This past week Princess Meghan and Prince Harry came to Suva, the capital of Fiji. While you might imagine Fiji to be a palm-fringed, white-sand paradise, Suva is anything but. Torrential downpours for months at a time and the nearest clean beach is over forty minutes away by car. Downtown, you’ll find a mix of restaurants, business offices, and shops — and many are dilapidated.
When Prince Harry and Princess Meghan planned to visit Suva, the city went into overdrive to prepare for their arrival.
Last month, my parents visited me and I took them to one of the hiking areas near my home with a $5 entrance fee. As my mom, my stepdad, and I walked along the trail, I noticed that all trash had been cleared away and that fresh gravel had set in place. It looked nice! Wow, I thought, They’re actually doing something with our entrance fee.
A few minutes later, we bumped into one of the groundskeepers in the park. I complimented the new look of the hiking trail and commented on how much work it must be to complete the entire trail.
“Oh no,” he smiled. “We’re only putting new gravel on the parts where Prince Harry will be walking. The rest will stay the same.”
Everyone went to work filling potholes, paving roads, and landscaping every area where Harry and Meghan might walk through. The city market, where Meghan planned to visit, was cleaned so thoroughly that Fijians commented that you could “eat off the floor.”
Usually, you wouldn’t want bare skin to touch the market floor unless you wanted guaranteed hepatitis.
Days before their arrival, entire billboards plastered with Meghan and Harry’s faces on them filled the city. Banners with the same picture lined every major road. You couldn’t walk anywhere downtown Suva without feeling their eyes watching your every move.
Given Fiji’s colonial history, the entire obsession with the royals gave me a strange feeling in the pit of my stomach. Fiji already has a problem with neo-colonialism under the guise of foreign aid, and it doesn’t look good to spend taxpayers money on two visiting white folks who’ve done nothing to earn their monarch status. The fact that any country still honors monarchy in 2018 makes me cringe — but maybe that’s just my American showing.
Nonetheless, I ventured into the city in a taxi to watch the mayhem of Harry and Meghan’s visit. They’d be stopping at the city’s major park and watching a welcome ceremony take place.
Halfway to the city, my taxi stopped in traffic. I opted to get out of the car and walk the remaining two miles to the park. All traffic into the city was blocked by police officers in formal uniforms. Crowds of smiling Fijians lined the street. Some children held signs saying, “We love you Princess Meghan!” and my social media feeds were filled with minute by minute updates from people who spotted Meghan and Harry’s plane flying into the airport. Some women held handmade bags and bouquets of flowers that they hoped to hand to Meghan.
I can see Meghan’s appeal. Aside from being gorgeous, she’s Californian, 37 and pregnant, a woman of color, and a divorcee. She also comes from a messed up family. Most of us can’t relate to what it’s like growing up as a royal, but many of us can relate to coming from a family tree with a branch that deserves to get sawed off.
As for Harry, well, he’s admittedly come along way and is probably the most likable royal aside from his terrible fashion choices.
At the park, Fijians and foreigners sat on the grass, waiting for the prince and princess.
“I thought they were supposed to be here by four?” I asked my friend once the clocked ticked 4:30 pm.
“Fiji time!” A Fijian woman chimed in.
A poised female announcer reminded us to behave ourselves. No sudden movements once the prince and princess arrive, no hats, no standing, no screaming, and parents! Contain your children!
Finally, the prince and princess arrived in a motor brigade. Every Fijian child on the field sprang from their seats and chased the cars in a solid pack. They screamed and hollered, excited to get a glimpse of Harry and Megan. Despite the announcer’s best intentions, there was no way of calling them back to their seats calmly.
Harry and Megan walked to a center stage where they watched traditional dancers perform and Harry had a bowl of kava, Fiji’s national drink that tastes like muddy water and acts as a relaxant. At the end of the event, Harry took the microphone and said a few words and ended with a mispronounced “vinaka vakalevu” which means, “thank you very much.”
The crowd went wild with delight.
The next day, Harry was sent to walk the newly-made paths at the city’s forest park while Meghan went to visit the market. Because of the sweltering heat and the influx of eager crowds, Meghan’s time at the market was cut short. Of course, the wider media mislabeled this as a security scare when the reality is that nothing dangerous happened. The crowds were just larger than expected.
On the surface, the royal visit brought some temporary distraction and cheer to a city that’s deeply divided on race and politics. But behind the scenes, the royal visit has stirred a sense of animosity and debate. Why weren’t the roads fixed long before their arrival? Why did we wait until now to clean Suva’s largest market? Why weren’t ethnically Indian Fijians represented in the ceremonies when they make up 40% of the country’s population? Why does Fiji still bow to those who’s ancestors were once colonizers? Why weren’t Fiji’s three confederacies mentioned during one of the ceremonies? The list goes on. Many view the royals as a symbol of Fijian diplomacy and independence while others view them as a political ploy and nod to colonization.
Now that the royals have left Suva, the rainy capital has returned to its old self. The billboards of Meghan and Harry’s pearly whites have been swapped out for Frank Bainimarama’s, Fiji’s current prime minister who is seeking reelection in two weeks time.