“Where are you going? Samosa?”
“Ah, sorry: Somalia. That’s in Africa, right?”
Having finished my Masters Degree in the Politics and Economics of Development at the University of Bologna in northern Italy last year, I toddled off to Fiji to undertake an internship with a small environmental NGO. I will pass lightly over my time in Fiji, primarily due to the fact that, at the time, I found it hard to believe that I was actually there and my memories of the place are the dregs of a beautiful but evanescent* dream, so to speak. The office I worked in consisted of mainly very dread-locked, unwashed, tree-hugging hippy-types (presumably Lancing College old boys) who were fond of quoting nonsensical phrases such as: “many people never stop to realize that a tree is a living thing, not that different from a tall, leafy dog that has roots and is very quiet.” My time there was a little odd though thoroughly enjoyable, and I have to say Fiji is an extraordinarily beautiful country and well worth a visit.
During my stay in Fiji I found myself one evening sitting next to an elderly lady from New Zealand This did not seem overly fortunate at first (a young lady from New Zealand would have been better), until I established that she was in fact the head of UNESCO (the United Nations Educational?, Scientific and Cultural Organization) in the Pacific, and in true Brighton College spirit I proceeded to ply her with wine until she offered me a contract as a volunteer at the UNESCO Office for the Pacific States in Apia, Samoa.
Three months later, I find myself sitting in an air-conditioned office in the UN compound in Apia, approximately eighteen thousand miles from Leconfield House and the Chapel, wondering what exactly I’m doing so far away from the College, and most, presumably, of my fellow Old Brightonians, but more importantly almost four thousand miles away from the nearest KFC outlet. I’ve only been here a few weeks now, but am settling into the way of life rather quickly – going back to Brighton is going to provide me with an unusual reverse culture shock. Waking up in the morning and being suddenly hit by the fact that you are actually upside down in relation to Dr Seldon is a peculiar experience. In fact, no one is more surprised than me. Well, Dr Seldon might be too, I guess.
I am living in a spacious house by a little bay for the princely sum of 18 pounds a week (puppy included) in a small village just outside Apia, the capital, called Taumesina. Every morning I wake up early and drink coffee on my veranda, whilst watching the sunrise over a small lagoon – there is nothing like a sunrise in the South Pacific: it starts off grey-green, then slowly turns to a dark pink before melting into a bright orange colour - which is spectacular - on an almost daily basis. I then walk to work under the shadow of a volcano (which I hope is extinct. Convinced I saw smoke pouring out of it this morning though), past people who wave and smile, presumably at my sunburn, and then settle in to a day’s paperwork at the UN. Tropical paradise, really.
Evenings are spent relaxing at the yacht club, playing tennis or golf, or generally thinking of all the others boys and girls from the Brighton College year of ’99 who, due to the twelve-hour time-difference, are probably slumbering somewhere (except for a few, who are probably still out partying…), anticipating their daily commute on the tube to a job which probably consists mainly of hiding the utter loathing they feel for their boss, whilst dreaming of having a life that doesn’t so closely resemble hell – to borrow a quote!
Yesterday I was invited to play cricket for the UN in a charity match, but, this being Samoa, the pitch was double booked (the Samoan ladies over 40s cricket club were having their first match of the season. And there were some really scary looking fast bowlers. People here are big…): I stuck around to loaf for a while in the pavilion, thinking about my exploits in the Brighton 3rd XI (in particular my epic 3 not out against Lancing to draw the match in 1995. A great innings, it’ll be on DVD in the summer) until a bunch of young chaps turned up and started having a chuck around of their own.
And they were really very, very good. Very good indeed. Not quite College standard of course, but they could give the Lancing u15s a good thrashing I’m sure. Thinking “hang on! I’m 23: I should Take Charge” I organized them into a little game on the outfield, which they readily agree to. They play a local form of cricket here in Samoa called “Kirikiti” which is essentially Twenty20 cricket, but played with a giant triangular bat (and also, everybody has a whistle for some reason), so they’re pretty good at smashing the ball to the rope. Or pretty good at smashing my lofted leg-spinners, anyway. Then a chap from the Samoan Ministry of Sport - well, the President actually - turned up and, presumably taking me for somebody else, offered me a part-time job as coach of the Samoan Academy XI. My friends here have a sweepstake on how long it will take the kids to work out that they are in fact better cricketers than I am.
So, that’s my life in the South Pacific so far. The water to the village was cut off yesterday, so in the forty-degree heat combined with almost one hundred per cent humidity, everybody pongs a little bit – which is taking me back to my time working in Fiji. If anyone is reading this and is tired of Blighty, why not pop over? Or, if you’re passing through, I have a spare bedroom and promise to buy you a Vailima beer or two. I’ll even let you play with the puppy…