Sari Gabbay is a Women’s Post contributor and founder of U2R1 Media, Inc.
After a grueling 20 hours of travel and two days without sleep, most of which were spent in an oversized sardine can high in the sky, finally I arrived. Coming from -15 degrees Celsius to a +30 degree tropical climate, it was easy to notice my stark white, almost translucent skin as I stepped off the fishing boat, the last element of transportation. It was as if I traveled through the time and space continuum; there I was in the future. Forty eight hours from when I left, I had entered into a completely different dimension of reality. Often, I imagined what heaven would be like and little did I know, its location was just on the other side of the earth, in a place far, far away known to the world as Fiji. As one who was fortunate enough to visit, I will describe this celestial paradise inhabited by a culture that is the epitome of true divinity. A place where heaven meets earth and one can only imagine as the destination God himself would choose as the ideal vacation spot.
“Bula, Sari,” our host greeted me. “Everyone that comes to Tokoriki Resort is considered part of the family.”
Tokoriki Island was my destination and upon arrival I was welcomed with warm smiles, a lovely fruit cocktail, and a fresh wet cloth infused with peppermint oil to decompress from my travels. As I walked past the infinity pool overlooking the vast Pacific Ocean towards my beachfront Bure, equipped with an outdoor shower and state-of-the-art amenities, I was overcome by inspiration and marvel. At first, being welcomed as a family member my immediate thought was “what’s the gimmick?” However, after a few days I became awe struck at the Fijian’s genuine and authentic nature.
I’ve been to many resorts around the world and every one had an underlying ulterior motive: I’m nice to you so I can get a good tip. That entire concept put me off of traditional holidays for a long time. My travel agent, who had spent over a month in Fiji, explained that we were about to encounter some of the world’s most sincere and kind individuals, but it wasn’t until I experienced it for myself that all my preconceptions of traditional oceanside holiday resorts were erased.
It didn’t take long for me to realize that the worldwide reputation of the Fijians was not only accurate but far surpassed anything that had been described to me. Never in my life have I encountered a place so full of positivity and true zest for life. It’s hard to even imagine living a life in such a reality. This is what all spiritual gurus are teaching their students, what people pay Tony Robbins thousands of dollars to learn – who by the way has a centre in Fiji – but for the Fijians, this way of life comes naturally. It’s the only way they know and because of this they manage to live in total bliss all day, everyday.
During a conversation with one of the girls in Sensali, the spa at Tokoriki resort, I asked her point blank: “Do Fijians ever get angry?” She laughed at me as if was telling a joke, but once she realized I was actually inquiring she responded in a matter of fact tone, “Rarely, why do you?”
That’s when I started laughing. Soon after that my laughter turned into embarrassment, as I knew that the truth was infact ridiculously illogical: “Unfortunately, North Americans are angry more than they are happy,” was my honest to goodness response. She seemed a bit surprised and asked me why. My answer: “We are never satisfied with what we have and because of that we are never happy.” A sad and discomforting reality to say the least.
The truth is, living in Fiji is like inhabiting another planet and if we all lived like the Fijians then we would no longer need to pray for peace on earth. A perfect example of this is their current political situation. The military is in the process of staging a coup against the government and the irony is there will be no bloodshed or violence; the government is pre-warned that they will need to step down and everything is decided through conversations and communications. This is actually one of the many coups that have been staged over the past decade; they even stopped discussions to participate in a very anticipated Rugby game. Imagine that.
The locals live in villages on various Islands with head chief and respected elders at the helm. The village is run like a mini communist society where everyone shares everything: The villagers all cook for each other, they share the money and everyone is equal as long as you are a true Fijian, that is. Of course, nothing can be 100 per cent perfect and there are issues with race segregation and rights being limited to those of non-Fijian decent. (In this case, mostly Indian.) A Fijian salary is quite low, around 2-4 Fijian dollars/hour, which is equivalent to about US$1-$2. Many goods are hard to come by as they are only obtained on the main Island, Nadi, which is not easy to travel to on a regular basis. However, there is not much need for material items in Fiji. As we sat in the town hall drinking Kava, a traditional Fijian drink derived from a pepper plant, it became eminently clear that we, complete foreigners, had been welcomed with open arms to their sacred home.
A Fijian’s life revolves around family and more than one wife is completely acceptable. Children are put to work at a very young age but also enjoy a typical daily school routine where much of their teachings are in English and many of their classes incorporate music and song. Fijians love music, a fact that became evident to us at Tokoriki when we were greeted and bid farewell with traditional songs. Every night we were serenaded by the band who to our surprise knew many western artists, such as U2, Jason Maraz, and Frank Sinatra to name a few.
As each day passed I forged stronger and stronger bonds with the local Fijians working on Tokoriki Island, some of whom lived in the village about 10km across the ocean, while others had family and homes on the mainland. They knew every guest’s name and greeted us with warmth and kindness; it was evident that they cherished their job and the people around them. My last day was both heartfelt and emotional as I drew my last breath of Fiji sand and sea. I realized that unlike my other worldly travels, I was leaving behind more than just a country I visited. I was in fact leaving behind friends that would remember me always and had left a prominent imprint on my heart.
On my journey back to Canada, I took with me the understanding of what true serenity and peace of mind is like. The notion that happiness lies within the ones you love is not just an unobtainable cliché that we in the Western Hemisphere believe to be fairytale fodder. Alas, such a concept is hard to grasp in a society where we are all trying to keep up with the Joneses. Unless you see it first hand, the ideology of inner peace and abundance is just a means to grasp at when the world around you seems dark and grey. In Fiji, however, the sun is always shining even when it rains, and the smiles are big and bright. Perhaps one day the rest of the world will wake up and realize that these simple people in a small group of Islands isolated from the rest of the world are the ones who understood the true meaning of life all along.