Monday, November 08, 2010

Creature discomforts

I am an adventurer. My woman child and I just went to see my man child in Fiji.

From Los Angeles, it’s a 10-hour flight to Suva, the main island, then an hour on an island hopper to Vanua Levu. The landscape is spectacular, lush and verdant. That would be because of the rain.

Day one was heaven on earth. A stroll along the magnificent beach, a swim in the warmest, cleanest water I have ever known and a quick sunbathe, being careful to avoid the shade of a coconut tree. Coconuts fall on people’s heads and kill them.

And then the rains came. Biblical rains. And with the rains came the creatures: mosquitoes, lizards, giant cockroaches, frogs and rats. And power cuts.

There is nothing more disconcerting than being in the dark with the sounds of a rat scratching to get in from the rain and playing tag in the attic with his pal. I was confident one hadn’t actually come into the house until the rat poo in the kitchen and bathroom proved otherwise.

Things became far more bearable once Anita the housekeeper and cook arrived. She is a wonderful Indian Fijian who gets up at four every morning to make food for her husband and children, clean her own house, and then goes to work.

It turns out that Fijians like bones in their food, the more the tastier. Anita’s duck curry included the beak and feet. She also made us the most delicious fish curry, and even here she used the whole fish, head and all. Still, I had to get the recipe, which I reproduced once I got back home (and is set out below). I used fish fillets, though.

My geography isn’t so bad that I didn’t know Fiji is tropical and therefore expected some rain. My children scoffed at the three sets of emergency rainwear I packed and swore blind they would never be seen dead in any such thing, however torrential the rain. Anita saw things much differently and wept tears of joy when I left her my plastic mac. I promised to send more for the rest of her family.

There is so much to love about this place. Nothing seems to bother Fijians. They are always laughing and smiling. I was a little anxious when I first saw a local coming towards me with a machete, until I learned that they all carry them to cut down coconuts. This is a peaceful country. A former British colony, they still celebrate the Queen’s birthday.

Dentists are cheap in Fiji. No disrespect, but it would appear from the number of gappy smiles I saw that Fijian dentists remove teeth rather than fill them. There’s also a lot of diabetes here, due no doubt to the high amounts of sugar they eat.

Most locals live off the land, as fruit and fish are plentiful, so no worries here if you lose your job as you won’t starve. And you’ll never eat a sweeter, better papaya anywhere else in the world. Apparently, the rains that dominated our trip were especially heavy and the weather is usually fabulous.

If money is no object, there’s no shortage of luxury in Fiji. Check out and After seeing these beautiful places for myself, I have come to a realization.

There’s a difference between being an adventurer and a traveler. A traveler visits distant locations, while an adventurer enjoys taking risks in hazardous and perilous places. Although I endured a cold shower two days in a row (including a hair wash) because of a power cut, I have accepted with no shame that I am more of a Ritz-Carlton kind of girl than a lover of the simple life.

But I couldn’t have had a better traveling companion than my woman child. What didn't bite us, made us even closer. This time spent with my kids was absolutely amazing and precious. My man child said that since we left there’s been no sign of rats.

The day after my woman child left Los Angeles, my pal Sue, who is Al-Jazeera’s Afghanistan correspondent, came for a visit and invited me to go and stay with her in Kabul. If creepy crawlies and cold water are torture for me, I don’t think I’d fare well in a war zone. That would be because I am a traveler, not an adventurer.



2 lbs white fish (filetted!)

Coconut oil

6 lemons

1 onion

1 red chili

Whole garlic bulb (Anita uses a whole bulb. I think half a bulb is enough)

1-inch chunk of peeled fresh ginger

1 tsp masala (use curry powder if you don’t have masala)

1 tsp turmeric

½ tsp toasted cumin seeds crushed in the mortar and pestle

Fresh chopped cilantro (a third of a bunch)

2 cups of water


  1. Squeeze four lemons over the fish
  2. Crush the garlic cloves, chili, fresh ginger and a little salt in a mortar and pestle. It will be lumpy and that’s OK. Use more chilies for a hotter curry.
  3. Rinse the fish. It will still be lemony.
  4. Squeeze two more lemons over the fish. No seeds, that will make it bitter. Sprinkle the masala and turmeric over the fish.
  5. Fry the onion in a big splash of coconut oil until golden brown.
  6. Add the cumin seed and paste mixture of chili, ginger and garlic.
  7. Add the fish. Pour on the fish juices. Cook for five minutes.
  8. Add 2 cups of water for a wet curry. Without the water, it will be a dry curry. Salt to taste.
  9. Add the chopped cilantro and cook for 5-10 minutes, being careful not to overcook the fish.
  10. Serve with rice and roti or naan bread.

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