Time, and how it is perceived, varies greatly depending on where you are in the world. In the Western culture I’ve been raised in, we prioritise and organise frantically to fit everything into our day. We live and work to deadlines, wake up with alarms and work rotating shifts. In several countries I’ve visited, however, the notion of immediacy is actually shunned, or simply doesn’t exist. Vietnam and Cuba are two countries in which patience isn’t just a virtue but a necessity. The country that takes the crown, however, is Fiji.
In Fiji, time is such a loose concept that they even have their own saying: Fiji Time. Visit, and you will hear this phrase repeated again and again by bus drivers and bartenders alike. Nothing happens fast, and sometimes things don’t happen at all. Trying to convince a Fijian cabbie to step on it is harder than shifting an old dog from in front of a warm fire.
In Nadi, I spent a night or two in a hostel on the beach just outside the ramshackle city. After watching the sun set from the shore, I gathered with a group of Fijians and backpackers for an evening spent drinking kava; a drink ground from the roots of the kava plant. It’s mildly intoxicating, and leaves a gentle feeling similar to being stoned. But to get that feeling, you have to drink a lot – we’re talking 15 cups and you’ll start to feel relaxed.
The pace of passing the half coconut bowl of murky, earthy scented water would have had a sloth wringing its hands in anxiety. Keen to feel the effects of this mysterious liquid, I was foiled repeatedly in any attempts to hasten the gentle passing of the bowl between the chuckling Fijians. Slowing your mental clock down is jarring at first, and takes some getting used to.
At my old university in Newcastle, England, you can buy 3 treble vodkas for £5. They taste like second-hand formaldehyde. You go out, drink 9 shots in 15 minutes, and wake up in your bed/someone else’s bed/a bin/sprawled face-down on the town hall steps (it only happened once, okay). It’s all so rushed, and in the time and place, it just makes sense. Time is valuable, so let’s not waste a moment, and so on.
Sitting in Fiji, I realised I was anxious to get on with it. But with what? Where else would I rather be? Instead of enjoying the company and the gorgeous location, I was trying to rush to some imagined end result, of the supposed intoxicating effects of this kava. But I had nowhere better to be, nothing better to do, and suddenly there seemed to be no point rushing.
Of course, on occasion Fiji Time still did perplex me. An attempt to purchase some, ah, dubious substances want awry when the Fijian I was supposed to meet, who had given me the time and place the previous night, failed to show up. After maybe an hour slumped in a hammock watching the sun go down, a local wandered down the beach and asked me what I was doing. When I explained about the tardy dealer, he gave a schoolboy shrug. “Fiji time!”
The more you try to get a grip on it, the more time will slip through your grasp like a greased up piglet. Do you suppose that when the Fijians grow old, they look back on those hazy, golden afternoons spent laughing with friends, and wish they’d done more? Will I grow old and wish I hadn’t pushed so hard for more? Always more? I don’t know.
When time came to leave the country, I enquired about the bus times from my beachside hostel to the airport, several hours away. “Every hour,” came the reply. When I pressed for a little more accuracy, I was met with a raised eyebrow. I had no choice but to schlep to the jungle fringed roadside with my backpack and sit, quietly sweating and slapping away mosquitoes. An old fisherman sauntered down the dusty road and sat next to me, taking his hat off and fanning himself lazily. He asked me about my trip around the world. He asked how old I was. I told him 21, and he gasped.
The bus arrived, eventually.