The kindness of islanders

Yesterday I flew down to Napier to pick up my car. Now, ordinarily I try to avoid domestic flights – they´re just not good for this planet of ours, but various reasons conspired to make other options impossible. So I flew and I confess it was wonderful.

Why you might ask was my car in Napier? Well, my mum and her husband came out from the UK for Easter to see me and to get to know my Fijian, who they´d only met at our wedding. We decided a little road trip to Napier was in order; we had a long weekend, were curious about Art Deco and I´d heard good things – all true by the way, you should all go.

We left after I´d finished work and prepared for a six hour drive in the dark. Pretty soon all of us but the driver were snoring our little heads off, but before Taupo I was woken up by my worried husband. The car had lost power, something was wrong; we pulled over to the side of the road.

To cut a long story short there were all kinds of problems with the car – gasket, radiator, lots of other car words which mean nothing to me. We had to leave it in Napier for a couple of weeks and pay massive amounts of money to get it fixed. But that is not what this story is about.

There we were, on the side of the road, on the Thursday before Easter, the four of us, cold, sleepy and collectively without any mechanical knowledge. We´d called the AA but they would be an hour. We´d finished all the Easter Eggs, our story telling session was lacking enthusiasm. In short we were about to get grumpy. Then one of the cars that occasionally whizzed past stopped, reversed down the road and two men got out, as the eyes of three women peered out at us from the back.

They grabbed our torch and shone it under the bonnet, fiddled with some bits and bobs, poured water here there and everywhere, gave the car a little test and told us we could now drive to Napier, but would need to check out some electrical stuff there. We all hurried back into the car and this lovely family followed us along the road to make sure we were okay, before continuing on their way.

Who were these saviours? Fijians mechanics who, despite it being late and having their families with them, stopped to help strangers at the side of the road. They hadn´t known my husband was also from Fiji until he´s joined in their Hindi, they´d just been motivated by simple kindness.

I was reminded of my first experience on the islands; of being in Tonga and being lent various dodgy cars. We had ones which only started on a hills, ones which required you to hit the battery with a hammer before it would start, others which would invariably die in the most isolated places. But it never mattered, there was always someone who would pull over and help us. It was one of the many reasons I fell in love with the Pacific and wrote a book set there. It´s one of the reasons I was never very good at leaving. It´s one of the reasons I´m still here.