The Displaced Nation

A home for international creatives

Tag Archives: Fiji

5 travel situations that spell H-O-R-R-O-R!

Overseas travel can be a dangerous business. Casting yourself out into the wide world — into a foreign culture, possibly alone and thousands of miles from home — is always going to present challenges and perils aplenty.

Sometimes everything goes all right, or almost — sure, you lose your hat at the beach, or your taxi driver struggles to find the right address; but otherwise, everything is fine.

And then there are those moments when something goes terribly amiss — and your stomach feels like it’s dropped into your shoes!

This post is devoted to those H-O-R-R-I-F-Y-I-N-G moments…beginning with five of mine, hand picked from dozens. And I’d like you all to share yours!

1) Your accommodation is not as described.

Now this is a common enough problem. As a broke backpacker, I’ve stayed in some seriously nasty places, but there was one that took the biscuit — or would have, had I dared to eat it in there. I refer to the last two beds left anywhere in Perth — which served my sister and I right for waiting till we arrived to arrange a place to stay. It was coming up to Christmas, and the place looked okay on the Web site. Cheap and cheerful, just like us! Only the rooms stank. They were knee deep in the occupants’ clothes, and it was clear some of them had been hanging out in there for a while. My room, bizarrely, was all girls apart from me — with sarongs hanging from the top bunks as privacy screens. That seemed like a good idea, as I certainly didn’t want to see what was going on — not judging by what I could hear…

Yep, you guessed it. Turned out that place was being used as a brothel, with the owner taking a cut to look the other way. We lasted two nights before thankfully finding more salubrious accommodation. I guess I should have been grateful that our beds weren’t charged by the hour…

2) Your money is suddenly all gone.

Been there, done that! Haven’t we all? When living on a small island in Thailand, I discovered to my horror one day that my bank account was almost empty. A closer inspection revealed a series of withdrawals — always the maximum amount possible, all transacted on the mainland over five hours away by boat.

Something didn’t add up. I got in touch with my bank and took the last of my cash out — only to have it stolen in a bungalow break in the following night! Luckily, I’d made a lot of friends, and they supported me until the bank agreed I’d been defrauded, and gave me all the money back.

(Interestingly enough, years later, it occurred to me that around the time of those withdrawals I’d been buying a lot of diving gear for cash…and of course, my island was too small to process its own transactions, so they all showed up as being made on the mainland…)

3) You drop your camera.

People get very attached to their photos — and we travelers more so than most. Hardly a week goes by without some friend pleading on Facebook for pictures of a night out that got inexplicably wiped from memory. So dropping your camera is potentially a huge disaster — and one that, thankfully, I’ve never done. No, I’ve never owned a camera, because I am death to gadgets. I’m terminally clumsy, which is why no one trusts me — except my poor wife, who paid the ultimate price. She handed her camera to me for safekeeping only for a minute, while she went back to lock the door of our traditional Fijian hut. Now I never thought of concrete as traditionally Fijian, but that is what the path was made of. So when I fumbled and dropped the camera, it shattered into about a thousand pieces.

We were able to claim it on insurance — not ours, as we hadn’t bought any, but my mother’s, since she was kind enough to pretend it was her camera I’d destroyed.

The photos, however, were gone for good. And seeing as how I was wearing a bikini in some of them, maybe that’s for the best…

4) You eat a dodgy curry!

Eating something that doesn’t agree with you and developing a pain, quite literally, in the backside only gets worse when you’re miles from home. And unfortunately, it also gets way more likely. Especially if, like me, you have a habit of eating food from wherever is cheapest! I never found out what caused my illness in Ecuador, but it resulted in my own Night of the Living Dead, in which I, zombie like, spent twelve hours weaving between my bed in a crummy hostel dorm and the nearest toilet two floors away — where (ignore the rest of this sentence if you’re squeamish) I was vomiting more blood than I’d ever seen outside my body. I honestly thought I was going to die that night — a good thing I was already dead!

And last but by no means least:

5) You discover there is no toilet paper…

Whether it’s electronically controlled and plays music at you, or a rough wooden plank over a hole in the ground, you know you’ll have to use the facilities at some point, and when that moment comes, will adapt somehow — you haven’t really got a choice. In one extreme case I’d left it as long as humanly possible — by which point there was no thought in my head beyond getting out of the restaurant in time! Once I’d made it to the toilet round the back, I felt much better. Until, that is, I felt in my pocket and remembered I was wearing new jeans — and hadn’t transferred over the stash of TP…

I won’t go into any more detail, apart from to say that for the rest of that meal, I adopted the local practice of only eating with my right hand.

* * *

So, now it’s your turn! Travel horror stories, if you please! And as always, you can catch me and the rest of the crew on Twitter: @TonyJamesSlater +/or @displacednation.

Thanks for reading!

STAY TUNED for Wednesday’s post, an interview with a displaced author of a violent romance!

If you enjoyed this post, we invite you to register for The Displaced Dispatch, a round up of weekly posts from The Displaced Nation, with seasonal recipes, book giveaways and other extras. Register for The Displaced Dispatch by clicking here!

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Images (clockwise, left to right): Horror image from Tony’s personal collection: fooling around with an abandoned vehicle near Wolfe Creek, Northern Territory (2007); sexy woman, pawn shop and Canon camera all from MorgueFile; Tony’s “undead” photo from a Halloween in Perth, Australia (2008); toilet paper and travel boot from MorgueFile.

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THE DISPLACED Q: What is the weirdest multi-cultural celebration you’ve ever attended?

So here’s today’s Displaced Question: “What is the weirdest multi-cultural celebration you’ve ever attended?”

Now, when two or more cultures collide you’re bound to get some strange combinations. Nowhere is this more apparent than at gatherings or celebrations, especially if they’re traditionally part of one culture as opposed to the others… and boy can they lead to friction! It’s that old traveller’s saw; do you eat all the food because it’s delicious, or do you leave some to show they served you enough?

I’ve drunk kava in Fiji in a very uncomfortable situation – invited by a  worker at our resort, we met the Chief to hear his legendary tales of the arrival of White Man. Of course, he can’t talk to us – he has to tell his right-hand man, who can then lean over and tell us. Or rather – he can tell me. Not the two women who are with me – not even the second-in-command can stoop low enough to talk to a woman whilst drinking kava!

And let’s not even get started on the two French girls that were also invited by the same worker. They were on a bit of a party holiday, and neither of them seemed to have brought anything less revealing than hot pants and bikinis… Yes, that was a tense evening. I wouldn’t have minded, if I’d been drunk – but kava, a rather bitter brown liquid, pounded (in a sock!) from roots, has only a mildly narcotic effect. So mild, I was painfully aware of every awkward glance – and the intense silence – which dominated that gathering. I’ve never wished so hard for a bottle of vodka in my life!

Perhaps stranger though, was a ceremony I got invited to by a Native American man, whilst checking out the artefacts in his store in Sedona, Arizona. He described it as a mass, much like I would have attended during my Christian upbringing. I was intrigued, and couldn’t really pass up the chance, so I went along on Sunday morning to a small room above his shop. There, the proprietor led us in chants and prayers offered up to Allah, Shiva, Buddha, The Earth Goddess, Jesus, Mary and the Spirits of the Dreamtime – all simultaneously! The small crowd, people from all walks of life, all colours and clearly all creeds, all seemed delighted with the equality shown to the reigning deities. If only the rest of the world could be like this, I thought!

And whilst I’m on the topic of Native American celebrations, I once took part in a ‘sweat lodge’. This is an awesome shamanic tradition, involving the building of a special domed hut of logs and sticks – kind of like an igloo. It’s then covered over with mud to fill in all the gaps. A fire pit is dug in the centre and lit, and all the participants – enough to completely fill the structure – squeeze in… naked.

Yup – I said it! Naked you go in, and the drumming and chanting begins… it’s like a sauna in there, incredibly hot and sweaty, with the chanting and the previously consumed herbal tea helping to turn your ears into wings! It was an incredible experience. Slightly odd, in that it was the only time I’ve sat naked next to my Mum and my sister – but the reality of the ceremony was so far beyond that, beyond such earthly concepts as clothing and embarrassment. It was… well, spiritual. I felt so pure, so cleansed, so in touch with the divine. If I ever get the chance again, I will go for it without reservation. But probably not with my family present  :0)

SO! The time has come for you all to spill the beans – what is the strangest experience you’ve had with a celebration of some kind? Where have the cultural boundaries blurred unexpectedly – or come sharply into focus? It’s a weird, weird world out there – what have YOU seen? Tell us in the comments!

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STAY TUNED…for tomorrow’s post, where we introduce the new theme for May: La Dolce Vita!

Image: Tony drinking Kava in Fiji, 2009

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RANDOM NOMAD: Vicki Jeffels, blogger, freelance writer & social media consultant

Vicki JeffelsBorn in: Auckland, New Zealand
Passport: New Zealand (only, and proud of it!)
Countries lived in: Fiji Islands (Vatukoula): 1973-77; Australia (Brisbane): 1996-98; England (Tadley, Hampshire): 2008-present
Cyberspace coordinates: Vegemite Vix | A Kiwi expat in the UK licking the Vegemite off life’s fingers (blog); Digital Discussions (start-up consultancy)

What made you leave your homeland in the first place?
I first became an expat at the tender age of 3.5, when my family moved to the Fijian Islands for my father’s work: he had a contract with the Emperor Gold Mines in Vatukoula. I have wonderful memories of expat life as a child. The days were honeyed with heat, we munched sugar cane off the back of the cane truck, and we swam with the tropical fish through the intricate coral reef. Of course, a child’s experience is so very different from an adult’s, and now I’m a parent, I’m more aware of the challenges my parents faced — which included being robbed, almost being airlifted out in civil unrest, and sheltering under the house during the monstrous Hurricane Bebe in 1972.

I moved overseas again — to Brisbane, Australia — with my first husband in 1996, with a two year old and two-week-old baby in tow. On reflection, that wasn’t brilliant timing. We struggled to make a home for ourselves particularly as my (then) husband was working in Perth, an eight-hour flight away — leaving me to cope on my own in a new country with two babies. I did it, though. I made friends through the children’s networks and found work for myself — until two years later, when my husband was suddenly made redundant and we limped back to New Zealand with our tails between our legs.

My most recent expat adventure started on a holiday in Paris in 2007 when I met a rather scrumptious Englishman. We chatted, we flirted, we kept in touch long after we’d returned home — and our long-distance relationship soon blossomed. A year later, I packed up my three kids (two teens and a tweenie), dog, cat and 20 boxes of books and moved to Hampshire to live with my Englishman. After a romantic engagement atop Mt Hellvellyan (yes, he made me climb a mountain to get the engagement ring!), we married in his village church in North Yorkshire in 2009.  I’ve written about our story on my blog and am currently writing it up as a memoir — hopefully coming to a bookstore near you, shortly.

Is anyone else in your immediate family displaced?
All of my immediate family currently live outside of New Zealand. My mother, father and sister all live in Australia, but I wouldn’t say they are “displaced.” They are all happy living there and hold Australian passports, and my mother is an Australian by birth.

Describe the moment when you felt most displaced over the course of your many displacements.
When I found myself standing in front of the judge at the Asylum and Immigration Tribunal in London three weeks after our wedding, having swapped my wedding bouquet for brickbats from the UK Border Agency, as they probed and prodded and demanded to find fault with our story. Standing there pleading to stay in the UK with my husband and kids — when everything in my body was screaming “Get me out of here!” and “Get me home!” — was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. It was dissonant not only because we were newly married — and I longed to go home and celebrate with my friends and family but had been restricted from leaving the country — but also because I’m the archetypical “good girl” who has barely ever had a parking ticket. What was I doing standing in front of a judge being cross-examined by solicitors? It was scary stuff and deeply disturbing — as if the entire nation wanted me to just leave. It was the final straw after a year’s worth of feeling displaced — of saying the wrong thing and being laughed out of the room, and of breaking unwritten rules of conduct in the supermarket that resulted in an elderly woman throwing limes at me! Who knew there were rules about how and when you should put your shopping on the checkout counter?

Describe the moment when you felt least displaced.
This is a telling question, because although I’ve had some great times whilst living here in England, I can’t say that I’ve ever experienced feeling “at home.” My most recent trip Down Under highlighted for me how displaced I truly feel living in the UK, and how exhausting it can be spending one’s days trying to “fit in.” It was wonderful to have a break from explaining myself all day every day. It doesn’t help that I moved from an upmarket suburb of a large seaside multicultural city, to a parochial town in the English countryside. I wonder if I would feel more at home in London where there is a far more multicultural vibe? At times I wonder about moving again, perhaps to the US or Australia. (Is it itchy feet, or failure to fit in, that’s behind those feelings?)

You may bring one curiosity you’ve collected from each of the countries where you’ve lived into the Displaced Nation. What’s in your suitcase?
From Fiji: A frangipani flower. We used to make them into wreaths when I was a child. The smell reminds me of the South Pacific and makes me smile.
From New Zealand (which, though home, is now something of a foreign country): A pāua shell to remind me of the ocean and the beautiful Kiwi beaches.
From Australia: A boomerang because it will remind me that there is always a home behind me as well as in front of me.
From England:St George’s cross to remind me that I too can fight and defeat the dragons.

You’re invited to prepare one meal based on your travels for other Displaced Nation members. What’s on the menu?
I hope you like seafood! For starters I’ve prepared a Fijian raw fish meal called kokoda, which is “cooked” in coconut milk and lime juice. It’s divine. On the side there’s a dozen Bluff oysters from New Zealand. For mains we’ll have barbequed prawns, Moreton Bay bugs (Australia), and good quality pork sausages (British). We’d probably toast the meal with a New Zealand champenoise and down the sausages with a Margaret River Shiraz.

You may add one word or expression from each of the countries you’ve lived in to The Displaced Nation argot. What words do you loan us?
From Fiji: Bula — one of those indispensable words. It means “hello” and “thank you” and “How are you?” and “See you later” and “Good luck.” In fact, it’s a phonetic smile.
From New Zealand: Wopwops, meaning out in the bush away from everyone and everything else, preferably where there is no mobile signal and Internet. We all need to lose ourselves in the wopwops from time to time.
From Australia: Barbie — colloquial for barbecue, or BBQ. Particularly when eaten outside in the glorious fresh air and sunshine, with sand between your toes and the sound of the surf crashing on the beach, a barbie is one of the finest meals you can have.
From England: Bless — because the English have a way of saying it that sounds nice but is really derogatory. It’s so English to hear someone recount the story about how they did something stupid, and have the listener respond with “Bless” — really meaning “You moron!” I offer it to The Displaced Nation as a reminder of the need to master some of the local lingo, without which you’ll have a tough time understanding the folkgeist of the country you’re in.

It’s Alice in Wonderland month at The Displaced Nation. In closing, can you tell us your worst “Pool of Tears” moment, when you wondered, how did I end up in such a predicament and will I ever escape?
It, too, occurred during my struggles with the UK immigration authorities. Having moved to the UK to be with my Englishman, I was awaiting a valid work visa so was restricted from working. At the same time, my ex stopped paying child support. As we were struggling financially, I was stuck at home feeling terribly isolated. One day I received the news that I had been served with a deportation order and had 28 days to leave the country and return to NZ with my three children. I collapsed in tears, wondering how on earth I was ever going to afford going back to NZ where I no longer had property or anywhere to go. My savings had been eaten away by legal fees, and I had no income. I felt utterly dispossessed. In the end, we won the appeal against the deportation — my most displaced moment — and I was granted a valid visa, after which I regained the self-confidence I feared had been lost in transit.

Like Alice, did you encounter a Mouse who helped you ashore?
My Mouse would have to be the first friend I made in my English town after living here for almost two years. All that time I would cheerily smile hello at strangers — and they’d run away as if I were brandishing a knife. I was bitterly lonely and would live for Facebook chats with the many friends I’d left in New Zealand. Finally, on the school sports day I met an Englishwoman who had relatively recently returned from expat adventures in Canada. We bonded over our shared status as outsiders in a town where the majority of local people have family connections back through several generations. I refer to her as Strawberry Munchkin in my blog and am so very grateful for her friendship. I think of her as an honorary Kiwi.

QUESTION: Readers — yay or nay for letting Vicki Jeffels into The Displaced Nation? Tell us your reasons. (Note: It’s fine to vote “nay” as long as you couch your reasoning in terms we all — including Vicki — find amusing.)

img: Vicki Jeffels, taken in the UK for use on her blog.

STAY TUNED for tomorrow’s installment from our displaced fictional heroine, Libby.

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