As October drew on, I felt myself being immersed in the Fijian culture. I relished trying the different foods and liked most of what I ate – my sister will attribute that to my foodie’s sensibility but I don’t think I ever was a picky eater. (If I’m ever asked about what food I don’t like, I’m not the right person to answer that question because I always end up remembering more food that I like than I dislike.) I also found myself captured by an intrigued interest in the local wildlife, even if most of the wildlife on the mainland was birds. Fiji does not have many animals that could be considered exotic.
Most of Fiji’s wildlife consists of birds. There aren’t exotic animals such as lemurs – but we have seen a mongoose (Dad managed to get a picture!) and a fruit bat that was flying across the sky, around dusk. I hope to get a picture next time, if I can. Oh, and little lizards that sometimes get into the house and geckoes. They’re harmless, though. Thankfully there aren’t any poisonous creatures in Fiji to worry about. The only animal that’s a problem right now is the American iguana, which damages Fijian crops (it’s a regular feature in the local papers and topic of conversation). There are native iguanas but the American breed is much bigger. I’m not sure how it was introduced or got into the country, but obviously it is a pest. I guess it’s kind of like the rabbits in Australia.
My interest in the wildlife was akin to that of a child’s wonder and, in fact, I’m sure that’s what it was. If I had grown up around it, I’m sure there would still be some sense of wonder but not the combined pervading sense of awe. It’s one thing to see pictures of animals from faraway places, though it’s an entirely different level when you’re in the same environment as them.
We visited the markets in Nadi and Suva, where we bought vegetables and fruit. The markets also sold fish, although it was never bought there when we visited. Although I’ve never been to one yet, the closest comparison I could make are the farmers’ markets here, although it’s a lot more hectic and, I dare say, less hygienic. While not as big as the one we visited in Nadi, the market in Suva was perhaps just as lively and everything and everyone clamouring for your attention.There are all kinds of fruits and vegetables and fish sold; at the market in Nadi, there were even chicks for sale just in a cardboard box! The fish and other seafood are simply on spread on mats and tarp on the ground, as are the fruits and vegetables, and the market itself is covered with tarp unless it is in a building structure.
The variety of fish is nothing like I’ve seen anywhere at home: fish of all different shapes and sizes in all the colours of the rainbow, live crabs and lobsters wrapped in bundles, crayfish (they’re like really big, colourful prawns); stingray, eel, fish heads the size of dinner plates and look like they could weigh a pound at least – or more! Then there are also things like sea urchins and sea cucumbers and seaweed shaped like little clusters of tiny green berries. We even saw puffer fish, a delicacy here (the Japanese also consider it a delicacy) but it is poisonous – and for that alone it will be one thing I’ll never try. (Even if it wasn’t poisonous, I’m still not interested in the idea of eating puffer fish.) There is a certain technique or procedure that makes it safe to eat, though even there is still that risk.