How I Got Swindled by a Street Hustler in Suva

In my last post, shared the experience of getting mistaken for a native from the islands of Fiji, and toward the end I mentioned getting swindled by a street hustler in Suva – well, here it is.

It was the first day after we had arrived and as a team we decided to explore Suva. There was myself, Crystal, Nigel, Quinton and Sensei Luke – all except me were either full or part Bouganvillian.

Sensei Luke, Nigel and Quinton were Bougainvillian and Crystal’s mother is from there as well. As you can imagine, our group stood out like a sore thumb when strolling along Victoria parade. So it was no surprise that as soon as we got people’s attention. However, I believe it was Sensei Luke’s open nature that gave the swindler courage to approach us.

Quinton, Sensei Luke and Nigel at Nadi International Airport. We are waiting for the coach/bus which leaves for Suva at around 5am. 

Sensei Luke has a very open personality that he tends to try and mingle with people wherever he goes. At Brisbane airport while waiting for our flight to Suva, he even made friends with a Pakistani working as a janitor at the there. Unfortunately for us, it was like a beacon summoning the hustler to us.

So we are walking along the street and Sensei Luke keeps greeting everyone with ‘hey, wantok’ and nobody really seems interested until this guy comes out of the blue smiling from ear to ear. He had a missing took that looked like something out of a Grassroots comic.

“Hey, wantoks!” he shouts and we all stop to greet him. He shakes everyone’s hand and then asks where we are from. On hearing that we are from PNG, he associates us with Handy Finance. Apparently the company has a strong and growing presence in Fiji.

He then tells us his name is Levi and that he was in the army but was discharged and now selling his wares on the street. He also told us he did not have a license and would be arrested by the authorities if they caught him.

We, of course, told him that it was our first time in the country and we were there to compete at the tournament. He then tells us that he would give us a gift and took out a piece of stick and started carving our names on it.

So like idiots, we all gather around and watch as he carves our names on that piece of stick; Bernard, Crystal, Nigel, Quinton and Luke. He smiles and hands it over to me – and thinking it is a gift take it. However, he then asks us for a small donation for the stick so I ask him how much does he want for it and he goes FJ$30.

None of us had any money. We had just arrived and all our money was still in either US$ or Kina. I had a FJ$20 which I had removed from an ATM at Nadi using my BSP Visa debit card. However, I felt uneasy giving him the money because I had a very different definition of what a gift is.

In my definition, a gift is anything given without expecting something in return especially monetary. His definition was the opposite so Sensei Luke tried to haggle and he slowly came down.

To Sensei Luke’s credit, he actually got the guy to drop his request for a donation down to FJ$15. Unfortunately, all we had was a 20, and the guy had actually made us feel guilty about accepting his gift, so I offered him the 20 just to get rid of him.

Anyway, he left and we walked a few more blocks and turned at the craft market. The experience had left a sour taste and no one spoke until we reached the front of the hotel when all of a sudden everyone exploded into laughter.

It took us a while but we realized that four gullible Papua New Guineans in Fiji had just been swindled by a Suva hustler.

BSP Arcade, one of the few places we visited that day.

Needless to say, that experience became an inside joke for us and everyone would burst out laughing when someone said ‘hey, wantok’.

The experience was the first time had been swindled ever. Growing up in Port Moresby and other parts of PNG I had assumed that I knew it all – but I didn’t.

I had initially planned to bring that piece of FJ$20 stick with me and have it framed, but forgot about at Nadi Resort when we were returning. However, that is an experience that I, nor my friends, will ever forget.

Author: Bernard Nolan Sinai

I’m a writer, publisher, IT personnel and martial artist.

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