x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

'We're the only Fijians in RAK'

Home and away Nicky Vananalagi-Wivou is a library technician at Ras al Khaimah Institute of Applied Technology. Born and raised in Fiji, she lived in Australia for two years before moving to the UAE in 1996.

Nicky Vananalagi-Wivou lives with her husband and daughter in a villa by the beach in Ras al Khaimah.
Nicky Vananalagi-Wivou lives with her husband and daughter in a villa by the beach in Ras al Khaimah.

Nicky Vananalagi-Wivou is a library technician at Ras al Khaimah Institute of Applied Technology. Born and raised in Fiji, she lived in Australia for two years before moving to the UAE in 1996. I was born and raised in a little town in Fiji called Levuka. It's on the island of Ovalau, the old capital. I still think of it as home. Home to me is my culture, identity and family connections. Life there feels more free, more laid back. Everyone knows everyone else. And if you are from Fiji, you naturally miss the beaches, the sea, and the seafood. One of my sons is there now, working as a pilot on the west side of the island, near the airport.

I left Fiji at 31, for Australia. It was 1994 and I wanted to do something different. Most Fijians leave the islands looking for greener pastures. It was a choice I made with my husband, to move while we had the opportunity. I stayed in Sydney for two years and then we came to the UAE in 1996, my husband, my daughter and me. I work as a library technician at Ras al Khaimah Institute of Applied Technology. It's different from my last job in Sydney, where I worked for an engineering company. Although I have been here for 13 years, I still wouldn't say it's quite home for me. We are settled and have lived here longer than any other country, yet Australia is more of a home to me - another son lives there.

We are the only Fijians in Ras al Khaimah, but there are more in the other emirates. Some I met at the Rugby Sevens one year. If you see a fellow Fijian in the crowd, you just know. We don't have to be related or know each other to easily become friends. We sit around and speak the language and eat the food, drink kava and eat cassava and seafood cooked in coconut milk. I hate to bring everything back to the food, but the seafood back home is so good. We cook in an oven dug out from the earth - a lovo.

We do things together; in 2006 we celebrated Fiji Independence Day in Al Ain, with friends from Dubai and Abu Dhabi. We danced, sang and cooked a lot. It is good to speak the language. I have passed it on to my daughter. We speak it at home. She's been to Fiji many times, but for her Australia is more of a home. I do miss the family back home, and the feeling of moving around freely. I miss things like the freedom of open speech and the quality and efficiency of services. On the other hand, I appreciate the much lower levels of crimes here in Ras al Khaimah. There is also no traffic, I get to work in five minutes, and my villa is on the beach. I get bored sometimes, as I don't have other Fijians around. I go down to the water when I am frustrated and turn my face to the sea. It's a lonely life, sometimes.

Back home, there is less privacy. People will come up to you in the street to sell you things and there is more petty crime. You have to be more careful. But if someone asked me to go home tomorrow, I would still go. The culture is very different there because, for us, it is all about ties with relatives, and church functions. There is a real community thing. That is what home means to me. I don't go out much in Ras al Khaimah. I have my own gatherings at home, and I meet the ladies in Al Ain when we have things to celebrate.

My house in Ras al Khaimah is filled with artefacts from home. A tabuwa, or whale's tooth, which is a sacred element in our culture, hangs on one wall, and we have mats that my mother made - traditional tapa mats made of tree bark - as well as shells from the island. There's also outdoor furniture with entertaining facilities, which creates a homely atmosphere. I have a house in Fiji; it's a great house in the old colonial style with a veranda around it. I wouldn't compare it to anything here. We also have a house in Penrith in Sydney and have bought a plot in Hunter Valley. That is going to be our retirement home, some place nice and sunny.