We all have that person we hope to meet one day. For some it’s the President of the United States, for others it’s a movie celebrity or T.V. star. When I was abroad in the Fiji islands during the fall of 2011, my person was the President of Fiji.
I arrived in Fiji with very little knowledge of the man who Fijians called Mr. President. I knew his name, Ratu (“Chief”) Epeli Nailatikau, I knew that he lived in the Presidential Palace on the top of the hill next to the seawall overlooking the harbor, and I knew that he was everywhere. By everywhere I mean he was literally EVERYWHERE. He would walk up and down the seawall and would always show up when it was least expected. He traveled on public transport and wore the typical Fijian outfit (a sulu, which resembles a shin-length skirt and a Hawaiian-style shirt) whatever the occasion.
I first heard of this man when researching Fiji before I actually traveled there. He seemed like a grandfather figure to Fijians and a very trusted and special man. Once I got to Fiji I heard more stories and realized this was my “I have to meet him” person. I spent months hoping that I would get the chance. Finally, during my second-to-last week in Fiji, the time had come where my “I have to meet him” turned into “I have met him”.
I was sitting at a table with a few friends at Gloria Jean’s, the Australian equivalent of Caribou Coffee. At the grocery store across the hall, I saw a man making a purchase at the cash register. That man was Epeli. My friends talked me into going and asking for a photograph. I approached him as he walked with his grocery cart and asked, “Ratu Epeli?” He acknowledged my presence, and I asked him if we could take a photograph together. He kindly obliged, and I put my arm around him, my friend snapped a few photos, then he ambled to a waiting cab and sped away towards the palace.Ratu Epeli had a strong presence no matter where he went. If he didn’t know your parents, he knew your grandparents; and if he didn’t know a single member of your family, then you obviously weren’t Fijian. He walked everywhere with not a security team in sight, but all of Fiji was his security, and that was all he needed.
If you are interested in learning more about the program in Fiji, go to isuabroad.iastate.edu, click on Programs, and type Fiji into the simple search.
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