A Fijian Life

Change is in the Island Breeze

I drive past one Tuesday afternoon and notice heavy machinery rolling onto that vacant lot next to the highway. I don’t think much about it with all this roadworks happening in Nadi. Next evening though I see construction hoardings and safety signs up around the site. Shit. I must have missed out on the industry grapevine about this job. Lucky bastards I think. I go past Thursday again, site sheds are up and a slab is being poured. Holdup! That’s fast. Who are these guys? Still no company signs were up. I go past Sunday and 1st floor block work is almost done. Red, yellow, blue flags are up high and flying. Ah the Chinese speediness.

We Fijian builders, we try. We really try. A typically good Fijian tradesmen should be able to lay about 100 – 120 blocks/day. My guy on site lays about 50. Whether we work 8 hours or 10 hours or 12 hours, it’s always 50. It don’t matter even if I stand with a gun barrel up his arse but the falla still gonna lay 50 for a day.

Us Fijians, you know. Rain, hail or shine we’ll work at our own speed. In that light, incredibly wise of our elected government to open up my share of the work to the Chinese, no? No, I mean really concepts like ‘on schedule’, ‘anticipated progress’, ‘deadlines’ – those things are not for us, is it?

Look at our new flag change for example. A fair amount of taxpayers’ money went into calling out for designs. Print media, large banners, radio advertising, the workss. Constant, regular, in-your-face reminders of the closing date. But still some absolute wonderfully patriotic-feel designs went up on Facebook after the design submission deadline. The social forums exploded with the apparent 2% of the population expressing their disappointment with the short-listed designs. Cries for more time and consideration of the non-submitted designs went up. Some began self-promoting their own designs on newly created Facebook pages declaring it the ‘best’. So I suppose it was wise again of our elected government to foresight our national tardiness on this matter and have some ‘inspired’ pre-designs ready on hand for public voting.

I’ve always somewhat maintained this that perhaps we the people of Fiji aren’t really ready for democracy. We like the idea of a being a democratic nation but we don’t want to take the responsibility of being one.

Two reasons.

First, as citizens of a young independent Fiji which only happened as recent as 1970 – not even 50 years yet, we’ve never truly existed in a governance period where we’ve been completely democratic. It’s always been some sort of quasi arrangement. So the full extent of our rights and responsibilities as citizens, we’ve truly never known and exercised. All we know is elections and voting. After that we resume our seats on the front porch and fan ourselves with copies of the newspaper and murmur that next time we’ll vote the other party. In a democratic country, our responsibilities shouldn’t be just ending at the ballot box. It extends to keeping up to date with what the government is doing, how they are doing it and importantly why they are doing it. Just to simply let a bunch of elected representatives do what they deem is right for the country without questioning, is irresponsibility on our part.

Secondly though, we’re not big confronters. And it’s a cultural thing. We’ve all got a bit of lets-keep-our-heads-down-and-out-of-this in us even in 2015. The native itauikei population have a history of chiefdom rule. Questioning and speaking out against a chief’s authority wasn’t really a done thing. While chiefs don’t have that much prominence today, chiefly families still are greatly respected amongst the community. And this not to speak against ‘authority’, to some extent is even prevalent today.

Us Indo-descents hadn’t known anyone else but our Maharaja Maharani before the British Raj took over. After a painful slave history, then a history of victimizing coups most Indo-parents even to this day tell their children to chup raho. To not question states ‘authority’. Freedom hasn’t come easy to the Fiji Indians and for most still living in Fiji, it’s not completely out of the woods yet. (remember SODELPA’s interview last year!) Dekho kounchi hoye is the general mantra.

And so with a majority population who don’t speak up, I suppose it becomes very easy for a democratically elected government to start taking ‘wise’ decisions in absolute supremacy.

I know it takes a term and half for a government to really show it’s progress and prove itself but from what I see happening in the past 9 months, I don’t think we can afford to be chup raho anymore.

Our habits are bad. Our ways are outdated. A change has to happen. Accepting change is difficult. But a change that isolates us, leaves us left behind, A change that doesn’t push us, topple us over, empower us to rise up and above is not for us.

Great the Chinese are helping us build up the country. Australia and New Zealand stopped aid, fine we sought it from somewhere else. But an aid and relationship that’s bringing in its own workforce, is putting me out of work. Yes my block-layer only does 50 but instead of training and empowering him, this change is going to leave him and many others way behind.

Great we’re taking the Union Jack out of our National Flag. Some hurtful memories there. The sooner we put our colonial past behind us the better. But don’t callout a national design submission, waste tons of our taxpayers’ money and then have the audacity to tell us that you were only going to take ‘inspiration’ from the callout.

But you see, it’s really not our elected governments fault here. It’s ours. After 6 years of military dictatorship, we partook in that farce of an election, we elected our representatives and then we sat. A democracy is not only a government’s responsibility, it’s also ours. It requires active participation from our end. So if you’ve been given a deadline to submit something, you meet that. If you’ve done that and your work and effort has not been done justice to, you get up and make sure your design is up front and center. (If you didn’t meet the deadline, justshutup.)

Change is in the island breeze, Fiji but don’t be swayed. Development doesn’t equate to resorts and marinas built on our small precious islands. Chances are you and I would never be able to afford to stay in them. New cultivation introduction like mushrooms are brilliant, once fine tuned can generate some good revenue for the farmer. But what are we to do with mushrooms when tomatoes right now in Namaka market is $5.00 a heap? We all dig our tomato chutney with our chicken pulao and I don’t see us substituting it for mushrooms anytime soon! (though I do love my mushrooms). A friend went to admit his child into pre-school in Sigatoka this week, out of the 2 he went to, one he found the teacher sleeping and the other in a health hazard condition. He’s decided to move back to New Zealand. He can afford to but what about the other children of Sigatoka? Where is the development in building of our schools and training of our teachers? Foreign relations are important but not every relationship has to be an economic driven one. Our painful history and big Fijian hearts should equally reflect with whom we shake our hands. What are we Fijians going to do with a progress stained with our neighbor’s blood?

We are now at a point in our history where it’s no longer about the government. It’s about us. It’s about time when we got off the front porch and did our part in the democracy. If all these changes are not impacting your life for the better, what are we doing about it?

It’s time we held ourselves accountable. It’s time we stopped chup raho-ing and gave respect to ourselves. In order for us to be part of this change, we have to stop making excuses and feeling sorry for ourselves. Our future is not only in the hands of our wise elected government, it’s in ours also.

Time to weave some new stories for our children. And in our responsibility to whom we’ve borrowed this island nation from, the least we can do is not let history repeat. It’s time we rise.

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Disclaimer: All views expressed are my own. No racial discrimination is intended. Do not copy or publish without prior consent.

whereisshyamni@gmail.com
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3 thoughts on “Change is in the Island Breeze

  1. MD says:

    Great !!! Now next step is for government is to implement some ways and means so that citizens can actively, easily and keenly start inputting suggestions in matters that affect all. Government should think of their citizens first because the government is in power by the citizens and for the citizens. It is powerful and rightful that all citizens ( in government arena or outside ) need to start channeling into their live that gradually, empowering/training the citizens and economic developing is a better way to maintain the Fiji economic steady, as the culture in Fiji is steady not speedy or greedy/over-indulgence. Steady is good . For any country for that matter over-indulgence in machinery/technology does not cater for all citizens. Bringing in huge speed and machinery in works/jobs does not show any huge upside for all the citizens income. Citizens first earn and then spend and thus keep the economic wheel spinning. Machines become idle. India has long since ingrained in high labour force less machinery to cater for its high available labour force.

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