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207. Tramp of the South Seas (8)

I forgot something in my last post. Before I set off to Suva I went to the post office in Nandi to check a parcel that had been sent to my English captain with a notice for a huge charge to collect it. My captain's lady had said there must have been a mistake. They were indeed expecting a parcel from their folks with toys for the baby, a video tape and a couple of books, nothing important. I promised I'd see to it. I produced the docket to an Indian officer-in-charge at the post office who said there was nothing he could do. I had to find arguments: he could send the parcel back to the sender as the yacht people could not pay for it, and in any case it was not a matter of importing anything into the country as the yacht was due to leave in a couple of days time. I left the docket with the man and I went without being too sure what his decision was going to be. I had done my best.

In Suva after a few days of life in an appartment I asked the Kiwi man who was intending to sail to New Caledonia that I'd rather stay on his boat. Again it was a matter of not wanting to be his girlfriend. This New Zealander who was retired from being an engineer, had been called back by Fijian authorities to work on the failing sewage system of Suva. He had often worked in Fiji, in other South Pacific islands as well as in Singapore and Malaysia. He had built his own sailboat at one stage in his life in his own backyard and had sailed it single handed to Fiji for the job. You do meet such characters in New Zealand.

I lived on his small yacht moored along a pontoon at the Suva yacht club for about 3 weeks before we set sails. I really made the best of it. I walked around Suva, met people, played my flute and generally prepared myself for the last sailing trip back home.

There were some French yoties there too, so for Bastille Day on 14th July I led a number of sailors to the French embassy where there was going to be merriment and free champagne. We lined up at the door waiting to shake hands with the embassador one at a time. I introduced the Kiwi man behind me as 'my captain' and stepped forward, hardly paying attention to the embassador and his wife who were welcoming everybody in a very friendly way. From living in Canberra, the federal capital of Australia full of embassies, in the late 1960's and early 70's, I had been used to the somewhat derogatory attitude of the French embassador there to the French people living locally. I was married to an Australian then and was therefore hardly worth talking to, I felt. The hand shake was then formal, pulling you from right to left as if to say 'next please'. So, in Fiji in 1997, I was happily surprised that it was very different and I regret to this day my rush and thoughtless behaviour. We drank champagne and listened to the Marseillaise played by the Fijian national guards in their fancy uniforms. I really enjoyed it.

After hearing the Marseillaise and drinking champagne I started longing for some French culture. I walked up to the 'Alliance Française', a cultural venue for anything French around the world. When I got there after a long walk up a hill under a hot sun, a young lady greeted me in perfect French, so I switched to French and made a long speech on my reasons for being there. All the while the lady smiled and bent her head on one side in a friendly way and then said when I finally stopped talking: sorry, I can't speak French... So I switched to English again and made it a lot shorter asking if I could read some French magazines here. No problem, I could even watch a film in the projection room. I chose "Tous les matins du monde", a film featuring Gérard Depardieu, a famous actor born and bred in the same province as me. The story took place in France in the 17th century.

When I came out of the dark room into a blazing sun in Suva in Fiji in the South Pacific in 1997, I was somewhat dizzy! I stumbled upon a French Canadian woman who had just walked up that hill for a similar reason to mine. We chatted and exchanged addresses. We met again in town later and promised to keep in touch. She was on a holiday on her own to escape some family problems at home, I think. Unfortunately we never kept in touch.  

On board that small yacht moored at the pontoon I was happy. A kind of pontoon life goes on around you and you get a feeling of 'belonging' pretty quickly. I could have staid there forever. Every evening at the same time a native Fijian walked past me on the pontoon and we usually exchanged a loud 'boulah!', the native Fijian equivalent to 'hi!'. One day instead of 'boulah!' he said 'bonjour!' with the perfect intonation. I turned around and asked if he spoke French then. Just a little, he had spent a year in Dax in the south west region of France as a rugby player for the local team. He had fond memories of it and asked if per chance I had any 'pâté' to taste! He remembered that at the local pub an old man used to come everyday at the same time, have a glass of wine, chat a little and then go. That was odd to him. He was used to see people go to the pub to get drunk. Was that French culture? I didn't have any 'pâté' and I forgot what I said as to French culture... but from then on every evening we said 'bonjour' to each other when he walked past.
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