Pearl finders


By Sarah Sekula, published in Islands magazine

They were fed up with the graphic design business in Quebec City, so they sold everything — the car, the snowblower, the espresso machine. Then they bought a 40-foot yacht and sailed to Fiji. That’s how Claude Prevost, now 46, and Danielle Belanger, ageless, became pearl farmers off Taveuni Island.

Q: You arrived just before a cyclone.
A: That’s true. People here in Fiji reacted to the storm thinking, “Hey all the fruit bats were knocked out of the trees, we can cook them in the underground oven.”

Q: Fruit bats are a popular snack?
A: Yes, partly because they’re easy to catch when they fly to the pineapple fields at night, or when they fall in a storm.

Q: Nature provides you a business too.
A. We produce about 10,000 pearls a year. It’s a slow grind to profitability. We can do it because the cost of living is low.

Q: But setting up shop had to be tough.
A: To secure a place we had to meet with the chief. We started with kava roots and a whale tooth. To sweeten the deal, we brought 40 liters of kerosene and a pig.

Q: Fiji must have its curve balls.
A: We have heaps of stories. One time we went to register an employee for his pension fund, but he had no birth certificate and didn’t even know his age or full name.

Q: How’s island time treating you?
A: Where do we start? There’s the time I missed my ferry, not because I was late, but because the ferry was early. We were not alone on the dock; problem was that our car was already on the ferry.

Q: You don’t have the yacht anymore.
A: We sold it. That and some family money is how we started the project.

Q: But at least the yacht got you here.
A: Yep, and we plan on dying here.