Natalie Ryan: A World Away From Home

It has been a year since Ben Ryan was appointed as the Vodafone Fiji 7s coach. And he has stamped his mark helping Fiji win the Dubai and Tokyo Sevens
04 Oct 2014 16:05
Natalie Ryan: A World Away From Home
Noa Neivalu.

It has been a year since Ben Ryan was appointed as the Vodafone Fiji 7s coach.
And he has stamped his mark helping Fiji win the Dubai and Tokyo Sevens during the 2013/14 HSBC Sevens World Series.
And as the Vodafone Fiji 7s teams took part in the Oceania Sevens Championships this weekend and the Gold Coast 7s next weekend, Natalie tells how she is adapting to her new environment. She is trying to get a job but for that she needs a work permit. But she tries to get busy every day and loving the slower pace of life and the friendly people in Fiji.
But as the saying goes, behind every great man, there is always a great woman.
Natalie and Ben have been in Fiji a year now, having celebrated their fifth wedding anniversary on July 4 they have been settling in quite well in a world away from home.
“We’ve been here a year already and we love it here, it’s a lot slower pace of life and the people are much friendlier,” she said.
“The weather is much better than London, it’s been very nice. It takes time to get used to, starting again and making new friends and settling into a new home, into somewhere different but we have managed and we are going to spend a lot more time together here which is good.
“It’s taken a bit of time to adjust settling down here because I don’t have a work permit, so I have been looking online to do a course to take up my time.
“I have a lot more time on my hands, suddenly from working fulltime, to having no job but it’s taken me time to get used to and filling the time with things to do out here.
“A typical day for me is I do a bit of cooking and a bit of housework or meet up with friends in Suva or going online trying to find new courses which have taken up a chunk of my time.
“I think because we live a bit further out from Suva, it’s not as easy to enjoy as many things. I’m finding new recipes or I swim and try and keep fit, I also do zumba on Tuesdays with Litia at the YMCA and I’m trying to keep a routine of doing things.
“When you don’t have to wake up for anything, you have a lot of time on your hands but I am trying to find a course at the moment so I can do a project out here.
“I have contacted the local school here to see if I can help them with the teaching but I don’t have a teaching qualification. But yeah, I just relax a lot and I have been helping support Ben as much as I can because at the moment he has a very bad back.”
The excited 33-year-old who loves art also talked about her learning experience from the local women.
“I very much like craft, I went to the Yasawa Islands and a lady out there taught me how to do voivoi (pandanus), something to do with weaving which is something I love, so I’ve been able to weave a bracelet,” Natalie said proudly.
“I went to Corona in Uprising Beach Resort  and they showed how a lady is going around the villages teaching the women how to recycle the rubbish and weave them into purses and bags so I’ve started to do a bit of that myself.
“But I’ve looked into USP and want to learn how to do screen printing or an art course but unfortunately there aren’t any I can join but it’s something I’d really like to get more involved in.”
The one thing that lights up Natalie’s face is when she is talking about food and how much it is so different from what she was used to a year ago.
Naming foods such as kokoda and palusami, Natalie has that eagerness to learning how to cook local delicacies.
“My cooking has improved, we are always fresh and I’m learning lots of Fijian dishes like kokoda and palusami, its very nice but yeah I’m getting used to life out here and it’s taken a bit time but we are about a year in now,” she said.
“I love all the fresh foods here, we love Bu (coconut water). We drink a lot Bu out here and the fresh coconut; I get that chopped up for me so I can eat at home.
“I haven’t managed to make any Fijian dishes yet but hopefully I can try to make kokoda and potentially palusami, I have a really lovely lady called Talica who helps around the house once a week so hopefully she will teach me how to make some of these lovely Fijian dishes.
“I also love fresh pawpaw, there are so much more fresh fruits and vegetables here and our diet is so much better and Ben and I have each lost a stone just from the good food here.”
Even though the food may be one of the many good things Natalie loves, it has not been easy for them staying so far away from their loved ones and friends.
“We found it a lot harder being away from family because we are on totally opposite ends of the earth and we are at different time zones but luckily we can phone each other now and again and Skype,” Natalie said .
“I’m very close to my parents so that’s been very hard to be so far away, and Ben’s sister has three children so it’s been hard being away from my little nieces but we can Skype once a month or once a fortnight so that helps Ben (and I) see their faces. I think that is something that took us a while to get used to which is being far away from family and friends and for me making new friends out here.
“Good news is I have a couple of friends coming out in November and hopefully my family are going to come out in February so that will be nice.”
Living on a tropical island is one thing but being the wife of a well-respected and well- known sevens coach does have its ups as well as its downs but Natalie said it is all part of the job.
“Some of the challenges we have faced are things like, him being away for most of the time. I’ve been with Ben for seven years and I’m quite used to him being away.
“Now he is going away to Gold Coast and I’ve decided not to go to Australia this time because I’m very much more settled in Fiji now and I don’t need to go,” she said.
“Another challenge is he (Ben) is quite well-known in Fiji so we are not as able to go shopping together or do normal things out here. It’s lovely sometimes when we go somewhere and seeing how happy Ben makes people and that’s been one of the highs of being out here with Ben.
“We didn’t receive this much attention back home, very rarely, only when we attended rugby events than people would recognise him but nothing like we have seen out here and that’s taken a bit of time, to get used to the celebrity that he has become.
“But we have got used to it and Ben has got used to it because there are challenges with every job but it’s been very good for us both. And the boys (players), the amount of effort they put in to their training and they really listen to Ben and respect him and worked really hard so that’s helped him as well.”
It’s hard to believe that the wife of Ben Ryan was not into sport, let alone rugby, before she met Ben but now it is one of her passions.
“Prior to meeting Ben I’ve never followed rugby but since I’ve been with Ben my whole family have followed rugby and Ben’s family is very much into rugby,” she said.
“I’ve taken a real interest in it and I’m really passionate about it now that I’ve had seven years of rugby experience and even my friends follow it now.”
Natalie has travelled with Ben to most of his 7s tournament venues but she has yet to go to South Africa and Las Vegas.
When asked about one of her most memorable 7s trip, she could not contain her excitement when she mentioned the Dubai Sevens.
“Not only Fiji winning 44-0 but to do it against New Zealand was amazing and the atmosphere was incredible,” she said.
“When Fiji beat England, the English supporters in the audience were telling me to go back to London but I told them my husband coaches,
“I was in Japan when they won the Tokyo Sevens and it was simply amazing.”
For Natalie, Ben and his love for sevens rugby has impacted her a great deal as she said she never could see herself loving rugby before she met Ben.
“I didn’t think I’d ever be this passionate about rugby, my family has seen a whopping change in me and how I’ve gone from never really following sports to suddenly being this diehard fan, especially Fiji rugby supporter,” she said.
“I’m on the stands cheering like it’s my life that depends on it, it’s a definite change but for the better. It’s quite nice to be a really passionate supporter. Ben’s family all follows it (rugby) and also my nieces they all got the Fiji flags, they were recently at the Twickenham sevens, following it and cheering for Fiji and the Fijian crowd are so passionate and really friendly supporters, they are so welcoming, it’s like Fiji has taken us under their arm.
“I want to thank all the Fijian supporters and the people out there who have really welcomed us and supported Ben and me because it’s made the transition so much easier, having the support of the Fijian community.
“It’s just a job (being a coach and player) but to everyone here it’s such a huge thing, I know everyone’s got their view on who should play and who didn’t pass or whatever but I think generally everyone has just been really supportive and really positive.”
Now that the year is almost coming to an end, Natalie has proudly said that she now refers to Fiji as home.
“We see Fiji as home, this is my home, my home is in Pacific Harbour and I love it. I don’t need to go away, I’ve added a few personal home touches with cushions and things and it’s a place you want to come home to whenever you go away and Fiji is such a wonderful place.
“I love that cheeriness of everyone, just walking around Suva or Pacific Harbour just strangers will come up and say “Bula” or “Have a good day” and it’s something you never experience back home but here you get so used to it and have that family feeling, everyone is so happy and it does rub off on you and I feel at peace here.” Natalie said.
The one thing, however, that is on everyone’s mind and the constant question that is being asked of Natalie and Ben is whether they have kids or not.
“We don’t have children, the first question we have been asked by everyone is where our children are or how many children we have. We would like a family actually but at the moment it’s been a bit hard with the move but eventually that’s in our plans in the future.”

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