It’s not even dark out and the fireworks have started.
I hear what I cannot see: the pop, and hiss, and crackle of light almost touching the clouds.
This morning at sunrise I got off a plane at the international airport in Nadi from Los Angeles, disoriented but glad to be alive… and in motion. Never mind that the fatigue of time travel had me passed out and motionless for the better part of two days. But cripes, I skipped a whole day! Wednesday October 22nd did not exist.
I’m staying at my friend Aaron’s apartment in Martintar. He’s a photographer and licensed commercial pilot––we met through a mutual friend, Margot, who spent eight months in Fiji last year. I am so grateful to have a connection to get me started.
Story collecting is slow (~1 recording/day), but I’m giving myself permission to sleep and write and figure out things like phone and internet and where the heck I’m going to go, all of which take time. It was easier to improvise in the states. Now I feel untethered, drifting. I’m afraid of making cultural mistakes, but doing my best not to let that fear guide me, or prevent me from having the kind of conversations that this trip is based on.
“Never touch another person’s hair,” Aaron tells me over daal and chicken. “The head is a sacred space.”
Nadi has a very particular smell: toasted spices, warm, damp earth, and salt. The smell was there as soon as I stepped off the plane and onto the jet bridge. The scent does nothing but intensify throughout the day, baking to a steamy crisp of wholeness.
By mid-afternoon, our downstairs neighbors deliver fried peas and sesame sticks and oblong donut holes and what tastes like a ball of fried rice pudding with cardamom and raisins. Aaron and I split each treat with a knife. I let the sugar melt into my body, though even that can barely keep me awake for more than half an hour at a time.
The sun arches towards the west, piece by piece. Fireworks explode, jubilant in different parts of the city. Tall, proud booms echo off of the mountains and cityscape.
Aaron’s place is right next to the airport. The planes come, harsh and exciting overhead, churning the air around them. The light lengthens to blue.
Laughter wafts up from the first floor. “Flight attendants live down there,” Aaron says, sensing the direction of my listening. Glasses clink. A radio plays “Bang Bang” by Jessie J, Ariana Grande, and Nicki Minaj.
“Nadi is a passing-through town,” Aaron explains. “No one stays here for long.”
Yellow-beaked myrah birds sing their own song.
Aaron refills the empty Absolut handle of vodka with water boiled from the kettle. “The water in Suva is safe to drink,” he tells me, “but we must boil first. If you drank from the tap, it would be okay. But boiled is best.” His voice has a cadence unlike any I have heard––perfect iambic pentameter. He is always smiling, even when talking about coups and murder.
Between my dry throat and the general heat of the city, we refill the 1.75 liter handle several times throughout the day.
I watch through the bathroom window as a woman in a sari on a second-floor apartment a few buildings away lights an oil lamp, or diya, and places it at the edge of the porch. A man looks on from an outdoor couch under the balcony. It is almost dark. Fireworks go off in every which direction. A rooster hoots. I feel for every dog in the city tonight, how fearful all those booms and bursts must be.
“People tie up their dogs in the centermost room of the house so that they don’t run away. Some still do.” Aaron explains between bites of take-out: kung pao chicken and Chinese cabbage. All of the Indian places are understandably closed.
Aaron shows me how to set up a tripod for my point and shoot and decrease the shutter speed and F-stop to capture the essence of the moving, exploding light.
“You smell that?” Aaron takes a deep breath.
The whole of the neighborhood is thick with firework residue. A thick haze of it sits over the rooftops.
I fall asleep face-down in his guest room with my clothes still on, fireworks exploding in every direction. The light follows me into sleep, where my mind struggles to make sense of two places at once.