January 01, 2012
New Years Greetings!!
January 1, 2012 in America The Free, Europe, Holidays, Magic Sauce Media, New England, New York, On Africa, On Australia, On China, On Costa Rica, On East Africa, On Fiji, On France, On Germany, On India, On Italy, On Japan, On South Africa, On Spain, Travel | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack
December 25, 2011
Christmas in Every Language & Customs Around the World
Language is one of the most powerful things we have and when we can't communicate with someone because we don't know their language, we rely on hand gestures, hugs, expressions and the most universal ones: smiles when we're happy, tears when we're not.
I've spend the holidays in several countries over the years including India, Thailand, Australia, Mexico, South Africa, England, the Netherlands, Israel, France and a few places I'm sure I'm forgetting. Celebrations obviously differ even when you're celebrating within the same culture or religion. Jewish friends in New York buy a Hannukah bush, others don't honor it at all. If you've grown up in New England or northern Europe, snow often comes with Christmas and it becomes an association for you. If you live in Australia or Africa, chances are you've never had a white christmas.
Brazilians have a tradition of creating a nativity scene or Presepio, whose origins come from the Hebrew word "presepium" which means the bed of straw upon which Jesus first slept in Bethlehem. The Presepio is common in northeastern Brazil (Bahi, Sergipe, Rio Grande do Norte, Paraiba, Maranhao, Ceara, Pernambuco, Piaui and Alagoas).
In Denmark, a christmas feast was traditionally celebrated at midnight, where a special rice pudding is served. In the pudding, a single almond is hidden and whoever finds it will have good luck for the coming year. The bringer of gifts is known as Julemanden and arrives in a sleigh drawn by reindeer, a sack over his back. Sound famliar? He is asissted by Yuletide chores by elves called Juul Nisse, who are said to live in attics.
In Iraq, Christian families light candles, light a bonfire of thorn bushes and sing. If the thorns burn to ashes, good luck will be granted. When the fire dies, each person jumps over the ashes three times and make a wish.
Like in many Latin American countries, Nicaragua retains many of the customs of old Spain. In the weeks leading up to Christmas, people stroll the streets where there are many things to buy: candles, Nativity pictures, toys and foods. Children carry fragrant bouquets to the alter of the Virgin and sing carols. On Christmas Eve, church bells beckon the people to Midnight Mass.
In South America, Venezuelans attend a daily early morning church service between December 16th and 24th called Misa de Aguinaldo ("Early Morning Mass.") In Caracas, the capital city, it is customary to roller-skate to this service and many neighborhoods close the streets to cars until 8 a.m. Before bedtime children tie one end of a piece of string to their big toe and hang the other out the window. The next morning, rollerskaters give a tug to any string they see hanging.
In Japan, Christmas was apparently brought over by Christian missionaries but today, it has become very commercialized largely because gift giving is something that appeals to the culture. This is an interesting and funny story if its true, but in the scene of the Nativity when it first came to Japan, was so foreign for them because Japanese babies don't sleep in cradles. Like the states, they eat turkey on Christmas Day (ham is also common with many families) and in some places, there are community Christmas trees. Houses even have evergreens and mistletoe. They also have a god or priest known as Hoteiosho, who closely resembles Santa Claus, often depicted as an old man carrying a huge pack. He is thought to have eyes in the back of his head.
And, you've gotta love the Scots since they have so many quirky customs considering how close they live to the English. Celebration around the holidays is much bigger for New Years Eve than it is for Christmas, something they refer to as Hogmanay. This word may derive from a kind of oat cake that was traditionally given to children on New Year's Eve. The first person to set foot in a residence in a New Year is thought to profoundly affect the fortunes of the inhabitants. Generally strangers are thought to bring good luck. Depending on the area, it may be better to have a dark-haired or fair-haired stranger set foot in the house. This tradition is widely known as "first footing."
In the Czech Republic (formerly Czechoslovakia and before that known as Bohemia), they bring their traditions from the 10th century home of Good King Wenceslaus, the main character in the familiar English Christmas carol. It is said that English troops, fighting in Bohemia hundreds of years later, brought the song home with them. St. Nicholas is called Svaty Mikalas and is believed to climb to earth down from heaven on a golden rope with his companions, an angel and a whip-carrying devil.
An ancient tradition shared by the Czechs and in Poland involves cutting a branch from a cherry tree and putting it in water indoors to bloom. If the bloom opens in time for Christmas, it is considered good luck and also a sign that the winter may be short.
I'm amazed how many of these traditions involve some superficial physical ritual that somehow tells us whether good luck or bad luck will fall upon us, not unlike snapping a chicken wish bone in two I guess...or flipping a coin.
Below is a fabulous and fun list of Merry Christmas and Happy New Years in many languages from around the world. Obviously, we didn't capture them all but we did include a healthy list to get you started with practicing but you never know when you will come across someone from another culture around the holidays.
Alsatian: E güeti Wïnâchte un e gleckichs Nej Johr
Arabic: أجمل التهاني بمناسبة الميلاد و حلول السنة الجديدة (ajmil at-tihānī bimunāsabah al-mīlād wa ḥilūl as-sanah al-jadīdah)
Armenian: Շնորհաւոր Նոր Տարի եւ Սուրբ Ծնունդ: (Shnorhavor Nor Daree yev Soorp Dzuhnoont) Բարի կաղանդ և ամանոր (Paree gaghant yev amanor)
Bengali: শুভ বড়দিন (shubho bôṛodin)
Cherokee: ᏓᏂᏍᏔᏲᎯᎲ & ᎠᎵᎮᎵᏍᏗ ᎢᏤ ᎤᏕᏘᏴᎠᏌᏗᏒ - (Danistayohihv & Aliheli'sdi Itse Udetiyvasadisv)
Cheyenne: Hoesenestotse & Aa'eEmona'e
Cornish: Nadelik Lowen ha Blydhen Nowydh Da and Nadelik Looan ha Looan Blethen Noweth
Danish: Glædelig jul og godt nytår
English: Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!
Estonian: Rõõmsaid Jõule ja Head Uut Aastat and Häid Jõule ja Head Uut Aastat
Fijian: Me Nomuni na marau ni siga ni sucu kei na tawase ni yabaki vou
Filipino: Maligayang pasko at manigong bagong taon!
Flemish: Zalig Kerstfeest en Gelukkig Nieuwjaar
French: Joyeux Noël et bonne année
German: Frohe/Fröhliche Weihnachten - und ein gutes neues Jahr / ein gutes Neues / und ein gesundes neues Jahr / und einen guten Rutsch ins neue Jahr
German (Swiss): Schöni Fäschttäg / Schöni Wienachte -- und e guets neus Jahr / en guete Rutsch is neue Johr -- Schöni Wiehnachte und es guets Neus -- Schöni Wiänachtä, äs guets Nöis
German (Bavarian): Froue Weihnåcht'n, und a guad's nei's Joah
Haitan Creole: Jwaye Nowèl e Bònn Ane
Hawaiian: Mele Kalikimaka me ka Hauʻoli Makahiki Hou
Hebrew: חג מולד שמח ושנה טובה - Chag Molad Sameach v'Shanah Tovah
Hungarian: Kellemes karácsonyt és boldog új évet
Indonesian: Selamat hari natal dan tahun baru
Irish: Nollaig shona duit/daoibh (Happy Christmas to you). Beannachtaí na Nollag (Christmas Greetings). Beannachtaí an tSéasúir (Season's Greetings) and Athbhliain faoi mhaise duit/daoibh (Prosperous New Year). Also, Bliain úr faoi shéan is faoi mhaise duit/daoibh (Happy New Year to you)
Italian: Buon Natale e felice anno nuovo
Japanese: メリークリスマス (merī kurisumasu) -- New Year greeting - 'Western' style
新年おめでとうございます (shinnen omedetō gozaimasu)
New Year greetings - Japanese style
明けましておめでとうございます (akemashite omedetō gozaimasu)
旧年中大変お世話になりました (kyūnenjū taihen osewa ni narimashita)
本年もよろしくお願いいたします (honnen mo yoroshiku onegai itashimasu)
Klingon: QISmaS DatIvjaj 'ej DIS chu' DatIvjaj (sg) and QISmaS botIvjaj 'ej DIS chu' botIvjaj (pl)
Korean: 즐거운 성탄절 보내시고 새해 복 많이 받으세요 and (jeulgeoun seongtanjeol bonaesigo saehae bok manhi bateusaeyo)
Kurdish: Kirîsmes u ser sala we pîroz be (and) Kirîsmes u salî nwêtan lê pîroz bê
Lithuanian: Linksmų Kalėdų ir laimingų Naujųjų Metų
Maltese: Il-Milied Ħieni u s-Sena t-Tajba - Awguri għas-sena l-ġdida
Maori: Meri Kirihimete me ngā mihi o te tau hou ki a koutou katoa
Mongolian: Танд зул сарын баярын болон шинэ жилийн мэндийг хүргэе and (Tand zul sariin bayriin bolon shine jiliin mendiig hurgey)
Navajo: Ya'at'eeh Keshmish
Nepali: क्रस्मसको शुभकामना तथा नयाँ वर्षको शुभकामना - (krismas ko subhakamana tatha nayabarsha ko subhakamana)
Norweigan: God jul og godt nytt år (Bokmål) and God jol og godt nyttår (Nynorsk)
Old English: Glæd Geol and Gesælig Niw Gear
Punjabi: ਮੈਰੀ ਕ੍ਰਿਸਮਸ। / میری کرِسمس (merī krismas - not used) and ਨਵਾਂ ਸਾਲ/ਵਰਾ ਮੁਬਾਰਕ। / نواں سال، ورہا مبارک (navā̃ sāl/varā mubārak)
Raotongan: Kia orana e kia manuia rava i teia Kiritimeti e te Mataiti Ou
Romanian: Crăciun fericit şi un An Nou Fericit
Samoan: Ia manuia le Kerisimasi ma le Tausaga Fou
Sardinian: Bonu nadale e prosperu annu nou
Slovak: Veselé vianoce a Štastný nový rok
Spanish: ¡Feliz Navidad y próspero año nuevo!
Swahili: Krismasi Njema / Heri ya krismas -- Heri ya mwaka mpya
Swedish: God jul och gott nytt år
Tahitian: Ia orana no te noere and Ia orana i te matahiti api
Thai: สุขสันต์วันคริสต์มาส และสวัสดีปีใหม่ - (sùk săn wan-krít-mâat láe sà-wàt-dee bpee mài)
Tibetan: ༄༅།།ལོ་གསར་ལ་བཀྲ་ཤིས་བདེ་ལེགས་ཞུ། - (Losar La Tashi Delek - Happy New Year)
Tongan: Kilisimasi fiefia mo ha ta'u fo'ou monū'ia
Ukranian: Веселого Різдва і з Новим Роком
(Veseloho Rizdva i z Novym Rokom)
Xhosa: Siniqwenelela Ikrisimesi Emnandi Nonyaka Omtsha Ozele Iintsikelelo
Yiddish: אַ פֿרײליכע ניטל און אַ גוטער נײַער יאָר - (A freylikhe nitl un a guter nayer yor)
The above list was a sample of a longer list from Omniglot, a site dedicated to languages from around the world. Visit their site for more languages including pronunciations. They also made the following note: Christmas is not universally celebrated and there are a number of different dates for Christmas and New Year depending on which calendar is used. Orthodox Christians who use the Julian calendar, for example in Russia and Serbia, celebrate Christmas on January 7. Another collection of phrases for the holidays can be found here. Also check out this link on Christmas Around the World.
December 25, 2011 in America The Free, Belize, Europe, Fiji, Holidays, Israel, New England, New York, On Africa, On Australia, On China, On Costa Rica, On East Africa, On Fiji, On France, On Germany, On Guatemala, On India, On Italy, On Japan, On People & Life, On South Africa, On Spain, Reflections, San Francisco, South America, Travel, United Kingdom, WBTW | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack
July 16, 2008
The Fijian Heart
Fijians are a joy to shoot, particularly the children and because the islands are so diverse, everyone learns and speaks flawless English. While religious beliefs are also diverse, the attitude follows the same core. This culture gets gratitude in a way the west seems to be losing.
They constantly think of others needs before their own and they smile often. So, if you're not in a good mood when you wake up in the morning, their contagious smiles and energy ensures that you don't remain that way for long.
July 12, 2008
Oh Those Tropical Sounds
Still in Fiji, I open my eyes to a lizard on a pillar near my bed. He’s rather low I think. Okay, so he’s not a lizard. He’s one of those geckos that used to plague my ceilings and walls when I lived in Florida, Arizona, Australia, South Africa, Kenya, Greece. They’re everywhere, following me to every tropical destination.
While I know that they’re not only harmless but eat other insects I don’t necessarily want to wake up with, my heart still jumps quietly whenever I see one, even the small ones.
There’s another one scrambling up my thatched door. The windows have those wooden slats that close using a side latch and behind them, screens. Screens always have small holes though and geckos aren’t the only creatures to get in.
You’d think with the amount of third world countries I’ve traveled to and lived in, I’d be far far beyond a heart skip from a gecko on the wall. I always used to think that moving to California would make me soft – and forget – and perhaps it has.
I do find it hard to write there for some odd reason. “No edge,” someone once told me. “Not enough inspiration,” said another. “No creatures on the walls,” I wonder. Never mind. Let’s hope for other reasons.
The sounds outside my windows are remarkably tropical, sounds we simply don’t have in the states, except for perhaps one remote Hawaiian bungalow where the bedroom I slept in nearly twenty years ago, was near the tree tops and far away from a city.
Africa was where those sounds became very real for me and left a lasting imprint on my senses. I was still a teenager when I first went to southern Africa and the journey was a long one – a year in total. I moved in with an English South African family, who lived in a one story adobe-like house in a nice Johannesburg suburb. They had two daughters, two dogs and I think a bird and a cat. There was also an amazing sprawling garden that wrapped around the house like wild but well-manicured Ivy.
Feels like so long ago and yet…….I was adult enough to wake up to jungle-like sounds outside my bedroom window on my first morning at their house and remind myself, “you silly sod and sod, you’re not anywhere close to a jungle. You’re in a South African suburb and are starting school in a few days, one with formal uniforms. Where’s your mind at?”
Keep your windows closed, my host mom would say and check your shoes before you put them on. “Why?” I asked. Snakes love to hide in the closets of course, something she grew up with, first in Zambia and later here. Snakes, deadly spiders, and other hairy monsters would fill my early dreams. The same thing was told to me when I lived in Sydney and later in more rural areas in both countries.
Later that same year, I was living with farmers in the northern Transvaal, sharing a thatched hut with their son Richard, a few years older than me. He was a white South African who I often called "Bush Man."
His accent wasn’t like other white South African I had met along the way and he knew the African bush as well if not better than the black South Africans who had been working the same land for the last two generations. He spoke their language too and then some.
One morning, while I was wiping my eyes from the morning sun and not quite awake, I see out of the corner of my eye Richard grab his shotgun from over his bed, move into action and take a shot towards the window. Dead on. He nailed it.
Dumbfounded and bleary eyed, I saw that a snake had made its way in from a tree branch outside our open window. Monster snake. I couldn’t bare to look so instead just screamed.
This kind of thing happened again and again over the years although the circumstances were always different. In Egypt in a third class train carriage, while walking through an Indian market near Bombay, a Nepalese wilderness park where a snake made it into our hut but not inside the mosquito nets.
And so on.
Then there was that small sparse room in Uganda, Wally and Dizzy’s farmhouse in Zambia, and a school classroom in Lamu Kenya where I taught small Kenyan girls how to do silly line dances. Could have would have in northern Guatemala in that tropical jungle had it not been so damn cold at night.
The noises always bring me back. It would be better if they didn’t exist perhaps or that I just learn how to change the connection between those jungle-like tropical noises and crawling creatures I don’t want to share a bed with. The former is such a treasure though and not something you’d want to give up.
The noises go with the brightly colored flowers you only see on tropical warm balmy islands. Birds chatter and sing louder here, particularly in the mornings like they did today.
Jetlegged on the first morning, I was up reading at 4:30 am and it was serenely quiet. Ah solitude. By 6 am, the Fijian birds had started their chorus. By 7, they were so loud, I needed to close the shutters if I stood any chance at all of a peaceful read.
Their calls were so addictive though that it was hard to resist not tuning into their calls. I wanted to find them and call back – “how do I sing out so beautifully like you? What’s a mating call versus a morning hello, how are you? What does your dance look like?”
Not a morning person even at the best of times, I found myself on my patio by 7 in an Adirondack-like chair with old fashioned busy printed cushions, lurking with colors from the early seventies. I made a cup of tea, boiling it twice just in case, put my feet up on a curvy handmade Fijian wooden table outside, nestled back into my chair and watched, waited and watched. Waited and watched.
I didn’t see the birds, but I could clearly hear them as I’m sure everyone on the island could regardless of where they lived. I leaned my head back and thought of all the tropical sounds and birds I had met along my life journey so far. And then I just listened for a really long time.
July 05, 2008
Fiji Recalls the Strongest of Senses
This past week, I returned to Fiji's magical aura. After soaking up as much humidity and sun my body could take in a cafe at the far end of Savu Savu's dusty town, I followed the main drag by foot in the direction I had come by taxi some six or so hours earlier.
I tried to retrace my steps from six years ago (was it six years, five or was it seven?), the last time I sat foot on this road, then with two kiwi men in their late thirties I met at the local Yacht Club, which I discovered by accident. I learned very early on that it was a hub for visitors from around the world, largely return visitors who were either captaining a boat, sailing their own or here on business from down under.
My two new friends fell into the latter category and were well baked into the local politics. No surprise given that their work was a mishmash of commercial real estate, construction and solar if I recall correctly. We never kept in touch after I left the islands or perhaps we did for a month or two.
It's not as if I spent a chunk of time in this tiny village -- the bulk of my stay was in a very remote house in the middle of dense tropical brush overlooking the ocean (owned by one of the kiwi's pals) and the other half was spent at the Namale resort, some 15 or so minutes by taxi.
Yet, I remembered the Yacht Club so distinctively that I felt I would smell my way back to it despite my lousy sense of direction.
The new cafe I discovered was quiet and rustic and like all tropical cafes like it around the world, they had fruit milk shakes made with fresh coconut, mango, papaya and pineapple. An Aussie couple sat down next to me for drinks and even though it was my side that faced them, my feet were propped up on a chair in the opposite direction and I was clearly engrossed in my Maori-authored novel, they opened up a dialogue.
Whether you're an ex-pat or not, Fiji has that uniquely familiar ex-pat feel to it, at least that's the case on Nadi and Savu Savu. It was the case five or six-ish years ago and appears to be so today.
The most remarkable difference was the number of cell phones and laptops, even though a cafe that advertised wifi in its window didn't necessarily mean that it worked. "Depends on the weather," I'm told, not unlike my Comcast situation at home which seems to flake whenever there's a storm.
The local market remained unchanged as far as I could tell but the main street was much more developed than I had remembered. Foreign investment poured in between then and now, mostly from Aussies and Yanks.
The Aussie couple lived "on-the-road," or should I say "on-the-sea." He was a captain and she went along for the tanning benefits. A few Fijians had apparently painted his aluminum seated benches on the back of the boat that morning, the same day they had planned a day trip. A dozen or so tourists sat on wet paint, some of them stuck so securely that their shorts ripped when they stood up.
He rolls his eyes as he tells me the story and her smile beams in between her sunburned cheeks and nose. "They're demanding 50% discount off the cruise," he says as if hoping I'd offer a suggestion or two. I don't.
I ask, "what color did they paint the benches?" thinking it might clue me in to why they did it in the first place. He doesn't seem to be expecting that. "Gray," he responds. "They painted them gray." I wondered how many women's sundresses were ruined that day and wished I could have witnessed all of it from a land-based dock a dozen or so feet away.
They got up to leave as I took the last bite out of my gingered veggie crepe. "See you at the Yacht Club?" they ask as they walked out. Ah yes, the Yacht Club. I was about to ask "where is it again?" but instinctively decided not to.
Every hour or so, the sky would grow moody and gray and grace us with showers. It remained balmy warm though so I barely noticed. A half an hour later, the sun would break through. This pattern repeated itself through four chapters of my book and two and a half diet cokes. They also sold those peach and mango flavored lipton iced tea drinks that I've only seen in third world countries and foreign tourist destinations.
The prices seem to have gone through the roof. A few regulars told me that tourism was significantly down, so the locals doubled their prices to make up for it. Hmmmm, I thought, remembering the $22 pizza and $5 coffees at the Nadi airport before I boarded the 14 seater puddle jumper.
During a late afternoon sun break, I slowly made my way along the dusty paved central drag in the direction of the Yacht Club, so I sensed. On the way, I scoured through a few of the supermarkets like I always do when I first arrive in a foreign country. I've been doing this for as long as I can remember; my first precious memory was when I discovered a cheap aluminum tennis racket in a Tiajuana supermarket when I was around ten.
When my grandfather realized it was less than one U.S. dollar, he threw it into his hand basket with the bottled water and crackers for the car. It still amazes me what they sell in village supermarkets abroad. I love discovering old American products with the same packaging they had in the states in the sixties and seventies.
It brings me back to a long ago time when my memories were largely filled with dance routines wearing my grandad's oversized shirts, wool top hats, twirling around the den using Great Grandma Bert's cane for support......my nose in the air like a female Snoopy character in love with music and bright colors.
Life in Fiji is so simple.....the pace goes along with it, a reminder that some of our deadlines at home are self-imposed and maybe corporate America might be a lot happier if they encouraged their employees to breathe, smile and think like Fijians every now and then.
I find my way to the Yacht Club as instinctively as I thought I would, as if I had lived here for years. It was as if I smelled something familiar and followed my senses to the path that brought me to its entrance. There was no sign and its British pub-like corner setting isn't well marked.
Set in the back of a small plaza they call Croapashend, I walked in like a regular and a familiar face behind the bar asks me what I'd like as I glance at him. A Fijian man in his early sixties wears a silver moustache and a warm smile. His name is Obini and he's been there for eleven years I learn when I ask him. "You bought me a drink five or six years ago," I say. "I believe so," he says back.
Incredulous. It wouldn't be if the rest of my day didn't spook me in the same incredulous remarkable way.
He looks like he's been selling beer and scotch to foreigners for far longer than eleven years. And, he appears to love people as much as toddlers love chocolate ice cream.
Except for a picnic table of Aussies in their early twenties, the place was empty. I found a table outside on the protruding deck, one with a breathtaking view of mountains to the far right and at least a dozen parked yachts between them and me.
It was late afternoon so the light was exactly as I had remembered it. The most memorable night here was after an afternoon of skinny dipping in a remote cove diving for shells and laughing at absolutely nothing at all except for the sheer bliss of being there.
Our skin was nearly the same deep brown as the locals at that point and we were living off freshly caught fish and local Fijian beer. I had a fresh flower cut in my hair that night, wore a brightly colored sarong and the light and smell was exactly as it was the day I returned.
I begin to write at what feels like a hundred words a minute. It all flowed through the end of my blue paper mate pen so quickly that onlookers might have wondered, "if we interrupt her, she might stop breathing." I might have if I were them.
The sun had nearly set by the time I next looked up. I had not even noticed that I was writing in the rain, even though it was only a light dusting. The place had filled up and not only was I surrounded by people on all sides, but a small band had set up behind me and I had not noticed them either.
Obini gives me one of his warm smiles -- all so familiar. I hear a few Yank accents but mostly Aussies and Kiwis and years later, I can still tell the difference.
I'm the only one drinking iced tea and wonder if anyone has noticed my anxious writing, quiet sense of solitude, and deep concentration.
Bottles of local beer, wine and scotch glasses surround me as do cigarette packs stacked in the middle of the wooden carved tables. Nay, it ain't Marin girl.
The music starts. Above them, foreign flags hang from the ceiling. Sweden, England, Australia, France, New Zealand, Holland, Germany and few I don't recognize.
A Fijian in his late twenties sits near me in a dark green soccer shirt, leans his head back and blows smoke into the air. The rain stops altogether but I move my chair in under the blue nautical-like canvas covering nevertheless where I'm closer to "group energy." I'm surprised I do this.
Just like old times, when I backpacked around the globe, I was surrounded by hoards of people -- always in groups even if they be small ones -- and there I'd be in a corner or smack in the middle, taking it all in, listening, writing, shooting, thinking....
Last time at this yacht club was different however -- very different. We finished our pitcher of beer and through my Kiwi pal's connections, we went off to the mayor's house for a barbecue. We were the only three non-Fijians and I remember feeling silly with the flower in my hair although all the women smiled at me when they saw it.
Back to present.
Obini seems to have changed his shirt. Maybe? He starts to make his way through the crowd selling some kind of local raffle tickets for $2 a piece. I later learn its a donation but didn't learn for what.
I see that everyone is suntanned at that moment and then.....the familiar smell and light that set on the bay just outside the yacht club patio. Three deep Fijian breaths, a smile and then back to that great novel I was reading.
The last line was meant to be the last line of this lengthy post, and it would have been had I not jumped into the first taxi that was passing by on my way out of the Surf & Turf restaurant adjacent to the yacht club. I decided to stop in for a quick bite of freshly grilled Walu with coconut sauce before heading back to my hut.
"$2 or $3?" I ask, since I'm told it could be either, so I always play the either or game to see what they'll say. "$3," he says. It's very dark but there's something about his reflection in the mirror that feels oddly familiar. I say, "gorgeous night," and he agrees.
He wonders how long I've been here and where I live. When I say San Francisco, he asks me if I know where San Bruno is and says he has a lot of American friends. A lot of Americans have bought property here in the last five years he says, "driving the prices through the roof?" I add. He nods.
His voice is uncanny. I know it. He keeps talking. That voice. "How long have you been a cabbie here? More than five years?" Yes, he says, eleven years. Isn't that how long Obini has been at the Yacht Club?
Disconnect but then it connects again.
I know that voice.
"I think you drove me to Namale many years ago," thinking what a ridiculous statement that is and how many people in the past six years he has driven to Namale. On an island that has 40-60,000 depending on who you ask and the town itself has 5-7,000 depending on who you ask. Large enough and long enough ago not to remember a generic American accent and face in the dark.
"Was I sick?" I thought and found myself saying it aloud. He glances at me through the rear view mirror and finally smiles. "Ahhhhh yes, I remember you. You were not sick, I was the one who was sick," and then it all came back. That voice, that distinctive voice. "I had to stop to throw up and you brought me back to my family. You were with friends. From near Auckland," he adds.
"Yes, that's right," I say. "Stan something," he says. Incredulous. I had even forgotten his name but it was Stan something alright. He reaches his hand back to shake mine over the seat, "Gopen," he says. My jolly incredulous God. As familiar as if it were yesterday. And I remembered his name - it was short for a much longer name.
The house, he went on. "I drove them around on and off for a few days. Before I dropped you off, he gave me some homemade 'something' and vodka. It was a hot day. No wonder poor Gopen got sick. Gopen, who I later learn also is a manager of the Yacht Club.
That familiar Yacht Club. Obini. Eleven years. Gopen. Eleven years. He, throwing up outside his cab. "The same cab," he says with a smile and that ever so distinctive voice as if it were a long lost cousin not a Fijian cab driver I met twice. (229,000 miles btw - I had to know)
I felt bad I guess. Must have. He drove me to the airport after my retreat at Namale. "Do you remember?" he asks laughing. You left with a plastic bag full of vegetables you carried over your shoulder. We fasted and I was ten pounds thinner by the time I left. In a healthy ten pounds thinner sort of way. My skin had been glowing, my energy level was through the roof and I was in love with those damn vegetables.
"When we got to the airport, we ate them before you got on the plane." Such a memory Gopen. Such a memory. Such a voice Gopen. That voice.
I get out of the cab and leave him a healthy tip. I need to go back near there tomorrow, a new site up on the hill near Namale I tell him.... tomorrow. Forget any other taxi driver I think. Gopen is my man. He hands me his card and I recognize the moustache. Same cab he said.
"You sent me a bag of stuffed animals for the children," he reminds me. I sent three boxes but couldn't remember who the third went to and didn't have it written down anywhere I could easily find.
The senses on this island are too much.
I'll call Gopen tomorrow I think as I make my way back to my room. Joseph and Moses come into my mind as I walk along the pathway to my bungalow, the last on the left. The other two remarkable Fijian men who left an imprint on my mind and the other two who received boxes of stuffed animals for Fijian children.
Tomorrow is another day.