Posted by: Alicia Phillips | May 15, 2013

The People You Meet…

There is something to be said about public transport. Even though it is a pain in the ass- you get the chance to meet some pretty cool people if you let yourself. Just this past weekend I learned a valuable lesson: That by making myself open and available to talk to my neighbors I can connect with person in a special way that I may have never had the chance to otherwise. So this weekend I took a trip to the west side of the island to watch a chess tournament (yeah, I’m a geek, so what?) and I met some pretty cool people during transport.  Let me tell you a bit about them.

Cranky American Girl Learns her Lesson

It’s the luck of the draw, really. Your neighbor on the bus can either make your trip miserable or enjoyable. When you step on to the bus you have many choices: 2 seat side or three seat side, window or isle seat, front of the bus or back.  I always try to get there about 15 minutes early so I can get my favorite seat, the window seat on the two seat side, halfway back and far away from the speaker. This way I get sufficient leg room, I get to see the ocean from my window and I only have to sit next to one person instead of two, and most of the time I am the only foreigner on the bus and no one wants to sit next to me so I usually sit by myself for the majority of the trip! Score!

However, sometimes I get there with no time to spare and I am forced to sit wherever there is an open seat. This was the case this past weekend.  I’m already cranky because I’m late, and it’s raining and the taxi driver didn’t give me the right change, and the only available seat was the isle seat on the three person side. It’s like this seat was made specifically for short people….not long legged people like me.  so my knees are all crammed in, the guy next to me is completely crammed in as well; taking up half of my seat because the guy next to him is taking up half of his seat.  I’m halfway in the isle and i’m completely uncomfortable so I decided not  to be social at all: I put on my sunglasses and turn on my ipod and try to get my mind to zone out for the next 5 hours.  I find it hard to do when the guy next to me keeps trying to make small talk with me. Pointing out that I’m too tall for the seats, (yeah no shit Sherlock), then asking me how far I’m going, telling me how far he is going, talking about the weather, asking how I like Fiji. Questions I have answered 5000 times before. I’m in no mood to talk so I’m trying to make it clear to him that I don’t want to talk by taking out and putting back in my ear buds every time he asks me a question. I just wish he would leave me alone so I can listen to music and get this ride over with. Then, of course, he falls asleep…..on my shoulder. I try to politely shrug him off and he wakes up only to fall back to sleep 30 seconds later. This goes on for about 3 hours.  By this point I am cranky and uncomfortable and irritable and just want this guy off my shoulder to I literally push him off of me . He wakes up and seems to sense my mood and starts to make a real effort to give me some room.

After a while he taps me on the shoulder, yet again, but this time to tell me that he will move seats as soon as someone gets off because he can tell how uncomfortable I am.  GAH! I immediately feel like a horrible bitch and try to imagine how he must see me right now, as a mean cranky foreign girl who has no time or interest in talking to him. Not the kind of impression I want someone to have of me, ever. I only have about 30 minutes until my stop and decide to try and fix this before I get off. So I tell him it’s fine and that I’m getting off soon and then it is me trying to make small talk with him! And of course, he ends up being incredibly interesting! He is from Kiribas, and has just returned from a conference in Israel where he is some high leader for the Bahá’u’lláh faith. He then proceeded to tell me all about it until I got to my stop. He wasn’t preaching at me like some people here do, he seemed to genuinely want to educate me on his faith, not convert me. I always find it so interesting to listen to people talk about their religions and beliefs and how they see the world and the people in it and all the different religions. It turned into a pretty special conversation on that bus full of sleeping Fijians. I regretted that I had to get off when the time came and wished I would not have wasted those first few hours being grumpy at him. I wished him a safe trip home and promised I would check out his website to see what it was all about.  Which I did.

Arkansas, eh?

The next day, another volunteer and I cram into a mini-van for a 45 minute trip to another town. About 10 minutes into the trip an Indian man taps me on the shoulder and asks me where I’m from in the States. I’m immediately self-conscious. What gave me away that I was American? Usually I am mistaken as an Australian. I don’t think I was being obnoxiously loud like most American tourists. (FYI, Americans are LOUD!) I wasn’t wearing a shirt that said anything about America. Maybe it’s my accent? So I told him I am from Arkansas and he immediately says “Oh yeah! I used to live in El Dorado, Arkansas!” What are the chances? Small world. Then he tells me that he used to work for the American Peace Corps here in Fiji back in the 1960’s! He worked with the first 4 groups that came to this country! Then, of course, I tell him that I’m part of the 88th group!  Blew his mind! So crazy that we connected on these two things. For the rest of the trip he tells me all about his life and where he has lived in the US and what he does now for a living. He tells me what brought him to the US in the first place and what brought him back to Fiji. Once again the time went by too fast and I found myself wishing I had more time to talk to this man. However, we shook hands and wished each other luck in the future. Just imagine if I had been too busy to talk to this man I never would have heard about his life and his experiences. I would have missed the chance to feel a special sort of camaraderie with this man in this tiny minivan on this tiny island in the South Pacific who had lived in the same state as me 8000 miles away.

Surf boards and Korean Food

Alexander. Now this was an interesting guy. He gets on the bus at Sigatoka and sits beside me. At first I can’t tell what he is, Fijian? Some other South Pacific islander? Just a really tan Australian/Kiwi? We strike up a conversation that ends up lasting the entire 3 hours it takes it get to Suva. I find out his mom is Lauian (small island group to the east of Viti Levu) and his dad is Hawaiian! He is fluent in both English and Fijian. He spent his childhood living in one of the most remote islands groups in the world and in boarding schools in the US. Now he lives in Fiji and makes surf boards for a living. He tells me he gets hard rocks from Arkansas to help shape his surf boards….another random connection to a place that is so close to my heart here on this tiny rock in the South Pacific. He is an incredibly interesting guy, free-spirited, and spends his days doing what he loves, surfing. Of course he has traveled the world and has all kinds of advice for me for my upcoming travel adventures. By the time we roll into Suva bus stand he asks me if I want to go get some dinner. Uhh yeah….I never say no to dinner. So we go get some delicious Korean food and spent the next 3 hours talking about all sorts of things. At the end of the night we say good-bye, I get into a taxi and that was that.

I can’t imagine missing out on any three of these interactions with these guys. It would have been so easy to shut myself off and not talk to these guys on the bus, but look at what I would have missed out on. Makes me regret all the times in the past when I have been the grumpy girl on the bus who doesn’t want to talk. As annoying as it can be to answer the same questions over and over, sometimes you get lucky and meet some pretty interesting people.

This was a good lesson for me to learn, especially since I will be travelling alone through Australia and SE Asia in a couple of months. There are so many chances to meet people and make friends if you just make yourself available and approachable.


  1. Hope you have a wonderful time in Australia! Have always wanted to go there! Fab!

  2. Hi Alicia, I stumbled across you blog while searching for something completely different. But I’m glad I did! I appreciate you sharing your experiences there in Fiji. You made me laugh and think about home (Fiji) and the things we do and get up to….lol…it was nice to see how someone else from a different culture perceives my own culture and tries to integrate themselves into it. You could say I had a similar experience but in reverse, integrating into the American culture. Thank you for all you’re doing for the people back home in Fiji in the area of Public Health which is much needed. I can’t believe I read all your post but I did you kept me captivated. Vinaka vakalevu again and God Bless!

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