‘Bula Pops!: A Memoir of a Son’s Peace Corps Service in the Fiji Islands’ is a book written by a father/son duo, Michael J. Blahut and Michael J. Blahut III. It recounts the experiences and adventures they had while living in the small Melanesian country.
Michael, or Maikeli as he is known by his Fijian friends, serves as a Peace Corps volunteer in the village of Cuvu. Being an expert in Environmental Science, he tries to help the local community create a healthier and more sustainable lifestyle. However, this is not an easy task, as most of the inhabitants don’t feel the need for a change. But Maikeli doesn’t give up. In between the kava drinking sessions, he advises, educates, tutors, and explains. From beekeeping to building composting toilets, he shares his ideas in an attempt to improve his new neighbours’ lives. And as time goes by, he learns what it really means to be a stranger in a foreign land.
‘Bula’ – which means ‘hello’ or ‘welcome’ – is the standard Fijian greeting, and ‘pops’ is what the younger Blahut calls his father. This short sentence, ‘Bula Pops!’, would open every single message Michael III sent from the Blue Continent. It wasn’t just a way to say: ‘Hi dad!’; it was a promise of delivering yet another engrossing tale, anecdote, or narrative. And those were promises well kept. If you have ever wondered what it’s like to live in a small Pacific village, the Blahuts’ memoir will give you a pretty good idea. This is probably one of the best non-academic works on the Fijian culture. On top of that, it is an extremely enjoyable read; so irresistible it’s hard to put it down.
Somewhat surprising – in a positive way – is the structure of the book. The account is composed mainly of Michael III’s letters and embellished with his father’s stories, comments, and explanations. Such mixed point of view gives readers a better understanding of the authors’ words, not to mention it makes the title even more colourful and interesting.
And yes, this book is immensely interesting! Michael III doesn’t only describe his two-year-long service, he shares his personal experiences. As a keen and perceptive observer, he provides an absolutely fascinating and a very thorough insight into the reality of life in the Pacific Islands, shedding some light on the customs and traditions he had a chance to discover. He also compares the western world and the small, undeveloped nation. Although the latter may not have the luxuries of modernity, its people are blissfully happy, for they can find happiness in the smallest of things. It then comes as no surprise that Michael’s words are always full of respect for the Fijians. They accepted him into their close-knit community, making him feel like a member of the group.
This memoir is not a literary masterpiece. The language is plain and simple; the depictions do not paint a vivid picture in your mind. But to be honest, it doesn’t matter. It’s a book so enthralling that you will not want it to end. Written with a subtle sense of humour and spiked with the most compelling tales, it unravels the hidden secrets of magical Fiji. I highly recommend it. It doesn’t disappoint.