Thirteen thousand, seven hundred and ninety-seven kilometres. That is the distance that separates Lynn Beckles from her family in Barbados.
Since March 2015, Lynn has called the Pacific paradise of Fiji her home. She is currently completing her PhD in Management Studies from the University of the West Indies, Cave Hill – specifically studying how cultures impact the quality of service delivery. While studying, she became preoccupied with island perspectives and her search unearthed a Caribbean Pacific Island Mobility Scheme (CARPIMS) scholarship to the University of the South Pacific. Lynn saw this as an opportunity to gather data in an island space other than the Caribbean to validate her inquiry.
Fortunately for her, the transition was made easier after finding her church family the first weekend she was in Fiji. Being an active member of the Fairy Valley Wesleyan Holiness Church in Barbados, it was important for her to find a church of her own while overseas. During her research on Fiji, before she arrived, she discovered that the churches there were mainly Methodist and Anglican. So after her first visit to the Wesley City Mission Church, she fell in love.
“The first thing that happened was the older women took me under their wings and looked after me. I felt like I had a new family fussing over me making sure that I was eating properly,” Lynn said with a laugh.
Finding her home away from home helped her to settle in more easily, and made being away from her husband David, parents, uncles, aunts, sisters, nieces and nephews a tad less painful. Lynn does acknowledge that her journey would not be possible without the support of her family, especially her husband.
“It is something we agreed on and something we discussed. He has always been supportive of my studies,” she said.
Lynn has been married for 12 years and with her having a job in the tourism industry, her family was accustomed to her travelling for work. While she was doing her Master’s, she spent a month in Europe on a study tour. But that was the longest she has ever been away from her family.
“All I can say is ‘thank God for technology and social media’. It makes everything easier,” she said.
Apart from her husband, Lynn misses her nieces and nephews, particularly her nephew Trai. When she left for Fiji, the little one had not yet turned four years old and she cried on the day of Trai’s birthday because she was not there to celebrate with him.
But family is not the only thing Lynn misses in Barbados.
“I miss macaroni pie and salt fish,” she said matter-of-factly.
With the unavailability of Anchor cheddar cheese, a staple in her preparation of macaroni pie, Lynn has not been able to make the popular dish while in Fiji. And while fresh fish is available in abundance, there is no salted cod fish.
Lynn also yearns for the public conversations that happen in Barbados.
“I miss the call-in programmes!” Lynn exclaimed. “There are so many things that we take for granted in the Caribbean that are non-existent in other parts of the world. Here, there are no civil society conversations that are public. If you know someone that knows something, you have a conversation with them in private. There are so many biased perspectives in Fiji. On call-in programmes you get a chance to hear everybody’s take on things. Here, you could easily come away with an uninformed perspective on something if the only person you listen to is your neighbour.”
Being a stylish and fashionable person, Lynn also misses dressing up, as Fijians don’t place much emphasis on fashion. The only times she gets to do so is when she goes to a show or event. One of her favourite shows has been the Fiji Fashion Week. It’s where she became acquainted with one of the designers, Zulfikar Ali, because she attended the 2015 show wearing a piece from his AZA label.
Lynn had no choice but to become immersed in the rugby culture.
“I went to a rugby game and asked ‘What is this madness?’ There is a euphoria here that is crazy,” she said.
During the Olympics this year, whenever Fiji played, life in the island stopped. Because of the time difference, most of the games were played around 2 a.m. or 3 a.m. Lynn would usually be in bed by that time, but would be awoken by people shouting and screaming. When Fiji won gold, she said, the atmosphere was electric.
One other experience that stands out in her mind was one night in February this year when Cyclone Winston hit Fiji. When the storm made landfall, it was Category 5 strength with sustained winds of 230 km/h, making it the strongest tropical cyclone to ever hit Fiji.
“I told myself, ‘I left Barbados where nothing like this happens; we just get the beginning and some wind and rain, and here I am in the middle of a cyclone’,” Lynn recalled.
She admits she was very afraid. But that experience gave her a greater appreciation for disaster preparedness and management in the Caribbean.
“When I realized what was happening, my first questions were ‘Where are the shelters? What are the protocols?’ There are no protocols like what we have in the Caribbean. People don’t go to shelters. They stay home. The houses are wooden and there are a lot of tall trees. There is a coconut tree right outside my flat! I just said my prayers and hunkered down.”
Thankfully, Lynn was unhurt.
One of the things that she enjoys about living in Fiji is the 16-hour time difference that allows her to celebrate her birthday for longer than 24 hours.
“I have 36-plus hours of birthday celebration. I celebrate with my friends in Fiji and then with people in Barbados when they wake up. So, I get to do special occasions over and over again,” she said.
Lynn has no idea when she will be returning home. She was only to be in Fiji for ten months, but encountered unforeseen setbacks with her studies.
But those delays have helped her to understand life there better, and Lynn feels such a kinship with the people and the island that she is comfortable where she is.
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