10 Observations from My First 10 Days as an Expat in Fiji
Like usual, life has been hectic. Moving from one country to the next with a massive work trip in between has given me little time to sit and reflect on what I’m feeling and thinking. In the midst of catching up on the previous months’ travels, I also want to share what daily life in Fiji is like.
Here are the first few observations I have as an expat in Fiji. I’m curious to revisit these thoughts in a few months and see if I still feel the same.
Expats, expats everywhere
The first week I was here, I met up with eight(!) expats hailing from all over the world. It was interesting to hear that most of them have been expats for a long time, and have hopped a few countries before arriving in Fiji. When people make their introductions, it’s common to hear, “I’m from London but I’ve lived in Italy the past three years… and I was in India before that…”
Most expat jobs in Suva, Fiji are temporary positions so there is a heavy rotation of people coming in and out. A few expats are also new, like me, so we’re all looking to make friends and starting our new lives together. It’s such a contrast to Perth, where everyone (especially Australians) seemed to have a solid friend group and it’s challenging to find a crew to belong to.
Going out to dinner every night with new people feels a little like dating. I notice myself acting on my best behavior (which isn’t saying much) and wondering, “Are you the one?”
Fijians, in general, are welcoming and accepting
Though it’s easier to find other expats to catch up with, the Fijians I’ve met have been super welcoming. A few girls invited me out dancing for the night and to a dinner at one of their friend’s homes. In Perth, it felt really challenging to infiltrate a friend-pack of Australians at first, but this doesn’t seem to be the case with Fijians. The more, the merrier comes off as part of the culture.
We plan to join a group for a music festival over the weekend and Mo has even been invited to a wedding.
You won’t walk far without seeing a smile or hearing, “Bula!”
… but the club culture can get very aggressive
I went out the first few nights with a male friend and the crowd seemed super laid back. We listened to live music and jumped from one bar to the next.
A few nights later, I went out to one of the popular dance bars with five other girls. The bar was packed. I subconsciously tugged at my skirt as we walked in – and I was thankful I’d worn a long-sleeved top that covered my chest. After all the messed up “what was she wearing” conversations that take place after any sexual assault, I wondered if this was the type of place where men believed that revealing outfits are “asking for it.”
One girl told me, “Be careful – the men are grabby in here.”
“Yeah, I noticed.” I said.
“No – I mean, like, ‘grab them by the pussy,’” she said.
As I walked through the crowd I felt arms reaching out and across my torso. One man rested his hands on my chest. I knocked his phone out of his hand and watched it crash onto the floor. He stood there and gestured for me to pick it up. When I didn’t, he dragged his hands along the front of my skirt as he bent over to get the phone. The rest of the night, I switched to being on high alert. I tried to push back the slowing effects that a few drinks had on me.
Another man walked up to our group as we danced and just stood and stared at one of the girls. She shook her head a few times and he continued to watch us without breaking eye contact with her.
I hate that women need to be accompanied by men to feel comfortable at so many clubs in the world. We are not property.
Oh, speaking of property? My apartment faces a main road. As I was unlocking the door to my home, a man pulled his car over and started honking. He smiled and waved while watching me walk into my front door. I slept alone with all doors locked, windows shut, and the living room lights on that night.
UPDATE: The friend who said the Trump quote to me sent me a private message to clarify that she meant the women in the clubs were aggressive. She warned that, the “really grabby one has a gold tooth.”
Stray dogs view me as a weakling
I’d read about the stray dog issue in other Fiji expat blogs, and that made me worried for how things would be here. Despite being a vegetarian – or maybe even because of it – animals tend to view me as prey. I’m lumped in the same herbivore category as rabbits and antelope, and it seems like carnivorous animals take note.
Last month, I went to a lion sanctuary where they let us go into a pen with lion cubs. One cub nipped me on the back and another ran over to chew on my shoe.
“What did you do?! Why are they so hyper?!” the lion keeper asked.
I did nothing wrong!
On my first jog around the neighborhood, a stray dog came barreling around down the street barking at me. I slowed to a walk and ignored it. Fortunately, another stray dog wandered close by and my predator turned around to chase after the new mutt instead.
This experience has been repeated a few times with multiple dogs, just one dog, and different outcomes.
One dog nipped the bottom of my long skirt and tugged it down.
Dogs at the bars. Dogs on the streets. Can’t a girl catch a break?
Good news is I haven’t been bit… yet.
Every night around 11 P.M. I fall asleep to the howls and yelps of a pack running up and down the front of our home.
Fruit is cheap and plentiful
My apartment is near four fruit stands within a five-minute walk away. The locals display their fruits in bowls, usually with 5+ fruits in a single bowl.
I started grabbing one tomato, two eggplants, a handful of ginger.
“How much is this?” I asked.
The woman looked confused, “It’s $2 for the whole bowl.”
In Fiji, you can get enough produce to fill a fridge for less than $40.
I’ve devoured two mangos since starting this post.
Suva’s weather is temperamental
Suva has micro-climates where it can be pouring one minute and sunny the next. One morning, it rained on one side of our small apartment, yet the other side had only sunshine. The rain might last five minutes or five hours. I never bother to check the weather – instead, I bring a little umbrella wherever I go.
I’ve banished white T-shirts from my wardrobe, too.
Fiji just might be the only country where the taxi drivers don’t scam you
I don’t like to stereotype people.
But I’ll be blunt with you. I abhor taxi drivers.
I’ve been scammed so many times and so badly that I used to lay awake at night figuring out how to get my revenge. I even developed a 10-step plan on how to be scam-proof that involved taking a picture of the driver, the license plate, making a fake phone call, and riding with a machete on my lap. When I couldn’t find a machete, I’ve contemplating swapping it with a banana slicer.
In Thailand, Indonesia, and Australia, I know how to turn on a taxi meter. When a driver tells me it’s broken, I reach over and hit the button.
Voila! Magic? They should be paying me for a ride! Who knows how much that’d cost at a mechanic!
Here, the taxis are cheap, plentiful, and the meters run automatically.
Could Fijian taxi drivers be the ones to defrost my cold, dead, taxi-hating heart?
Suva is a vegetarian’s paradise
Back in the colonial days, because of Britain and their insatiable greed of taking over countries, over 60,000 Indian Hindus from British India were forced over to Fiji to work as slaves for the helpless white folk.
This Indian influence is prevalent in Fiji, and many Fijian Indians practice Hinduism, a religion strongly linked to vegetarianism.
This means that in nearly every restaurant, you can find a wide range of vegetarian foods – even more options than you can find in Australia.
There’s $1 delicious roti and samosas in every market, Indian restaurants everywhere, and even the not-typically vegetarian restaurants seem to have at least a handful of quality items on the menu.
I’m in foodie-heaven here.
It’s only a matter of time until I’m mugged
“Watch your purse,” a Fijian woman told me as I walked through the open-air market.
A few minutes later, another Fijian woman approached me and said, “Keep your purse hidden! They’ll take it.”
I was supposed to go out one night with a new friend, but couldn’t get a hold of him because his phone was snatched as he walked and texted. The same friend also told me on a night out that some people put their valuables in their socks and shoes to avoid being mugged.
It seems like petty theft, muggings, and break ins are common, so I’ll have to be more mindful than I usually am.
Great views, great views everywhere…
The island of Viti Levu is very hilly, with jagged hilltops surrounding the city of Suva on all sides. If you make it to the top of one of these hills, you’ll be rewarded with a scene of rolling clouds, emerald-green jungles, colorful flowers, and houses hidden in between It all. In the mornings I open every window curtain in the house and stand for a few minutes just looking out at the scenery.
I think I’m going to like it here
There are pros and cons to living everywhere. If you love something wholly, it means you are ignorant to the deeper issues going on. The same thing goes for if you truly hate where you’re at. I’m just starting to feel the pulse of what life will be like as an expat in Fiji. Overall, it’s an interesting change and I enjoy being a small part of Fijian island life.