Fiji – the way the world should be

 

Natasha performing a 'meke' at her school's cultural day

Its been eons since I last blogged about the magical and mystical Fiji on my facebook notes and this my first bit on Fiji on wordpress. While I’m packing for Fiji and Sydney, a few of the Emirati families I know are returning from Fiji after 18 days in paradise. When I hear them talk about the exoticness and uniqueness of the Coral Coast where I was born, the Blue Lagoon Cruises and the fact they keep going back, I realise that I’ve only been to a fraction of the 332 islands that make up our nation.

As a child, I was fascinated and enchanted by the beauty of Rotumans. I wanted to go there as a teenager to get myself a Rotuman husband because to date, I find they have the best looking men on earth. I wanted to taste the red prawns of Vatulele which I did and dive the Astrollabe Reef instead of spanning the Sigatoka river for ‘kai’. Na kai is possibly the tastiest shellfish I’ve ever tasted in my life and I guess Fijian cuisine has its own taste because everything is fresh, organic and people go to the markets for fresh produce everyday as apposed to depending on processed food to save time.

Then there is the artesian Fiji water which has scientifically been proven to keep one’s skin young and healthy with its high levels of natural silica. Thanks to Hollywood celebrities giving up botox injections and turning to Fiji Water for eternal youth, our small nation is now one of the most famous brands associated with folks who will settle for nothing but the best.

Someone once described Fiji as a place where you experience the “exhilaration of a dolphin arching high into the air, the gliding swoop of an orange dove through the rainforest and children performing in unison to the beat of a hollow log drum. Its where one can sizzle with the evening’s entertainment, murmur with the quiet calm of pristine nature, swim with huge harmless manta rays or have an adrenaline rush at ‘Cloud Breaker’, the incredible wave offshore Tavarua that draws surfers from around the world. Fiji is where you can float in the calm turquoise lagoon privately, walk through lush rainforests, where flowers are tucked in the hair not to impress tourists but because it makes us feel at one with nature, where the sun shines everyday and when it does rain, people rush out to the brief downpour for a warm tropical rainbath shower which ends as quickly as it began.”

Its still fascinating when I go home to see people gather around in my living room in the evenings having a bowl of kava with my dad – I never seem to have the luxury of time the way people in Fiji do or enjoy life to the max in true Fijian style all the time. I miss waking up at home to the view of the sea in shape of a boat, looking out to the sandhills of Nadroga from my bedroom window, picking mangoes, oranges and passion fruit in the forest 2 minutes walk from my house or gazing at the Sigatoka town from my kitchen looking for excuses to go for a milkshake on the promenade.

In between decorating my new holiday home, thanks to my very generous sibling who gave it to me as a gift, this time I look forward to day trips on deserted islands with no form of digital technology, to a Blue Lagoon  or Starlight Dinner cruise and walk through the Garden of the Sleeping Giant. I hope to snorkel at Treasure Island or Vomo, vegetate on a hammock with a cocktail in my hand and I am insisting on the little umbrella.

To the wild world seeped in negativity, deception, recession, heartbreak and sadness, I strongly suggest taking a walk in our paradise. It helps and you will emerge a brand new better person at the end of it!

Its all about Al Ain

Its been years since I’ve actually spent a night in Al Ain despite the Emirate having possibly the most Fijians – I’m told Fiji has the most competent and caring nurses in the world and Al Ain now looks to Fiji to get more fascinating Fijians into the Emirate. Which is a good thing since we are an endangered species in some ways with so few of us being around so having more Fijians in the UAE can only be awesome.

Anyway, Al Ain has always held a fascination for me and every year I tell myself to go to the Al Ain Aerobatic Show (everyone who knows me can vouch for the love affair I have with fast machines). Hey….not the dodgy kind. Only the kind you use on air, water and roads!!!!

But what really is attractive about Al Ain is the greenery because of the oasis as well as the beautiful forts. Talking about the Al Ain oasis, I never knew that it has such a wide variety of of fruits like oranges, figs and mangoes plus over 145,000 date palms. I kind of associated oranges and mangoes to different climates. The Jimi oasis I’m told by my local friends has native plants used for medicinal properties including a number of properties restored from 18th century onwards. It has a 14m tower which looks incredible.

Al Muatared oasis is most fascinating to me as I read a long time ago about a local from Al Ain using the concept of falaj (underground water channel) for plant cultivation. This particular oasis has thousands of palm trees irrigated by the Muatared falaj. The Qattara oasis is on the other hand is known for beautifully coordinated date palms, orchards and pathways together with historic buildings that include three forts and the remains of a souq.

Then there is the Hili oasis which I heard about from a scholar in archeology based in sharjah who I consulted with a while ago on traditional buildings such as the forts, mustansariyas etc he talked about in his book (The book was in Arabic and I had to spend hours understanding his work). The Hili region apparently has been used for living and farming for thousands of years and has its own falaj system. Speaking of Hili, it has 2 watch towers that forms a gateway to the village.

Another interesting structure is the Al Murayjib Fort that has 3 free standing buildings in a gorgeous garden. The Murabba Fort was built in 1948 in the centre of Al Ain with a courtyard. The venue is great for celebrations, events etc and looks very traditional. The Eastern or Sultan Fort near to the Al Ain National Museum (Note to self – visit this ASAP) was built in 1910. The Mezyad Fort stands out in its design with its openings on the floor, walls and the machicolations while the Jahili Fort is known to be the largest in the country and looks like an imposing castle. I saw a picture of this and it does look like something I would love to do a photoshoot of.

Its near midnight and I’m done with forts and hoping to venture into castles next. The last castle I stayed in was 5 years ago in Scotland (Blackcraig castle) and would love to repeat that experience soon where I have maids waiting to serve moi day and night. The diva side of Fijianchick is always a given 🙂

The Forts of Liwa

My recent clear out meant finding a gem of lost information in my library of thousands of books, tapes, articles etc. One such bit included information on Liwa’s historic buildings which has of recent attracted a lot of interest amongst architecture specialists. Now I’m a great fan of the Architecture Heritage society and in particular of Rashad Bukhash & Peter Jackson and their work with traditional buildings in the UAE.

However it pains me that I often end up missing out on the society’s talks and excursions due to work and personal commitments. This does not stop me from doing my own research about intriguing buildings in between my zumba and yoga classes.

I learnt that most of these forts were built in the early 19th centrury by the Bani Yas tribes prompting communities to grow around the forts. Some of the structures to visit in Liwa include the Al Khnour Fort, The Muqib Tower, Hyeela Tower, Dhafeer Fort, Muzeira’a Fort, Arrada Fort, Jabbana Fort. I’ve also heard of Umm Hosn and Al Meel but have not read much about them. If anyone has any information about them it would be delightful.

Forts in this part of the world have cylindrical towers and built with a local mixture of clay, gypsum and sand, locally known as sarouj. Most have towers, wall openings and are usually built near water. Images of Liwa will be with you soon as soon as I secure my next luxury car for a weekend outstation. Do I hear Jebel Hafeet whispering my name seductively???

Next up – The Forts, oasis and towers in Al Ain. Watch this space!