When I was 22 I got it into my head to take a trip to Australia and Thailand. The driving motivations for this adventure were, of course, surfing and Thai food. So, after earning a few bucks working as a deckhand in Alaska, I set off in November of 2002 for six months of fun in the sun. First stop: Fiji.
The flight to Fiji was memorable to the extent that it was terrible. I did have a good book to read, as I had brought along Howard Zinn’s iconic The People’s History of the United States, but the hang-over from the night before was epic. At one point the flight attendant came over unsolicited with some ibuprofen and a 7-Up because she had, “seen her dad like this before. He drank a lot.” Good start, Abrams. 12 hours later I landed in the sunny capital city of Suva.
Fiji is a small island country in the Pacific. The Fijian people are a mix between ethnic Fijians and Indians, who were brought there as labor in the 1800s during the era of British rule. Today that ethnographic dynamic presents a significant challenge as the Indian minority has managed through hard work to rise from their humble origins to amass a disproportionate amount of the nation’s wealth and power. The ethnic Fijians resent this, and in 1990 there was a military coups that enacted changes in the constitution that codified ethnic Fijian dominance of the political system. Since then there have been numerous efforts to improve this situation, although the tension remains. In many ways the landscape of Fiji is a paradise. The white beaches and palm trees border an iridescent blue ocean. And, like any proper Eden, there is fresh fruit within arm’s reach, as mango trees line the jungle paths. Behind the dreamlike facade, however, there is a dirtier reality. Many of the most beautiful places are not accessible to locals, a populace that struggles with the poverty and health issues of most developing countries.
During my time there I basically travelled in a loop around the perimeter of the country. After Suva I
went clockwise to the North, where I stayed on a small island just off the coast. There, in the blazing hot Fijian sun, I received what to this day remains the worst sunburn of my life. I had decided to hire a small boat to go snorkeling in the deep, clear water off shore. In true Fijian style the boat was only about 12 feet long and barely ran. On board were myself, the driver, and one other diver. About an hour away from the beach I noticed the driver, a native Fijian who was black as night, reach into his bag for his sunscreen, a thick white paste that must have been SPF 1000. As he spread this over his ebony shoulders I knew I was done for. And I was. Within 24 hours the outer layers of my skin had sloughed off like a lizard molting, and in addition to the cancer I will likely develop, I also got a tan line that is with me to this day.