Sega na leqa (pronounced SENG-a na LENG-a, and don’t enunciate the g’s) is a Fijian phrase similar in meaning to hakuna matata: in other words, no worries, no problem. This is a key phrase to know in Fiji, which has taken on new meaning for me during our week-long visit to the country. Before we arrived, I’d thought it a given that we’d be chanting the “no worries” mantra–Fiji is internationally typecast as a carefree, worry-free, never-ending beach, probably with a waterfall in the background and a pink hibiscus blossom somewhere in sight. Of course we’d be saying no worries in a place like that, where there is seemingly nothing to worry about.
Spontaneous horseback riding on the beach plays up the worry-free Fiji stereotype.
This assumption was first disproved a month before our scheduled flight, when cyclone Winston tore through the islands. A category 5.1 storm, about the magnitude of hurricane Katrina, Winston demolished crops, flattened homes, flipped cargo ships, and turned life on its head. Towns were razed to the ground, with villagers hiding in caves for weeks to protect themselves from winds and high water levels. Two of the hardest-hit towns were Levuka and Rakiraki… the main towns on our itinerary.
This was our first sega na leqa moment, where we kept our schedule and hoped for the best, knowing the trip would be hard, but that we might be of use to villagers by bringing supplies they lacked. No problem…?
Aboard our flight, the second disaster struck. We had just gotten our in-flight drinks when the plane dropped 200 feet, shooting us out of our seats and sending our food and drinks flying. Visibly shaken, we braced ourselves as the plane dipped again and again, hoping we would not be starring in a sequel to Cast Away. Hearts in our throats, we had a nerve-wracking second half of our flight, and were relieved to finally land in Suva. Our clothes were sticky with soda and juice, but we were for the most part alive. No problem. Sega na leqa…
One of Suva’s main streets
After two days meandering around Suva, we were scheduled to take our trip to Levuka and Rakiraki. We were ready to brave conditions there, but never followed through with the plan. The weather station grimly announced that travelers were out of luck, as choppy waters and floods in the port town of Nadi made ferry trips impossible. Another cyclone was on its way, and towns sank underwater as winds and tides picked up. Some footage of the flood can be found here: https://www.tvnz.co.nz/one-news/world/360-video-ground-in-cyclone-zena-hit-nadi
Sega na leqa. We decided to scrap all of our plans and drive around Viti Levu, the big island of Fiji. We made our way first to Sigatoka, a coastal town known for its market. But, thanks to the new cyclone brewing, we couldn’t make it all the way to our homestays. We turned on the radio to hear a worried voice: “a level 2 cyclone is headed toward Fiji, and will center on Sigatoka. Expect flooding, high winds from 120-160 km per hour, and flying debris. It is advised that everyone take shelter within the next hour. High flood advisory for Sigatoka, please evacuate.” Hurriedly we cancelled our homestay plans and checked into a hotel on a hill, skidding out of town as the river rose.
Huddled in the darkness of our hotel rooms, without power, water, or backup funds (the SIT program changed our director’s credit card without notice, and it will take a month for the mail ship bearing the new card to reach Samoa), we waited. We told ghost stories, lit candles, listened to doors slam in the wind.
But sega na leqa. The forecast had been wrong, and the cyclone died out before the worst would have hit us. And so we drove to our village homestays, where at last, things started looking up. Our host families took us to coastal sand dunes, which towered 100 ft in the air and required us to scramble up almost vertical slopes to reach the crest of dunes. Still without power or water, we sat and socialized at night, cooking roti over open fires.
Atop the sand dunes
At last, the flooding subsided in Nadi, and we headed to the town. Our guide, Prem, loves spontaneity, and sega na leqa is his personal motto. When plans fell through he took us to his house for lunch, then promised to show us a special surprise later that day. We all piled into his van, and drove through town, looking at flood lines on buildings and riverbanks.
We wound through hills, and the planned, paved road turned to gravel, then to dirt, growing dustier and windier. At last, we parked on the side of the road. “Get out,” Prem ordered. “Here is your surprise.” We waded through knee-length grass, and found ourselves at the top of a mountain…transported to the cover of a National Geographic magazine. The land dropped away beneath us, giving way to rolling hills and a far-away sea, where we could see the silhouettes of neighboring islands.
Sometimes there are problems, and there are obstacles that block us from following our plans to the letter. But as we stood atop the mountain, gazing out at the lands that we been hurrying through the first part of the week, I realized that the whole time, we were exactly where we needed to be.
Sega na leqa, and here’s to all the best-laid plans that go awry.