If you ever need a reminder that Fiji is the country where ‘happiness finds you’, you only need 60-seconds at the Nadi airport.
I am sitting with my bags waiting for my friends to arrive, when a child sprints through the automated doors, almost knocking himself out on the way through.
He is no older than four or five, and his little legs verge on out-of-control as he runs into the arms of a beautiful Fijian woman, probably his mother or aunty.
He’s crying, she’s crying, a bunch of people nearby fight back tears; it’s an all-out storm of joyous sobbing.
Just a few metres away, a family of about 20 await the arrival of their friends and family. They hold a 4x2m hand-painted canvas sign that I assume says ‘welcome home’ in their native tongue.
Every face within a 20m-radius is lit up with excitement and pure happiness as they await the imminent arrival of their loved ones.
You see these kinds of moments at airports all around the world, but for some reason, this feels different. More genuine in Fiji.
I’m already smiling, and I have been here less than a minute.
Once you get to your resort, the smiles are even more prominent, and no one walks past without flashing their pearly whites and greeting you with ‘bula’ – a welcome greeting that is a mix of hello, how are you, it’s a beautiful day, nice to meet you etc.
I was curious to know whether the constant exchange of ‘Bula’ and welcoming nature of the Fijians was confined to the Fiji resorts, but it’s not. We strolled through some local villages and were greeted with smiles, ‘bula’ and even cuddles from local kids.
Every resort performs a song or drumming ritual to welcome guests when they arrive and if it is the former, it’s more often than not ‘Bula Maleya’ which will definitely get stuck in your head. This song was often sung by Fijian military forces during the Second World War, so it’s got a rich history, and you won’t go a trip to Fiji without hearing it at least a few times.
While eating breakfast on your last day, don’t be shocked if a swag of singers arrives at your table and belt out ‘Isa Lei’ the traditional farewell song – it’s equal parts beautiful and heartbreaking.
Fiji is home to some of the friendliest people, and best smiles, on the planet and it’s no surprise it was named the happiest country in the world in 2014 with 93 per cent of Gallup survey respondents saying they were either happy or very happy.
Even the resort staff say their favourite part of the job is making their guests happy.
“I have been a porter at the Naviti resort for 15 years and my favourite part is still watching people arrive, then watching them leave much happier after their stay,” bellman Sekaia Mua says.
“Sometimes people come with a problem or are stressed out, then by the time they leave, they give me a hug and all that stress is gone.”
I have a hunch ‘Fiji time’ also has something to do with that. No matter where you’re staying in Fiji, whether it be on the mainland, or one of the islands, you will quickly learn Fiji time is a real thing. There is no rush, no stress and no worries which can be a slight adjustment when you’re still in fast-paced work mode. Some things may take a little longer than expected, but you’re on holidays! “Ahh Fiji time, man!” will be the likely response, followed by a smile, laugh and friendly slap on the shoulder. Don’t worry, you will be well-adjusted after 24-hours.
The laid-back nature of its people is just one aspect that makes the Fiji culture so beautiful. They are all about respect, family and community, which is evident in all they do from the welcome songs, to their communal kava ceremonies where everyone drinks from the same coconut shell. Most Fiji resorts offer a cultural experience whether it be a kava ceremony, fire-twirling or fire walking, and all should be on your ‘things to do in Fiji’ list.
Just give yourself enough time to truly enjoy it… Fiji time, remember.