Monday, March 13, 2017

Pros and Cons of Living in Suva, Fiji

In anticipation of our impending bid season, I'm doing a little 'pay it forward' to other bidders out there by describing some pros and cons of our post. I'll keep with five of each (like I did previously with our first post). So with out further ado, here are some pros & cons for Suva.


1. Phenomenal Sea Life. The reefs are amazing here! So much life and diversity. I feel places I have snorkeled here, I have seen more than I did on dives I did in the Florida Keys/off the California coastline. So then, when I do dives here...mind blown! We plan to do the Shark Dive that is touted in all the dive magazines before we go (college roommate....kindly waiting on you....) and we have also just finished setting up our snorkel with the Manta Rays when they are migrating through trip (fingers crossed for good weather).

Both kids have mastered snorkeling here because it's so easy (right off the beach at most resorts) and as soon as you put your face in the water you see fish. The other night, I was telling Clarissa I had never snorkeled until I was in college and here she is 6 years old and this little super snorkeler. She seemed surprised and perplexed.

2. Beautiful Beaches/Scenery. You get to travel a relatively short distance (compared to a flight from the US) and step into post cards. I have two routes home from the grocery store....when given the chance I prefer the route where I can see water (I heard it helps relieve stress too). Here's the view from my roadside drive....(don't worry I pulled over to take this...but do note: in Suva - sea wall and then water - no beach).

3. Friendly & Happy People. Fijians are some of the most genuinely nice people you will ever meet. I honestly can't think of a rude person in our time here. They are happy too....I recall seeing a photo of a town flooding again during TC Zena right after TC Winston and in the middle of the photo was a man wading through the water, holding his belongings on his head, smiling at the camera.

For one of the women' groups, we did a scavenger hunt around town. We had to find locations based on clues and take a photo of the group there. Here our cab drive took the photo for us at the presidential palace, then we asked second VERY tall military guard if we could take our photo with him too (bonus points for a photo with someone in uniform)....he agreed and is almost smiling! Definitely don't see anything like that happening in New York!

4. Good for families/ particular, elementary and middle school aged kids. We have been very pleased with the International School Suva. There have been some administration changes while we have been at post, which I feel have gone relatively smoothly. The school is growing, both in new buildings and in size. Clarissa is learning some Fijian and Hindi in school; Mason is learning Chinese (Mandarin). I've been very pleased with size of the school library (and kids can use it during breaks). The school uniforms aren't too shabby either!

After school activities, there are a ton! Mason has done acting/drama club with an Australian/Hollywood actor, tennis lessons, chess club (and is going to get his Jr SCUBA Certification). Clarissa has done swimming, soccer, science club, (and is doing ballet next term...overlaps with swimming this term). There is, of course, RUGBY, martial arts, netball (I'm still not sure what that is), Pacific Island dancing, foreign language courses, cooking classes, and that is just to name a few.

5. Household Help is affordable. We have both a housekeeper and a gardener, both part time. Our housekeeper comes twice a week and also works for two other families part-time. Given the kids are both older and in school, we don't see the need for someone full time to help with them (but a lot of families with young children do have full time help). She does the cleaning, some laundry, ironing and will occasionally help me with some food prep. We asked her to come an extra day to help with Clarissa's birthday party and that was the great too. Given it is summer year round, you need a gardener year round. Ours comes once a week, takes care of the grass, trims the plants, removes debris, plant things (pineapple tops, orchids from the market, etc), will harvest the fruit when ripe (i.e. hard to know when is the right time to cut the bananas down or when to pick the soursop).


1. Fiji Time. I think this is the one that drives Richard most nuts...being the middle man between Washington who wants everything done yesterday and the local staff who will get around to fixing that problem "soon". Island time x 3. It is difficult to get things accomplished in a timely or efficient manner. When trying to plan weekends away, it will take multiple emails/phone calls to just get a response/reservation sometimes. Don't expect to get billed on a timely manner either. While we want to be honest and pay our bills, more often than not the pool company won't even send us a bill/will forget their receipt book so we can't pay them for weeks. We receive our internet bill after the please pay by date?!?! When we first arrived we decided to get cable service (since there is a data cap on no unlimited streaming) and it took close to 6 months before we had that set up!

2. Rain, rain, and more rain. Suva is on the rainy side of the island, even good ole wikipedia describes Suva as a rainforest climate (and uses the word "copious" to describe the amount of rainfall). Annual average is 3,000 mm (118.11 inches). With no real wet or dry season, it rains year round. Cyclone season (November - April) tends to be a little wetter when tropical depressions and cyclones swing by the islands (or stop and linger for a week). With all the rain, your house will be humid and there can be mold/mildew problems (dehumidifiers do help with that though). Forget about storing anything outside though as the rain/humidity will ruin it. Here is a typical forecast check on the weather app. Grant it, the weather app is not always correct and sometimes the rain for the day occurs at night....but you typically have an umbrella handy.

3. Pricey to go anywhere. To go to the above mentioned beautiful beaches, you have to stay at a resort ($$). To get to said beaches you have to drive at least an hour (time and $) or take a boat ($$)/plane ($$$) to get to another island. If you have a bit of island fever and craving some first world luxuries, closest get away is New Zealand...3 hour flight...even with Bula Specials for 4 people it can quickly get $$$$. Hence, we only get out of town about once a month. Oh, and those nice beaches you see on postcards? While they are in Fiji....they are not in Suva. Suva is a port city with mangrove trees and muddy shorelines.

4. Fiji is a Third World Country. When at the resorts, you see a lot of first world accommodations and luxuries, but once you leave the bubble of resort land you quickly realize, that is not how the rest of Fiji lives. When Richard's parents were here (as well as my cousin and her daughter) they all commented how surprised they were with the lack of development and poverty in Fiji. There are a lot of villages without electricity still (especially on remote islands, but even on the main island), though they do supplement with generators/solar power. Just driving around town, I don't think a very large portion of the population has air conditioning in their homes due to the number of open windows you see. In chatting with locals that work in the tourism industry. A good number of them will tell you what village they are from and how often they get to go home (in particular the island resorts' staff has to stay on the island for ~6 days before they can go home for ~3...or so we've been told when chatting on boat rides). That's tough to be away from your family/children that long to make a living.

Being a tree hugger, it drives me nuts on how much trash there is too. Most bigger/nicer resorts will clean up their property (we stayed at a smaller one, where our walks on the beach were all about avoiding stepping on broken glass instead of searching for beautiful shells). I think some of it comes from old practices of using all natural things, drink out of the coconut, finish, the ocean takes it away, it biodegrades. Now, drink out of plastic bottle, finish, ocean takes it to another beach, and it looks ugly. The trash trucks all have big signs about recycling to reduce the amount of trash, but the local recycling program is very tiny (one gas station chain has some recycle bins you can take your recyclables to and a local beer company will reuse their bottles (a truck drives around honking to pick up the bottles, which they will pay you for....but only the one brand of bottles)). For a service project last year, Mason and a friend cleaned up trash. In one hour, between about where I took the photo to the first groyne protruding from the sea wall they picked up 14 bags of trash!

5. Food. I'm going to put food as a con, let me explain. While we love having bananas, pawpaw, and pineapple growing in our yard. Also, I don't think I have ever had pineapples as delicious as the ones here (and we eat 3+ pineapples a week). For the local food, there is not a lot of variety in fruits and vegetables and you somewhat burn out of the same things all the time. To add some variety, you then have to pay ($$) for imported fruits and veggies from Australia and New Zealand, which can be very pricey! For example, a little half pint of fresh blueberries is $19.xxFJD ($10USD) right now (and it is blueberry season in New Zealand!)....sorry, I don't want fresh blueberries that badly. Fijian prawns were overfished, so most prawns sold locally are imported. Fresh fish can be bought hanging roadside (they do swat the flies away), so that's a bit scary and I just don't know how to prepare fish. There is not a lot of ready made anything here. So while healthier, since there are less preservatives, making meals from scratch with the same ingredients week after do get in food ruts. With Richard's work schedule, we also don't know when he will be getting off in the evenings, so that makes it trickier for us to meet somewhere/go out to eat on weeknights....

From the outside looking in, people say "you are in Fiji life should be great!" and don't realize how hard and expensive it can be to live here. I guess if we lived at a resort for the whole tour it would be nice....but we don't.

1 comment:

  1. Completely understand these. When my father was stationed in St. Croix, USVI, we had much the same experience. I use to enjoy cereal and milk, that went quickly after opening a bag of cereal on the 2nd day to find bugs and the milk was expensive. Since my father was Coast Guard, he made nice with local fishermen who hooked him up with fresh fish. Private schools were nice, but expensive. It definitely isn't all beautiful beaches and palm trees 24/7, but if you take the pros with the cons, it is a wonderful experience!
    So cool you guys are seeing things most only read about in travel mags in waiting rooms.