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Meet Shammi who made Croatia home from Fiji 24 years ago

Shammi Zeljko with husband Zlatko and daughter Marija (Private album)

Last week, the governments of Croatia and Fiji signed a visa waiver agreement, meaning citizens of each country can visit the other without the need of a visa. This was good news for one particular person in Croatia.

In 1995, Shammi Zeljko moved from Lautoka, Fiji’s second largest city, to live in Zagreb after marrying her Croatian husband Zlatko. 

Shammi has previously had to apply for a visitors visa to visit Fiji, the country where she was born and raised as she now has Croatian citizenship after living in the country for the past 24 years.  

“I had to apply for a visitors visa to visit my own country. So now there is no more hassle for applying for a visa to visit my own beautiful Fiji,” she said. 

Lautoka (Photo: Maksym Kozlenko)

Shammi is possibly the only person born and raised in Fiji living in Croatia with citizenship.

“I tried to find people over Facebook and other social media, but haven’t found anyone from Fiji here yet.”

Shammi and her husband Zlatko have two grown up children, son Zlatko, named after his father and daughter Marija. Shammi says that the people she generally meets in Croatia do not know too much about Fiji. 

Shammi’s two kids, Marija and Zlatko

“There are two main nationalities in Fiji, Indians and Fijians. Indians were brought into Fiji by the British colony 250 years ago from India to work on the sugar cane fields, my great grandparents also came to Fiji to work on the sugar cane fields and decided to stay there. So that’s how me and my family members are all Indo-Fijians. When ever people ask in Croatia where do I come from, the answer Fiji was quite confusing because they say I look Indian. So they all think I am from India. Fiji is just so little on the world map that most of them have never heard of it,” she explains. 

Shammi, who was in her early 30s when she moved to live in Croatia 24 years ago, says that there were things both countries had in common, but also things she had to adjust to. 

Shammi Zeljko

“The climate during the summer in Croatia reminds me of Fiji. The way the Croatians prepare the fish on the grill is also very similar to the way we eat fish in Fiji. Differences? For me, personally, it is the lack of tropical fruits here.”

Shammi says that she enjoys Croatian cuisine, especially desserts like ‘fritule’ and ‘strudla od jabuka’, and has learned how to prepare a number of dishes. 

“I like to prepare punjene paprika and sarma.” 

Shammi says that when she prepares her traditional dishes from home, like chicken curry with rice, her family and friends in Croatia also enjoy it. 

After 24 years in Croatia, she says that she has managed to grasp the difficult Croatian language fairly well. 

“I think I can speak it very well, but my grammar is not perfect. My Croatian teacher improved her English more than she taught me Croatian. Some Croatian words have a completely different meaning in my language, such as the word kutija (box in Croatian), which is an insult for a woman.”

In her spare time, Shammi likes to meet friends in the city for a coffee and lunch and it is the abundance of terrace cafes which is one of her favourite things about Zagreb. She also loves the Croatian coast and has visited almost all of the main islands. 

Shammi lives in Zagreb

Are there any downsides and what advice would she have for foreigners coming to Croatia?

“I wish people smiled more often but Croatia is a very safe country which offers a lot to see and do, such as the many national parks and islands to explore. And a very long and beautiful summer they can enjoy in Croatia.

Shammi last visited Fiji over 15 years ago, but plans to visit again soon.  

“My last visit was in 2002 since my immediate family has moved to the USA. Since Fiji and Croatia have signed a visa free agreement, I’m hoping to go and visit Fiji this summer. And invite my mum, brothers and sisters to have a family reunion in Fiji.”

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