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Dreams Do Come True – Freunds Land in Fiji

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This has got to be the 50th time I’ve pinched myself since speaking to Stella and Jürgen about a month ago. The realization that the ‘Deities of Photography’ are actually going to be here in Fiji, capturing the essence of paradise and the hidden gem of the South Pacific, hasn’t yet set. My heart skipped beat just minutes ago when I received a txt message saying “We’re checked in with Air Pacific FJ920 arriving Nadi 16.50.”

Since joining WWF some ten months ago, I was given a tonne of reading material to familiarize myself with the areas we work in and the beautiful locations we protect. However, the publication that took my breath away and amplified my passion for conservation thousand-fold was the Coral Triangle Coffee Table book (sorry to disappoint fellow Pandas, but it wasn’t the Living Planet Report).

Born and raised in Fiji, it is only over the last 9 years that I’ve truly developed an appreciation for technology and its endless possibilities. Prior to that, my trusty companions were publications, which I spent countless hours poring over. Having that wealth of experience behind me, it is safe to say that I have rather high standards when it comes to the content and quality of publications.
The Coral Triangle Book supercedes any publication I’ve ever seen! It isn’t just a book with images and stories. It’s a journey into reality, it captures the connectivity people have to nature and how we all play a significant role in the circle of life – highlighting the need for us to sustainably manage the natural resources we have been so blessed with. I fell in love with this book. So much so, that it now has a permanent home on my bedside table.

A dreamer's bedside companionA dreamer’s bedside companion

When discussions began on the need for WWF South Pacific to increase awareness on the Great Sea Reef by profiling it, topping my wish list was to develop something similar to the Coral Triangle Book. It seemed a fantasy, as | feared to even fathom the cost of having the Freunds venture out here to Fiji for a week – let alone a month.

It was only during my visit to WWF International, Gland in December 2012 after the Global Communicators Workshop, that I had a very brief, unexpected chat with Paul Sunters. That in itself was a blessing in disguise. We spoke briefly about the upcoming photography expedition and I sought his advice on possible photographers we could engage. He recommended a few others, then asked if I’d considered approaching the Freunds. Was he kidding?? I had only given up on the notion a hundred times already considering we had such a small budget!

Paul spoke so highly of Stella and Jürgen – on a more personal level. I knew they were amazing professionally, but he made them out to be really approachable folks and asked me if I’d mind him talking to them about the project. Did I mind?? I’d be stoked if so much as mentioned my name to them! Other than probably dying from the sheer excitement of speaking to the Freunds, the major concern then was not being able to afford them. Come on! These are not ordinary photographers – their work has practically infiltrated every little pocket on our planet. It would probably cost an arm and a leg to have them on site.

Shortly after that discussion, I was introduced to Stella via email and experienced first-hand the warmth and sincerity Paul had told me about. I doubted even then the possibility of them ever coming out here – but played it cool, trying hard to camouflage the excitement of just discussing the project with them. It was rather difficult to hide my excitement when the emails turned into regular Skype calls, where I’d be literally jumping up and down in glee afterwards. Can you believe Stella invited me over to dinner??

When Stella expressed their zealousness about shooting in Fiji – I felt so overwhelmed that I felt no shame in negotiating fees with her. Stella’s honesty and totally wacky sense of humour made the arduous task of housekeeping a pleasure. She made my life a whole lot easier by sending me their ‘Wish List’ (I hope the iguanas do their bit to keep her happy) and sharing their experiences from the Coral Triangle expedition. She has the business acumen and command some managers aspire to and I don’t know whether to pity or congratulate Jürgen.

Within two weeks of getting the discussion going, Stella sent me a copy of their e-tickets, confirming the dates they would be in Fiji. It was finally happening. I suddenly felt ill-prepared because I wanted to nail everything down to perfection. Although preparations had begun weeks ago – I didn’t think anything could prepare someone well enough for working on something so awesome. I jokingly mentioned to the Marine Species Co-ordinator at WWF South Pacific, Laitia Tamata, that it would be great if he could send out a message to all his turtle and shark friends to prepare themselves and make an appearance for the Freunds. If only it were that easy!

As I await their arrival here in Suva City with bated breath, I ruminate over the numerous dreams I’ve had about getting a chance to go on a real expedition with remarkable photographers. This expedition for me signifies that even the most far-fetched dreams do come true. I’m now off to live the dream.

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