A day of food, photos, music and laughter—and now we were on the road, heading back to the resort. It was Day Four of our honeymoon in Fiji and we hadn’t stopped at a single fruit stand. The freshest fruit on the island lives at those fruit stands.
En route to Pacific Harbor from Sigatoka, we spotted one on the other side of the road. We flipped a sharp u-turn in our Suzuki Jimney—a right-hand drive rental car that saw a few too many close calls. Parked in the dirt enclave on the roadside, we stepped out of our car and walked up to the fruit stand where we met Abraham.
At this point in the story, it’s important to note that Fiji is considered a third world country. I know—I was surprised too. I had always just thought of it as a scenic tropical island, expecting somewhat of a Hawaii 2.0. But Nate, who travelled to Kenya around the same time last year, mentioned that Fiji actually reminded him more of Kenya than Hawaii.
A startling 45% of Fiji’s population lives below the national poverty line and over 50% of the population lives on less than 25 FJD a week (Guadiana 3). The FJD to USD exchange rate is roughly 2 to 1, so we’re talking $12.50 a week.
Tourism is their largest source of foreign exchange, and I don’t think that’s solely because of the beautiful beaches and fine resorts. It speaks to the spirit of hospitality that’s knit into their cultural identity. A friend from our travels said it best when he said, “Here in Fiji, we may not have much to give, but we hope to make our hospitality a gift to you.” Whether you’re at a restaurant or a grocery store, you’ll most likely be greeted with an enthusiastic “Bula!” which is Fijian for “Hello!”
And that brings me back to Abraham.
“Bula!” he says, before we’ve even reached his stand.
We greet one another and he starts telling us about the fresh fruit he’s selling, mainly papaya and pineapple. The prices? A giant bowl of fresh papaya and the most delicious pineapple we’ve ever tasted for just 10 FJD (5 USD).
“It’s high, I know, but I can assure you that this is the best pineapple on the island.”
Already amazed by the price, we were an easy sell. While he was bagging the fruit, we all started chatting. I asked him if he had lived in Fiji his whole life. For some reason, his response gave me pause.
“Oh yes. And I believe that I am living in paradise,” he said, as he gestured to his surroundings. For a moment he closed his eyes, as though he was savoring the sweetness of home.
I’ve replayed this moment in my head several times since that day. It stayed with me, and I think there are a few reasons why.
In part, I’m intrigued by his absolute peace in the midst of apparent poverty. In the earlier days of our trip, we would be driving along the main road and we’d see little kids—three, four, five years old—trying to sell bags of fruit to passerbys. We’d see tiny mud huts housing large families and mothers nervously watching their children, worried that they might follow a toy into the busy street.
We’d notice these things and talk about how sad it all was. But here’s the thing. While we were all wrapped up in feeling sorry for these natives, they were going about life as they knew it—usually with smiles on their faces. Many of them, like Abraham, were so incredibly joyful. To me, it felt like the peace that only God can bring— the kind that surpasses all understanding (Philippians 4:7). But to them, it seemed like it was the life they knew, and thus, the life they cherished.
So, here’s what I’m not saying. I’m not saying that poverty isn’t an issue in Fiji. You saw the stats above and I saw it first hand. What I am saying is that there might be some merit to taking our western goggles off every once in a while to embrace a culture for what it is, not how it compares with our own. To dwell on what other cultures have to offer rather than the technology and conveniences that they lack.
Abraham’s response, along with his general demeanor, reminded me that each person’s life experience is unique and precious to them. Here’s what I mean. I was born and raised in the United States. I’ve lived in sunny California for most of my life and have been heavily influenced by the power of technology and innovation over my lifetime. Abraham, on the other hand, was born and raised on the scenic Fiji Islands, where he lived off the land with his family and was rarely more than a glance away from the ocean. He may not have a smartphone, fancy clothes, or a big savings account, but he’s wealthy in his own right. He finds his riches in God’s creation and in the people around him.
That’s Abraham’s paradise.
And I believe our vastly different life experiences leave us both with something valuable to offer one another. So much so that when our worlds collide at a fruit stand east of Sigatoka, we can gain something just by speaking earnestly, listening intently and caring about what we hear.