My first week as an expat in Suva
I can remember my first day as life as an Australian expat living in Suva in vivid (head-shaking) detail. Filth, tears, a huge argument, spit, dancing videos, umbrellas and Albert Park.
We had lived in Sigatoka on the Coral Coast in 2010 for one year, and had moved back to Australia for 6 (ish) months, when my Husband got a phone call that he was being offered a job based in the capital city of Suva. At the time I was running my own small children's and gift boutique on Queensland's Sunshine Coast. From that phone call to my first day in Suva, life went by in a blur. Like watching a movie on fast forward. It was around eight weeks.
We had been in Fiji about three weeks prior for a holiday at Denerau's Hilton and Coral Coast's Shangrila Fijian. This was when my Hubby had attended a meeting which led to this offer. So, we had been to Suva a few times, for shopping mostly. But it is fair to say that we had only seen it from a tourist's point of view.
Hubby was due to fly out on his own to start the job, and find accommodation for us. Unfortunately, a severe tropical storm had other ideas. Massive floods in Nadi meant his flight was delayed a ridiculous number of times. Each time we drove to the Airport, and the kids said their goodbyes, he was home again that night. Eventually he got on a plane which got diverted to Melbourne, and then when he finally arrived in Nadi, a few days later, he was stranded there for a week, not being able to make his way across to Suva.
Meanwhile, I had been busy trying to sell my shop and get released from my lease, packing up the house, and putting everything into storage, and playing mum to two kids who didn't know if we were coming or going! Fun times !
So it is a good assumption that our first day in Suva was probably a reflection of the stress of life as a 'soon-to-be new expat' in the weeks preceding our arrival.
The kids and I, along with six suitcases of 'stuff' we didn't need, caught the overnight flight from Brisbane to Nadi, then connection into Suva.
None of us slept. The anticipation of seeing my Hubby again, after what seemed like 6 months (in reality only one month!) was too much to handle and as we walked through the rusty gate at Nausori Airport, I burst into the first of many tears shed that first week.
We made our way to the temporary accommodation, having had difficulty in securing permanent lodgings for us, Hubby had booked a three week stay at a popular apartment complex right opposite Suva's famous Albert Park. As we walked in, the second lot of tears rolled down my face. All I could think was that of course he booked a stay here, it is right opposite the best sporting ground in Suva. Great for him, but not for me! I was a sad sack.
As we entered, more tears. The kitchen was revolting, all I could see was black grease in an oven that I would never be able to cook in. The kids and I went straight to bed, despite it being 9am in the morning. We slept for a few hours, then decided to go for a walk to try and cheer ourselves up. We headed to town (less than 10 minutes away) and it was filthy, dirty, gross. I felt like we were stepping over dead rats, garbage and urine.
We made our way past a section of town which is full of nightclubs. A guy approached us, and then with all his power and might, spat at my feet. The nerve of that creep, I thought. This was enough for me. I walked through the streets of Suva crying with a 4 and 9 year old following me. I had no idea how to contact my Husband, or where his office was. Then it started to rain, and we had no umbrella. I made my mind up then and there that we didn't belong in Suva. I can imagine what we must have looked like! We jumped in a taxi back to the 'filthy kitchen' place, and waited what seemed like hours for Hubby to appear.
Later that day, a huge argument ensued between myself and Hubby. I was dramatic and loud, and wondering how I could have bought my kids to 'such a place'. Of course, he was being totally reasonable and sensible (I don't admit that often!) and I was operating on anxiety and lack of sleep.
By 6pm, we were moving back to Australia. I even called Virgin Australia to see what flights the kids and I could get on. When I relive this now by writing this post, I am literally laughing out loud. What a drama queen I was!
It was like a scene out of a really bad movie.
Hubby and I yelling about a filthy kitchen; me saying I am moving back to Australia; a Fijian lady knocking on the door with a bunch of flowers for me because she had seen me crying as I got out of the taxi earlier on; Hubby slipping over on the spilled shower water in the hallway; and in the midst of all this, the kids put some music on and started dancing on the coffee table taking videos of each other. When I watch those home movies now, I laugh. The kids saved my sanity that night.
In hindsight, I should have gone to bed for the day and night, and woken up with a rational mind and outlook.
When I did wake up for what was our second day in Suva, hungry from not eating at all the day before (well honestly, was I going to cook in that kitchen?), I tentatively walked out into the kitchen, and would you believe it??
I mean, I wouldn't believe it either if I didn't see it for myself - but the kitchen had been renovated overnight as I slept. It was clean, fully functioning and the oven was perfectly fine. The sun was shining through the clean windows and we could see Suva Harbour in all it's glory. What a beauty the Harbour is!
It's fair to say I had suffered culture shock, mixed with a plethora of emotions including anxiety, exhaustion, and being faced with a new life.
Looking back on the day prior, my first foray into Suva life, everything had seemed a million times worse than the reality.
The rain - well the Suva weather is unpredictable, and it was likely sunny less than half an hour later, I eventually got myself a good rain jacket!
The spitting man - he was just drunk heading home after a fun night out and probably didn't even intent to spit near my foot!
The nightclub district - too funny, there are quite a few nightclubs in Suva but they are spread around.
The filth - it was a dreary day in Suva and when the sun isn't out, Suva isn't displayed in her best. I always maintain now that Suva really sparkles in the sunshine. The kitchen - well that was renovated overnight so I was clearly not exaggerating about that one!
Looking back now, I should have focused on two things that first day.
1) The kindness of the Fijian stranger bringing me flowers - a classic example of life in Fiji with the local people. They are kind and caring, and generous with their time and love.
2) The kids dancing on the coffee table - whilst they knew that I would never allow them to stand on a piece of furniture and dance, they were making the best of a pretty crappy day. And this is the attitude you need to adopt in Fiji. You will have so many moments where you've been what long time Suva expats like to call "FIJI'ed".
It is when things that seem so simple won't happen - you just need to go with the flow, call it 'Fiji time' and roll with the punches. It is a simple way of life without worries. We should all adopt it.
Our first two months in Suva were a mixed bag of great happiness and plunging sadness. I hadn't expected such severe ups and downs. Given we had lived in Fiji prior, I was not expecting this. I think it says a lot about choosing your location carefully, and proves how varied locations can be, in one relatively small country.
We had trouble finding a permanent place to live, and as such settled for the wrong types of rentals. We weren't smart about location, transport, even noise. We moved no less than five times in the first eight weeks, which not only cost us a small fortune, but did no favors for our state of feeling 'settled'. We eventually settled into an apartment on Knolly Street, which we loved. It was close to school and kindy, on the Vatuwaqa bus line (my favourite and, yes, you better believe that I have a favourite bus line in Fiji!!) and a three minute walk into town. Once we found that apartment and it felt like a home, life in Suva became great. The kids were enrolled in School and Kindy and I began to make friends. We got into a rhythm and life was good!
I am so glad we didn't succumb to the stress in the first few weeks. I won't lie, we were homesick and lonely. There were many times that I just wanted to head back to the safety net of 'home', my family and friends. But, if we didn't stick it out, I wouldn't have the love of Suva that I have now. Suva is the one city in the world I really love. Other expats I've spoken to, haven't felt the same but that's the beauty of difference.
noun: culture shock "the feeling of disorientation experienced by someone when they are suddenly subjected to an unfamiliar culture, way of life, or set of attitudes"
Yes, I am fairly confident that is precisely what clouded our judgement that first day of life as an Expat in Suva, Fiji.
Some things I love about life in Suva
Movies at Damodar City -premium class (like Gold Class) only $20fjd per ticket
Vatuwaqua Bus Line - the most spacious of the buses, open air, music, decorations
Vodafone Arena - heading there to watch Netball Championships, we saw NZ's Silver Ferns play against Cook Islands, Fiji and Samoa
Crowds cheering at huge Sporting Events - Fijian supporters are the best!! So fun and loud, dancing and not taking themselves too seriously - the Fijian spirit!
Hibiscus Festival - Fiji's equivalent of the Ekka (Brisbane) or Royal Easter Show (Sydney) but on a much smaller (much!) scale. Makes us laugh every year because you would never think 25 BBQ stalls would be lined up next to each other without a difference in what they are serving, but hey, it's Fiji!
Cathedral - what a building! Many days I would start off there saying a quick prayer and lighting a candle
The market run by the Council - Suva Market - a huge selection of fresh fruit and veggies that are cheap and yum!