Wednesday, September 17th – Suva, Fiji
Coincidence? Happenstance? Chance? What are the odds of random circumstances coming together in a confluence of time and space?
My mom and dad were married in November 1941, one month before Pearl Harbor was bombed. He joined the Army and served as a First Sergeant during World War II, stationed for most of his service time in the Fiji Islands. Later, toward the end of the war, he was sent to Germany. Dad seldom talked about his time in Europe, but he often spoke of the beauty of the South Pacific islands. My sister, brother, and I used to spend hours digging through Mama’s Hope Chest, oohing and aahing over the things he brought back for her—handcrafted jewelry made from coral, shell, and different woods, sea shells he’d polished himself, strange coins, photos of him and his buddies fishing and climbing coconut trees, and postcards. He sent Mama postcards—lots of postcards—over the three long years he spent in Fiji because a soldier’s correspondence was often redacted to maintain secrecy.
One of the photos he sent was photo of a local chieftain’s daughter. She was a beautiful woman … with a stunning likeness to my mother–the hair, her smile, even her eyes. Mom didn’t care much for it, though. I didn’t understand why back then, but I figured it out as I got older. The woman in the picture, the curvy dead ringer, was topless! <smile>
My sister, brother and I LOVED plundering through Mama’s Hope Chest. We marveled over those trinkets for hours. Fiji was a strange, exhilarating, thrilling land, the stuff of fantasy for three kids growing up in Mobile, Alabama. We had no perception of the world back then, no idea how far away the islands were from us. But we carried those memories all our life. I wish I had a dollar for each time one of us said, “Wouldn’t it great to see Fiji…”
Today, we docked in the main city of Suva. Fiji, as it turns out, is comprised of 332 islands. It saddens me to think how much history has been lost as I have no way of knowing which island he was stationed on for all those years. Fiji is lush and tropical with one foot firmly entrenched in the present while the other clings to their heritage. Outside the main city, there are only villages, each led by a chieftain. Some of their laws seem almost prim—like how women must wear tops that cover their shoulders and bottoms (skirts or pants) that reach below the knee; how men in the village must also cover their torso and shoulders, but can’t wear pants—instead they wear traditional sari-type wraps; and how no one walking through the village can come within ten meters of the chief’s house without calling out for permission. Our guide assured us the times are changing. I can’t help but feel a little sad about it.
Our visit here was a bittersweet experience for me. The mystique is gone. I have real images in my head now—but I hope I never forget those wonderful, fantastical childhood memories.
Today is September 17th – my father’s birthday. He would have been 97.
Coincidence. I don’t think so. One of my favorite sayings is, “Things don’t just happen. They come to pass.”