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Learning to live in Fiji time

It's an early winter in the Northeast this year, and yet the 26th named tropical storm - Epsilon - is spinning in the Atlantic. What a long strange year it's been! It seems to be shaping up for a long strange winter as well. Oh well, there is always skiing; or you can take a break from winter by going someplace warm and exotic. In my mind, the place that most exemplifies the warm and exotic tropical paradise is Fiji. It's the place you imagine when you think of Polynesia. I may not be able to get there tomorrow, but I can be there today in the blink of an eye and a memory or two.

I had quite a few experiences when I traveled to Fiji and New Zealand a few years back that I will remember for a lifetime.  Few were more memorable than learning about “Fiji Time.”  It has nothing to do with the fact that Fijian islands straddle the 180 degree meridian in the middle of the South Pacific and, therefore, are exactly 12 hours ahead of Greenwich Mean Time. No, in fact, as I was about to learn, it doesn't have anything to do with what the clocks say.

I arrived in Nadi, near Suva , the main city in Fiji on the island of Viti Levu and I was heading to Savu Savu on the island of Vanua Levu , which I later learned meant South and North Islands, respectively . In Nadi , I was rushing to make the connection with my plane, and the luggage was taking forever to come out.  I was getting agitated. I didn’t want to be delayed. There was only one flight that day, you see.  I did not want to miss a day in paradise by spending it at the airport.

That’s when a very nice policeman dressed in traditional Fijian garb came my way.  He asked where I was heading and why I looked so upset.  I explained, and he said, “Well, you do know about Fiji time?”  I did not want to sound stupid, but I had no clue.  A million things ran through my mind.  He said, “Oh, you don’t, I see.  Fiji time is ‘Whenever!’ That means your plane is not leaving at 2:00 , it is leaving whenever the captain feels it is time for him to leave.”  I said, “But how will I know?” he laughed a very hearty laugh and said, “You’ll feel when it’s time.”

I ended up thinking about that a lot over the years that have passed since.  That flight did not take off at 2:00 .  It took off at 4:00 when the plane was full.  It could have taken off at 11:30 if that had been the right time for it to go. It did not go clockwise around the island stops as scheduled that day, it went counterclockwise.  So instead of being first off, I was last off.  After getting stressed out once again, I realized that I was getting a free tour of the spectacular island nation and sat back to enjoy the ride.  Of course it was dark and the lights were off on the landing strip when we finally got to my stop so we had to "entice" the official to turn the lights on, but that’s another story.

I did get to experience Fiji time the entire time I was there, and it helped me decompress in, well, no time at all.  When I was hungry, I ate.  When I felt like snorkeling, I snorkeled. When it felt like time to kayak, I kayaked.  When it was time to sleep, I went to my lovely bure on the beach.   Life took on its own rhythm. I didn’t plan anything really. It just happened.   I became “a human being” rather than “a human doing.” You see Fiji time is more than a localized phenomemon. It's an attitude which sets a pace for life. A pace that is thoughtful, peaceful, and relaxed.

First time visitors, they say, have a hard time adjusting, but once they do, they quickly learn to enjoy Fiji time (as if anything happens quickly in Fiji). The world begins to look a little brighter. People smile more often on Fiji time, they stop to talk a little longer, they laugh harder, and they take more of that precious time to watch the sunset or play with children. Fiji time moves a little slower than time elsewhere, so there seems to be more of it to spend with the ones you love, doing the things you love to do.

Perhaps that’s why I enjoy sailing so much...or perhaps I should say cruising. Cruising seems to always take place in Fiji time. It’s a chance to do things or not, a chance to reflect and commune with nature, a chance to have a sense of accomplishment simply by passing safely from one place to another.  It’s a way of moving slowly enough to see what’s passing by.  Of course, you have to be attuned to Fiji time or you won’t know when it’s time to go, and you won’t know when you’re on the right heading.  

“Festina lente,” that’s what Alex always says.  In Latin it means “make haste slowly.”  It’s not quite the same as Fiji time, but it seems quite fitting.  Yep, I think I’ll make haste slowly whenever it feels like it's time to go sailing.  That will be several months away around these parts, but I am confident I will know when it's time to take the cover off.  

I hope Fiji time still exists in places other than my mind. I think that merits a little research, which we'll begin, well, maybe tomorrow. Yes, Scarlet, we'll worry about that tomorrow. Bula to all! Warm thoughts for the winter.

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