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It’s Fiji Time!

In Fiji on January 25, 2013 at 22:25

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Recently I saw a random photo about Beachcomber Resort – an idyllic choral atoll deep in the South Pacific just off the coast of Fiji.  As it happens, in 1995 I visited this island.  It was the idyllic picture-postcard-perfect paradise you imagine the South Pacific to be.  But I had just come to Beachcomber from Nadi, Fiji where I saw the real side of Fiji.  Most tourists only go to the resorts in the islands, rarely going into the main islands of Fiji – Viti Levu and Vanua Levu, asides from perhaps visiting the capital Suva.  It was here that you get to see the real Fiji and the warmth and friendliness of its people.   Coming from New Zealand, it was my first time seeing a “developing” nation up front.  The disparity between the luxury tourist resorts, and the poverty of the average Fijian was stark.

Most of the Fijian economy at that time was based on exporting sugar cane and of course from it’s tourism.  I’ll never forget seeing kids and women washing their clothes in the river; most houses did not have running water.  Although mainly made up of indigenous Fijians – who are Melanesians, Fji has a growing number of Fijian-Indians – descendants of Indian contract labourers brought to the islands by the British colonial powers in the 19th century.  Back then, tensions had been rising between the native Fijians and Fijian-Indians, and most ethnic groups tended to socialise amongst themselves.  Democratic rule was interrupted by two military coups in 1987 because the government was perceived as dominated by the Indo-Fijian community.  This accounted for a flux of emigration of Indian-Fijians away from Fiji, fearing discrimination.  But it was in Fiji that I celebrated my first Diwali – and I can remember walking down the  sandy lanes of the sugar plantations at night, seeing fairy lights twinkling in the distance, proudly draped around Fijian-Indian homes.

Fiji had another coup in 2000, and yet another one in 2006 –  so for a small island nation, it’s certainly had it’s share of political upheaval.  At least the police were friendly.  I can remember spending a night sitting with the Fijian police who were stationed near our hotel drinking kava kava, sitting on the floor clapping three times as we passed the kava bowl around, of this strangely numbing narcotic brew.  No wonder the police there seemed so relaxed.

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