29. What Cannibals? and A Necklace For the Queen

One entertaining afternoon as I sat upon the wall curiously watching all the people, a young Indian man stopped just before blocking my view.  Gesturing towards the available spot next to me he asked if he could sit there.  ‘Yes of course,’ I answered with a friendly smile.  

He parked himself and watched Marine Drive with the rest of us.  After a short while, he asked me where I was from.  I laughed a little to myself before letting him in on my thoughts.  

I answered him this way, ‘There’s a little bitty group of islands in the deep South Pacific, very near to New Zealand.  That’s the Fiji Islands.’  The puzzled look on his face said it all.  After a chuckle I said to him, ‘Do you know where Hawaii is?’  

He said yes so I continued, ‘Well it’s about 6 hours if you fly or 5-6 days if you sail from there going further south.  There are two big islands; Viti Levu being the one I was born on and the smaller of the two is Vanua Levu.’ I explained.  He seemed interested enough.

‘My island is slightly larger than Hawaii and there are several smaller ones in the group.  The smaller ones have a few coconut trees, rooted in the sand, and they’re just standing there.’  the stranger smiled.  

‘Who knows, some storms come and wash them away for a time and maybe even the whole island!’  I smiled big as he laughed loud and I ran on with my seemingly entertaining story.

‘Originally the natives were cannibals, before the Christian missionaries arrived. They ate some of them; the missionaries and their friends that is, until convinced otherwise by the remaining missionaries.’  

This is really fun I thought to myself as I kept talking.  

‘When no one visited for a while, they probably boiled the bones of dinners past and had themselves a good soup.’  I had to laugh because my wall-mate looked a little worried.  

‘Then the Indians eventually came along with some Europeans, a few neighboring islanders, and a handful of Chinese too; migrated to Fiji that is.’  

I must tell you here, this was the loose version of my island history as we knew it and told each other as kids back home.  I was done with my story for the time being.  It was his turn now.

This young man was just as fresh to India as I was.  He was born and raised in South Africa.  His parents brought him her to experience India, his blood-line.  They had an apartment home right there on the Queen’s Necklace aka Marine Drive.  That was where a good percentage of the wealthy lived, at least some of the time.  

We both realised our relation to one another was effortless as the hours passed in conversation and people watching.   My new friend and I agreed to meet up very soon and further our adventures; we made plans to buzz all over Bombay and her outlying reaches.  

We felt such a sense of adventure coming on; we’d go everywhere via double decker bus, taxi , auto rickshaw, train and most likely a lot of walking too!

C - Delhi street vending

Before I met this Jittu Singh, I had been told by a few people that I must get to the elevated hills behind all of this to witness a breathtaking view of the Queen’s Necklace in the evening hours.  They were right, it was stunning!  

Good times are rolling now and no I haven’t forgotten that I still must get to London.  All in its own time though I thought to myself.

|||


I laughed a little to myself from experience past, at that time not many had heard of the Fiji Islands.  I know, right?!!

Just a reminder:    Jittu Singh is the fictitious name of a real character, a wonderful addition to LBMs first adventure in India.

The point of interest here was Bombay’s Malabar Hill.  It is where It is where LBM stood to take in the view which was within the Kamala Nehru Park.  

I sure do wish LBM could find some of those photographs he had taken in India and elsewhere too, I mean, while we’re at it …wishing and all!

3. Dreams Are Visible Over the Horizon

I am a teenager now.   My curiosity is wildly stimulated not only by my own vivid imagination but seeing those cargo ships coming in near every week and the urbane passenger luxury ships calling to port -at the rate of four to five per month- left sparsely an idle moment in this youth’s fanciful thoughts.

Convenient for me I had a friend who worked for the only travel agency in Suva.  This fellow very much enjoyed the food from my house and so for a few favors I exchanged roti and curries.  Jackpot!

I was now supplied with travel brochures, posters, schedules and best of all, passes to go on board the ships -passenger or cargo- as a visitor, yes passes!  These items were extremely valuable to me and if you’ve read up to this point from the beginning, you know this.

Wherever I would be wandering in my town and for whatever purpose that day, I’d keep my watchful eyes fixed on the Pacific Ocean.  Never mind the Harbor Master being the first to bring in the ships; for me it was my appreciation in what those vessels at port represented and that is how I (metaphorically) brought the ships in to the Port of Suva.

🚢Some of the ships I recall were the U S Flagships, SS Mariposa and the SS Monterey.  The P&O Liners were a constant to the Fiji Islands.  And you can be certain if there was a ship headed this way and I was at all able, I’d make a bee-line straight down to the docks!

Even if it was a cargo ship on a brief overnight stop for supplies on its way to Hawaii, New Zealand or Australia just for example, I could almost guarantee myself a meet with some of the crew.  I’d arrive at port with overflowing eagerness and full of enquiries.

Usually only some of the troupe came ashore.  I was there to greet and be helpful; perhaps recommending a comfortable spot for a perfect meal, steer them to a decent tailor, an honest souvenir trader or perhaps even to the watchmaker-jeweler’s shop where my brother worked!

If I had enough free time in the morning, I’d use my pass to go aboard.  Otherwise I could wait –barely- till the early afternoon.  On the day-only ships, I’d have to off board an hour prior to their 5 o’clock evening sailing time.  That’s all right because I knew another ship was soon to dock within the week!

If these people hadn’t been here before, they’d ask me something about my island and after providing the best answer I could, then I felt it was my turn so I’d ask questions about where they came from.

I’d ask them to describe for me some of what they have witnessed in their travels and well you can imagine how this continued to fuel my dreams!  The majority of these people were only too glad to converse with me; maybe it was my dashing good looks?!

As every day came and went I soon realized this hunger was indeed a zealous fire; one in which I simply had to explore the world surrounding me, no turning back, in order to find any contentment with my life, ever!

My spirited resolve having given birth to a ceaseless passion, I knew I could write my own destiny; at least I’d give it my best shot.  Oh how I coveted a life beyond what I thought was my best dream!

Looking out to the horizon and catching sight of a ship -which looked like a small toy- moved me in such a way that I realized nothing could hold me back from aspiring to my full height.  These lofty dreams were going to carry me out to sea.

For the most part I am now stepping into a different circle from that of my recent boyhood island life.  I find myself making many friends from all over and this gained for me quite a few pen pals as well.  They were mostly from New Zealand, Australia and America.

I had gone aboard the SS Mariposa one morning and I remember an especially kind gentleman; I first saw him standing on deck, uniformed and talking with some fellow officers of the ship.  It must’ve been the way he carried himself I guess, and I remember thinking how important and impressive he appeared, daring to believe he’d make a great friend!

Carefree as I was and not at all shy, I approached them.  They all greeted me and the light communications began.  I recall feeling joy at the fact they made time to speak with me, a young starry-eyed boy.  I continually made eye contact with him as we all spoke, which led to our one-on-one conversation and he introduced himself as *Stéphane Vieuxmaire.   I almost immediately and confidently told him that I knew I could work on this ship someday.

“Of course you could!” he enthusiastically said to this eager heart and with a warming smile to be sure.  This wonderful man eventually became a close friend to the family.  Stéphane was of French descent and he was the 1st Mate, Chief Officer.  With his encouraging reply, I could see myself standing beside them on deck, uniformed and all!

And you know this vision stayed within me for many years: if not as an officer then for sure a world traveling passenger!

|||


 

Thanks again for coming around for another dose.  We wish for you all a wonderful gathering in thanks with all your loved ones and at least one delicious meal shared.

And if you cannot be together at this time, please send the LOVE out there to them, to all!  Here’s to my loved one currently deployed: away for his birthday, thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years – come home safely my dearest, all of you!

Until next Sunday night, after the stuffing and cranberry has run out, tune in again for the continuing chronicles!  And I look forward to your comments 😉

*Stéphane Vieuxmaire is a fictitious name to protect the privacy of the very real person in this life history.