How did I end up in a lounge with the Fijian national rugby team, being asked if I wanted to lead their regular before dinner devotions? It was a random and rather beautiful end to an afternoon that had been full of stress and a few tears.
I arrived in Suva as planned around lunch time, looking forward to my air bnb with a pool, hot water showers and a chance to do some laundry. I’d texted my host Elizabeth the day before with arrival time and had only received a text the day of my booking asking which day I was coming. Strange given she could check on her air bnb bookings to see that it was indeed Monday. I politely replied that I was coming today and would be there between 12-1pm. I updated her with arrival time as I got the bus and then when it was delayed a bit. I received no replies from her. I knew I had the right number because of the early morning text from her so it was a bit odd not hearing anything back.
Off the bus in Suva I tried calling to find out her exact address as she’d only provided the street name not number. The phone rang and rang and was not answered. I tried again a few minutes later but I got a message saying the phone was switched off. Thankfully I had a local sim card with data so I then emailed her asking to reply to my texts about the address and asking her if I could check in. I emailed air bnb also explaining my lack of contact from her and wondering what to do.
I sat at a bus stop with my luggage for ages, calling, texting and waiting for Elizabeth to get in touch. To no avail. I searched for other air bnbs in Suva only to discover they were either booked or also owned by Elizabeth! After nearly 2 hours I had almost no charge on my phone so found a cafe, used the loo and charged up my phone while enjoying the air con, a green smoothie and a piece of brownie. I had missed lunch but my big Indian breakfast was keeping me going. Thankfully I had a lonely planet guide with me so found names of a couple of hotels that I then googled to see prices and availability. The South Seas hotel was cheap so I called them and was grateful they had a single room available. It was a hot sweaty half an hour walk with my luggage to the hotel but I was grateful to get there and know I had a place to stay for that night at least.
The South Seas hotel had a special charm about it, with really high ceilings and a cool waiting area/ kind of indoor verandah and breezzy hallways. There were pictures, photos and maps on the walls hinting at an interesting history. I was shown my room which had a single bed, dresser, mirror and little desk. It was long and narrow with very high ceilings and a shared bathroom just down the hallway. The place had a kitchen which was a bonus and was located near the gardens and Fiji Museum.
Given my phone was almost out of charge I quickly looked for a power point… only to discover there were none in the room. I asked at reception if it was possible to get a room with a powerpoint. Nope. No rooms had powerpoints but she pointed to an area nearby where charging was possible. Those sockets were (not surprisingly) all in use however. Then she mentioned the TV lounge so I headed in there, an empty room with a bunch of chairs all lined up, a tv and importantly some power sockets! Needless to say the place had no wifi either so I was keen to find somewhere for my next 2 nights that was a bit more convenient. I was so glad to have data on my phone as I replied to emails from air bnb help service who then also called me to help sort things.
After half an hour or so about 5 local guys came in, dressed smartly in their sulus (wrap around skirts) and colourful shirts. They sat on chairs that were all facing me at the front by the power, and were clutching bibles. They told me they were going to have devotions and asked if I wanted to lead them. I said ah no thanks. More men started filing in so I moved to behind a large water zip rather than have them all looking at me at the front and carried on with my accomodation sorting on my phone.
The room was suddenly full and prayers started, each of the men standing up one by one to say (pray?) something. It was in Fijiian so I didn’t understand exactly what they were doing. Then suddenly someone started singing and the whole room just boomed with beautiful voices. They were harmonising and singing in parts and it was amazing! I figured it must have been some kind of Church group- maybe guys training to be ministers or something. Later when I was chatting with a few of them, I asked if they were some kind of group. Yeah we’re rugby players one said. Asking a bit more I discover they were the Fijian national Rugby team!! They were looking forward to a game against Tonga in a few days then heading to Australia to be part of the domestic competition there.
Random eh? Heading back to my room I see the line up of rugby boots and notice the timetable for the day pinned on the wall. They have a morning training session followed by time at the pool then another afternoon session before devotions and dinner. Quite full on.
Going back to the air bnb host, she finally gets in touch with me at 6pm asking where I was and saying that she’d been waiting for me all day. Yeah right. Air bnb had tried calling her without success and we had both tried explaining to her the difficulty she had put me in by not answering my calls, texts and emails. She never once apologised or expressed sympathy for my situation. She didn’t explain why she hadn’t been contactable or why she hadn’t provided her address when I asked for it. She said in one message she was waiting at her gate all day then in another that she was gardening all afternoon. Funny she didn’t think to check her phone or email to see if I’d been in touch. She even had the gall to say to me that now her place was not booked so she will lose out financially. Unbelievable.
Anyway after a night at the South Seas hotel I headed to a different air bnb – young kiwi hosts who were immediately responsive to booking requests, emails and texts. The location was quite far from town but there was wifi, a power point in my room, hot showers and lovely hosts who restored my faith in air bnb! It also helped that the understanding Air BnB helpdesk woman offered to reimburse me for my hotel stay and told me to eat out that night and keep the receipt. I have now been reimbursed for that delicious Korean dinner and my cafe visit from the afternoon too. After 36 air bnb stays this is the only one that was problematic, so I guess that’s not too bad.
More on Suva sights in the next blog post.