Living with The Firewalkers of Fiji

When The Villagers Went Missing

The boat engine revved, pushing us with great difficulty over the waves and choppy current. D’Tui sat in Ro Mereani’s lap. Sala and I squealed, huddled together on the floor as we hit each wave with a loud thwack. Water poured over the metal siding, filling the bottom of the boat with a thin layer of water.

fiji-ocean-water

Mereani wouldn’t let us sit on the bench and gave us a tarp to share. “You’ll bounce right out of the boat if you sit up there,” she cautioned.

Ro Mereani’s nephews, who lived in Dakuibeqa, were taking us back to Suva. They both wore yellow rain coats and pants, reminding me of silly fireman as they perched next to the motor. I stifled a laugh as they took turns lighting cigarettes. It was a comical skit unfolding before my eyes. With each flick of the lighter, a wave doused them. “Just say no to smoking,” I muttered under my breath.

We’d left Dakuibeqa that morning, saying goodbye to Sala’s parents, the village chiefs, teachers, and of course my beloved children and piglets. I was sad to go, but something told me I’d be back.

dakuibeqa-from-water

I had a feeling Talei wouldn’t let me stay away.

It was also time for me to begin the next leg of my journey. I’d been with the family long enough and only had a few days left in Fiji. So I’d decided to take time and backpack my way to Nadi. I had to make my way to the airport anyway, so I might as well see what else there was to see.

The idea of leaving my Fijian family for the unknown was alarming, but certainly not as alarming as the adventures I’d faced thus far. I thought back to meeting my Fijian hosts for the first time, the death and funeral of Mereani’s husband, and accidentally flashing the chiefs. I remembered how difficult it’d been learning the customs and trying to understand why I was even there in the first place.

hilary-at-taleis-grave

Sala and I caught air on the next wave, bouncing off the floor and landing hard on top of our bags. We broke into fits of laughter. If I can handle all this, I thought, a little backpacking will be a breeze.

The nephews took turns bailing out the water that was quickly filling the back of the speedboat with a bucket. “These buckets save lives.” Ro Mereani said pointedly.

We arrived back to port quicker than we came. Another boat was preparing to leave as we docked. Sala and I waved as we jumped out. I wobbled a bit, finding the ground unfamiliar. Once I felt stable I started celebrating. “We made it!” I jumped around but no-one else joined me.

The other boat’s passengers were talking to the nephews. Mereani looked worried, uninterested in my happy dance. The four strangers had grim faces as they puttered away. The nephews were quiet.

“What was that all about?” I asked.

Mereani sighed and turned to me. “Do you remember the other boat that left for Beqa the same day we did?” I nodded, remembering very well our journey to the island. We’d seen a tiny boat overloaded with supplies and people. “It’s gone missing.”

“Missing?” I said with disbelief. “You can see all the way to the island from here. How could they go missing? And that was DAYS ago… They’re just going to look for them NOW?”

Mereani sighed. “It’s not the same as in America. It would have taken a day or two for the islanders to get worried about them not making it. Then the news would have to get back to the main island to go look for them. The search and rescue crew is going now, but who knows what they will find.”

A chill ran down my spine. How could such a small decision as choosing which boat to board offer such different fates?

boarding-fiji-village-boat

I looked out on the water, trying to remember the faces of the villagers we’d passed. I remembered Mereani commenting that their boat was going to take on water.

“That’s what happens when you have too many supplies,” Ro Mereani said cautiously. “That’s why you need to bail out the water.”

I nodded, following her, wondering what transpired out in those waves.

As far as I know, the passengers were never found.

22 Comments

  • Reply

    aditya

    April 2, 2013

    thats a sad story. :(

    • Reply

      Hilary Billings

      April 3, 2013

      It is a sad story. =( I didn’t mean to bum everyone out, but I’m certainly learning how real life can get real quick.

  • Reply

    housewifedownunder

    April 2, 2013

    That’s so sad!

    • Reply

      Hilary Billings

      April 3, 2013

      Ugh, I know =/. I feel kind of bad posting about it. I feel like I just made everyone sad, haha.

  • Reply

    comicsmaniac

    April 3, 2013

    That’s terrifying! Your boat ride seemed rough, but almost comical, but to think that such a ride could be so dangerous…

    • Reply

      Hilary Billings

      April 3, 2013

      I know! And the ride was comical. But it’s crazy how ‘real’ life can get when you’re not paying attention, you know? Things that wouldn’t normally be a problem in America are dangers and major safety concerns in other parts of the world.

  • Reply

    pagingdrallie

    April 3, 2013

    Very sorry to hear that, but glad that you were safe!

    • Reply

      Hilary Billings

      April 3, 2013

      Thank you, Allie. I’m thankful as well. My close brushes with these fatal situations is making me very leery!

  • Reply

    Say Gudday

    April 3, 2013

    Reblogged this on Say Gudday.

  • Reply

    A Gracious Life

    April 4, 2013

    It happens often in here. There are worse stories. Definitely so different from other parts of the world.

    • Reply

      Hilary Billings

      April 4, 2013

      Does it really? And I’m sure there are. I’m learning SO much about the ‘real world’ these days…

  • Reply

    Erica

    April 4, 2013

    you in the boat = comical
    but oh my gosh! How terrifying! I hope they just drifted off and are taking a few extra days to find their way back.

    • Reply

      Hilary Billings

      April 4, 2013

      Yeah, there was nothing graceful about our return trip, haha!

      And yeah, it was a chilling story. Fingers crossed that’s what happened. I don’t know even if they were found if that was something that would be highly publicized. It took almost a week for the papers even to report them going missing. =/

  • Reply

    Yikes. I am a bit afraid of water anyway, so this makes me cringe. It seems like it would be a good idea to have life jackets just in case (though I know that’s a luxury we have). I hope those people are safe.

    • Reply

      Hilary Billings

      April 9, 2013

      Yeah, life jackets would be a good investment for sure. I’m working on getting some supplies for the villagers so I’ll have to add those to the list! I hope they’re safe as well. Thanks so much for taking the time to comment!

  • Reply

    lola

    April 8, 2013

    Oh my goodness! How awful. I’m happy you are safe and what a reality check on the norms of life there. WHOA!

    • Reply

      Hilary Billings

      April 9, 2013

      Thank you so much, Lola. Reality check indeed! It’s amazing the things I take for granted stateside.

  • Reply

    mezzo

    April 9, 2013

    It was really an adventure…

    • Reply

      Hilary Billings

      April 9, 2013

      Indeed it was! While it forces ‘life’ in my face, I don’t know if I could travel any other way. =)

  • Reply

    Bill Hayes

    April 21, 2013

    In the so-called deeloped world – our world, such an event would trigger helicopters and coastal vessles on a rescue, there would be news reports, accusastions, blame, court cases and outrage.
    It is good that you shared this – at least in a little way, their passing has been noted.

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About Me

About Me

Hey fellow adventurers, my name is Hilary! After being rejected from grad school, I took off on a solo journey around the world. Now I constantly challenge myself to take on new experiences. This blog documents my journeys from Europe to Fiji, swimming with sharks and living with tribes, to becoming an accidental beauty queen and working for one of the top national media outlets. If you like what you're reading, please subscribe! Here's to the next great adventure!

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