Towards the end of June, I got an email inviting me to give a speech in Fiji. It took me less than a second to accept the invitation.
“Did you know the JC was big in Fiji,” I asked the editor.
“No,” he said. “I didn’t think there were any Jews in Fiji.”
It turned out that I was being invited to address a life insurance sales conference. Luckily for me, I’m a life insurance salesman. It’s a very glamorous, adventurous profession – we like to keep it a secret.
Not wanting to make anyone jealous, I kept my going to Fiji to myself until 15 minutes later at Oxford Circus on the tube to the City for a meeting when I turned to the man sitting next to me.
“Do you know where Fiji is? I’m giving a speech there.”
He looked up at the tube map opposite: “You’re on the wrong tube mate. It’s not on the Central Line -Fiji Central’s on the Northern Line.”
That evening, I rang my daughter Lily. “I’ve been invited to give a speech in Fiji.”
“Fiji? Wow! That’s amazing! How long will you be gone,” she asked.
“A month.” I said. “It’s a long speech.”
In the morning. I rang my travel insurers. “I’m going to Fiji; it used to be called the Cannibal Islands – am I fully covered?”
“You’ve got our Premium Cover policy, Sir. I’ll just go and check with my manager.”
Five minutes later: ”Sir, we have just spoken to the Lloyds underwriters who have confirmed that you would be covered under this policy if you were to be eaten by cannibals, as long as you have not unnecessarily placed yourself in this danger.
“You would also be covered for any emergency medical or repatriation expenses that may occur as a result of any incident of a cannibal nature.”
”Bula! (that’s ”Hello”!) Are you on your honeymoon?” Tulia, the smiling manager at the Likuliku resort asked me when I arrived in Fiji and checked in on August 5. I looked around, just in case a stray bride had accidentally attached herself to my luggage.
”If I am, I don’t think it’s working out too well, as I appear to be alone. But I’m quite happy to go out and get married if it’s a Likuliku requirement.” I’m apparently the only person here at Likuliku who isn’t on honeymoon. Everywhere I look there are entwined couples, dressed head to toe in white, gazing into each other’s eyes – surrounded by photographers. Clearly my request for a very quiet room was going to be impossible.
At breakfast on my first morning, I glanced up from my copy of the Fiji Times. “Excuse me, do you happen to know when this week’s coup is expected?” I asked the waiter, a very big, burly man with a huge smile who was wearing a traditional long skirt.
“Hold on, Sir, I’ll just go and check with my manager.”
The front-page story said that they’d just arrested 52 people for ”sedition” – there were reports of military training camps in the mountainous regions of Vita Levu. Someone had reported seeing an Uzi.
An Uzi? Israelis?
“Moshe, you doing anything this week?”
“No, why Avi ?”
“Aah … let’s go and do a coup in Fiji.” “Why?”
“They’ve got coconuts.”
Prime Minister Bainimarama (sic) – clearly a fan of the ’80s girl band – made a statement that a new coup was out of the question. He definitely wasn’t going to allow another coup, his own coup was “the very last coup” he said. ” I will crush them if they try,” he added for good measure.
I thought if it was called Fiju or Fijew we could all buy second homes here instead of Herzliya and the Fijewan rugby team might even stand a chance of beating England at Twickenham next month in the Rugby World Cup. “Who are you supporting Rosengard? England? Or The FI-JEWANS?”
The next day, the paper reported an earthquake – the first in living memory. Lautoka resident Mrs Unaisi Ravouvou said: “At 6:30, I was at home going through my morning devotions, but I had to stop them because I thought someone was shaking my bed.” The local seismology centre said there didn’t appear to be a danger of a tsunami but they’d keep an eye on it.
“If you see an unusually large wave the size of a ten-storey building heading this way, please could you possibly let me know?” I said to the waiter.
I’ve just found a Murray Rosenthal listed in the Fiji phone directory. Is Murray the only Jew in Fiji? Does he play rugby?
If you’re looking for Methodists, they’re everywhere. The Rev Tom Baker, an English missionary, clearly had done a pretty good job before being eaten in 1867. In 2003, Fiji apologised officially to his family. I’m sure they found it helped the grieving process.
I bet he didn’t have my Premium Cover travel insurance. Coups, cannibals and earthquakes permitting, if I’m still alive next week I’ll give my speech.