Tag Archives: Michael J. Blahut

A HOLLY JOLLY CHRISTMAS

‘Christmas is a big holiday. Lots of feasts and kava drinking. Basically they do the same thing on all the holidays, eat and drink kava.’

Michael J. Blahut, Michael J. Blahut III, ‘Bula Pops! A Memoir of a Son’s Peace Corps Service in the Fiji Islands’


‘Gift giving is not a custom here. Christmas is a Holy day, but it’s nothing like what it is in the West, and there is certainly little if any commercialism associated with it at all.’

Dave Hart, ‘Solomon Boy: Adventures among the people of the Solomon Islands’


‘Living in Tonga, it is hard to believe that it is almost Christmas. It has little to do with the warm – make that hot – tropical weather, but more to do with the complete lack of Christmas commercialization here. There are no advertisements promoting last-minute Christmas sales and no obvious indication in the shops that Christmas is just about here. But make no mistake, this is a very Christian country, and Christmas will be celebrated in a big way.’

Steve Hunsicker, ‘Steve’s Adventure with the Peace Corps’


‘As Christmas approached, the Samoans definitely got into the spirit with decorated stores and Christmas music on the radio. Samoans don’t hesitate being blatantly Christian, and separation of church and state wasn’t practiced at that time. Local business people, government employees and bankers were expected to take time off from work to rehearse for these Christmas programs.’

Mary E. Trimble, ‘Sailing With Impunity: Adventure in the South Pacific’


‘Christmas shopping in Vanuatu has many of the same frustrations as it does in America. The traffic is terrible; one day I had to wait almost five minutes before I could make a U-turn. The weather is frightful, often over 90 degrees with high humidity. You can never find a parking space – Chinese businessmen don’t believe in wasting real estate on parking lots. However, the greatest challenge in Santo is not avoiding the over commercialization of Christmas. No, our challenge is finding something to purchase in the first place.’

Bryan W. Webb, ‘Hungry Devils and Other Tales from Vanuatu’

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KAVA, ANYONE?

‘Served in coconut shells, the kava had the grayish-brown tint of old dishwater, and a flavor that was faintly bitter and peppery.’

Tony Horwitz, ‘Blue Latitudes: Boldly Going Where Captain Cook Has Gone Before’


‘Now let me tell you what kava really is and how it is a part of the culture in the Fiji Islands. Kava is called yagona, and the slang name for the liquid form is ‘grog’. It is the drink of chiefs and the drink of the farmers, the drink of the people.’

Michael J. Blahut, Michael J. Blahut III, ‘Bula Pops!: A Memoir of a Son’s Peace Corps Service in the Fiji Islands’


‘Fortunately, I was now in Vanuatu, where getting profoundly stoned every night is a venerable tradition. In the gold hour before sunset, the men of Vanuatu gather in a nakamal, typically a clearing under a banyan tree, where they consume kava, which, to the uninitiated, is the most wretchedly foul-tasting beverage ever concocted by Man. Kava derives from Piper methysticum, a pepper shrub that thrives high in the hills of Vanuatu. Traditionally, the kava is prepared by having prepubescent boys chew the root until it becomes a mulch of pulp and saliva, whereupon it is squeezed through coconut fiber, mixed with water, and swallowed all in one go from a coconut shell. Pondering this, you have to wonder And whose idea was that? I could not think of any circumstance where it would occur to me that consuming some kid’s globby spitballs might enhance my well-being. But we humans are a mysterious species, willing to try anything for a buzz, and fortunately for us, a long time ago, somewhere in Vanuatu, and enterprising individual discovered the secret to the most satisfying narcotic available for our pleasure.’

J. Maarten Troost, ‘Getting Stoned with Savages’


‘Kava-drinkers were never aggressive. They looked numb, like hypothermia victims, or patients who had just been dragged from a dentist’s chair. Kava-drinkers were weak and compliant; they whispered; they swayed when they tried to stand straight.’

Paul Theroux, ‘The Happy Isles of Oceania’


‘”What does kava taste like?” I ask Lani. She shrugs. “I don’t know, I’ve never tasted it. In Tonga, women can’t drink kava, they just serve it to the men.’

Graeme Lay, ‘The Miss Tutti Frutti Contest: Travel Tales of the South Pacific’

BEST BOOKS ABOUT FIJI

‘Bula Pops!: A Memoir of a Son’s Peace Corps Service in the Fiji Islands’ by Michael J. Blahut, Michael J. Blahut III

This is unquestionably one of the best books about Fiji you’ll ever hold in your hands. Written by a father/son duo, the memoir is particularly recommended for those who would like to get to know the peculiarities of Fijian culture.

The extremely interesting narrative is filled with descriptions of local customs, traditions, practices, habits, and beliefs, which are not only informative but also very entertaining and enjoyable to read. Especially worthy of note are the younger Blahut’s observations – you can’t help but marvel at his intercultural competence.

‘Our Wealth Is Loving Each Other: Self and Society in Fiji’ by Karen J. Brison

Karen J. Brison’s book is a wonderful anthropological study that examines the challenges indigenous Fijians face as they try to reconcile their traditional values with modernity. The author shares stories of various individuals who prove that it is indeed possible to live according to the way of the chiefs without giving up personal autonomy.

The book may not be light-hearted in nature, but it is an immensely engaging read that sheds some light on cultural contradictions between the old and the new.

‘Dodging Machetes: How I Survived Forbidden Love, Bad Behavior, and the Peace Corps in Fiji’ by Will Lutwick

If you are interested in multiculturalism in Fiji, Will Lutwick’s memoir is something you should read. This quite incredible story of a Peace Corps volunteer who falls in love with a rebellious girl from a traditional Hindu family provides fascinating insights into the world of Indo-Fijian community.

The author’s wit, charm, and delightful sense of humour that can be found on every single page make the book a real treat for everyone who appreciates good literature that entertains, enlightens, and educates.

‘Kava in the Blood: A Personal & Political Memoir from the Heart of Fiji’ by Peter Thomson

As the title says, this book is a memoir – personal, because it’s basically the author’s autobiography; and political, because it describes the coups d’etat that took place in Fiji in 1987. And if you think it’s impossible to weave together such distinct strands, this title will prove you wrong.

Peter Thomson delivers a fascinating tale that is an eye-opener. With unconditional love for the Melanesian country, he paints a painful picture of its past, letting readers understand how certain events shaped the Fijian nation.

‘Getting Stoned with Savages: A Trip Through the Islands of Fiji and Vanuatu’ by J. Maarten Troost

Fiji with a dose of humour? You know that you can count on J. Maarten Troost. His tongue-in-cheek memoir is a terrific piece of travel literature that captivates from the very first to the very last sentence.

Even though the author doesn’t write much about the Fijian culture, he unravels the secrets of daily life in the tropics – he shows the good, the bad, and the ugly. As always, he is honest and amusing. As always, he is absolutely brilliant. Immerse in his book and you’ll discover the real Fiji.

A CHAT WITH… MICHAEL BLAHUT

Michael Blahut is one of the authors of a fantastic book called ‘Bula Pops!: A Memoir of a Son’s Peace Corps Service in the Fiji Islands’. If you are curious what he had to say not only about his literary work but also about Fiji, just read the interview.

MICHAEL BLAHUT, MICHAEL BLAHUT III

Pasifika Truthfully: ‘Bula Pops!’ is quite an unusual book – you co-authored it with your son. How did that happen?

Michael Blahut: I collected his emails and letters from Fiji. After him serving a year there, I went to visit him along with his younger brother, Eli. We spent three weeks there and travelled to three islands. When I came back home, I started to consolidate his notes and formatted them into MS Word. After he returned from Fiji, I continued to work on the book. He was helping me for a month. When he went to California, we continued to refine the book via email.

PT: Why did you decide to write this memoir? Did you just want to share your son’s experience, or did you want to give people a glimpse of life in Fiji?

MB: There were a couple of reasons. First, we wanted to document the experience of living in Fiji because of the many unusual encounters my son had; plus I had experienced it myself first-hand, and I could relate to his situation. Imagine living in a Fijian village, at the top of a hill overlooking the Pacific Ocean, and enjoying this every day. The view was priceless.

Second, it was his Peace Corps experience, which he will draw upon every day for knowledge and solutions. His stories were funny and realistic; he showed his emotions and feelings.

PT: As you’ve mentioned, you had a chance to visit that South Pacific country. What was your first impression?

MB: It is a third world country, and do not let people tell you differently. There are resorts there that shelter the outside villages and the way people live. Staying the first night in my son’s village was an eye opener. The dogs were fighting and lizards were running up my leg. I had to go outside to use the bathroom, which was also part shower stall. I thought: ‘What am I doing here?’ But that all changed as I adapted. The water was beautiful and warm.

PT: Did Fiji live up to your expectations?

MB: I wasn’t sure what to expect. In the end, it was a wonderful experience. Snorkeling in the ocean and experiencing Fiji time. The people were friendly and helpful. It also helped that my son had learned Fijian and he could converse with the natives.

PT: You were in Fiji for a short period of time. Your son lived there for over 2 years. What were his thoughts of the country, its people and their culture?

MB: He was able to work for the Chief of his province and learned how the Fijians controlled the land, and the Fijian-Indians could only lease it. My son worked closely with many people. Some of them weren’t too motivated to do things or make changes. No guns are allowed in Fiji, so there are no shootings or real bad crimes. The Fijian diet consists of a lot of carbohydrates, and many of the Fijians are big people. There is a conflict between the Indians, who take up 50% of the population, and the native Fijians, who rule. The Fijian food is bland, the Indian food has more spices. It is a country that continues to grow, but they are slow to react to changes.

PT: It’s hard not to become a different person after living abroad for such a long time. In your opinion, how did the sojourn change your son?

MB: He felt a stronger need to connect with people and help them in more ways. He is now attending medical school at the West Virginia School of Osteopathic Medicine.

PT: Would either of you like to come back there one day?

MB: Yes, we talked about it. He still stays in touch with one Fijian there. We may come back when we find time in the future. This would definitely complete my son’s journey.

‘BULA POPS!: A MEMOIR OF A SON’S PEACE CORPS SERVICE IN THE FIJI ISLANDS’ BY MICHAEL J. BLAHUT, MICHAEL J. BLAHUT III

‘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.

BULA POPS

Summary

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.

Review

‘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.