Something our household hasn’t partaken in a long while is to visit extended relatives living far and further in the rural Viti. “Visiting Extended Relations” used to be a national pass-time in our recent past however thanks to the Vodafone and Digicel towers soaring high on our island hills; our mobile phones and Facebook, visiting family has now become a rather bootless sort of activity.
Both my parents come from farming backgrounds and many relatives especially the older generation are still farmers. So last Saturday, we donned our sunglasses, packed the esky, fought over whose playlist will be played first and set off to Rakiraki. While I’ll always be a partial to the Coral Coast nevertheless the the King’s Road is an equal contender for a scenic drive and with the highway newly maintained, it’s a much smoother ride.
After nearly missing the turnoff, we turned onto the gravel road that would take us into the interiors. Dark stormy clouds were closing in and I drove a bit frantically to beat the rain. Everyone was looking out their windows and a quiet eerie silence slowly stretched through. The place looked empty. Overgrown, shrubby lands spread on either side of the road. You could spot the odd mango tree standing amongst the overgrowth bushes and glimpses of crumbling concrete murmuring tales of abandoned homes that they once were part of…It felt like a pleasant relief turning into that well-kept compound with a quaint blue house and a large verandah in the front.
The Big Village Hospitality
Best bit about visiting the relos? The FOOD. And the best bit about visiting relatives in Rakiraki who are farmers? Old-school, home-made organic goodies! If you’ve ever been to an Indian household, there’s an unspoken rule that within 5-minutes of your arrival – you must be served with a beverage (depending on what time of the day it is) accompanied with munchies. Usually you’ll be able to gauge how welcome you are at that time – The more munchies you get, the more happier they are to have you. If you don’t get anything, you know you have to leave as soon as you drink up your chaa.
Old Family Recipes
So then came out the munchies and I was introduced to Fara, a steamed dim-sim like dough stuffed with chicken liver and eggs. It’s steamed on…wait for it….chicken curry while its cooking! Apparently its an old recipe that my grandmother used to make, one that I’ve never heard of till last Saturday let alone taste it!
Reminiscences, Electricity and Cable TV
Gobbling 5 or 6 of those faras, I sat back listening to mum and her sister talk about the ol’ days. When water was drawn from a well and hand lanterns were used after dark. It was hard to miss FEA electricity lines on the road and it is heartening to see electricity reaching the rural areas in the country. I came to know that electricity was available to them on pre-paid basis bit like a mobile recharge – fascinating concept! Another thing hard to miss was the cable TV satellite dish and thus started a in-depth discussion whether Astha’s mother-in-law was a vamp or damsel-in-distress!
That Good Boy Who Works in the ‘Hotel’
When the conversation turned to the single unmarried ‘good boy’ who was working in one of the local resorts, it was my cue and reminder to get moving. Rakiraki is probably an alternate side for tourists. Though its beaches are not as popular, a number of back-packer style places have popped up along the coast. They have opened up more employment opportunities and if you do happen to find young people in Rakiraki – they would be working for one of these new establishments.
The Price of Progress
With almost bursting stomaches, we bid farewell to our relos. It was late in the evening, sweet mountain air laced with blooming marigold scents from the gardens hung in the valley and it deeply saddened me to wave back to the four aged waving adults on the verandah.
These were the once strong-backed farmers managing acres of sugar and agricultural land back in a time when there were no utilities provided to their area region. Now they are living in a small mere leased property, farming enough for their own consumption. We’ve taken their lands, given them electricity and tied these free-wanderers to their cable TVs.
The land lease issue saw hundreds of such families driven off the farms in rural Fiji. Some driven to the urban regions, many migrating overseas. The very few young who do remain are either employed in the resorts or small businesses in the town or many simply choose to move away to bigger towns leaving their old behind returning for occasional visits.
It saddens me to think that one day soon in the near future, we will loose these children of the indentured laborers, hard-working farmers. And along with them, they’ll take all their farming skills, their old recipes and their big friendly hospitality. One day in the very near future, we are going to loose all fragments of our history. Because nobody is learning. We are busy polishing the wooden floors of our newly developed resort villas. We are busy sewing dozens and dozens of Ralph Lauren polo t-shirts overnight in our garment factories. We are busy searching, scamming for the right visa application to escape to greener pastures.
While the empty, abandoned lands weep for the villages, they once were.