teachers into my mousse. It was not one of those matches made in heaven, like chocolate and peanut butter, and I just looked at Kristin. Sangeeta was sitting right next to me and I didn't want to offend her but she took one look at my face and knew something was wrong.
“What is it, what’s wrong?” she asked me.
“Well, there’s whiskey in my mousse,” I squeak out.
She calls the waitress over to bring me a new mousse and a whiskey, but in the meantime, Diane is enjoying the taste combination of my original dessert.
“Hey, I kinda like this, just leave it here,” she mumbles around a spoonful of liquored up chocolate.
It was such a wonderful evening of laughter and good conversation, I felt like I’d known Trudi, Diane and Sangeeta for years instead of hours. We would be seeing each other Friday, Trudi had invited us to a Happy Hour at the Australian High Commission. Afterwards, we were returning to Sangeeta’s to see a singer, Allegra, the wife of an American Embassy worker with, according to everyone, an amazing voice.
The next morning, Kristin took me to Pure Fiji, a spa nearby. It was quiet and cool, with water features everywhere, just lovely and elegant. We were schedule for a full hour massage and a facial. I couldn’t think of anything I needed more at that point, and was so grateful to just lay like a jellyfish and let my masseuse work. The massage was fantastic but the facial was really something special. I got the facial after the massage but I didn’t get off the table, it just flowed from body massage to face massage. She would slather some delicious smelling stuff onto my face with a paintbrush, rub it in with her hands, let it sit for a couple of minutes, then remove it with a warm wet towel. She must have put ten different layers of goop on my face, following the same process each time. It was the most relaxing, awesome, smelly good morning I’ve ever had. What a lovely treat Kristin gave me. I was so relaxed, Kristin just laughed at me when I walked out. She said I looked melted, and I had to sit for ten minutes and drink water to get myself back on the planet. Afterwards, we went to lunch at the American Embassy. I had massage oil in my hair, no makeup on, my legs and arms shiny from the oil. I just didn’t care. At least I smelled good.
Tomorrow, the dolphins at Takalana…