Sometimes I write short fiction, so here is one based on observations concerning weddings in Fiji where tourist couples decide to tie the knot in an 'exotic' location. I've written mainly from the viewpoint of a Fijian girl working at a resort.
Ana wipes four lipstick hearts smeared over a mirror as she cleans a guest villa 3 at the Vakawati Resort, vacated by Craig and Natalie from Sydney. Mynah birds screech from the nearby breadfruit tree waiting to pounce on food scraps and Ana also scratches and gleans what she can to supplement her $1.80 an hour.
Some tourists hand over gifts directly to her with a smile, perhaps an ugly dress that even Aunt Rosi would not wear. Toothpaste, suntan lotion, not that this was needed, sometimes Mills and Boons paperback novels in easy English.
Natalie and Craig had just flown away after six days. ‘Two hot natives in paradise,’ the white woman had screeched, joking about her husband and herself.
A page torn from a newspaper headed Travel Section lies on the floor. Ana picks it up and reads the article headed ‘Getting hitched abroad’ and a paragraph is circled with a feltpen, reporting on weddings on Vatulele and Sheraton. The writer does not mention Vakawati. Craig and Natalie told Ana they had found out about Vakawati from their travel agent in Sydney.
The idea of tourist weddings in this area was the inspiration of Talatala Jeke Kalougata, Ana’s uncle. Lucky Jack, as the tourists called him, had noticed how much money overseas people had and he decided that he would build a new church with money raised from this venture. He had his own business cards made in a quick-copy machine and send a bundle to his cousin in Sydney to give out to travel agents. Rev Jeke Kalougata, Minister of Hearts, Marriages arranged in Fiji. Phone Nadi, etc.
Ana picks up a scrap of paper on which Craig had listed the costs of the holiday - 6 days $3005, wedding ceremony $1450, licence for marriage $15, air fares $1680, video of marriage $150. The ceremony allocation, Ana knows, has been divided between the choir, the chief, the resort owners, the men who mixed the yaqona, the men who dug the lovo, and Rev Jeke who will get $60 which is the same as a week’s wage.
Murti who made the video got his $150 though it cost him $6 for the tape. But as everyone knows, he is a better businessman than people like Uncle Jeke.
There have been many ups and down in planning these weddings for mainly Japanese and Australian couples.. One problem was the amount of food needed. Other tourists at the resort automatically were guests at the weddings. They ate very little, going mainly for the salads which are not really food at all, and leaving the dalo and yam. Jeke’s family, the chief’s family and the villagers wanted the left-overs as is the custom, but Gopal, the resort accountant said no. No food for the villagers, just put the leftovers back in the fridge.
‘That is not our way,’ shouted the chief’s spokesman, but in the end the Fijian elders had to give in. The resort owners are from overseas so it has to be accepted that their way is different.
Natalie and Craig were a typical tourist couple. Natalie had been pleasant enough but she had no manners when she walked along the beach arms wrapped around her tall, skinny man, kissing and touching in that peculiar vavalagi way, with no respect at all about who is watching. Even on Sunday morning, when the Fijians were at church. and Ana sat in the choir, she noticed the boys and young men laughing. Old Joeli poked the children with his long pole but they still kept on laughing. When Ana looked through the open window she saw Craig and Natalie walking along the beach. Natalie had taken off the top of her bathers and her tiny white breasts were lightly bouncing. Uncle Jeke had thundered on, unaware, his voice almost falsetto towards the end of the sermon.
Ana decided that overseas women were obsessed with their bodies, lying in the hot sun to brown their skins but they had white patches on their bottoms and breasts when the sun could not reach. Natalie was thin, her body ugly, even though she was wealthy enough to eat plenty of food. She was about the same age as Ana, 24, but Ana was well-built. However Ana had a tooth missing. It had happened in a netball game. Some tourists had commented that it spoilt her smile. One offered to pay for her to fix it up, gave her $30 but she had used it to pay school fees for Ilisoni her nephew who had been sent back to the village to get his fees.
At Natalie and Craig’s marriage ceremony, Ana had helped Aunt Suliana to dress the bride and groom in barkcloth, pale cream masi wrapped first, then the Tongan style of brown and cream, then a layer of black and white stencilled masi.. Now Natalie had more substance. Craig was wrapped also and he scratched himself as the masi ticked his soft skin. He grinned as Ana coated his limbs in coconut oil. The small bare feet of the two looked so quaint.
Uncle Jeke had performed a satisfactory ceremony for the couple in his stilted English, often confusing gender in the foreign language, mixing up ‘him’ and ‘her’, and ‘she and he’, but nevertheless the marriage was still legal. Ana was fairly fluent in English and has gone to Secondary School up to Form 4.
After the four day honeymoon, it was time for Craig and Natalie to leave by courtesy bus. The Vakawati staff had stood together on the beach, all smiling, and singing ‘Isa Lei’ the farewell song. The guitar players were off-key and tired after a grog-session the night before. The bus dropped off the ten tourists and picked up another lot, this time from Japan. Three more weddings were planned from within this group.
Craig had given a tip of $10 to Ana’s Uncle Jeke. So far, after fifteen weddings, Lucky Jack had collected enough money to buy a pile of cement blocks as a start to his new church. It would take longer than he thought but he was happy that Weddings Inc was going to be a success.