An accumulation of paperwork over forty-five years led Shona to enrol in a Life Writing course with Deborah. Diaries, travel journals, calendars, letters, postcards, lecture notes, programmes and quotes written on random pieces of paper, all have to be sifted to distill the essence of her past, recording the relevant and letting go everything else.
At the secure age of four, my family was uplifted to Fiji in an Air Force Flying Boat. It was enormous and noisy. Exciting. My father had been appointed Aide-de-Comp to Liz-The-Second for her Coronation tour of the colonies so for the next three years we lived among coconut palms and coral reefs.
For me, Suva still pulsates with a kaleidoscope of images: live crabs from the markets, strung together, scratching and struggling to be free on the floor of the local buses; military uniforms, brass buttons shining, with Sam Brownes (wide leather belts with diagonal slim straps) worn proudly across strong chests; large wooden shutters which allowed tropical air to circulate, but which also protected us from cyclonic storms; and exotic morsels which could be bought with a few coins from a child’s pocket.
My favourite stomping ground was a narrow, cupboard-of-a-shop, squeezed between two businesses on the main street. Cluttered shelves of glass jars lined the walls containing pickled, preserved, hairy, dehydrated and highly authentic treats in an assortment of disfigured shapes and sizes — bright orange preserved ginger, wah mui (dried salted Chinese plums) which I still buy from Wah Lee in Hobson Street, and sticky black slabs of tamarind paste. Flavours both sweet and salty made saliva glands work overtime. The elderly Oriental owner appeared as withered and bent as the produce he sold. His wispy, white, waist-length beard and ponytail and his long, curved, yellow fingernails plucking and dropping selected tidbits into a brown paper bag fascinated me.
Looking back on my childhood in Suva, as a little Kiwi girl of Scottish and Irish descent, learning French from the Missionary nuns while observing and absorbing the vibrant Fijian, Indian and Chinese communities, I realise how this experience has enabled me to adapt, accept and stay curious in a rapidly changing global world.
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