A Fijian Life

Getting Fiji’s Definition of Progress Right

People think it’s great. That bits of Nadi has never looked better. But I’m sitting here in traffic with 70 other cars and there’s nothing so great about watching 1 adult and 2 high school kids (all in their uniforms) trying to cross the new 4-lane road in Namaka right through the flowers and all in the lane dividers – just 30 meters before the crossing lights.

This 4-lane extension was promised with a lot of ‘progress’ to Nadi.

I’ve never understood the necessity for this progress, right from when we started chopping down 50-year old trees to run those extra lanes through. Besides the aesthetics complimenting a nice evening drive past the airport, how exactly is this ‘progress’ being measured. Instead of making things smoother, the past 2 years of civil works has made a horrendous mess out of Nadi. As stretches of road get completed, a stark problem is beginning to emerge. The spike in number of vehicles on our roads. There’s just too fucking many! And that 4-lane is going to be useless to cater for it all by the time they’re done with it.

Though quite often when I’ve brought this up in conversations that we need to limit our cars, I’ve been burnt with the privilege card (“because while growing up my parents had a car so I don’t know what’s it like to not have one”). What used to be luxury affordable only by the rich and affluent at one time in this country, now is accessible to everybody – so why won’t Fijians indulge in (multiple) cars? Yes ‘indulge’ is the word I’d like to use here.

With national elections (haha) around the corner (which apparently can be brought forward as early as April 2018), we’re about to start hearing a lot more of this word ‘progress’. Because the very word ‘progress’ automatically refers to a state in the future, that state becomes interpretable. Which allows leaders and politicians to define that future state for us. Should we have 5 parties contesting in the next Fijian elections, we’ll have 5 varying states of future offered to us to choose from. And somehow over the years Fiji’s definition of progress has intertwined itself to the state of our roads. If potholes are sealed and traffic is managed, “government is doing good job”.

Looking at the 2017/18 National Budget announced last month, the largest allocation is to – the National Road Authority. And while of course ‘this isn’t an election budget’, the government has offered what it’s forecasted future state for 2018 will be. But that’s the thing with national budgets. For people like me who are numerically challenged (and didn’t really give a rats-arse in form 3 Economics), it’s hard for us to understand exactly what each announcement would imply. Till my kind accountants decode it and send me an email summary to gently slot in the bottom line difference it’ll all make or when someone breaks it down like these kind guys here.

For the past 10 years, we’ve been waiting for a future state when we’re living in all the ‘progress’ we’ve been offered. Year after year whatever a possible progressive Fiji should look like, gets deferred a little further. And for developing countries like ours, that is the norm. We wait. With immense patience. Sit in 40-minute traffic jams for a 7-minute ride. With hope because experts have told us that ‘future looks bright for Fiji’.

But what of our now? My now.

You know I haven’t been sleeping well lately. Not since 6 weeks ago when I woke up to the hysterical screams of a certain member of the household banging on my door that people were trying to get into the house. It was just 2 of us that night. This certain member of the household is known to be usually under many ‘influences’ on a Saturday night. And because the alarm hadn’t gone off and the spot they were pointing that the thieves were trying to get in from, is in a ridiculously hard place (and in plain sight from the street) to climb up – I thought they were hallucinating! But there were 3 of them. I saw them jump the fence 10 minutes later. This certain household member claims by then I was screaming hysterically too but I don’t think so. I’m not screamer you see.

I called the Nadi Police Station and the constable answering the phone very professionally told me that we were no police vehicles at the station at that time but when they come back, they’ll get in touch for directions to come over. Till this day, the Nadi Police hasn’t made it over.

As an eldest child living with ageing parents in Fiji, my biggest fear is something happening to them medically in the middle of the night. In the event if something happens and I do manage to get them over to the Nadi Hospital by myself when the ambulances don’t turn up, I fear there wouldn’t be anyone at the hospital who knows what’s happening and they’ll just die.

Since that night at the slightest creak of the ceiling, I jolt up. I vividly can’t get this one night out of my head, when a cat must have jumped on a gecko or something on my window screen. I was up and trying to get out of bed but my legs wouldn’t move. My upper body was upright but legs were paralysed. I couldn’t stop shaking for the longest time and I don’t have the luxury to scream for the fear I’ll panic my parents into a heart attack!

This is not who am I.

I do not get intimidated easily. I stare down bullying 6 feet plus islander men every Friday come pay time, subcontractors threaten to ‘see me’ every once in a while and hell I’ve travelled through the amazon jungle solo. So you know I don’t scare easy but since that break-in episode, I am rattled.

One of the objectives of The Genda Project  is To empower and encourage Fijians to stop moving away from Fiji and to contribute to making it a better economy. To make individuals realise that migration doesn’t always contribute to happiness.” And with the work I’ve been doing with TGP for the past 2 years, I’ve implored people to be themselves, to choose Fiji. I’ve always been short with skilled people who opt to move from Fiji to greener pastures.

But today I’m thinking do I really have time for this. Do I have time for my country? Should I have  time for my country? And why should I have time for my country? A country where I cannot be the person I am. And knowing the possibilities in the world right now where I can be a 100% of who I am, why should I choose Fiji over me?

And this brings me to back to our definition of ‘progress’ in Fiji. Our progress cannot be just defined by 4-lane roads, fancy international airports, shopping and cinema complexes. When our progress is not defined by our dignity to be completely who we are, we simply cannot be progressing.

You see Dear Reader, I don’t have a problem with the 4-lane roads in Nadi. What I do have a problem with, is when our police force at the Nadi Police Station don’t have a vehicle to drive on that 4-lane road to get to me living on the other side of it when I need them. What I do have a problem with is the huge aid-funded hospitals that provide no comfort to hundreds of families that should something happen, the very best will be done to save their loved ones (you see here – how irrelevant your privilege is?).  We have children studying out in tents while tourist buses ride on that 4-lane roads carrying visitors who don’t spend a dollar in the country because it’s all been paid ‘off-shore’ and we still have people in rural Viti who don’t have access to clean drinking water. And Fiji Water is one of the world’s most premium bottled water for fucks sake. (Dear celebrities, howthefuck’s that for your brand endorsement?). 

From both-sides-of-the-coin-gemini perspective – the recent increase in robberies and break-ins in Nadi and Suva is not something you can blame an administration for. The level of break-ins executed and the targeted items (macbooks, harddrives) indicates this as a professional gig and hardly the usual unemployment outbreak. However not reporting this to the public and keeping the serious extent of it out of media – only indicates an administration’s inability to the tackle the situation. Which means that reduces the proud, loud and jolly me to a trembling pile of jelly in my own bed, in my own house every night. And I have no use for a progress like this, where my dignity is compromised on a daily basis. This is something that Fiji’s LGBTQI community probably goes through everyday. Where they simply cannot be a 100% of who they exactly are with dignity amongst all this ‘progress’.

I really don’t know the specifics but at an overseas function Rabuka and Chaudhary were cutting a cake – together. Pictures speak a thousand words. You see the apologies and all are fine but for the hundreds of Fiji-Indians who fled in 1987 I wonder how they’d feel looking at that picture. I’m not going to analyse this for anybody, it’s up to you how you feel if you feel at all. But what current voting Fijians need to realise with this very example is that politics has nothing to with our future and who we are as people.

As we move forward to the 2018 elections, it’s imperative for Fijians to get our definitions of progress right. As parties roll out their manifestos, it now becomes all that important for us to be able to differentiate what is our rights and what is progress.

If it was up to our governments and foreign agencies, Fiji will always remain developing. Leading up to elections, both politicians and voters needs to realise things like roads, water access, education are our given rights anyway – in 2018 you cannot classify those things as ‘progress’.

I think we’re done pinning for the future. We don’t have time anymore. It has to be about the now. Elections don’t change a damn thing. And neither are 7-star luxury resorts, increase in tourist arrivals and flooding the market with cheap cars an indication of our progress.

Unless the very definition of our progress is on based on our dignity as people, we really are not progressing.

*

Disclaimer:

All views expressed are my own. Writer reserves all rights. Do not copy or publish without prior consent. 

whereisshyamni@gmail.com
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One thought on “Getting Fiji’s Definition of Progress Right

  1. Sukulu Bolawaqatabu says:

    So much yes. Thank you for writing this Sharon! I’ve had the same discussion regarding multiple cars, traffic, road accidents, climate change & “progress” (as well as Burger King haha) etc a few times with different people and sometimes i just give up even trying to generate the discussion (as well as my argument) in the first place. And then there is always that tricky privilege card (ugh!) as well as the obvious fact that i don’t live in Fiji anymore. Also, you’re doing a super job with Genda! Love what it’s all about and everything you’re trying to achieve with it. If ever you are in Melbourne, please let me know and let’s definitely have coffee! x

    Like

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