Rugby World Cup 2011

While the Kiwis are gearing up for the much-anticipated Rugby World Cup 2011, the rugby fever in Fiji for the World Cup is equally festive and addictive. There seems to be talk of the big event in the Pacific in all shops, homes, playgrounds etc. (I have returned to the UAE with two official World Cup Rugby balls courtesy of Nadi’s Courts Mega Store who felt my reward for spending over FJD6,000/- for furniture with them entitled me to get nothing but the best I could take from Fiji). Naturally that meant something associated to rugby, the sea or crafts so here I am with two rugby balls I am meant to take to the World Cup for autographs from muscular, hunky, gorgeous, half naked men running around the field battling to get a trophy for their high levels of testosterones.

Mind you, in another context, going up to get an autograph from a hunky obliging dude would be absolutely fantastic but nothing would make me battle the crowds in a World Cup to do this. Afterall, I am on first name basis with rugby legend, Waisale Serevi – what more could a woman want in life???

Punters estimate that there would be about 4 million people venturing into New Zealand for the Rugby world Cup 2011. But from what I hear, this is not necessarily the only attraction our gorgeous Pacific Island has to offer. Alongside the World Cup will be another festival running from Sept 9 to Oct 23 bringing together a host of arts, culture, cuisine, history etc throughout the country.

Visitors will definitely be enthralled with the rich Maori culture, which is very similar to Fijian culture as well as the country’s sophisticated cuisine, wine and arts shows. My fondest memories of New Zealand is about yummy milk, chocolates, corned mutton (Best in the world) and their craft made from wood. One of my favourite pieces at home is a beautiful wooden tabletop oval clock from New Zealand that would always remain timeless no matter where I live and what deco I have in my house.

In Fiji, people are already talking about the World Cup with as much enthusiasm and vigour as they would about their annual festivals like the Hibiscus, sugar or Bula festivals where everyone gathers to have a good time.

Me, I will have my official World Cup rugby balls pumped up and ready for rugby players I deem worth my charming while perhaps at Dubai 7s. Afterall, this diva will not just settle for anyone who has got into the world cup – only ones who come close to the benchmark set by the likes of Serevi!

The story of whitebait

On my way back from Fiji, my daughter was most amused when she saw me have a roti sandwich with fried whitebait in Sydney and asked why would I have that for dinner when there was an amazing buffet of delicacies laid out for us in the Business Class lounge.

I quickly launched into the story of whitebait or digana as it’s referred to in Fiji. Digana, or inanga (common galaxies) is a delicacy amongst food enthusiasts around the world and in Fijian families like mine, it is frozen for consumption when in season for visitors like myself who will never experience the amazing taste in any other part of the world.
The most common whitebait species is found in New Zealand and Fiji waters. They are caught using small open-mouthed hand-held nets similar to ones we used for catching baby prawns in our childhood as a weekend activity.

Whitebaiting in the Pacific is a seasonal activity with a fixed and limited period when they can be caught. Foodies in other parts of the world often find whitebait very different and superior in the Pacific than in other parts of the world. In human terms it’s the difference you would find between Europeans and East Europeans or how people find North Americans far superior than the South Americans who are often seen as low class. They are all humans but many people unfortunately view them differently in terms of superiority. Its the difference of a quality German product and a cheap replica done in some dodgy factory in China. In the same way foodies view the whitebait in the Pacific as far superior in taste and texture than what is found in other parts of the world.

As a delicacy, whitebait commands high prices to the extent that it is the most costly fish on the market, if available. It is normally sold fresh in small quantities, although some is frozen to extend the sale period. I’m just grateful my sister always keeps them in supply for my visits to Fiji.

I met a Kiwi who told me that whitebaiting in NZ was a sport because it takes a lot of patience, luck and the reward of a good catch. In places like Mokau District, there are even a few varieties of whitebait. I remember a menu in Portugal not long ago that had whitebait. I looked at the picture and immediately asked the waiter in Lisbon if it was really whitebait. He showed me a sample and it was a far cry from being delicate. I would even go as far as saying it was an insult to call it whitebait.

If you are a foodie and have a soft spot for high-end seafood that tickles your palate, I suggest trying this delicacy when you are next in the Pacific and lucky enough to be there during the whitebaiting season.

Ramadan in Fiji Islands ++

This year I was lucky enough to catch the first few days of Ramadan in Fiji after 22 years of being abroad during this holy month. It was fun, overwhelming and a wonderful experience for a number of reasons.

My uncle, who is the President of  a Jamat in Fiji had invited us to dinner the night of the first tarawih. As soon as our family in New Zealand sighted the moon, the phone started ringing as my uncle’s house hosts the community for 30 days for iftar meals and tarawih prayers together with other members of the jamat. It was a comical sight as all mobiles kept ringing all around us for people to get news if Ramadan was the next day while half of us trying to manage 2 calls at a time with people we didn’t know.

All of the a sudden, there was a flurry of activity post dinner relating to decisions if we follow the Kiwi’s and start Ramadan the next day, preparing the area where people were going to break fast, where they were going to pray in congregation, my daughter insisting on doing her first proper fast, me freaking out about going hungry the entire day while running around hardware and furniture shops and the like to get my flat in order etc.

Ramadan in Fiji reminded me a lot about Ramadan in Malaysia where I lived for 9 years. There is an air of festive social atmosphere and I guess the reason I was more involved within the community in Fiji was because we went through a special period with loved ones around us. When I’m abroad, it’s not the same but still a very special experience with new insights, cultural uniqueness around the same activities etc.

I love the night life in UAE during Ramadan. During the day, we are too busy to notice the day go by but at night, its lights and activity in all parts of the city. I love spending evenings with my two special friends, Rajah and Maissa who make Ramadan in the UAE that much more special. I asked my daughter what she liked most about Ramadan and she replied “having condense milk with soft yummy roti at dawn + praying in a group with other kids (she is an only child)’.

I must say that sitting here now in Sydney Australia, I feel like I’m leaving one home to go to another. My ex classmate Aiyaz is screaming at me for not having iftar in Preston at his house tonight but I have promised to spend some time with him and his family on my next trip. I would have loved to spend another day here so my daughter could have stayed with Amira, my very special Lebanese Australian university mate who also happens to be my daughters guardian.

There are plenty more Ramadan days to go – while I may not be able to commit myself to a life of a recluse the last 10 days, I sure hope to become more calm and spiritual this month. With the drama I normally go through day to day, wish me luck. I certainly need the life of a hermit to detox and get my chakras aligned in more ways than one!

I hope this Ramadan is a blessed one for Muslims all around the world. Ramadan Kareem.