Here at Tui Place we have three part-time workers who help us get the seemingly never-ending list of things to do done. With two non-working parents it may seem a bit of a luxury to have additional help, but most – maybe all the residents here – have, and need, extra pairs of hands to keep things ticking over.
At the top of the list is usually someone to help keep the compound in a respectable state. Anything that grows here grows rapidly – fertile volcanic soil and a great deal of both sun and rain create ideal conditions for our botanical buddies. During the wet season the grass can grow an inch a day, bamboo six feet a week, bananas and papayas pop up at astonishing speed from wherever the bats have pooped. Left unattended for two or three weeks then the surrounding forest and jungle will start to reclaim the land we have borrowed. Two of our workers help to keep nature in check around the edges, and under control inside the one acre compound. Wani, our brushcutter guy, comes every two weeks to cut all the grass areas. This usually takes five or six hours. It’s a very hot and very sweaty job, and one which I have yet to have a go at. Wani has been brushcutting for the residents here for almost three hundred years, and retirement can’t be too far away. He’s actually 71 years old, and can be seen cycling to and from jobs with his brushcutter. His health and fitness is remarkable and he’ll probably tell you it’s due to Fiji Bitter, kava, and ladies. When Wani does finally retire there will likley be a mad scramble by residents to find a replacement, or a mad idea to do it yourself. I could probably handle once every two weeks, but to do it most days as Wani does then I don’t think I’d live to be 71 – I’d probably die sometime during day two, begging deliriously for Fiji Bitter, kava, and ladies.
Our second worker in the compound is Joe. He usually comes two days a week and has been the main contributor to our compound redesign work. Pretty much all the new stone walls, driveway, rock gardens, new flower beds and boundaries are down to him, along with general weeding, trimming and clearing. He’s our main garden projects guy – Titi and I have these brilliant ideas and Joe is the lucky man who gets another 14 tons of rock to move. Titi and I also spend a day or two a week in the compound, but without Joe then what has taken one year to do so far would probably have taken three.
With no nursery facilities here for toddlers we also employ someone to help with the kids and general housework. The local kindergarden doesn’t accept children until they are 4 or 5 years old depending on the number of applicants. With a 1-year old and a 3-year old we can not yet take advantage of the kindergarden. Most Fijian families are pretty close-knit with a handy supply of aunts, uncles, brothers, sisters, grandparents and neighbours as child-minders so it’s not usually a big issue with them. We employ Mela, who used to come a couple of days a week but is now becoming more of a live-in nanny, which suits her and us as it gives additional flexibility.
So, I guess you may be asking what we actually spend our time doing given that we have these extra hands to help out. Well, we do our bit in the compound along with Wani and Joe. Most houses and gardens in the UK are on a piece of land occupying between a tenth and a fifth of an acre. This is a full 1 acre of tropical garden, and if we could afford the wages we could probably keep two people employed full-time every day. Two stay-at-home toddlers who have the ability to create mess quicker than it is cleaned, create fix-it jobs for Daddy’s todo list at a rate greater than he can keep up with, need continual feeding and watering and go through three changes of clothes a day keep three people busy. As well as their three changes of clothes, Titi and I usually got through two or three changes a day, so laundry mounts up at frightening speed. Sometimes we do six machine loads in one day, which then has to be hung-dried (no dryer here) taken down, folded and put away before the kids get hold of it. Most meals are constructed from scratch – there is very little available here in the way of convenience foods. All clean-up after meals has to be done immediately otherwise ants, cockroaches, mice and rats will soon sniff it out. There is no dishwasher here, and no hot water. The day-to-day jobs can become all-day every day jobs, with no breaks. There are no walkable local shops – our main shopping day requires a 30km round trip. Almost anything you can think of, whether it be a job or project, administration, shopping, cleaning, finding materials, banking, planning, doing – everything ultimately takes more time here, and more effort.
The people we hire to help share the workload enable us to get on with a few other things that would otherwise be impossible. Titi is on her way to becoming a Dive Master, and beyond that Dive Instructor, and also taking driving lessons and will soon be a proud new license holder. I am working on my web development education and trying to push along a land sale here, a property sale back in the UK and find (or build) a bigger property here. We have plans to turn this place (Tui Place) into a holiday rental property if all goes well – we love it here but it’s getting a bit cramped and not ideal for the kids. Alongside the personal projects we also have to make time for fun stuff with the kids and some fun stuff without them, and time for just chilling and doing nothing. As with most people it’s about getting the balance right.
So, this is how we fill our days, and we’re thankful to those who help to unfill some of it. We’re now working on creating some income so we can afford to keep paying the wages !!