How to make Dominic’s Spicy Fijian Chocolate Cornflake Biscuits

These are the best cookies ever! A family favourite – and a big hit at school for bring and buy!

  1. 3 cups plain flour
  2. 1 and a half cups raw sugar
  3. 1 packet corn chevda (or 1 and a half cups corn flakes, plus half cup peanuts or nuts of choice, and a dash of Chinese five spice, or cinnamon)
  4. 4 tablespoons butter or margarine
  5. 1 tablespoon baking powder
  6. 2 tablespoons milo, vico or ovaltine (or chocolate milk drink powder)
  7. Mix all with your hands until it comes together as a dough.  Roll into balls, place on greased tray, flatten with a fork.
  8. Bake at 200 degrees C for about 10 minutes or until they turn nutty brown
  9. Remove from tray with a spatula while still hot, and place on newspaper to cool
  10. Store in airtight container (will last for about a week out of the fridge, or for a very long time if you store the container in the fridge or freezer)
  11. Makes about 60 cookies.

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Kaitlyn’s Fijian Dahl Soup

Fijian Dahl Soup is a staple for all of us here.  So cheap and tasty, and full of protein.

Method and ingredients:

  1. Choose a heavy based pot if you can, as then the dahl soup won’t stick during the cooking time
  2. Put 1 tablespoon cooking oil on medium heat
  3. Add 1 teaspoon salt, 2 teaspoon tumeric powder (or haldi as it is called in Fiji), half clove garlic, and ginger if you like and stir until combined over the heat. I also like to add pepper.
  4. Add 1 cup dahl peas (yellow split peas) and stir over heat until dahl peas are covered with the oil and spices. When you do this, you don’t have to soak the peas overnight, they will soften quickly
  5. Add 4 cups water and stir until combined.  Put on lid and cook for about half an hour.
  6. Add another cup of water, cook half an hour
  7. Add another cup of water, plus diced carrot, or potato as desired.  Cook another half hour or until the peas are as soft as you like them.
  8. Serve with chopped cilentro (corriander/dahnia) and chilli to taste

Remainder can be stored in the fridge.  When reheating, good idea to add another half cup of water.

Vinaka – Thanks for the reminder that Sports are just Games!

chow 1Recently, I attended the Primary School athletics carnivals in Fiji which were split over three divisions – North, West and Central.  I was struck by the way that even these very young people had so much character.  In Fiji, when accepting anything at all from a superior, it is traditional to make one’s self lower than that person, and clap three times in acceptance of the honour.  Watch how it’s done here.

Time after time, I saw lovely young girls and boys, who in their moment of glory, humbled themselves to accept their medals in the traditional manner.  It brought a tear to my eyes.  I also saw love, friendship and sheer jubilation.  It reminded me of the spirit of sports from when I was a kid.

With the passing of my father recently, it has made me think about many things.  What lessons did he really teach me and why?  What is really his lasting legacy?

Number 1: Education, education, educationchow 2

Number 2: It is your duty in life to care for those who are less able than yourself, whether they are old, young, disabled, sad, or simply not as smart as you are, or able to deal with life’s challenges in the same way

Number 3: Don’t smack your children – it shows them that you are out of control, out of ideas, and beyond the point of reason.  That is not the way to gain their respect.

I try I think to live by these three values.  There are so many more, but these are the ones that keep recurring, and guide me through.

I was reminded of these simple values, and how much they mean to character when I attended the Chow Games.  It was like going back in time to a time where people remembered: SPORTS ARE JUST GAMES.  Competitive, but just fun in the end.

Thank you (Vinaka!!) to the children of Fiji (and their mentors of course) for reminding me of the joy of games, and what can be achieved within the game if you are of strong character.

Zdravstvujtye! (Hello in Russian)

I will remember, with gratitude, your father’s kindness. This was particularly evident the time that Alan was on study leave and I stayed home with the two boys so their schooling would not be interrupted. Albert stressed that he was available as a backup, to help in any emergency. This wasn’t needed, but the knowledge that he was just over the road was a tremendous comfort to me.

Albert was also a good citizen. i remember him, out on the road, in front of the shop sweeping up the glass and debris after an accident.
Before the Five Ways was reconstructed there were many many crashes as cars tried to negotiate a very awkward corner.

My other prominent memory is of Albert’s mischievous glee when he was able to converse with the occasional Russian customer in their own language. He was proud of the fact he could still speak Russian – I think he had learned it at school in Lithuania. Jan and Alan Jones, St Lucia

Cross-Cultural Marriage in the Pacific – One of Life’s Great Adventures, or Train Wreck in Slow Motion?

pole wedding

Source: Time Life Magazine

A while ago I came across this photograph on my Facebook feed.  It looked so intriguing so I read a little about the couple in the picture.  They got married on top of a pole long ago.  Some said that they got divorced, some that the groom died alone in a ramshackle house and that sometimes the local kids used to go and throw rocks at the house “To Kill a Mockingbird Style”.  Whatever happened to the couple in the photo, it got me thinking.  We all start marriage with a sense of thrill, of excitement for the future and a belief that we can, together overcome all odds.  If we didn’t, how would we justify taking that huge leap into the unknown.  The symbolism of the couple married atop a pole symbolized to me the sense of joy, girlish hope and total belief in myself and my bond with another that I felt when I rushed headlong into a cross cultural marriage.  Don’t get me wrong, I thought I knew what I was in for.  It wasn’t my first marriage, and my children were almost all grown up, some having left home years ago.  I thought I had a knowledge of what obstacles come hand in hand with marriage, and was going in with my eyes wide open.  I had a belief in the future, taking on the lessons of the past, but I did truly believe in what I was doing.

One of my dearest friends told me at the time that there may be days that I questioned whether what I had done was wise, but to put on my adventure hat and hold on tight – to enjoy the ride, but knowing it might at times get a little hair-raising.

I realized I thought, that marrying someone from another culture would mean learning and understanding, not just what do, and what not to do, but WHY culturally it would be significant.  I have really worked hard over the last two years to do just that.  I have become involved in a lot of community projects; immersed myself fully in life here.  I have ceased to be merely an observer.  We have a freezer but no fridge, we have internet but no TV, I washed by hand for a year.  I made a chicken house from plastic bottles.  I raise pigs and chickens and we have a dog that came one day and stayed.  I plant my own vegetables.  I don’t have any high heels any more and wear flip flops every day, even to town.  I don’t wear make up.  I have met the High Chief of Bau twice and been to many villages.  My son spends every holiday and most weekends in the village, and speaks Fijian. I understand Fijian but can’t say much. I know how to cook Fijian and Indo-Fijian food, and often get asked about Fijian customs.  I study Fijian history  and culture and maybe know it better than many Fijians. I know how to weave mats.

Have I become a hippie?  No, I have just become Fijian.  However, what I have realized is that no matter how long I stay here, I will never be considered Fijian, even by my husband, or my family here.  I will always be different.  I will never be understood fully, and some things I will never understand.  I don’t mean language – I mean culture.  Actually, the things that I don’t understand are referred to as culture, but I believe that is an incorrect description – they are actions and deeds that hurt and destroy, which because of skin colour and place of birth, are passed off conveniently as “culture”, but bear little resemblance to honoured traditions of the past, or accepted cultural mores of the present.  Tragic human interactions and decisions are dressed up and paraded as culture by those who are uneducated about their own culture, and any other;by those desirous of living a “developed life” and who manipulate the lives of the unwitting or innocent to eek out some perceived gain.  The tragedy is that the gain or advantage dubiously plotted is only a perceived one, one that will never be realized, because those who are fiendish enough to hatch such plots are those who have already led lives of despair and have not the where with all or skill to derive the advantage.  Therefore their lives of despair continue to spiral, generation after generation is disadvantaged through their deception, creating a sub-culture which is then given the haughty and dignified name of “Our Culture”.  This erroneous term is then bandied about with abandon any time that the truth is dared to be spoken, often, with the precursor “You don’t understand (Our Culture)”; “You’ll never understand (Our Culture); “You have no right to comment on (Our Culture)”.  Eventually the offender is not even addressed, just spoken about as if deaf with the damning and sulky lament which trails off…”She’ll never understand (Our Culture), she has no rights, she is not One Of Us, she doesn’t understand The Pacific”, she doesn’t know anything about Me, she doesn’t know anything about Us”, followed by tears, tears, tears, sniff, sniff, sigh.  There also seems to be amongst the people who use these terms and phrases the solid and unwavering belief that white people have no “Culture”, and it then follows naturally that therefore, as they have no culture at all, that they are incapable of understanding any type of cultural interaction at all, let alone those of people of a different colour and place of birth.

To clarify, I enjoy my life here, and am not sure if I fit in with developed life anymore.  Every time I go back “home”, I feel a disconnect.  Living without many things, and no longer feeling the need for them makes me feel overwhelmed when I visit there.  Also, living in a developing country, I see that many of the items that are being marketed here as the trappings of “developed life” and therefore desirable are having such a negative and compounding effect that it makes me question what development should really look like, but who am I to pass judgement?  Families that need assistance for free bus fares for school children (when the bus is only 35 cents) seem to feel that the children must have fizzy drinks in plastic bottles.  That is just the start, and I am sure that if you are a reader of this blog, that you already know my opinions on many things and maybe don’t want to hear them again.

However, recently I took a month off the internet – really and truly, I didn’t look at it at all (I can hear some people gasp from across the oceans).  The world didn’t stop rotating – phew!  I can hear people thinking – WHY did you do that?  The reason I told my family was that it was a month long experiment.  That was a lie.  Actually it was because I got back from visiting my older kids, my friends,  and my elderly dad in Australia.  When I got back, I missed my friends, my kids, and my dad.  I felt sad, very sad.

I felt the most sad because I felt that I was back home in Fiji, but that many things are not as they should be.  Many things happen here, and are disguised or dismissed as ‘culture’.  Actually that is not the case.  Culture is respect for your elders (parents, older relatives, chiefs), and traditions.  Culture may even extend to men drinking yaqona (kava, a traditional ceremonial drink made of plant roots) after work.  Culture may even at a push extend to the relegation of women to being subjugated to men as it was not that long ago that Fijians were a warlike people, with rival tribes often fighting each other, and women needed their men to be strong.

What follows is the events of the past month un-distracted by internet – a look at culture in reality – both good and bad, constructive and destructive, real and imagined.  Much of it is just plain tragic – a train wreck in slow motion, with the outcome and destruction clear, but no one willing or able to stop the horrific carriage crashing into carriage, carnage, debris and chaos.  Of course, this is just my view, and the fact that I may have it all wrong, is the thing that makes me wonder whether I will ever understand this “culture”, or even wish to be part of it, if what I am told is “Pacific Island Culture” is what it really is.  I was hoping that the other parts of the culture that I have been part of were really the culture – you know, the good bits: respect for elders, respect for nature, a connection with the earth and the sea, love of animals, skills and knowledge willingly passed down, traditions.

Last month……

Fijians participated and voted in the first democratic election for eight years, and the first where people didn’t have to line up to vote according to race.  I helped a friend who is a successful young female pig farmer to demonstrate at the local Agriculture show that pigs which are fed on natural foods (vegetable waste from the local municipal markets) grow faster, stronger and healthier that those pigs raised on commercial feed. I made soursop, pawpaw and chili chutney with my daughter. I swapped two of my chickens for a small pig and have been training the pig to walk on a lead when he comes out every day. My dog was poisoned and died a painful death, but then mysteriously a new dog arrived on my porch one day and has never left. I started harvesting corn, tomato, cucumber and pumpkin from my vege patch.  I bought a lot of new chicken hatchlings and they are all growing fast.  The hens layed four eggs every day.  I got invited to a wedding.  We had parent-teacher day and the kids are doing well.  I bought some small trees and found some discarded orchid plants and planted them.  I invented (well kind of) a fridge that doesn’t need electricity which is made from concrete building blocks filled with wet sand and covered with wet hessian bags.  I tested it, taking photographs of three test samples daily, and discovered that vegetables stay fresh in the new fridge for more than 10 days.  I baked some cakes using farm fresh eggs, yoghurt and fresh limes, over at my neighbour’s house using her oven.  My son turned 15 and had a friend over for dinner and cards. I took the kids to the movies. If you are interested in the details of any of the above, then let me know and I can fill you in.

Turns out that after a month not being on the internet I didn’t miss much.  There were hundreds of emails, but most of them were things I had previously subscribed to and I now refer to as “Junk” (funny, because they all seemed interesting when I subscribed).  There were only three Facebook messages for me, and less than ten emails from other friends or colleagues.  Maybe I really am a pain in the proverbial, and that is why people have stopped communicating with me.  Perhaps, as my son might say, they “tire of my shennanigans”.  The only really cool thing I missed was that my son is in a drag competition, and is being hailed as a “true talent”.  I watched the video over and over.   All of the above is normal life, (well, normal life here in Fiji where I don’t have a demanding job like I did way back when), and none of it seems that bad.  Even no-one really worrying about me wasn’t that bad.  I think everyone knows that I am off and on since I got here and are used to it by now.

What really has me in a spin is the other event of the month, a tragedy of what seems to me of epic proportion, with far-reaching consequences.  There is a young girl in the family who has gotten herself into trouble bit by bit, but consistently over the past few years.  It started when she started truanting from school in Australia when she was about 13.  Eventually by the time she was 15 she was only attending school on average one day a month.  When the absentee report from school was requested, it turns out her mother had phoned nearly every day with an excuse.  Actually the reason was that she rarely slept at home by that time, and was going from house to house, staying away from home for weeks at a time and only coming home to refill the contents of her bags and get more money.  Her school reports indicated for most subjects “Not enough evidence to assess” or something like it.   A year ago, that girl came to Fiji with her mother and brother and sister.  At the time she was 16 years old.  After a week, the girl left Fiji with her mother, headed for Samoa, saying that she needed to go there, to meet up with her boyfriend from home, who was also a Samoan citizen.  At the time I predicted that within a year, she would come back pregnant – but that was a bad thing to say, and I was told so. The brother and sister, who had similar problems scholastically, stayed here, and are now passing at school and attending daily.  The girl who left found that very soon after arriving in Samoa to meet the love of her life, he left her, and was gone.  With no access to schooling, she found herself relegated to home duties for a large family, and started saying she wanted to come to Fiji and resume education.  It was agreed.  However, weekly, the arrival date seemed to be changed and over time got more and more remote.  From April to May, to June, to possibly August or September.  It all seemed so strange.

A couple of months ago (when she was just 17 years old) , we got the call, she was pregnant.  After discussion, it was clear that she wanted to keep the baby.  All good.  What to do next would be worked out.  A month ago, on my return to Fiji, I discovered that with only two weeks until the baby’s due date, that the girl had been persuaded to “give” the child when born to the “father’s” family, and was staying in the father’s family home in Samoa with his relatives.  Her mother was absent, saying that she was going to buy baby things.  However, the search for appropriate baby things must have taken her far and wide, as she ended up in American Samoa, and did not return until after the baby was more than a week old, leaving the poor girl alone.

A day after birth, the baby was fed a bottle, the girl being advised that it was “better” for the baby.

The girl is still convinced that it is going to be “better for the baby’s life” that the baby be sent by the end of this month to Australia to live with the baby’s paternal grandmother who apparently is planning to raise it “as if it’s her own”.   The girl has still not bathed the baby, but just observes.  She has been taught that if the baby cries, you have to blow in it’s face to make it quiet.  I suppose there is no real investment in teaching the girl mothering skills if she is soon not to be a mother.  She is still a girl of 17 (soon to be 18).

Distressingly, after being cajoled into releasing the baby to go and live in another country to which she has no access, she is going to be sent to Fiji to apparently resume her schooling.  By that time she will be 18, and will not have attended school on a regular basis or passed many subjects since she was 13.  The “better life” of the child away from its mother, living with a family who are also uneducated is questionable to me.  What is going to make it a better life?  Just because in developed countries there is health care, the dentist, education, pottery class, parent teacher day, the school fete, playgroup, swimming club, or even school for that matter, or whatever is judged to be good for children’s development, it requires the adults of the family to actually take the children to those places for the betterment or benefit to be derived.  If available services are not accessed, they are of no benefit.

The girl is tragically being counseled by her own mother to release the child, who will travel to Australia under a New Zealand passport.  The girl believes that she will see her baby soon.  She believes like many 17 year old girls that once her previous love sees her again, he will realize the error of his ways, and repent.  He will realize that he still loves her (and the baby), that she has produced a beautiful baby on his behalf and he is eternally grateful and wants to be a family.  The reality is that he treated her badly even when they were “in love” at the age of 16, left her in Samoa and has not returned.  She wistfully said that he told her recently that he wants to be there for the baby, and that he “doesn’t want to miss a thing, whatever that means”.  Well, he missed the birth, that would have been a good start.

The girl and her mother believe that life is going to be better for the baby, and also for them, as they believe that eventually they will both be sponsored for visas to one or other attractive developed nation.  Why I asked, would that be a reasonable supposition?  The father treated her badly before she was pregnant, he went to Samoa to meet her, but quickly left her, and has not returned.  He apparently has completed paperwork for the baby to migrate, but not for her.  She is an uneducated child who will now suffer the stigma of having given up a child before she is eighteen years old.  She has no way to earn a decent living, and few prospects in the world.  She and her mother live on handouts and the kindness of strangers.  Who is going to sponsor both of those people, and then support them.

The poor girl happily proclaimed that it is going to be fine, as her goal is to “get an education, and be able to support the baby properly, and then go and get her back!!”.  My heart broke.  How is this all going to happen, when even the first part is going to be such a long, long road.  It may be possible, but without good guidance and decision making, it is just a train wreck in slow motion.

Apart from me, no one wants to speak the truth as it might be upsetting.  However, the wish to be a child’s friend, rather than a parent is a foolhardy one in my opinion.  I feel a sense of foreboding that once separated from her child, she will be looking for love, heartbroken and feel duped.  Within 18 months, she may be pregnant again, and then what -give up that child too?  I also feel that rather than thanking the adults in her life for being friendly right now, she will be blaming them in the years to come.  “Why didn’t you protect me? Why didn’t you tell me the truth? Why didn’t you come and get me and the baby before it was all too late?” are the words that might come crashing out.  The train wreck will continue with the broken heart of a father who out of misguided love, didn’t want to upset a daughter in the short term.  What of the next generation?  A child of an uneducated child, sent away before a month old to live with another uneducated family in another country.  Who is going to give that child the skills to protect the embryos that are already in her tiny womb waiting for the day that they bloom into the next generation?

The footage of the train wreck, although we all know it, seems now to move slower than we even thought possible, with more dust and debris and carnage than we ever imagined.  But for having these thoughts, and voicing them out loud, apparently I don’t understand “Their Culture”, and I have no rights to comment, and I will never understand.  Only time will tell if I am scarily right.  But will there be enough time for me to view the footage complete, or will I have to watch it via the internet, as can I be part of a “Culture” that so quickly and calculatingly dismisses babies and hoodwink teenagers to gain a perceived advantage for adults?  Can I ever truly be part of a “Culture” that I really don’t understand at all?  Do I love my husband – yes.  Do I love the kids no matter where they come from – yes.  Do I love Fiji – yes.  But do I understand – at this point I have to say – no.  If there is an argument about my thoughts, it will all be justified on the basis of “Culture” – all from a child who has given birth to a child, and spent the years from the age of 10 to 16 years living in a sub-culture in a developed country.  A child who had every opportunity to attend school, attend the dentist, go to swimming club, dance class or whatever she pleased, but instead decided that the benefits of living in a developed country were to go to the movies and have fist fights at the train station instead of attending school, or anything else.  All this talk about Pacific Island Culture from a child who has not lived in the Pacific since she was 10 years old, and as soon as she got to the Pacific tragically discovered what she calls “Culture” firsthand.

Do I have a right to comment – that is a question that will always be up for debate around here.  Will my comments be taken into consideration?  I am not saying I am right, just putting my concerns in the hat.  Will anyone take action?  Honestly, I am not even that worried that there may be a further disagreement ensuing from this musing on cultural differences, as very few of those I care about in my new culture value what I say significantly to bother with what they call “my things”.

What I do know is that if anyone in the family ever reads this, I will be told that it is not their culture to discuss things openly, and that I have no right to do so.  What then are my rights, or am I not really part of the family?  Are there really two train wrecks, and I have unwittingly gotten on the train many stations ago and have been sitting in the carriage all this time headed inexorably to my fate.

 

Humble Beginnings – Royal Chickens

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Well, in case anyone has been wondering just how I have been going with my chickens, from the humble beginnings of the plastic bottle chicken house,IMG_0009 I decided to take a photo.  I couldn’t fit all the chickens in one picture, and of course there are now lots of little ones in the house, which don’t come outside yet except as “supervised play” in the afternoons.  The small ones, I have learned with heartache, are the favourite food of the Indian Mongoose which is very crafty, and can catch a chicken and drag it into its burrow at lightning speed.

IMG_0013The white chickens in the photo are cockerels (male chickens).  The started out as very unassuming birds, but now, well to me they look like royalty!  The are so majestic with their manes and their bright red combs.

The red and black chickens are Junglee birds – or native chickens.  They are also changing day by day and will one day be clothed in gold, red, green and black feathers like the old fashioned roosters of yesteryear.  I am planning to win a prize at next year’s agricultural show with one of them!

The plain red chickens are rescued battery hens.  They still lay the odd egg, and they keep the roosters happy.

I wish I had taken a week by week picture so I could show how they grow, but I might do that next time.

Another use for old umbrellas – doggie bed of dreams!

A couple of months ago, our neighbours’ dogs had puppies.  About a week after that, mysteriously, all the girl puppies were dumped in our yard.  They were skinny, ridden with fleas, and starving.  I decided that I had not much choice but to bath them, and care for them until they were old enough for me to find homes for them.  People here in Fiji often dump female puppies as they are not wanted.  There is an SPCA here, and they welcome unwanted animals, but animal welfare in Fiji is very much developing, and is at the lower end of the scale.

Snowy and Patch now have new homes with some lovely families who love animals.  Blackie has stayed with us.  She now has commandeered our umbrella cushion as her doggie bed of dreams.  To see how to make a cushion or dog bed from recycled broken umbrellas, click here.

I wanted to post these pictures to show my cyber friend Jo, who makes all kinds of cool stuff from recycled umbrellas and just sent me a tote bag in the mail.  She has a stall in the UK and an etsy stall.  Her bag is so well made and holds about 25kg of shopping!  I use it daily.  Thanks Jo!  To see her stuff including bicycle paniers, bags, painting smocks, and more, click here.  Maybe soon she will be selling dog beds!

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Blackie, Snowy and Patch a couple of days after they arrived

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Blackie on her bed make of recycled umbrellas

Plastic bottle chicken house – complete!

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Finally, I am posting photos of the completed chicken house!  It has been operational for about a month and a half now, and the chickens are now much bigger than in these pictures.

I can confirm that it is working well, with a feeder made from a recycled kerosene burner, the drinker installed in the wall and also poweraid bottles which are perfect chicken drinkers!  It looks like a stained glass chicken palace now, and is a bit of a local attraction.

I can also confirm that it is definitely mongoose proof, dog proof, pig proof and cat proof!  Ahhh, the sweet smell of success!  Next post on this will be pictures of the rescued battery hens which are now happily laying an egg each a day!  Thanks for the encouragement.

I think that with the sheer weight of bottles and concrete (one 1 litre bottle filled with water weighs 1kg) that it should also be cyclone proof.  Everything in the construction was salvaged except for the chicken wire.  Hooray, about 1000 bottles not on the beach!

To see pics of construction process click here.

Natalei Eco Lodge – a hidden treasure

Images Of Fiji

IMG_2616 Last weekend, we went to Natalei Eco Lodge.  Contact information, maps, activities here . The website seems to indicate that it is in the Yasawas, but it isn’t.  It is on the main island, Viti Levu, not too far from Suva and Nausori (where Suva airport is located).  IMG_2416

It is amazing!  Out of all of the places I have stayed in Fiji, this is one of the best.  Not in terms of luxury, but in terms of being a real Fiji experience.  If you only get to stay one place and want to leave Fiji with a feeling of what Fiji really is about, then you should go to Natalei.  It is only $75 per person per night including all food.

I took so many pictures, I couldn’t decide what to leave out, so I have added a few too many really.

IMG_2436Natalei is one of the only places that…

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Two Cousins

Two Cousins

Two cousins enjoying the wind in their hair. Boat ride from Ovalau Island to Leleuvia Island, Fiji. Whenever I am away from Fiji, I look forward to coming back. I can always tell when I am close to Fiji after flying over open ocean as the first thing you notice is the clouds that go up and up. It looks like another sea, but up in the sky.

Signature or Thumb print? I saw the sign, and it opened up my eyes, I saw the sign.

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My niece, Rosie, outside her house at Baba Settlement, Levuka

What makes a country “developed”, or “developing” as a nation for that matter?

How can you tell, what are the signs?

Often, I pore over statistics, and unwittingly commit them to memory in an effort to latch on to something… an effort to make sense of the country I now live in, and what really makes it a “developing nation” or “small island developing state” or any other platitude created by developed countries to describe a country that is in many ways very, very poor fiscally, and in terms of infrastructure.

What is it that Fiji wants to develop into?  In developed countries I feel that the main things that are coveted by those on the other side of the divide are Education, Sanitation, Health Care.  We could have all of those things here with the right focus.

Any who are my friends are now painfully aware that I have developed an annoying habit of being outraged about the figures and indeed how many useless figures I retain, and I am sure they wonder WHY?  What happened?  Why can’t she just relax?  Do I even like her any more?

I am amazed that I know, and tell anyone who will sit captive for more than 30 seconds in a machine gun – rapid fire -one way conversation,  just for example that…..

There are 44 million PET plastic bottles produced in Fiji every year (and that figure was from about 10 years ago)

Fiji is the 40th best place to be a mother (in a list of underdeveloped countries)

Approximately 40% of women suffer from anaemia

Between 100,000 and 300,000 people live in “informal settlements” or shanty towns

Every day in Fiji an estimated average of  one woman is permanently disabled as a result of domestic violence, 10 loose consciousness, and 43 are injured

In fact Fiji is the fourth worst country in the world for domestic violence of nations that have undertaken a comprehensive study of a particular type (see Fiji Women’s Crisis Centre Report for more and more and more details)

More than 40% of Indo-Fijian women are illiterate in rural areas

But still, I needed something to hold on to… where is the sign I have been looking for that Fiji is just so different from the developed nation I came from, and why do I need to think about things differently now?  Why and how have I become a different woman than I was two years ago?

Today, I saw the sign…..

I had to go to the Vodafone shop in town to register my phone number as originally I was sold a SIM card without being asked for any identification.  After 9/11 mobile phone operators need to know who is registered to a certain mobile number.

It all went swimmingly.  I took in my ID, the young man at the counter re-activated my number and then gave me the form to sign.

In the signature area, it said simply “SIGNATURE OR THUMB PRINT”.

Maybe the only thread of myself still linking me to my previous life, and the girl my friends used to know, is that I have had to open this post and amend it, to admit that the whole time I have been writing, I haven’t been able to get out of my mind the old Ace of Base Song “I saw the sign, and it opened up my eyes, I saw the sign….”

 

 

 

Fiji and South Pacific Tide Times

Fiji and South Pacific Tide Times

I noticed recently that a lot of people come to my blog searching for Tide Times and have probably been sorely disappointed.  Here they are for any sailors around the place. I also sometimes need them, as now I am an island dweller, it is handy to know if I am traveling between islands as often the fibreglass speedboats only go from certain places at high tide!

Skirts for men, or everything you always wanted to know about the sulu

I recently came across this on the internet.  I loved it so much I “reblogged” it.  I hope you like it too.

From Seattle To Suva

The humble wraparound skirt fashioned from a big square of cloth you tie or wrap around your waist  has multiple names: sarong (Indonesia), lava-lava (Samoa), laplap (Papua New Guinea), and in Fiji, the sulu.  You see a fair amount of the sarong-style beach coverup sulus as casual wear and (duh) at the beach. Since it’s impolite for a woman to show her thighs when visiting a Fijian village, tourist ladies are advised to wear shorts, carry a sulu in their purse or rucksack and then do a quick wrap and tuck of the sulu right before arriving at the village.

It’s perfectly acceptable for men or women to wear this kind of sulu in daily life, but since it has to be tied or tucked, there’s always the chance it might not stay on if someone steps on the hem when you get off the bus, and thus, you usually see…

View original post 1,292 more words

Plastic Seas – two minute thesis and apology to taxi drivers of the Pacific

plastic sea

Source: vimeo.com

I know that so many people are so weary of posts on the big nasties: Climate change, plastic in the ocean, single use plastics, dumping on the reef, turtles wrapped in beer holders and other depressing topics.  I know that I used to be.  Now I feel obsessed.

I used to not take much more than a cursory glance at these things thinking often that I just didn’t understand it enough, or alternately, that the headline and picture spoke a thousand words, and that was about 999 words too much to take in after a busy day at work before having a glass of wine and watching re-runs of “Friends” or perpetually planning to go to the gym, rarely making it past my runners with the socks hopefully stashed inside.

plastic sea 2

Source: vimeo.com

Today on Facebook I came across a new video called “Plastic Seas”.  To watch the film see http://vimeo.com/69689785

Over the last twelve months, I have had a change in lifestyle, having moved to Fiji.  So many changes have happened even here in the year since I started this blog.  Many of them positive:  I have been contacted by people all around the world who want my insights on social problems in Fiji.  I have been contacted by people wanting information about where to buy shipping containers to make school classrooms and kindergartens. I have been contacted by people who want to know how and where to recycle in Fiji.  Now, maybe due to the little bits of information I have posted, perhaps I have been an unwitting catalyst in the advent of the shipping container classrooms such as at Basden College, Newtown in Suva.  I would like to think so in my own small way, that I have made some difference.  I have led a local clean up in my old street that resulted in 10 tonnes of trash (mainly plastic) being picked up out of the drains and waterways in one morning.

I have had a lot of time to research as a “citizen scientist” and have learned so much.  As the old saying goes, the more you know, the more you realize how little you know.

If you only watch one video on the plastic problem, and possible solution this is a good one.  It seems to encapsulate the main points.  It is always useful in any academic or commercial exercise to think about what you would say about your topic or business in two short minutes if asked by a lay person, stranger, or client.  If you can encapsulate your main points in a two minute “nutshell” then that means that you really understand what you are on about.

So, here goes:  my two minute nutshell on single use plastics……

For me, I can type about as fast as I can talk as I am old enough to have learned shorthand and typing at school when only the girls who went to secretarial college did so, on an old fashioned typewriter.  How I conned my parents into that I still don’t know, but I digress!

Two minutes starts now:  Since having moved to Fiji and seeing the enormous amount of plastic waste in the environment, I have started to question why it is there.  It is everywhere in the world, not just here.  It is a plain truth that most of the plastics I see here are single use PET plastic drink bottles, and plastic shopping bags.  People of our generation and the next have been somehow hoodwinked into thinking that everything that comes in plastic is somehow more worthwhile, more necessary than the things we used to make do with (such as water from the tap, a paper straw, a shopping bag you had to take with you, or a drink that is not carbonated, and maybe came in glass).  Also, we somehow now NEED chicken and meat that is wrapped in plastic, ice cream in a plastic tub or wrapper, and our children NEED an enormous amount of single serve snacks.

Most of these packages are recyclable in some way, but only about 10% of them get recycled, and about 10% of them end up in the oceans.  Some of them are biodegradable and marketed thus, but are only biodegradable if sent to a “properly managed landfill” of which there are next to none in third world or developing nations.  Herein lies the real issue.

If the plastics reach the dump site that is not a modern “properly managed” site, most of the dumps are near the mangroves.  Leechates infiltrate the water, and are toxic, highly so (especially with the introduction of e-waste into developing countries).  Once plastics reach the ocean, even if intact with the caps screwed on, they do not biodegrade, they PHOTODEGRADE.  This means that the sun breaks down the plastics into smaller and smaller pieces until they are called “nurdles”.

These nurdles are chemical attractants.  That means that they attract any chemical that is in our ocean, from agricultural chemicals, fuels, and pesticides, just like if you have a take away container with your curry lunch, and want to re-use it, it is very difficult to get the curry out without an enormous amount of dishwashing liquid (so you throw it away anyway, a bit hurt that it seems so unfair).  The plastics in all sizes accumulate and spiral in the ocean in five enormous gyres.  The five gyres are sometimes described as “garbage patches”, most famously the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.  The edges of the gyres are close to land in some areas, and the plastics spiral out of them and make landfall at odd places, like Hawaii and Alaska, just like if you wet a towel and spin it around, water droplets start radiating out annoyingly.

Most people are not overly worried about plastics in the oceans, as they think that it is the actual plastic that kills the wildlife, and they think, “How much plastic could a small fish/bird/turtle actually eat??? Not that much, so the risk is small.  I will continue to get a lid on my takeaway coffee and always act confused when I am not sure which bin to put it in.”

They are right, the plastic would take a long time to dissolve in the stomach of an animal, so it is unlikely that the animal would actually get “poisoned” by the plastic.

The animals actually get poisoned very quickly by the cocktail of chemicals that is stuck to the plastic pieces (nurdles) which quickly are released during digestion. 

Other animals consume so many nurdles that are the same colour and size as their natural food source, that they die from bowel obstruction.  These animals include whales (they can consume up to 37 kg of plastic before they die), sea birds on Lord Howe Island and over 40% of a species of albatross. 

I wonder what the Ancient Mariner would say about the death of so many ominous birds?

So, what to do? Who is responsible?

There are so many reports from various government and non-government organizations naming particular departments or bodies, but it occurs to me that all of the plastics we use are marketed to us as necessary for our convenience or safety, or “freshness”.  Recently I was shocked when in Australia at a hospital to find a banana vending machine, with every hand of bananas wrapped safely in plastic in the glass case.

Actually, it seems to me that the majority of products that we have been marketed to believe we NEED are profit driven, and we are simply consumers.  Stupid ones.  How many bottles of carbonated beverages do we need?  Do we actually need to drink sparkling this, or cola that?  Not really.  Do we really NEED the convenience of having our sushi soy sauce come in a little plastic fish container with a little plastic red lid so that our soy sauce will stay “safe” on the way back to the office?  Not really.  We used to pour the soy sauce and get the ginger from receptacles on the counter at the cafe, and we were ok with it, until we were told not to be.

Some people think that the drink manufacturers should show that they are corporately socially responsible and instigate community awareness programs encouraging consumers to recycle, and provide recycling bins.  This is flawed logic.

Remember the days when every bottle proclaimed the owner?  Property of Tristrams, property of Coca Cola bottling, property of John Walker and Sons FOREVER and EVER.  Some time in the late 1960’s or early 1970’s the manufacturers came up with an idea (probably a very smart corporate lawyer) that if you stopped claiming ownership of the bottle, then the onus of responsible disposal shifted from the producer to the consumer.

So why is it now the problem of the producer to clean up the mess that each consumer chooses to make when they toss a bottle or other plastic item in the wrong place?  It isn’t – legally you bought the bottle, and it contained a drink.

Therefore, the solution can only be one – for consumers to take responsibility.  Of course, this can be done by pressuring producers, but not in the manner of asking them to take back their junk.  It ceased to be theirs the moment you paid for it.  That is why Coca Cola in Sydney called the police when Ian Kiernan of Clean Up Australia fame presented outside their corporate office with bags of bottles he wanted them to take back.

The only way that we can make any kind of dent on the producer is to stop consuming things, or insist through withholding our money that we want more responsible packaging.  However, people I know who insist on only “buying things that come in glass” are seen almost as weird as those who “only eat fruit that has dropped from the tree”, or vegans who also happen to be soy intolerant.  It is a culture of planned single use, planned obsolescence, and a conspiracy of silence regarding plastic waste.  The world is being consumed by consumers, I guess that is why the documentary is called “Consumed” not “Produced” as the producers have shifted responsibility.

There are whole beaches in Ghana that are choked metres high with electronic waste.  Developed countries send old and broken computers there by the container load as second hand goods rather than waste, with the euphamism that these broken computers are sent to “bridge the technological divide” between developed and third world nations.  Whole communities survive no longer on fishing, but on burning the computers to get rid of the plastic casing, and then extracting the small metal components for sale.  There is a lone Ghanian researcher who I think may also be just a “citizen scientist” like myself, who is taking photographs of the asset tags that are still stuck to the computers, keeping a data base, and is thinking that he will eventually mount a class action against the previous owners who might be such as ABC Council, or University of XYZ in the developed nation of your choice. I wonder if he ever will.

These same classes of people, who now have no reliable source of fresh drinking water or farming land or fishing grounds (where they once did), are then forced to consume food and drink items that come in plastic.  Carbonated drinks of all kinds, water in bottles of all kinds and the like are marketed as a status “feel good” item.  It is the domain of the poor to always strive for these small signs of status.  Now it is also the domain of the rich.  Bottled water is a perfect example.  The marketing of Fiji Water especially in social media is a case in point.

Also, the poor, who survive on trash, or are swamped by it, or out-fished by it, seem reluctant to pick much of it up.  Plastic drink bottles and aluminum cans for example are worth money in almost every country, even Fiji, however, not many people want to touch them once they leave a clean hand and end up as “trash”.

Why should the poor pick it up? The rich don’t seem to be interested in it either.  Culturally, the poor normally mimic the habits of the rich in the effort to appear not to be poor.  Perhaps it will take the rich to create a behavioural norm of picking up what is now classed as “trash” or “ocean debris” for the poor to mimic that behaviour, it seems to work for consumption!

Groups like the “Two Hands Project” seem to have cottoned on to this.  They post pictures of people who look to be not in poverty who pick up as much as their two hands can pick up in thirty minutes on beaches, parks, and other nice looking places.  Simple, effective, and a great tool for people with internet access.

It also can be taken as a consideration that most developing or third world nations (in the Pacific they are tiny islands or groups of Islands which are now termed SIDS or Small Island Developing States) still maintain a chiefly or feudal system, as well as a European style government.  The government of the day makes the rules, but daily life is still very traditional.  In the chiefly system, individuals would not normally come up with ideas and implement them alone, or even in groups, for fear of being perceived as not respecting the hierarchy of the chiefs and minor chiefs.  People have been taught to wait for leadership on an issue, and then follow direction.   Today in Fiji, there are still chiefs and village headmen, as well as a government.

In the past, when tribal wars and feuds were the determining factor in loyalty to one chief or another, and also the hierarchy amongst the chiefs, leadership was expected.  To maintain one’s status, or indeed life, one had to be a great strategist, very intelligent, a great leader, with an excellent and obedient, unquestioning warrior class, fisher class, farmer class, and a loyal village or villages.  Now that tribal wars and feuds are forbidden as an aftermath of Colonialism, chiefs are no longer chosen simply by leadership qualities, but often by birth.  The Western World has demanded that democracy be seen to prevail, or sanctions apply. Those born into a chiefly family may not have the necessary skills to be change agents and leaders.

However, as society still operates mainly on traditional values, people await leadership, but it does not necessarily come.  Action without leadership is seen in many ways as disrespectful to the community.  Action without leadership in the past was seen as a direct challenge to the chiefly title, and cause for a fight.  One had to be very sure of loyalty to the idea, and a very good chance of victory over the reigning chief to take independent action.

Could this be the reason that often the problem of trash seems so marked in the developing world?  People are awaiting leadership?  This is in no way a criticism of current leaders as all the rhetoric is there: “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle”, but without the facility or infrastructure for the populace to do so.  I have never seen a recycling bin in Fiji except at one resort island, and at the Coca Cola Plant security office, oh, and at the mini bus stand in Sigatoka.

Recently in Suva, during a tropical depression (pre-cyclonic rain), many streets were flooded without a critical water level being reached.  Without exception, the flooding was attributed to blocked drains.  Most of the drains are blocked with plastic, but still, the solution does not seem obvious.  Agencies are assigned to clean the drains, without heed to the nature of the problem, and the underlying implications.  If we can’t stop the people buying plastic, then we must find a way to facilitate a paradigm change and enable the people to recycle it – really recycle it, not just post slogans REDUCE, REUSE, RECYCLE, without asking ourselves the question – Recycle where? Recycle how?

What is “trash” anyway?  It is just our perception.

Perhaps it is also a status thing – I am not that poor that I have to go into the gutter to pick up trash, but I am so poor that I can’t afford shoes for my children, and sometimes just feed them rice and milk, or less.  Also, I am not that poor that I need to pick up anything that has been discarded by another, and is therefore “trash”and make anything that I NEED out of it, like a bed, or a chair, or a chicken house, or even a house, or fuel.  Certainly in most developing nations, there is little extra head space for “art” either, and it is left to visiting artists with more ephemeral tastes for trash.  Trash art also is a great tool for those arty types, or those motivated by art.  However, as far as a change agent in the developing nations, it is often the case that those who have been marginalized do not necessarily choose to express their emotions artistically, as in the case of the black diaspora, black slaves sent to South America often depicted themselves as faceless.

This is where it gets interesting. I have not seen anywhere in all my research any one person or organization that has any real power, that has been able to connect the dots.

Most goods that are packaged in plastics and sold in developing nations are owned and produced by companies that are based in developed nations.  For example, Fiji Water is made in Fiji, sold worldwide, but owned in the USA.  Coca Cola Amatil has a bottling plant in Fiji which proclaims in the front office a commitment and obligation (from every employee) to be environmentally proactive and responsible, and owns or distributes alcohol, sports drinks, water, juice and soft drinks, and is owned by Coca Cola Amatil Australia.  The producer of 95% of Fiji’s chicken is Crest, owned by Goodman Fielder, also owned in Australasia.  Coca Cola Amatil got back into the beer and cider markets in Australia in December 2013.  For more information on brands see http://www.brewsnews.com.au/2013/12/back-in-beer-and-cider/

About CCA: An ASX Top 30 listed company, CCA is one of Australia’s largest premium branded beverage and food companies and one of the world’s top five Coca-Cola bottlers with territories in Australia, New Zealand, Indonesia, Fiji, Papua New Guinea and Samoa. CCA has a premium spirits beverage business, with a portfolio which includes the premium Beam Global brands, and it acquired the Fiji Brewery and distillery in Fiji and the Vailima Brewery in Samoa in 2012. On December 17 CCA will reenter the Australian beer and cider market with Molson Coors’ brands Coors and Blue Moon; The Boston Beer Company’s Samuel Adams and Alehouse draught beer and Pressman’s Cider from the Australian Beer Company, CCA’s joint venture with the Casella group. Rekorderlig Cider will join the portfolio in early 2014.”

Source: http://www.brewsnews.com.au/2013/12/back-in-beer-and-cider/

The developed world feels powerless to help the developing or third world, and feel that it is not something that they can control.  Poverty, heartache, sea level rise, oceans devoid of fish, nations being swamped – what can we do, people may think, from here?

What we can do in developed nations is realize that most of the producers of plastic pollutants either at home, or in less developed nations, are based in our own back yards.  What we can do is use our consumer power (the only real power we seem to have any more) to either stop buying products produced by those companies in our weekly shop or lunch on the run.

What we can do is ask the question and find the answers to:

  • what other countries do you trade in?
  • what have you done about recycling there? not just platitudes, but profit figures, number of units produced, number of units recovered through recycling, number of recycling bins, amount of money spent on community programs such as beach cleaning machines, or scholarships
  • where do you get your water supply? (it takes over 2 litres of water to produce on litre of most bottled beverages including alcohol)
  • where do you dump your industrial waste and is it treated appropriately?

If the answers are not what you are hoping to hear, what are you going to do?  Could you forgo your bottled drink or packet of chips at the footy or would it just seem to reactionary?

I have come to the conclusion that if enough of us connect the dots we might see the following and maybe think about taking the appropriate consumer action:

  1. It is a fact that there is global warming and villages are being inundated by sea, and the polar ice is melting.
  2. It is a fact that plastic is killing wildlife, not just at sea, but on land.  Recently they found that cattle in India are dying from ingesting plastic bags that get stuck in their stomachs.
  3. It is a fact that obesity and diabetes are on the rise.  Fiji has the number one amputation rate per capita in the world from diabetes related infections.
  4. It is a fact that products that come in plastics are attractive, especially to those who can ill afford them.
  5. It is a fact that many families in Fiji and other developing nations do not have enough money for food, education, or other necessities, but still consume a large proportion of convenience foods which come wrapped in plastics.
  6. It is a fact that many plastics are worth money to recycle, but that there is not much of a perceived value as in developing nations, not many people pick them up and trade them in.
  7. It is a fact that in developing nations, diets have become so poor that there are a high proportion of mothers with anaemia, and infant deaths.
  8. It is a fact that most producers of plastic wrapped consumer items are based in developed countries, where they must exercise appropriate social responsibility, but continue to trade in developing nations with impunity as there is little robust compliance framework in place.
  9. It is a fact that weak or developing economies feel powerless to impose stringent compliance networks, and also are too busy trying to provide sanitation, education, and health care.
  10. It is a fact that civil servants responsible for environment in developing countries are victims of poor education and training and are not up-skilled to cope with the new demands and challenges that are mounting daily.
  11. It is a fact that teeth are rotting in children and adults in developing countries due to the amount of sugar in processed and packaged foods and carbonated drinks consumed, and lack of money for appropriate dental care.
  12. It is a fact that archaeologists of the future, or our own grandchildren will not need to dig up the ground to find out what motivated the generation of people with purchasing power since the mid 1960’s  – it will be everywhere, and visible, and evident.  It will be plastic leftovers from the items we “had to have”.
  13. It is a fact that most of these items we don’t actually “have to have” but most of them are actually luxuries, and the trimmings of wants rather than needs, but we have been marketed to so successfully that we see our immediate wants as needs.
  14. It is a fact that these wants are marketed to us for one reason and one reason only – to drive up profits, dividends and attract shareholders for major corporations that are based in developed nations, but trade also in developing nations, to the blissful ignorance of most consumers in the developed world.
  15. It is a fact that we know all this, but have yet to act.
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Sorry Mr Ram – my favourite taxi driver in Levuka Town!

Well, my two minute nutshell was an hour, so maybe I haven’t been able to crystalize my thoughts yet.  Maybe my nutshell takes the time of a long taxi ride to the airport.  In fact, most people I talk to about this are sorry taxi drivers, who are a captive audience.

Taxi drivers of the Pacific region – please take this as my apology!

Piggy and Peggy – free range pigs in Fiji?

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Roni communing with Peggy

For about six months, I have been going to the local vegetable roadside vegetable sellers collecting their waste for use as green manure or compost on my garden.  I go almost every day and am constantly amazed by the amount of “waste” I collect.  There is constant talk in Fiji in the media about working towards what they call “Food Security” which is a term used by politicians and local agriculture experts.  Loosely speaking, what they are aiming for is for Fiji to be able to eventually produce all of its own food requirements locally without having to import food, and without poverty.

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Going for a walk

The figures and statistics are always saying that there are up to 40% of Fijians living below the poverty line.  Up to 40% of mothers with anaemia, a high infant mortality rate, diabetes that is endemic with Fiji having the highest rate per capita in the world of amputations from diabetes related infections.  How is it possible?  From a small market place of approximately 8 “table vendors” (where they have a table with piles of produce to sell) each day I collect approximately 10 large hessian bags of “waste”.  Much of the waste is actually fresh food that is either bent or in some other way not perfect enough to be bought.  I was in the habit of making huge piles of the waste, and then digging it in to produce a permaculture garden, with whatever happened to sprout.

Last year from this method, we ate (without one seed or any fertilizer being bought):tomatoes, motha, bele, rourou (dalo or taro leaves), cucumber, chilli, corn by the bucket load, eggplant, banana, pumpkins galore, long beans, bora beans, bitter gourd, and much more.  Where I have harvested those crops, I now have a large and very tall cassava plantation, flowers, more corn and beans, and a massive pineapple plantation, plus rosella, more pumpkins, more eggplant and cucumbers, pawpaws etc.

Anyway, long story short, I had so much good food being given to me that I was forced to sort it, and use in the kitchen what was still good.  Consequently, we have a very varied diet of fresh vegetables and fruit with often an embarrassingly full freezer of beans, pawpaw, banana, eggplant, mango, cassava, and I make jars of jam and chutney, pancakes and gulab jamen with what I can’t freeze and give it away.

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Taking off around the corner

Even that wasn’t enough to ease the burden of so much fresh food that was otherwise literally going to rot, so I decided to buy two piglets – now known as Piggy and Peggy when they are good (and sometimes Minky and Monkey when they misbehave).  Our little pig house is down a gully.

Normally, when pigs are moved in Fiji, they are tied with rope by the hind legs and dragged.  This causes a lot of distress to the animals, and the thought of my husband dragging a fully grown pig by the legs up a 6 metre gully didn’t bear thinking about.  Animal rights is not a big thing in Fiji – perhaps humans are still trying to get a grasp on their own rights.  Animals are often neglected whether they are farm animals or domestic animals.

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Piggy and Peggy wallowing in a pool of water on their excursion to the neighbour’s place

There is also a perception that processed food is “better” for the animals, or perhaps it is a sign of status to be able to afford processed food.  When I first started getting the surplus of good food from the waste, I offered some to a relative who had a pig.  I was told “thanks, but no thanks – we can afford to buy pig food”.  I was dismayed at this, as their poor pig was almost starving sometimes, and my relative is a farm hand, with a family of four kids who takes home about $100 a week.  In reality, they seem not to be able to afford a lot of things, so I was surprised that they did not want to share my scraps.  Even during the eight months that we lived across the street from each other, not once did they take any for the pigs.

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Having fun at the carpenter’s shed

To save myself and the little four week old piglets the trauma of being hog tied and dragged at a later date, I decided very early on to let them out for a run in the mornings.

I figured it was going to be better all round if the pigs come when they are called…and thought I would give it a try “Babe” style.

They loved it so much, and they look forward to it so much that now they come out in the mornings, afternoons, and any other time if I am alone and want some piggy company.  It is great to see them in their natural behaviour patterns – they dig in the compost, find any puddle and wallow in it (or make a puddle themselves).  They love to interact with the cats, and have learned that they are not allowed on the verandah areas, or in the house (although Peggy has snuck in a couple of times!).

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Bele, another favourite food

If I have to go for a walk to pick some extra bele for them, they will often come too, much to the amusement of the Uni Students who mock me incessantly calling “Piggy, Peggy” and sniggering.  I am not sure that they have ever seen free range pigs.  The only animals that seem to free range are the packs of stray scavenging dogs.

The pigs are now a few months old, and growing fast.  When they run, they are surprisingly fast.  My husband, who at first thought I was more than half mad, has now taken the pigs under his wing, and spends ages with them.  Whenever people come over, he wants me to let the pigs out as some kind of circus curio show.  In a couple of months, the pigs will be ready to have piglets.  I am thinking about whether the piglets will follow their mum up the steps and around the garden.  I am fairly sure they will, and look forward to that exciting event.  IMG_0592

IMG_0483This is the first time that I have ever kept pigs, and it is a delight, although a very big time commitment to clean their pen twice a day, get their food, sort it and cook it.  Their favourite food is pawpaw, but they hate banana.  Who knew?  They love cassava, but hate pumpkin.  They eat only the seeds of the cucumber but not the flesh.  Every morning, they get fresh grass to eat, and then make it into a nest for their day time nap.  About 3pm in the afternoon, they start calling to be let out, and as soon as the gate is open they barrel up the steps at a million miles an hour and then race around the yard to their favourite spots for an update on what might be available.  They they settle down to snuffling in the ground looking for worms and other tidbits, race around the house and move to another spot.  The kids have taken over the cleaning of the pig pen (phew!  great news for me!) and my husband now cooks their food.  When their pen is clean, their food and water replenished and all is ready for their bed time, we call “Piggy, Peggy” and start walking down the steps and they follow (not always the first time).  The pigs are actually so well fed, that they have become fussy with their food – I keep telling them that I have seen other pigs in this country forced to eat their own shit, and that they are very lucky, but I think their vocabulary is not quite up to that yet.  Perhaps I shall make some flash cards.

I have to tell you though that sometimes they are a bit naughty, and sneak away from me when we go for a walk, always about 5 paces ahead of me.  They go from neighbour to neighbour and sniff around the yards.  Sometimes they go and visit Nobbit, a lovely dog with only three good legs.  This is always a bit of fun, as Nobbit is often asleep on the porch, and when he notices the pigs and gives a little bark, they scoot off as quickly as they can, but always go back for more.  Sometimes I have to borrow bread or crackers from the neighbours and entice them back home, sweating and frustrated, and hoping that my husband never finds out!  It always makes a good story, so I end up telling him anyway – never have been good at keeping secrets!

Perhaps I will be the first “free range” pig farmer in Fiji?

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Making a chicken house out of plastic bottles – part one

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Chicken house in progress

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Top of completed wall

Recently, as those who know me are aware, I have been busying myself making a chicken house using hundreds of plastic bottles collected from the neighbourhood.

  • Step one – collect bottles
  • Step two – fill with food colouring and water and screw lids on tightly
  • Step three – dig a shallow trench about half the depth of a bottle lying down to anchor the wall

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    Plastic bottle wall in progress

  • Step four – fill the trench with bottles about half a bottle width apart
  • Step  five – mix concrete (about one 40kg bag of cement to five 25kg bags of sand)
  • Step six – put concrete between the bottom layer of bottles and start stacking the bottles on top, row by row
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    Step one: dig a trench and fill with bottles

  • Steps seven to infinity – stay tuned – I have grand plans!   We will see whether they eventuate, but my grand design should incorporate the following:

  • I have already poked holes in several bottles to make some ventilation and drainage for the lower wall
  • I am going to insert some 30 Litre yellow plastic cooking oil drums into the wall with an opening on the outside for filling and catching rain water, and an opening on the inside for the chickens to drink from
  • I am going to use guttering and a vertical stack of linked 30 litre plastic drums to collect rain water and auto fill the drinkers
  • I have collected dumped kerosine stoves to use as the roof ventilation vents
  • I have already made a prototype of a roof whirlybird ventilator out of a 2 litre coke bottle
  • I have already planted pawpaw seeds outside the sunniest wall
  • I am going to insert wooden fruit boxes into the wall as nesting boxes, with hatches for egg collecting on the outside
  • I may even insert a fresh water pond inside for growing small fish and for the chickens to drink from
  • the whole thing has to be mongoose proof!

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    One wall completed

Also, since I saw the flip flop art, it occurred to me that I could even partly shingle the roof with flipflops for insulation from the heat, but I am not sure… otherwise since I saw the angel wing flip flop art, perhaps I will breed artistic chooks, and install an art piece inside for their viewing pleasure.

It reminds me a little of one of my favourite books to read to the kids when they were little.  It was called “The Hilton Hen House”.

The construction is coming along so nicely that the teenagers are asking whether we can scrap the chickens and they can move into it as a teenage hangout.  I think that it will be really lovely actually, and am determined to sleep in there one night before we put the chickens in.

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Filling the bottles with water and food colouring

I know they make this kind of construction elsewhere in the world and make houses, schools and other structures, but I never realized it would be so easy (and fun).  If people here in Fiji who live in settlements (slums) had access to the money for concrete, the bottles are free.

Even the timber and iron has been salvaged and saved from landfill.

Perhaps I will write a grant proposal after this is finished.  A great video on the squatter settlement conditions is online at http://www.smh.com.au/multimedia/world/fijis-squatter-settlements-20091127-jwda.html

Flipflop Angel Wings – a recycling masterpiece!

fllipflop

Source:www.recyclart.org

I just posted this to the facebook page, but couldn’t contain myself.  So many flipflops discarded, or missing a pair.  Fiji must be the flipflop hub of the world I think.  Flipflops are the only thing to wear in the wet season: to church, to work, to town.  Fiji is a “no shoes inside” place, where you have to take off your shoes before entering any home, meeting place, or church.  Flip flops are the only solution, and like odd socks, they always seem to have one go AWOL.  However, unlike socks, there is never a bag of them hanging on the back of the laundry door, they are just left – here, there, everywhere – clogging up drains and washing up lonely on beaches.

More photos at http://www.recyclart.org/2014/02/flipflops-angels-wings/

One couple put them to good use in this amazing art work.  I am running out of daylight hours!

Another item that seems to be discarded after every use is the metal mosquito coil holder – I have some ideas and would love to see if anyone else has made some artwork from them.

Recycled umbrella tote bags, bicycle paniers, and more….

umbrella bag

Photo source: http://www.etsy.com

People are so smart!  A while ago, I got a comment from a reader in the UK who upcycles umbrellas into tote bags and sells them through her etsy shop.  She also uses the umbrellas to make bicycle paniers, painting smocks, bunting and more.  She tells me that one rainy weekend, she collected over  60 discarded umbrellas!

I thought that it was worth posting a link for any readers who are interested in placing an order at http://www.etsy.com/uk/listing/176803426/upcycled-umbrella-tote-bag?ref=shop_home_active_1

The maker is the lovely Jo Bodley, and she has a written “how to” on her blog http://carminabiryani.blogspot.com/

Jo contacted me after seeing my attempt at making bean bags out of broken umbrellas.

Thanks so much Jo!  In the UK, you seem to have some beautiful umbrella fabrics!  In Fiji, the choice of trash to treasure is more limited.  I am going to give the tote bags a try, after I finish making my chicken house out of plastic bottle bricks filled with coloured water.

Ever wondered what are the “5 Gyres” in our oceans?

One of my readers alerted me to a new documentary which explains the vortex of trash in the oceans that is now the size of the United States.  Worth a watch if you are a bit confused about what exactly the “gyres” are.  Watch here

The only solution seems to be to stop consuming things that come in plastic, especially single use plastics.  I am in Australia visiting my sick father at the moment, and am so surprised that the plastic culture here is so strong and ingrained.

To have items that are designed for a 15 second use, that last for more than 400 years seems simply wrong.

If you think deep down that you are immune from the issue, and not part of the problem, living in a developed country where the trash seems to disappear after the recycling truck comes, then watch this about Lord Howe Island. The other day, I had a salad lunch at the hospital and the following pieces of single use plastic were part of it:

  1. plastic container
  2. plastic wrapping for the container
  3. plastic dressing tub
  4. plastic fork

Yesterday I had sushi:

  1. plastic container
  2. plastic sushi fish soy sauce bottle and lid (read my thoughts on sushi fish to fish sushi)
  3. rubber band
  4. plastic wasabi
  5. plastic picked ginger

I went to the fruit store to pick up supplies:

the cucumber I bought was shrink wrapped in plastic – why?

Is there a perception that NOTHING is worthwhile as a product any more unless it is wrapped in plastic?

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Dom sorting plastics that were collected from around our house at Koronivia, Fiji

If you are an artist or film maker interested in making a film in Fiji about making art from ocean trash, contact me.  I have been approached with an offer of funding, I just need to put together the budget.

Indo-Fijian Wedding guest – I was so blessed

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The bride accepting gifts

On the 14th of September 2013, we were invited guests to a very special celebration – the wedding of the son of our old neighbour from Koronivia Road, the home of my friend Sabita.    I have never been to an Indian wedding before, and it was such a great privilege to be invited.

I will let the photographs speak for themselves, and here are a few of my observations.

IMGP2499 IMGP2494 IMGP2500At the beginning of the evening, as guests are being seated in a temporary structure set up for the occasion, the ladies leave the venue, and walk together to the nearest cross roads.  They carry sweets on their heads, and eat and talk all the way.  At the cross roads, they collect some mud, and say prayers, and take it back to the wedding to be prayed upon and to bless the couple.  This symbolizes the cross roads that the couple have reached, and the decisions that have led them to their decision to marry, and all of their many future decisions and cross roads that they will inevitably face as a couple.  They then return to the venue, where the bride stands beneath a decorated canopy with a basket on her head and dances as the women come and give small cash gifts.  You have to hold the gift over the basket, wave your hand three times, and then place it in.IMGP2468

IMGP2780After that, the mother of the groom (the hostess also) stands in the same canopy, and the other mothers and grandmothers bring bowls of food prepared for the occasion, wrapped in colourful sulus and present them to the mother.  They receive a dance from her in return.  The last to make the presentation is the couple to be married.  The mother each time pours a little blessed oil on each bowl.

There were two long trestle tables set up, and people sit and eat, and then make room for the next guests, so that there is eating almost all night long.  The men and boys are completely responsible for food service.  When you sit down you are given a plate and a cup, and boys come with bowls of food, and serve little bits of curry and roti, and dahl over and over until you are sated.  This is the only time I have seen Indian men involved in food, and was told that they only do it at the wedding.

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The bride and Sham’s daughter

IMGP2571The women all wear saris or salwar kameez (dress with tight pants under and a veil) and the room literally shimmers with the beading and sequins.  The way it lights up the faces of the women is incredible.  Women who I normally see farming or serving in the store are transformed literally into godesses.

There are musicians too.  If you like the song, you also make an offering to the singer of $2 or $5 by waving it over his head three times, then putting it in his bowl.  It is best to give a note rather than a coin.

Recently, Fiji got rid of the $2 note, and replaced it with a coin.  This has caused an enormous problem in the Indo-Fijian community, as now the smallest note is a $5 note, and to give that at a wedding or funeral is a burden on many families who live on $60 a week.

The entertainment is always varied and often multicultural at Indian events.  At the wedding, the girls danced, and they had a female impersonator from the Solomon Islands who did a wonderful dance in hula style.  His half-man-half-lady (as they are called here) friends came to collectIMGP2475 him at the end and were welcomed.

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Sham (centre) and Nilesh’s father (right)

Everyone is catered for, my friends Sham and Nilesh who are both in wheelchairs after a car accident many years ago – Sham is a very successful insurance agent, and Nilesh has just found a career as an artist supported by social workers from USP; Nilesh’s father who has just had two toes amputed from diabetes but always has a joke about it (Fiji has

the number one rate of amputation from diabetes in the world); the transvestites; everyone!  My friend Sivnila who is fifteen years old and does our lawnmowing.  He attends school and works the 8 acre farm with his mother, and makes money selling vegetables and lawnmowing to support the family as his father is bedridden after a heart attack.  Jason and Sonam, whose father has been lying in bed at the back of their house with body weakness for many years, and whose mother, my friend Agnes (a gardener) has now joined him after a severe stroke.  She is now almost immobile as there is

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Sivnila and Nilesh

very little treatment here except for massage and family visits.

There is always a place where the men can be served Kava (yaqona) but there is no alcohol.  Ladies do not drink at all, except for during the meal, and it is only cordial.  Maybe it is so difficult when so many ladies might need to use the bathroom with saris so they just avoid liquid intake.  I am not sure, but I am always struck by the difference in culture.  In my culture, it is always polite to offer a drink of some kind to guests, but not here, so I often am very thirsty at events I attend!

The young men do go and buy beer, but they do not drink it at the wedding, they will drink it outside, and Nishant and Sanila’s shop stayed open til midnight especially.

The atmosphere is electric and calm at the same time.  There is a sense of family that runs right through the community that brings a deep contentment.  I am humbled to be included in that large family, and love dearly my family on Koronivia Road.  IMGP3312 IMGP3308 IMGP3283 IMGP3275 IMGP3268 IMGP3185 IMGP3085 IMGP3087 IMGP2908 IMGP2944 IMGP3023 IMGP2902 IMGP2868 IMGP2850 IMGP2730 IMGP2659 IMGP2656 IMGP2605 IMGP2601 IMGP2576 IMGP2571 IMGP2511 IMGP2509 IMGP2497 IMGP2494 IMGP2489 IMGP2471 IMGP2456

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The groom’s father, my father in law, my husband

How to make a herb garden on wheels from recycled pallets

herb

Source:byronobserver.com

My friend Robyn who lives in Byron Bay but has close ties to Moturiki Island, Fiji,  posted this great herb garden on wheels from recycled pallets.  Thanks Robyn!

Also, it appears that if you get your hands dirty, you feel happier – who knew!  But, I must admit whenever the stress of life gets to me I take refuge in the garden, and the reward is that I haven’t had to buy fruit or vegetables for months now and I haven’t even bought any seeds, I just throw the bags of waste from the market vendors on the ground and see what germinates.

boyle

We eat: corn, tomatoes, ochra, pumpkin, sweet potato leaf, pumpkin leaf, beans, long beans, chilli, paw paw, bele, roro (taro leaf), soursop, banana, cucumber, dahnia, bitter gourd, eggplant, dalo, cassava, and the list goes on!

Often people go hungry here, and the papers are full of what they call “Food Security” which means that they are trying to get to a point where all the food needed for Fiji can be grown or farmed in Fiji.  However, every weekend I go to the very small market in Nakasi, and I bring home a van full of bags of “waste” from the market. This waste is called “rubbish” but it is mostly good food, and what isn’t good for cooking, I use on the garden and the seeds grow!

Normally this waste is not even separated, but just sent to landfill with all the millions of plastic bottles, cans and other stuff that is still perceived as waste here.

To see step by step how to make the herb garden on wheels check out Robyn’s post at http://byronobserver.com/2013/11/26/getting-down-and-dirty/

It also reminded me of this photo I saw today.

 

How to make a bed from recycled paint cans

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Ok, here it is, as promised, the bed from recycled paint cans, sticky tape, and cardboard!  IMG_0003

Let me make it clear, I am not trying to set myself up as some kind of self professed DIY guru (although maybe I should start a blog site called just that…) or trying to turn this blog site into a site about how to make things out of recycled stuff. Of course my daughter has visions of becoming an overnight internet sensation from this post.  If enough people want a bed out of junk, maybe she will!

I am simply a mum living in a place where furniture is expensive, money is tight, and there is so much that is discarded that is actually useful.  I am often a woman on the edge, wondering how I am going to maintain a lifestyle that I want the kids to have in a country like Fiji where money is always tight.

IMG_0009I am also concerned constantly with the perception here of what is actually “trash” or “rubbish” as once something is discarded it is immediately viewed as that.  All of the paint cans, lids and cardboard that I used would have otherwise ended up in landfill, a problem for my kids to have to worry about in their lives – heavy metals, paints etc leaching into the mangroves and the sea.  Living in an island nation in the middle of the Pacific, the prospect of an ocean full of toxins and rubbish, and void of fish is actually frightening.  I have once seen a fridge floating in Suva Harbour. 

Our live in family recently increased from me, my husband and one teenager; to me, my husband and three teenagers.  The two new teenagers arrived from Australia with a suitcase each that was filled with nothing that is actually useful in Fiji a land of alternating mud and dust – no towels, no toothbrushes, no sheets, just video games and high heels it seemed IMG_0014to me.  Frustration and despair got me nowhere, but I must admit I felt it keenly.

Anyway, with two extra kids, and no extra money or furniture, I had to pull myself together and see what I could come up with.  If only I could work out a way to spin a towel or a sheet set from spiderwebs and butterfly tears, my world would be complete!

I didn’t, but I did manage with the help of my 15 year old daughter to make her a bed using only the below.  IMG_0012The hardest part was being disciplined enough to pick up the stuff when I saw it in the dumpster and take it home, and to stop my family from trying to “tidy up my junk” every Saturday where they would try and put it all kinds of places to get it out of the way.  Also, my nieces and nephews were constantly using the paint lids as frisbees and hurling them down the hill where I would often find them a week later.

I used:

  • 50 used paint cans (you could substitute large juice cans)
  • 4 rolls of packing tapeIMG_0002
  • 3 regular cardboard boxes
  • 1 cardboard box from a large electrical appliance
  • 8 recycled coke bottle lids
  • some of the white plastic binding tape that they use for packing white goods
  • about 30 small screws and a screwdriver
  • 1 thin piece of foam
  • Material to cover
  • The only things that I bought new were the screws and the packing tape and the foam, plus the material to

    IMG_0015

    cover, all the rest of it was salvaged from building sites and dumpsters, plus Jacks of Fiji Nakasi store gave us some great boxes.  The total cost of the bed was $18.

Instructions:

  • We used 50 cans in ten rows of five to fit a single mattress.
  • Lay them out to make sure it fits.
  • Make a cardboard stencil to cover 4 cans, 6 cans and 3 cans.
  • We grouped the cans into fours and sixes and then put them together as you would leggo so as to give the structure some strength.
  • We then had a group of two lots of six cans, and one lot of three cans.
  • You need a stencil for both the top and bottom of each set.  I think we used eight stencils of the 4 can set, twelve stencils of the 6 can set, and two stencils of the 3 can set.IMG_0018
  • Trace the stencils onto cardboard boxes and cut with stanley knife or scissors
  • Tape the paint cans together in sets, then tape the cardboard stencils to the top and bottom of each.
  • Then tape the leggo pieces together.
  • Lay the large cardboard on the floor and place the large leggo pieces together
  • Score the cardboard so that you can fold the extra cardboard up to make the sides of the bed.
  • Tape around the cardboard.
  • Place some cardboard boxes on the top of the bed, and cover with a piece of thin foam if you have it.
  • Lay the material/fabric on the floor overlapping so that there are no gaps if you are using pieces, and make sure that there is enough on each side to cover the sides of the bed, and fold over the bottom.
  • Turn the bed frame upside down and lay on top of the middle of the material.IMG_0019
  • Cover the base of bed with a piece of material, and fold the top material over the sides and to the bottom so that no joins will show when the bed is right side up.
  • Use a piece of white packing tape, or cardboard to get a straight line, and screw the material into the base, all folded in, using the packing tape as a guide.
  • Use some long screws, and screw the coke bottle lids into the base as small legs.
  • Turn the bed over, put on the mattress, go to sleep!IMG_0020 IMG_0022 IMG_0029IMG_0031

How to make a bean bag cushion chair from recycled umbrellas

             IMGP2363 Recycled umbrella bean bag cushions

From this

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Two umbrellas dumped on the ground

To this!

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using a cardboard stencil

Ever wondered what to do with broken umbrellas?  In Fiji, after any downpour of rain, along the roadside, you will see literally hundreds of broken umbrellas – ahh, they don’t make them like they used to.  By the way, one thing I discovered when I was doing this project was why my grandma always told me to buy a good quality umbrella regardless of the cost.  I have often wondered why umbrellas these days seem so flimsy and turn inside out the the slightest gust of wind.  Is it because they are so cheap, and poorly made?  Not really.  When you have to take one apart, you see the enormous amount of effort that has gone into making one.  The IMGP2359umbrella skin is hand stitched very well to the spokes at several places on each spoke, and then hammered into the top of the handle using a metal clamp.  However, when looking at the fabric of two umbrellas that seem an equal size, and then sewing them together, I noticed that not all the triangular panels are exactly the same size, even though they look it when the umbrella is up.  Actually with the cheap umbrellas, the fabric

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triangles are all quite different sizes.  This must create a tension issue when the umbrella skin is stitched to the spokes, and therefore create instability when the wind catches the umbrella.  If I were a scientist, I would do an experiment to see if the part that flies up in the wind, is the section with the biggest piece of triangle fabric compared to the others, and therefore with the lowest tension.  Sadly, or maybe a good thing for the world, I am not a scientist.

Now to the real business of this post.  Seeing so very many broken umbrellas (actually only the frames break usually, and the fabric is intact) by the side of the road after a bit of rainy weather, and needing some more furniture, I decided to see what I could do.

I took a small stitch unpicker (or scissors would do) with me and walked to the bus stop.  On the way I found two or three umbrellas in the gutter, and unpicked the fabric from the frame which took about 20 seconds each time.  I stuffed the fabric in my bag and felt bad that I left the frames where I found them.  I then got the bus 5 minutes down the road to my local market place, and got off.  I collected another 10 umbrellas there, and did the same thing, and went home.

I have since felt so guilty about leaving the frames on the road side that I take them home and use them for trellises for the long beans and cucumber plants.

People thought I was very strange and asked me what I was doing, but now, taxi drivers who have taken me home and seen the cushions I made bring me umbrellas each week when they find them on the road side!

IMGP2365I soaked the umbrella skins in a bit of bleach for a while, washed them and hung them out to dry.  The rest was easy!

Check the umbrella skins for any small breaks in the stitching, sew up the top part where it joined the top of the handle (there will be a small hole in the middle of each umbrella circle).

IMGP2349

Dom spray painting

IMGP2356You can spray paint a stencil pattern if you like.

Sew two umbrellas of the same size together inside out and leave a small opening to insert the filling.

Fill with foam chips or polystyrene balls, or even used and clean plastic bags and old clothes.

Sew up the hole.

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Jone and Samu

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Ellena and Kim

Sit down!

Read the paper,

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Renee having a hard earned rest

watch TV,

relax!

How to make the best ever footstool or chair from recycled paint cans

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Finished chair – dining height

This is the first of four stools that I made more than 2 months ago.  They are in daily use as dining chairs and general chairs, rather than footstools, as we don’t have a couch on which to sit on so that we can use them as footstools – never mind!  They really get used heavily with three teenagers in the house, plus their cousins and friends, not to mention the adults, and they are very durable and comfortable.  They are made from all recycled materials except for the foam and the sticky tape.  I could have replaced the foam with recycled clean plastic bags, or even newspaper, and next time I will try and do that.  I did this because

1. we really needed some furniture, and

2. I want to challenge perceptions of what is actually “rubbish”.

There are so many things that we discard and the moment they are discarded they are then perceived as “rubbish” or “trash” and no longer of use, however, I have found that many of these things actually have a long lasting second use.  I know that this is not news to readers, but I am not sure whether anyone else has tried this with paint cans.  As it would take maybe hundreds of years for these things to break down fully if in landfill, perhaps I have invented the longest lasting chair EVER!  Who knows! I got the idea from a similar thing I saw with plastic bottles which I have linked here. Perhaps the same thing could be done with used large food cans such as tomato sauce cans here in Fiji, or the large pineapple juice or coffee cans.

Anyway, now for the instructions…

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First, bang the lids onto the cans securely.  Then arrange four cans into a square.

Tape the four cans together securely with packing tape.  Make another set of four cans so that you are using eight in total.

Cut four pieces of used cardboard or coreflute (your could also use plywood) to the size of the cans.  Put one piece on the top and bottom of each set of four cans.  Tape securely with packing tape.  Tape the two sets together securely.

Make a cushion for the top out of a used plastic bag filled with foam chips.  You could also try replacing the foam chips with clean IMGP2366used plastic bags.  Tape the opening of the plastic bag, and poke some small holes into it so that air escapes easily when you sit on it.  Otherwise it might burst.

Cut a piece of thin foam (or used recycled materials) to cover the cushion, making sure that the cushion IMGP2367is centred nicely.  Secure the foam with rafia or string, and gently pull the foam down working around so that you do not have any folds and it is nice and tight.  Once you have that right, then use packing tape over the rafia and secure it in place.

Cut another piece of foam that is going to go around the outside, including overlap under the bottom slightly.  Wrap it around, pull tight, and secure with rafia and tape. No need to stitch anything at this stage.

To cover the chair, I used an old sulu or sarong.

IMGP3460Cut a piece of material to cover the cushion area.  Secure with rafia, pull down and smooth any folds.  Secure with tape.IMGP3461

Cut a piece of material to cover the outside.  Then turn this outside piece inside out over the top so that you are going to have the rafia and string on the inside.  Effectively it is inside out.  Secure with rafia and tape.

Note: Make sure that you have folded the overlap so that when you turn the fabric “right side out” the fold will be hidden underneath your final chair.

Once it is secure, then use a curved needle with very strong thread (I used the thread that is IMGP3468IMGP3472readily available here in Fiji which the shoe makers use, but you could use upholstery thread) to stitch around where the cushion joins the base of the chair.  Stitch actually over the rafia that

IMGP3487

IMGP3488you have tied on the inside out base fabric so that the whole structure is secure.  Once you have stitched all the way around, turn the base fabric back down to cover the base, and fold underneath the base of the chair.

Fold the fabric underneath neatly, as if wrapping a present.  Make sure you get out all the folds around the base of the chair.  Pin securely and stitch the “present wrapping” together underneath the chair.  To make the little chair legs to keep the fabric off the ground, I simply used four recycled plastic drink bottle lids and screwed them into the base with a screwdriver.  I was not sure whether the screws would hold into the pain tins, but they really do.

Stay tuned for the next post – how to make a bean bag out of old umbrellas!

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Dom and Finn playing cards with another version of the chair in the background.

How to get from Levuka to Suva – water taxi option

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On the water taxi

A few weeks ago, I went once more to Levuka, the old capital of Fiji.  I had the opportunity to stay in a

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Leleuvia

wonderful home at the top of the hill owned by a colleague.

Traveling back, I got the water taxi from Levuka to Bau Landing, near Nausori with a stop over to visit a friend at Leleuvia Island resort.  From Bau Landing, there is a bus to Nausori which costs $1.60, and from there you can get the bus to Suva.  Otherwise, you can organise a taxi to collect you from Bau Landing, and the trip to Suva will cost about $30.

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The water taxi parked at Leleuvia

Usually, I take the bus/ferry service run by Patterson Brothers Shipping, but the trip from Levuka to Suva means getting to the bus

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The water taxi pick up at Kings Wharf, Levuka

stop at 4am.  This time, I took the water taxi, which was much better, and really fun!  The pick up was at 10am (much more civilised), and the cost is about $90.  If you stay at Leleuvia for lunch, there is an additional cost, but you can also swim, snorkel, and relax on the beach.  The details for the Leleuvia to Suva island transfers are at the Leleuvia resort web site http://www.leleuvia.com/island_transfers.html#.

You can also arrange to get picked up from Levuka, or Moturiki.  Leleuvia is really beautiful with accommodation in traditional thatched bures on the beach.  It is a small island that has only the resort, and is what people would think Fiji is if they had just one picture in their minds.  The lunch was served in a massive traditional bure that has the dining area and bar, and is open to the beach.  The cost to stay at the resort is surprisingly cheap and I am told that all the watersports are free, and that there is a special rate for kids.  Anyway, I can’t believe I didn’t know both about Leleuvia, and also about this excellent way to get home!

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Joe, the water taxi driver

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Moturiki Island

While in Levuka Town, my driver, Mr Ram took me along Beach Street to the tomb of Tui Levuka, near which is a stake that marks the centre of Fiji.  Levuka is on Ovalau Island, an easy trip from Suva or Nausori which are on the main island of Fiji, Viti Levu.  The island is part of the Lomaiviti group which means “heart of Fiji” so I don’t know why I was so surprised that there is a spot in Levuka which marks the actual centre of Fiji.  I am not a navigator, so I am not sure if this is gospel truth, but many friends from Ovalau assure me that what Mr Ram told me is true!  Mr Ram can also take you on a taxi tour all around the island which is a great day trip.  It is well worth the trip, as Levuka was the old capital of Fiji until the capital was moved to Suva in 1874, and as such was the hub of activity.  It is the site of the first school in Fiji, the first newspaper, bank, the first Town Hall built to celebrate the 50th year of the reign of Queen Victoria, the first masonic lodge, the landing site of the first indentured labourers or “Blackbirded” people, the first electricity in Fiji (which was privately funded by Reg Patterson the founder of Patterson Brothers shipping).  In fact Levuka had electricity three days before Suva.  Levuka is also the site where Fiji was ceded to Britain, marked by the cession stone.  It is the site of the oldest hotel in the South Pacific that is still standing (The Royal Hotel).  The longer I am in Fiji, the more Levuka is a fascination for me.

Levuka is also the site of the first Catholic church service in Fiji, I believe the first Anglican church, and the first Catholic Convent (Loreto), and the first Methodist Mission.  Levuka also had a pigeon post which is marked by a water fountain near the Post Office (also the first Post Office in Fiji) on Kings Wharf (formerly Queens Wharf).  Levuka is one of the three ports of entry for Fiji.

In Levuka, if you get a chance, visit Baba Settlement which is the settlement behind the town where the descendants of the blackbirded people from the Solomon Islands, Vanuatu, Gilbert Islands, Ellice Islands were brought to work on the cotton and sugar plantations.  Next year is the 150th centennial of the first recruits.  A lot of them were actually stolen from their homes or tricked into boarding the boats as the traders posed as missionaries.  Plus below, I have  included a pic of the rubbish dump at Levuka just out of interest.  Might have to push my recycling efforts to cans!

Baba settlement is one of my favourite places to visit.  To get there, go along Bath St, beside Levuka public school.  Keep walking and you will see some steps.  Go up the steps, then you will see that the path branches out into three different sets of steps.  All steps lead to Baba.  If you take the fork to the right, you will get to “the Baths” or “Bower’s pool” which is a concreted swimming hole with steps at the base of the waterfall.  If you cross the bridge, you can go up the steps to the top of Baba.

When you go there, be aware that you are walking close to, or through people’s front yards, and be respectful and polite.  If you would like to have a look at the waterfall, or have a swim, then make sure you ask to be shown to the Kaivika pool.  The water hole there is easy to negotiate, and lovely, especially after a downpour.  If you ask to go to the waterfall, you will be shown to the source of the waterfall, which is at the top of the extinct volcano core, and it is very slippery and hard to get to.  People in Baba are so friendly, and if you act nicely, they will be happy to show you around.  The gardens are divine, and truly permaculture, with flowers, pineapples, yaqona (kava), cassava, dalo (taro), beans, aloe vera, watercress, lilies and bananas all riotously growing in harmony.

Make sure you take your rubbish with you when you go, as there is no rubbish collection in Baba, and it has to be taken back to town.  If you have plastic bottles or aluminum cans, drop them at the Town Hall for recycling.

Cultural note:  If you walk north of town you will go through Levuka Village.  This is a traditional village, and as such, cultural protocols apply.  A few tips:  as you cross the bridge towards the village, please remove any hats, sunglasses, beanies, and backpacks.  Also, it is polite for ladies to wear a sarong or suli to cover any short pants, and to wear a shirt with sleeves.  If you want to look around the village, you must have permission, and go with a guide from the village.

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Baba settlement, Levuka

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Tin cans as far as the eye can see, rubbish dump, Levuka

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Mr Ram

levuka waterfall

Waterfall at Baba settlement, Levuka

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Art challenges the lie that “Plastic is Cheap”

A couple of artists create art from plastics from one beach.  Again, calling all artists, do you want to do something like this in Fiji?

http://beachplastic.com/In-the-News

Machine that turns plastics to oil

oil

Source:youtube

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qPIHJRIpLRk

A friend sent me this link about a man in Japan who has made a simple machine which converts plastics back to oil, or kerosene (many Fijians use kerosene for cooking).  Since then I have seen a whole lot of back yard versions on youtube.

Fold up shipping container home – another solution

portabatch

Source:dornob.com

http://dornob.com/port-a-bach-modular-push-button-cargo-container-home/#axzz2dIixHHG4

This great idea would be perfect here in Fiji!  Solar panel, composting toilet, and folds down to handle extreme weather.

So many un-used shipping containers here.  Mountains of them sitting around in “container parks” for sale.  Each one costs about $5000 FJD (about $2500 USD) yet the habit here is to build corrugated iron homes for more than ten times the cost which are not cyclone resistant, let alone flood tolerant.

If these homes were also on wheels, they could be moved to higher ground in the event of cyclones and floods, often caused by tidal surges, or even the rising water of the ocean due to climate change which is as we speak, causing villages to relocate to higher ground.

Funeral in Fiji

Yesterday I got the sad news that the brother of a friend took his own life and his body was found in the river.  Today I am preparing to go down to the house and help with the funeral preparations.  I have been emailing another friend about this, and remembered how differently death is treated here from in my home in a developed country.

I wanted to share this with anyone who is interested, as it means a lot to me, and I will post updates out of respect for my friend, and for his loss.  I have taken out names for the sake of the family.

I have just copied some of my email text below:

Me: In any case, you can all get a bit of a rest from me today, as sadly I have to go and help a friend prepare their home for a funeral.  His younger brother took his life after having an affair and his body was found yesterday in the XXXX River so I had better get showered and get moving.

My friend:Oh my goodness, how awful. Good luck xx

Me:Weird that people can actually set out to commit suicide by drowning themselves, but here so many people can’t actually swim.  Fiji has one of the highest drowning rates per capita in the world

My friend: Yes, I remember reading some on your blog about swimming. Seems so strange as I thought it was all about the beaches! That was until you told me otherwise. Suicide is a terrible thing. Can’t understand it. So hard on the people left behind. To be so sad is tragic. So is the funeral today after only finding him yesterday? Much quicker than here. No autopsy or investigation?

Hope you’re ok today, and all the family involved.

Me: No, the funeral will be some time next week I guess when the wife and the mum return from xxxx (overseas).  They have just been told that he is sick in hospital and wants to see them so that they are not too distressed to travel.   The man lived in xxxx(overseas) with his wife and the mum just travelled there last few weeks to visit for 2 years (also how it is done here).  He came back to Fiji to check on the farm, do some planting and then go back.  The cassava and dalo crops are planted and then harvested after a year, so many people do that.  Just plant and forget, maybe get a caretaker to do some weeding and look after the house. 

Anyway, he took up with another woman for a month while he was here and it has somehow all gone pear shaped! 

His brother is my taxi driver, Mr XXXX, who is one of my two real friends here in Fiji.

I am going to help the ladies (cousins, aunties etc) to clean the house, clean the compound, start cutting firewood, digging up cassava and dalo for the funeral.  Here, death is very real, and burial is very down to earth.  You really know that the person is dead when you stand beside the grave which is dug in 6 feet of clay mud, and watch people actually pat down the earth by hand and with shovels.  It sounds horrific, but actually it is quite calming, and there really is a sense of closure for people. 

Often the inmates from the prison do the grave digging and filling as part of their community service, so there are also prison guards sitting on nearby graves with guard dogs.  The inmates wear their orange jumpsuits, and the ones I have witnessed are really kind and sensitive in their treatment of the gravesite and the relatives, and do it really “nicely” as they say here.  People always say, “do it nicely” for anything important which translates to “put your whole heart into it, as if it really matters, and go over and above what you are expected to do”.

After the funeral they all get together and have a big feast to remember the passing and as they say here “cover the person’s footsteps”.  A bit like a wake, but more a feeling like a huge casual Sunday BBQ at home, as all of the relatives from all over come and it is often the biggest celebration the person has in their whole life, even though they have passed.

Anyway, I am actually off to shower and prepare as my friend is collecting me soon in his taxi to take me down to the house.  This is a sombre topic, and my thoughts and apologies go out to anyone who is reading this and currently dealing with loss of their own.

 

Calling film makers and artists – want to make a documentary in Fiji about art from ocean trash?

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Fiji’s oldest Hotel, the Royal Hotel, Levuka

Tonight I couldn’t sleep and I came across this short National Geographic film about a group of artists and ocean debris specialists (weird that we now have a profession listed as that!) who traveled to remote beaches in Alaska, collected tonnes of ocean debris that washes up there, and are making art from it.  The exhibition will tour the world and opens in 2014 in Anchorage.

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Some of the ocean debris in Levuka, including a washing machine

I know some of my readers are artists, photographers, great writers, activists, yachtspeople, and travellers.  It would be great to make a similar documentary in Fiji, maybe starting with Levuka, the old capital of Fiji which is remote, almost forgotten, and the landing place of an amazing amount of debris.  Is anyone interested.  Perhaps people could send in clips from each part of Fiji and we could compile?

Sorry I posted the link on facebook before felt compelled to write this post, so apologies if you get this twice!  To view the film: http://newswatch.nationalgeographic.com/2013/08/21/filmmakers-document-the-weirdness-of-marine-garbage/#comment-281943

 

Staying on the Coral Coast, Fiji – Things to Do, Getting to Suva, Finding a Toilet

A lovely lady called Emma contacted me through the Facebook site Clean Up Fiji after listening to the 4BC Australia Radio Interview last month where I was asked about recycling in Fiji and what I am doing personally to combat the issue.  She is going to be staying at the Fiji Hideaway Resort on the Coral Coast, Fiji shortly and has offered to help by taking some photographs and doing a blog post or Facebook post of her experiences.  I recently went to the Hideaway to visit some other friends, so thought I might give Emma my tips.  It seems the tips might be useful to others, so here they are with some extra bits added for clarity.  For more travel tips click here:

iskcon

Hare Krishna Temple, Sigatoka

Things are moving along here now. My husband and I are organizing a recycling program at Fiji National University,, Koronivia Campus and also Levuka Town, Ovalau Island and some of the other islands. Community support is growing. I visited Hideaway recently when some other friends were there, and found out that they do recycle there, which is great. My friend said that she asked about the coral planting project and it is no longer going. I believe at Hideaway resort that they used to have a program where you can replant coral http://marineecologyfiji.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/04/Micro-reef-building.pdf . Also, just to let you know, if you plan to swim or dive, take care as there could be nutrients from sewage in the sea which you can’t see as it leaches from the resorts and villages. It can be a  real problem on the Coral Coast. My friend went diving and really enjoyed seeing the fish.  She also went on a reef walk which she enjoyed.  The best time for diving is at high tide so you may have to get up early!

ecocafe

ecoCafe
Source: Facebook ecoCafe

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Horse riding, outside ecoCafe, near Korolevu

My suggestions to you while you are there – visit Kula Bird Park which is nearby and apparently lovely. My friends went there. Sigatoka Sand dunes is also good – an archaelogical site (ask at the hotel). Sigatoka town is nice to wander around, and you can visit the beautiful Iskcon Hare Krishna Temple there. If you go in the other direction (towards Suva) on the normal bus (just wait by the side of the road – it costs about $1 each) ask to get off at Votua Village near Korolevu village. I have a friend there who might be able to meet you if you like. Anyway, once you get to Votua village, then just walk (ask anyone) about 3 minutes down the road towards Suva and you will find the ecoCafe. It is run by a German lady and a Fijian man. They have a nice deck over the beach where you can eat and have a drink, and you can walk on the beach and your daughter can paddle around. They also cook a Lovo (earth oven feast) there sometimes. They sell some nice handicrafts there at the cafe also (better than the ones I saw at the resort).

There is also a waterfall near Korolevu but I have never been there.  You could ask at the hotel if there is anyone who could take you.

A great site for local activities near Korolevu (which is close to Hideaway) with contact numbers and websites is https://sites.google.com/site/fijibeachcottage/local-activities.

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Dining room, Beach Cocomo

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Sign outside Beach Cocomo

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Marie cooking dinner

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Marie at Beach Cocomo serving breakfast

You should also see if you can go for dinner at Beach Cocomo (contact details and pics here).  It is run by a Korean lady, Marie, who cooks the most delicious Fijian/Korean fusion for about $35 a head for 5 course dinner and you eat in a traditional bure with a sand floor, overlooking the ocean.  It is about 10 minutes drive from the Hideaway by taxi and Marie can order a taxi to take you back after dinner.  Tell her I sent you and give her my regards!  It is really not to be missed.  She may ask for a deposit by credit card so that she knows you will come.  Don’t be concerned by that, as she has to buy the fresh food and if you don’t come it will be wasted!  She also does breakfast which is lovely and you can go for a walk on the beach there.  She makes the best babakau. (Well actually, I think I make the best ones, but hers are second best!)

If you have any room at all in your suitcases to bring over some stuff, my friend at The Gap has been collecting donations of second hand sheets, towels, clothes etc that are much needed here. Maybe you could bring a few as she has too much to bring with her? I can come and meet you, or you can leave it at reception with my husband’s name and he can collect when he passes by for work.

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Volavola at home with our Tanoa

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My husband and his father and
our nephew cook the lovo at home

The big bus stand is also right next to the big vegetable market which is interesting and there is a women’s section inside where you can buy some nice patchwork bags in Fijian fabrics. I bought one a year ago and use it every day for shopping and it still looks great. Also, go upstairs, as that is where they sell the Kava (Yaqona pronounced “Yangona”) If you want to visit the museum, then get a taxi from outside the flea market or vegetable market. It will cost about $3.50. The museum costs about $7 each to go in. It is surrounded by a botanical garden and is next to the Presidential Palace where you can see

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Suva Museum, Thurston Gardens

the guard who is there 24/7 in his white sulu with the zig zag bottom. It is also next to Albert Park. If you want to eat, across the road from the museum, on the sea wall is the Bowls Club. They are members only, but will most likely let you in and serve you if you say that you are new in town and it was recommended. Just ask if a member can sign you in. If you are a member of any club in Australia such as a football club, bring your membership and ask to be signed in as an affiliated club member. It is a nice walk back from that area past the Art Deco government buildings towards town. Once you get to the

Suva City Libarary (also a nice building to go inside) and Olympic Pool, turn towards the sea wall which goes behind MacDonalds and IMGP7389you can walk all the way back to the big bus stand over the bridge past the fish market. Once you go over the little bridge, you can see the vegetable market. Cut straight through the vegetable market and it takes you out to the bus stand where you can get the Sunbeam bus back to the Hotel. The trip to Suva is about 2 and a bit hours by bus, so leave early in the day and come back in the afternoon about 3pm to avoid the rush hour. It is a lovely bus ride and you will get to see a bit of Fiji. A few tips regarding

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Mats and Masi at Suva Flea Market

finding toilets: Make sure that you take some toilet paper and wet wipes with you as most of the toilets will not have toilet paper or soap as you are expected to bring your own. If you want to go to the toilet when you get to town then you have to be strategic. There are some pay toilets (50cents each) which are very clean, and you can find toilets most of the way along the route to the museum if you know how. I will put the details and a toilet map in my next message as I have to go and do some gardening now before it gets too hot!

Documentary – Consumed

This is one of the best documentaries that I have watched for ages.  It is about consumerism and sustainability from a psychological and evolutionary perspective, and has left me with a positive feeling that what I am doing is actually going to make a difference somehow, and that I must do it…

If you like documentaries, and wonder why your latest purchase that you simply had to have hasn’t made you happier by the end of the week that you bought it, and have a feeling of confusion as to why, then this is a good film to watch.

It also put into a bit of perspective for me as to how I managed to live such a consumer driven life in a Developed country for 48 years without doing much, and why I have had a change of heart since moving to Fiji, and have said “enough is enough”.  I am more driven here by the simpler challenges of life such as planting our food, wondering how to get from A to B, what the weather will be like, and why did the goats eat all my crops!

http://topdocumentaryfilms.com/consumed/

How to make a thatched roof from PET bottles

plastic thatch

Plastic thatch from PET bottles
Source: http://www.inhabitat.com

Here’s an idea!  So many bottles dumped in Fiji every year and thatching is also now hard to come by as the land is cleared and unsustainable farming practice leaves little room for growing traditional building materials.

Thatch can be made from plastic bottles cut into long strips – this man has made a machine, but it is really quick to do it by hand.  My son loves doing it just for fun when I am trying to make other useful stuff from the bottles – he does one in about a minute.

Perfect for tropical climates.

http://inhabitat.com/hand-powered-machine-can-make-thatch-roofs-from-plastic-bottles-in-tropical-climates/

How to make an Outdoor Pizza Oven using recycled stuff

Courtesy of Classic Marine Iguana – this is a great instruction manual including pics of how to make your own pizza oven using stuff which you can find either in your own back yard, or lying around.  I know that if I want to make one of these here in Fiji (which I do!) if I keep my eye out, now that I have the “shopping” list of free stuff to source, I will find it all in about 10 days and bring it home bit by bit from the side of the road.

No electricity, no kerosene, no gas!  Perfect for rural and island communities, villages and settlements!

http://classicmarineiguana.wordpress.com/2013/07/28/100-pizza-oven/

Rocket Stove – no kerosene needed!

stoveAnother idea for using all the tin cans we have here in Fiji – most people don’t have a fridge, and you can only normally buy fish in a big bundle which is too many to eat at once unless you are having a lovo.  Therefore most fish is eaten from a can.  Also, most people eat beef from a can, oh, and lamb from a can.  Cans everywhere.  Kerosene stoves are usual here, as gas is also expensive.  Here is an idea for a kerosene free stove for heating water and cooking a few things….

With almost half of Fijians living in poverty, this could be one part of the solution.

http://logcabincooking.com/hobo-tin-can-portable-rocket-stove-class/

Light! 1 bottle, 2 caps of bleach – just add water

lightHere is the article, with instructions!  Electricity free light using recycled plastic bottle, 2 caps of bleach, and water.  So many settlements here in Fiji and I haven’t seen this being used here yet…

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-23536914

Everyone gets overwhelmed by ocean plastic

I was looking around for another video to watch to further my education into nurdles and other things I previously knew nothing about like photodegrading versus biodegrading and why I can no longer sleep.  Ironically, I was looking for a video on plastics to try and put me to sleep for an hour or so….  I was at the same time emailing a good friend about her hugely private life, and that I am feeling overwhelmed.  All the things I used to think are now seen in a different light, and it is making me tired.  My brain needs a rest…I feel I can’t function until I come to a resolution as to what exactly I am going to do.  I realize that it is really overwhelming and that I can’t solve the problem, or even a satisfactory portion of it.  So many smart people already working on it.  Some of them have been working on it for years, but then when you watch the youtube video you see that it might have only 500 hits!  How, I started to wonder?  Don’t their own friends even care, let alone their students, colleagues, or the media?

Since I started thinking about HOW to solve a problem that exists here in Fiji, of rubbish, rubbish everywhere, I decided to first gain a better understanding of WHAT the problem really is…. Is it consumers, is it multinationals, is it tourists, is it laws or their absence or flouting, is it plastic itself that is the problem, is it our seduction by it and dependency on it.  What did people do in the 60’s without so much of it.  I don’t know, I was a kid!  I remember some things, through the eyes of a 5 year old – so I am not sure that I should base any academic assumptions on those memories or perceptions!

I want to find out so much because I now (knowing a bit more) feel a HUGE responsibility to make sure that the strategy I put in place is going to be effective, not let people down, not harm the environment more. I want to put something in place that works and is effective.  I also realise that all this research must have affected my brain as I have the urge to hit “CAPS LOCK” all too often.  Like a child’s drawing where mummy has huge hands, I want to magnify what is obviously most important in my brain.

Long story short – there is now a bottle made from recovered and recycled Ocean Plastic.  It is by a company called Method.  http://methodhome.com/ocean-plastic/

On the site there are also some videos that show how the ocean plastic is collected, what is ocean plastic, why is it bad etc.  That might be good for me to show my family so that they understand what has gotten into me lately and why I can’t just relax and enjoy living in a tropical island paradise!

I was reading an interview with one of the founders of Method, Adam Lowry,  and he says the following (I think I am up to the overwhelmed stage) which is helpful.  Whatever strategy I decide on over the next week or so must be one that doesn’t focus on sacrifice…

….He says, “everyone gets overwhelmed by ocean plastic”, which is comforting, as after watching Plasticized, Plastic Oceans, the 5 Gyres, birds falling out of the sky on Lord Howe Island (or at least dying from ingesting plastic that they thought was fish), the Greenpeace ad where birds did fall out of the sky, etc, I am officially overwhelmed….

At the bottom of the page they also have some ocean facts that are easy to understand.  Anyway, Adam Lowry says:

Recycled packaging isn’t a very compelling story for consumers, though, which is why I started thinking about ocean plastic. Everyone who learns about this issue gets overwhelmed by it: these tiny bits of micro-plastic that gather in huge islands and get swallowed by birds and fish, then enter our food chain… What if we could take some of it out of the ocean and put it on the shelves of a national retailer? That would make a good come-back to any excuses: if Method can turn something that’s been floating in the ocean for a decade into a useable bottle, then PCR packaging isn’t impossible. So, in many ways, when we made a bottle out of ocean plastic, it was a device to get the conversation started. – See more at: http://www.forumforthefuture.org/greenfutures/articles/adam-lowry-can-we-put-ocean-plastic-shelves#sthash.DDoT6RHg.dpuf

Source: http://www.forumforthefuture.org/greenfutures/articles/adam-lowry-can-we-put-ocean-plastic-shelves

PCR packaging is impossible, they said

Packaging is crying out for radical change. When it comes to plastic, there are billions of tonnes of it already in circulation, but other brands reject post-consumer waste as a material. For one thing, the consumer doesn’t care enough about it, and it’s also hard to source. Coca-Cola used to have the world’s largest plastics recycling plant in South Carolina, but they shut it down and turned instead to virgin plastic from sugar cane. When we set out to design a bottle from 100% post-consumer recycled material (PCR), we were told it was impossible – especially if we wanted clear, high quality bottles in vibrant colours. True, when we first started looking into it, we could only get brown, dingy ones. We had to go right back to the plastics curbside collection systems and push for the contaminants turning it brown to be removed, and then help refine the recycling process, to get the right grade of resin to make bottles that are 100% PCR, and yet as clear as the virgin plastic ones.

Everyone gets overwhelmed by ocean waste

Recycled packaging isn’t a very compelling story for consumers, though, which is why I started thinking about ocean plastic. Everyone who learns about this issue gets overwhelmed by it: these tiny bits of micro-plastic that gather in huge islands and get swallowed by birds and fish, then enter our food chain… What if we could take some of it out of the ocean and put it on the shelves of a national retailer? That would make a good come-back to any excuses: if Method can turn something that’s been floating in the ocean for a decade into a useable bottle, then PCR packaging isn’t impossible. So, in many ways, when we made a bottle out of ocean plastic, it was a device to get the conversation started. We don’t plan to make every bottle from it: that would not be the most sustainable thing to do.

– See more at: http://www.forumforthefuture.org/greenfutures/articles/adam-lowry-can-we-put-ocean-plastic-shelves#sthash.DDoT6RHg.dpuf

PCR packaging is impossible, they said

Packaging is crying out for radical change. When it comes to plastic, there are billions of tonnes of it already in circulation, but other brands reject post-consumer waste as a material. For one thing, the consumer doesn’t care enough about it, and it’s also hard to source. Coca-Cola used to have the world’s largest plastics recycling plant in South Carolina, but they shut it down and turned instead to virgin plastic from sugar cane. When we set out to design a bottle from 100% post-consumer recycled material (PCR), we were told it was impossible – especially if we wanted clear, high quality bottles in vibrant colours. True, when we first started looking into it, we could only get brown, dingy ones. We had to go right back to the plastics curbside collection systems and push for the contaminants turning it brown to be removed, and then help refine the recycling process, to get the right grade of resin to make bottles that are 100% PCR, and yet as clear as the virgin plastic ones.

Everyone gets overwhelmed by ocean waste

Recycled packaging isn’t a very compelling story for consumers, though, which is why I started thinking about ocean plastic. Everyone who learns about this issue gets overwhelmed by it: these tiny bits of micro-plastic that gather in huge islands and get swallowed by birds and fish, then enter our food chain… What if we could take some of it out of the ocean and put it on the shelves of a national retailer? That would make a good come-back to any excuses: if Method can turn something that’s been floating in the ocean for a decade into a useable bottle, then PCR packaging isn’t impossible. So, in many ways, when we made a bottle out of ocean plastic, it was a device to get the conversation started. We don’t plan to make every bottle from it: that would not be the most sustainable thing to do.

– See more at: http://www.forumforthefuture.org/greenfutures/articles/adam-lowry-can-we-put-ocean-plastic-shelves#sthash.DDoT6RHg.dpuf

Everyone gets overwhelmed by ocean waste

Recycled packaging isn’t a very compelling story for consumers, though, which is why I started thinking about ocean plastic. Everyone who learns about this issue gets overwhelmed by it: these tiny bits of micro-plastic that gather in huge islands and get swallowed by birds and fish, then enter our food chain… What if we could take some of it out of the ocean and put it on the shelves of a national retailer? That would make a good come-back to any excuses: if Method can turn something that’s been floating in the ocean for a decade into a useable bottle, then PCR packaging isn’t impossible. So, in many ways, when we made a bottle out of ocean plastic, it was a device to get the conversation started. We don’t plan to make every bottle from it: that would not be the most sustainable thing to do.

– See more at: http://www.forumforthefuture.org/greenfutures/articles/adam-lowry-can-we-put-ocean-plastic-shelves#sthash.DDoT6RHg.dpuf

Recycled packaging isn’t a very compelling story for consumers, though, which is why I started thinking about ocean plastic. Everyone who learns about this issue gets overwhelmed by it: these tiny bits of micro-plastic that gather in huge islands and get swallowed by birds and fish, then enter our food chain… What if we could take some of it out of the ocean and put it on the shelves of a national retailer? That would make a good come-back to any excuses: if Method can turn something that’s been floating in the ocean for a decade into a useable bottle, then PCR packaging isn’t impossible. So, in many ways, when we made a bottle out of ocean plastic, it was a device to get the conversation started. – See more at: http://www.forumforthefuture.org/greenfutures/articles/adam-lowry-can-we-put-ocean-plastic-shelves#sthash.DDoT6RHg.dpuf

This is Fiji – my day off from blogging!

Yesterday, I took a day off from blogging, and researching the effects of beverage plastic PET bottles and other plastics on the environment here in Fiji.  I have a wonderful friend who sent some stuff from home with her friends to Fiji.  My friend collected up some old footy jerseys, footy socks, some solar lights (thanks, and if anyone else is coming to Fiji, please ask your friends to pack a couple of sets of solar fairy lights in their luggage and I will collect from wherever they are!).  Solar fairy lights give enough light to eat, do evening stuff as a family and stay on all night until dawn.  They seem to stay lit a lot longer than the other types of solar bulbs for some reason.

Anyway, so I arranged to meet Katie and Tony Hiller who run the Mount Glorious Butterflies near Brisbane, Australia (www.mountgloriousbutterflies.com)

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Village near Korolevu, Coral Coast, Fiji

They arrived a week ago and leave today so yesterday was my last chance.  With one thing and another (got my wallet stolen, no cash, no cards, no transport) I kept putting off our meeting.  Yesterday, thinking I had money in the bank, I got a bus to Nakasi.  I tried my ATM, but no joy.  On to Suva.  I was lucky enough to get in a return cab for $1.50 (same price as the bus) and met a fellow passenger who is the team manager for the Davuilevu Knights Rugby Under 16s League Club.  Now my son can finally go to footy training!  The club is affiliated with the Newcastle Knights in Australia, but they are still waiting on training jerseys, balls and other equipment.  Apparently the old contact has now left, and things seem to have broken down.  If you have any spare football jerseys, boots of any size, shorts, socks, balls, pumps, or spikes, let me know and I can arrange to get them here.  There are very few clubs outside of schools, unlike in Australia, and this is the first one I have found.  I gave the guy my number, he said he would call.  I got to Suva and they guy (Andrew) offered to walk me to the minivan stand, but I told him that I was ok, as am used to finding my way around in Suva.

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The ubiquitous Coke truck – Coca Cola has basically branded Fiji – it is everywhere!

The cab dropped us off outside the Flea Market. From there I had planned to go to the ATM, get out some cash, buy them a gift as a momento of Fiji, and then travel to the Fiji Hideway Resort on the Coral Coast by minibus to meet my friends.  Well, I had made a boo boo on my internet banking, so when I got to Suva, no cash.  I only had $25 in my wallet and the return fare to meet them and get home was $23.  I decided to make the trip.

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Katie in the traditonal Bure (hut) that is on display at the Fiji Hideaway

I got in the Suva to Sigatoka minibus for $10 and enjoyed the ride.  As always, I was constantly thinking about the mangrove reclamation (a euphamism they use here for the destruction of the mangroves where they cut, then burn, then cover in hessian or similar, then cover with dirt, then build industrial areas) outside of Lami, the Coca Cola, Fiji Water and their other brands and the thousands of bottles on the side of the road, in the creeks and river mouths etc, but decided to give my mind a rest and let some thoughts collect.

For Katie and Tony, on their first overseas trip in nine years, they were literally forced to relax.  Tony did so much at home before they left that he gave himself acute sciatica and could not go anywhere at all.  They did make one trip to the Kula Bird Park which they really enjoyed as Tony breeds and studies birds and Katie is an insect lover who breeds butterflies.   Luckily, they were in the perfect place to relax – a resort in Fiji!  Katie joked about the need for a wheelchair, but in Fiji, I know that any of the Fijian lads who work at the hotel would have happily carried Tony where ever he wanted to go – life is just like that here.  We want every one to be happy – really and truly.

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View from the truck on the ride home

I had the nicest day with Katie and Tony, who are on their way to Nadi airport right now.  By the time they get home, they will be on the internet – as promised!  What an interesting couple.  Katie was born in Aruba, and when she was growing up, she remembers there being only one hotel which the locals called “The New Hotel”.  Now apparently, Aruba is a tourist mecca.  Katie then moved to the mainland USA and then went traveling.  Forty years ago almost to the day she sailed on a yacht to Fiji and landed near Suva.  She loves diving, and still had a hankering to see and dive the Great Barrier Reef, so she traveled to Australia.  Tony, who used to work at a Zoo in the UK (the name escapes me but here is a list of UK Zoos, and Tony might fill in.  He says that the Zoo he used to work at has really come ahead since he has left – I pointed out that that might not be a coincidence!  Anyway, Tony, forty years ago had gone to Heron Island to collect samples of insects or birds, and as he tells it, he collected an extra specimen, Katie.

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Katie, me and Tony

They are a young and vibrant couple, Tony is 71 and Katie is 62.  We talked and talked about rubbish in Fiji, rubbish in the ocean, country life, travel plans for the future, their butterfly and bird park, and my obsession with plastic trash. I even stopped and asked the hotel garbage collector staff what happens with their waste.  They tell me that at the Fiji Hideaway, all rubbish is taken to the back area and sorted into plastic bottles, glass wine bottles, cans and paper, then the rest, and the recyclables collected by a company called

Waste Recyclers(Fiji) Ltd
Phone: 336 1055/992 1056 (Lot 26 Wailada Subdivision, Lami),
Email: wasterec@connect.com.fj

This has to be a good thing!  Suva City Council states that

A total of 1,954,120 kg of rubbish(house garbage, green waste, general refuse) were disposed of at Naboro Landfill. Source: http://suvacity.org/home-composting/

It is not clear whether this is a yearly for 2012, or a total figure since the landfill was established.

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Bele flower – the first time I have seen one, at the Fiji Hideaway display food garden. We normally eat the leaves too fast and the flowers never get to form. Bele is in the hibiscus family and really delicious

I finally tore myself away at about 5pm, to give Katie and Tony some time to enjoy their last night in Fiji, and went across the road to wait for a minivan.  I met a taxi driver who hailed a truckdriver friend.  The driver was not going to Suva, but was going all the way to 9miles, which is a $2 taxi fare from my house!  What a great trip.  Along the way, other passengers got in and out, and we all talked.  In Fiji, everyone is happy to talk.  Everyone wants to know about you, and wants to share information about themselves.

Katie was mentioning that at the resort, everyone says “Bula” which is kind of loosely translated as “Hello” but in a happy way, sort of “Happy Hello”.  I think she wondered whether it was just a tourist thing, but it really is genuine.  Fijians as a nation (including all Fijians, whether iTaukei, Indo-Fijians, or the quaintly named “Others”) are to me at least, very genuine.

Sitting up in the cabin of the truck, I had a great view, a seat to myself, with my big bag of stuff from home stored comfortably at the back!

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Deo, the truck driver

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Deo’s boss who found me a taxi

On arriving back in 9miles, the driver, Deo, gave me his number and invited me to visit at home with his wife.  His supervisor, Suresh, immediately got my bag, helped me jump out of the truck (I literally did have to jump), and insisted on hailing me a taxi to make sure I got home safe.

When I told the driver where I wanted to go, he headed to my old house, remembering me and where I used to live before we moved a couple of weeks ago.  I got home, and still had $5 left in my purse.  I came home happy.  Half an hour after I got home, guess who called – Andrew from the footy club, as promised!

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Katie outside the Fiji Hideaway, saying our good byes

So nice to see and hear from people from home, and so nice to meet new people here.  I know that Tony and Katie will be back to Fiji – they have to come – my husband wants to cook them a lovo!  One week in Fiji is really not enough – if you come, please come for at least 10 days.  We would have been so honoured to have Katie and Tony as guests in our home for a night or two, and show them some of our little part of Fiji, and hope that next time, as they only have to save for the air fare, and not the accommodation, that they will take us up on it, and that it is not nine years from now!

Plastic Oceans – Lord Howe Island

Lord Howe Island Group
Source:UNESCO http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/186

Did you think it was safe to assume that if you are in Australia or another developed country that you have plastic under control….Just in case you thought for a second that I was going slightly mad, or had yourself convinced of it, with my new found obsession with plastics and in particular plastic beverage bottles that find their way into the ocean here in Fiji….here is another video.  This segment was made on Lord Howe Island, seemingly pristine and remote, but home to the sea bird that is officially the most contaminated sea bird world wide through plastic ingestion.  To watch Catalyst ABC TV’s “Plastic Oceans” click here http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cwTDvqaqPlM

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Plastic bottles, Nakasi, Fiji

Estimates are that between 30% and 50% of all ocean debris is the packaging from the beverage industry.  Next time you buy a bottle of water, or a carbonated soft drink in plastic, or the kids say they really NEED it, and you want to show the kids what happens to it, and where it ends up, show them this.  The clip really explains well in lay man’s terms how plastic breaks down over time with sunlight, and how it is a chemical attractant that moves up the food chain with disasterous consequences.

Interestingly, on the three quarters of the Australian Coastline already surveyed, the only place where they do not find significant amounts of complete plastic bottles on the shoreline is South Australia, which has container deposit legislation whereby you can return your bottles to the shop for money.  The EPA states that in South Australia,

In 2010-11 approximately 47,000 tonnes or 593 million beverage containers were returned to depots for refund. The overall return rate for this period was 80.4%.

Source: http://www.epa.sa.gov.au/page.php?page=262

Serious trash problem in Paradise – photos from Indonesia

I won’t comment – here is the link to the article and more pics.  Plus reference to Coca Cola who sponsored this surfer after being linked by the Indonesian government to a large proportion of floating visible trash. http://www.grindtv.com/action-sports/surf/post/surfing-paradise-has-a-serious-trash-problem/.

If you are into surfing and eco solutions check out more at http://sustainablesurf.org/category/blog/

I would be interested in any similar pictures from Fiji.Dede SURYANA

Planned Obsolescence

A reader kindly sent me a link to the documentary “Planned Obsolescence”.  You can watch it here http://archive.org/details/PlannedObsolescenceDocumentary.

Did you know that in Livermore, California, there is a light bulb that has been burning since 1901 continuously?  Apparently there was a light bulb conspiracy in which bulb manufacturers all agreed as a cartel of sorts that bulb life should be set at 1,000 hours to drive consumption of the product.

Apparently, many printers have a small chip in them that pre-sets the number of prints the machine will make before it just shuts down.  A Russian programmer has developed free-ware that can be downloaded to reset the counter.

Lots of interesting snippets.

Watch the documentary for discussion on the evolution of planned obsolescence and the growth society.  Also amazing to see the shipping containers of e-waste (obsolete computers and other electronics) that are shipped to Ghana for dumping using the loophole of the dumping developed countries declaring the goods as “second hand” and somehow bridging the electronic divide.  The images are quite shocking.

Here in Fiji, there are container loads and container loads of second hand clothing that are sent here for sale.  Often the price of the clothes second hand is more than the original new price in the developed country.  I suspect that a lot of the stores selling these goods which look like they have been thrown away, rather than donated, are set up as “Charitable Organisations” which saves thousands of dollars on sea freight.  I have yet to see any chartiable works that they are involved in.

I also wonder how Fijian people got conned into the mindset that you must wear old and worn out Western clothing, purchased at a price that financially disadvantages the family, to be appropriately dressed.  For example, the other day I wanted to buy a long sleeve Tshirt as it is a bit cool in the evenings here.  I found a black really old one that looked worn and comfortable.  Perfect!  I thought.  I can wear it after my bath and pad around the house and wear it to bed.  The cost was $7.99 Fijian dollars.  I declined to buy it saying that the new price for the product at Kmart in Australia was $4 (I know because I bought the exact shirt last year).  I was then asked what I wanted to pay for it.  I said I would only think it was worth $1.99 at the most.  I was sold the top at the price of $1.99.  I wasn’t trying to haggle, just that $7.99 is a lot when many people in Fiji earn $10 a day.

Second hand clothing shops are everywhere here, even at the roadside.  It would be interesting to see how many were operating as Charitable Organizations, and how much of their income is spent on charitable causes.  I am fairly certain that there is little regulation after the license is granted to sell second hand goods.  Many shops also sell New Zealand and Australian second hand white goods and televisions.  These items appear to me that they have been picked up off the side of the road at Council Clean Up and then shipped to Fiji for profit, with no concern about whether they are in working order, or electrically safe.

I was thinking last night about how big companies have sought to and been successful in making the shift from proprietary ownership of their waste with declarations on their bottles such as “This bottle always remains the property John Walker & Sons Ltd”, or “Property of Coca Cola Bottling Company”, and shifting the ownership and onus of disposal to the individual consumer who purchased both the bottle and the contents.

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Market, Nakasi, Fiji

I am trying to bridge the disconnect in my mind about how companies can produce so much waste and be flippant about its disposal or re-use,

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PET bottles seem to spew from a drain in Nakasi, Fiji. Actually the drain is just near the bus stop. There are two big supermarkets at that bus stop, MH and RBPatel. Neither of them have recycling facilities.

or even as is the case with companies I have been dealing with, being very defensive and secretive about what other kinds of waste they produce that they still “own” such as waste sugar sludge from bottling plants in developing nations.

As I prepare myself to take on the bottlers and effectively force them to re-engage and collect their waste here in Fiji, I guess that one of the things that has made me want to do so much research in advance is the bewilderment I feel regarding

the attitude of the producers of the waste and their complete disinterest in the mayhem it is causing.

Thank you so much to all readers who are sending through information and suggestions, and please keep sending them through.

Currently I am involved with a committed group and there is a movement to make the first plastic bag free town in Fiji.  Part of being able to make this successful is for me to have a fuller understanding of why, as consumers, we have become so invested in the concept that we have a right to plastic, and a right to purchase an item that is meant for single use, is discarded immediately, but lasts forever.

In the film, one Ghanian researcher is building a data base of company asset tags found on the discarded and dumped e-waste with a plan to use the data base to force social responsibility on to those companies.  One man, working alone, in his house in Ghana, best wishes to him.

 

For ever-ever? This bottle always remains the property of John Walker & Sons Ltd

Johnnie Walker Scotch Whiskey bottle with
the words embossed on the side –
“This bottle ALWAYS remains the property of John Walker & Sons Ltd”

As I have been redefining in my mind what rubbish really is, what is the point of all the plastics in the world and why are individuals taking on the huge responsibility of creating awareness in so many ways, I started to think that maybe the shift has occurred due to many large producers almost shoving ownership rights from themselves to the individual consumer.  Individuals like the researchers who made the documentary film Plasticized.  Individuals who take a science/art spin and try and re-jig human awareness such as Natalie Jeremijenko (click here to watch her presentation on “The Art of the eco-mindshift”).  Individuals who have founded organizations or just have countless blogs and twitter accounts.

How and why has the responsibility to clean up from a commercial venture devolved to the individual?

My thoughts were taken back to a few years ago when we lived in a house adjacent to a forest park in Queensland, Australia.  If you went through a gate in the back fence, you were in the forest.  After heavy rains, the dry watercourse turned into a torrential creek, or small river.  After one such downpour, a few days after the roar of the water subsided, we ventured down to the creek to investigate.  The flood had uncovered the spot where the residents from 50 years ago had disposed of their rubbish.  We found shards of old plates with designs from around the Post War period, parts from old automobiles, old enamel basins, and many glass bottles: medicine bottles, face cream jars, soft drink bottles, and whiskey bottles.  Some old depression glass also.

Some of the bottles were intact, but most were somehow broken with the sturdier portions weathered by the creek, and of great interest to us as a family for some reason.  We collected them all and went on little picnics with our friends to collect them in buckets, wash them nicely and arrange them.  We talked about them.

One ongoing family joke was that on so many of the old bottles, still clearly visible were the signs of everlasting stewardship and ownership.  So much of the glass fragments we found said things such as “THIS BOTTLE ALWAYS REMAINS THE PROPERTY OF JOHN WALKER & SONS LTD”.   We used to joke about it: “Always? Really? You still want it back? Even this piece?” and so on depending on the lightness of our mood.  It was a great way to spend a lazy Sunday afternoon.  I did some research today and it appears that those kind of bottles were produced in the 1950’s and 1960’s.  Is it really true that Johnnie Walker still wants them back?

I looked today out of curiosity on a rum bottle from Bundaberg Rum that I found in a rubbish dump in Fiji that we use as a candle holder for any similar signs of ownership.  None.  Just “Established 1888”.  Obviously, the producers do not want it back.  Ownership of the bottle has passed to the consumer.

I checked on a sample of the hundreds of PET plastic bottles that I have amassed in our garage over the past two weeks from an area less than a city block.  No signs of ownership at all – blank.  The debate is raging in various parts of the world as to whether container deposit legislation is good for the environment.  In the Northern Territory in Australia, Coca Cola Amatil was originally successful in blocking the legislation, but the decision has since been overruled.  For updates on the subject see http://www.cleanup.org.au/au/Whatelsewesupport/why-do-we-need-a-container-deposit-legislation-.html

Fiji is also considering container deposit legislation.  This possibility is the reason Coca Cola Amatil Fiji gave me for not being able to provide any public place recycling bins (at all, anywhere).

Property of Coca Cola Bottling Company

Even Coca Cola has shrugged away from declaring ownership.  Coca Cola bottles used to be embossed with the words “Property of Coca Cola Bottling Company”, but no longer.  Therefore, cleaning up the bottles they produce now and that choke the environment is also a problem that they no longer wish to, or can be made to, take ownership of.  As the individual consumer is now understood (both implicitly and explicitly) to be the owner of the bottle, the individual is now shouldering responsibility of cleaning up the millions of bottles produced each year.  Individuals are normally powerless unless they are in a sphere of influence.  This seems to suit the manufacturers very well, as it is also relatively easy to stamp out fires of discontent regarding the environment that are individualized.  Thus the wish of individuals to motivate others towards collective activity.

Is this the reason why it is so difficult to motivate towards true Corporate Social Responsibility, and how the concept is now really just “Social Responsibility” that must be taken on by individuals who have formed social groups defined by interests and motivations?

Plasticized – from sushi fish to fish sushi

001.jpgI have often found myself wondering lately why and how my obsession with plastics, rubbish, recycling and the environment has grown since I have been in Fiji from a shaking of my head whilst on the bus, to a commitment to go alone collecting plastic bottles in the rain on Sunday afternoons at home to organising community clean ups to starting to write about it constantly, starting a facebook page CleanupFiji dedicated to it, thinking about it, dreaming about it.  Even my concept of what is plastic, what is rubbish, what is recycling, or recylable has changed.

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My husband on the beach at Namoimada, near Rakiraki, Fiji

Every day as the concept becomes clearer in my mind, it also becomes clear to me that the more I find out the less I really know.  My concept of how multinationals, plus individuals such as you and I not just contribute but CREATE the problem is morphing.  I used to think, what harm can it really do if I get my soy sauce in the little plastic sushi fish container that they give with every pack of sushi lunch?  I know that most people don’t recycle them, but maybe someday things will change.  I once asked last year at my local work place cafe how many sushi fish plastic soy sauce bottles they might use in a day.  The lady quickly told me that in one day, that small cafe would use about 8 big bags, which would be about 8,000 of them.  I started seeing them everywhere I looked.  Tip: with solid waste, the tip is to look DOWN a lot of the time.  Still, I didn’t do anything.  I started joking with my teenage and adult sons about making a little comic cartoon for youtube with the sushi fish that found its way to the plastic garbage island – maybe that would raise awareness.  I never did anything.  I always talked to my friends about how great it would be to go back to the days we remembered as kids where there were no supermarkets, and every corner had a local shop, a local butcher.  No need for mum to have a car, as we all walked to the shops on errands and brought our stuff back in paper bags or cold things wrapped in newspaper.  I never did anything.  I still used to 95% of the time drive my car to the local supermarket which was less than 500 meters away from my house.

I now live that kind of life here in Fiji in a way, where I have no car, I have to walk to the local shop, butter is still wrapped in paper, and on every corner there is someone selling fruit, vegetables or eggs, what went wrong?  Why is the picture I had in my mind about going back to community style life, and the real picture so jarringly wrong.  What has made me unsettled?  I have come to the conclusion that is is the plastic, plastic everywhere.  It doesn’t fit with the naive picture I had in my mind’s eye.

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One of my favourite photos, backflip, Levuka, Fiji

Not that I came to Fiji for a sea change.  I married a Fijian so this is where we moved to.  But, I have realised that the picture I had in my head of the type of life where people still know each other’s names and life is less focused on consumerism is a memory – a real memory – of what life was like when I was growing up in Brisbane.  There was very little plastic then.  The chemist still mixed the medicine in the apothecary, and put it into glass bottles and jars, the jams, drinks and all manner of other preserved foods still were in jars that you could re-use or return for a coin.  The cheeses, meats and small goods were still sold out of a display fridge at the local grocer, and wrapped in paper for you to take home.  Instead of everyone needing a car, if you had a big shop, the local grocer (who happened to be my dad) would deliver it to your house.  He was the only one who needed a car or van in the neighbourhood!  In fact, I went with dad as his “off-sider” so often and heard him call out “Rocer” as he approached the front door of our customers’ homes with a cardboard box with the order in it balanced on his shoulder that I thought his name was Rocer.  Actually, he was calling out “Grocer”, but never mind.  I can still see him in my mind’s eye as he did the rounds, me in tow.  He is even now a small but very strong man, with always a twinkle in his eye and a little joke for the ladies.  Life then was geared around walking.  The school rule was that if it was pouring with rain in the wet season, children were not to wear their shoes or sandals whilst walking to school as they would be ruined and would not last.  I remember feeling a real sense of sadness when my own kids were growing up and were in grade 1 and 2, that their school announced that all children must wear shoes at all times at school, even in the playground as otherwise they might get cut with broken glass.  A loss of innocence.

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Rubbish that will find its way to the sea, Fiji

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Old and new co-exist in Suva Harbour

Now, finally, being confronted with a beautiful community life, in a beautiful paradise – Fiji – I am finally motivated to do something.  Why, because the results of my previous life where I thought it didn’t matter if we bought things in plastic bottles and bags as long as we did the “right thing” with them, are here to haunt me.  Doing the “right thing” is relatively easy in a developed nation.  It is not easy or accessible here in a developing nation.  It is hard!  It is made hard!  Big plastic producers do not want to make it easy, why would they?  They have no need to worry as the world is full of picture postcard images of developing nations as beaches, coconut trees and smiling faces.  Yes, there are beaches, coconut trees, smiling faces, communities.  Yes, it is paradise.  Yes, I am very fortunate that I met and married my husband.  But, in this paradise, the excesses of the West, without the inbuilt controls are frighteningly real.  The perceived need for products and in particular products wrapped or bottled in plastic, is rampant.  The mechanism for getting rid of the plastics, close to non-existent, and a secret closely guarded and defended by two of the major players, Coca Cola Amatil Fiji, and Fiji Water.

I just spent a little while watching the feature length documentary called Plasticized.  If you have the time, it is worth a watch.  It is not hard going, but more an independent film about an ocean research journey on a yacht, with a little bag that trawls for nurdles.  One big take away from the film that I got which is timely – even plastic which is touted or promoted as “biodegradable” will only biodegrade in a properly managed land fill (which do not exist much in the developing world).  It will not biodegrade once it

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Lovers watch as a fridge bobs romantically in Suva Harbour

reaches the ocean, it will “photodegrade”.  This means that the sunlight will start to break the plastic down into smaller and smaller pieces until it is the size of plankton (and probably smaller).  From the most minute organism, to the filter feeding whales, this is their diet.  Plastic particles now outstrip plankton in the oceans by 6:1, they say.  Additionally, chemicals from industrial waste, oils and the like actually attach themselves to the plastic nurdles, which act as a sponge.  The jelly fish, crabs, fish and other marine animals ingest the plastic with their food, and with it the chemicals.  The effect of the chemicals and plastics biomagnifies up the food chain, until we eat it.  To view the film click here.

Next, I will announce the cartoon youtube challenge to make a video about a sushi fish who found his way to the plastic islands in the oceans…. stay tuned.  Actually, the sushi fish (soy sauce bottle), once reaching the ocean, will eventually photodegrade and become part of your sushi fish (lunch).

The film maker joined the crew on the small boat and sailed, collecting data all the way to, and into the great pacific garbage patch.  He did not get the chance, as he wished, to swim through bobbing waves of intact plastic bottles and computer screens, even though some of those were still intact. More that the ocean is actually a thick soup of suspended plastic.

In the film, one person commented, “To make something that is meant to be used for a minute, but lasts for a lifetime, is actually evil”.  It made me think about how many times I just used things for a minute, and then had to dispose of them.  Even here, I still do, but a lot less than I used to, as here in Fiji, I have to actually THINK, how I am going to dispose of it.  It doesn’t automatically happen like it seemed to back home.  I have to actually engage in the process.

Seaweed House – what an idea!

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Our old house in Koronivia, made of corrugated iron.

Here’s a thought!  Amazing what you stumble upon – apparently seaweed houses have been a traditional method of construction on some island communities.  A modern take on it is on Dornob.  Click here for more information.  Pictures of the seaweed house at the bottom of this post.

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Typical house in Savusavu, Fiji

Informal settlement in Fiji. Muanivatu, Central Suva.
Source: http://www.informalism.net

So many ideas for building in Fiji where timber is expensive.  Funnily enough though, mahogany or mangrove wood is used for firewood here, and the sawdust from the mahogany is sold for $2 FJD per bag to use in chicken houses or on the garden.  Banana crates are made from mahogany, but most Fijian homes are made of either concrete or corrugated iron.  So many of the homes even in coastal villages are corrugated iron loosely cobbled together.  So many (between 100,000 and 300,000) people in Fiji live in informal settlements or shanty towns. http://www.informalism.net/2010/04/asian-coaltion-for-housing-rights-in.html

Seaweed is apparently fire resistant and insulating, and also readily available in Fiji.

Modern Seaweed House 2

Source: Dornob

Suva Clean Air Forum – Participate

IMGP7486Do you want to participate and enable a study on the air quality in the Suva area?  If you have visited, or live in Suva, please have your say.  The chief investigator of thestudy apparently is having trouble convincing her counterparts at a University in Australia that there could possibly be an issue with air pollution in Suva and needs “proof”.

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Burning dump from the local shop at Koronivia, near Suva. The smoke extended for about a kilometer.

If you are concerned about the emissions from vehicles, the thick diesel fumes at the bus stand, the black coating all over the buildings and foot paths, the smoke from burning household waste, or burning community rubbish dumps, then please participate.

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Traffic on the Kings Road Highway on the way to Suva airport

To participate you can either

Log into the Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/SuvaCleanAirForum,

or

Complete the quick online survey at https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/SuvaAir

Results will be published on the Facebook page.

Wasteaid – a new organization

I stumbled across a new organization called Wasteaid.  It looks like something keeping an eye on.  I have copied some information below on what they do. Their website is at wasteaid.ca

What we are

WasteAid aims to become a major international charity providing impoverished communities with expertise,support,projects,resources and training in the management of solid wastes and their associated impacts.

What we are trying to do

  • Training and Capacity Building – in all aspects of wastes management
  • Economic – waste as a business for local communities
  • Social – eco-justice, advocacy, education and awareness, health, safety and support
  • Environmental – remediation and protection
  • Industry Engagement – connecting the global waste industry to the development community

Who we are

We are an increasing number of waste, environmental, aid and development professionals and concerned individuals, organisations and businesses that want to put waste around the world right and specifically want to help the particularly poor and vulnerable communities, where ever they are, from Africa, the arctic north of Canada, to the poor and impoverished parts of our increasingly large cities, take some of the strain in dealing with the impacts associated with the poor management of solid wastes

Rural Fiji – labour of love

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Sunrise over Koronivia

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Sunrise Koronivia

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Harvesting rice

Sometimes I know that I may sound negative with some of the posts I put up, complaining about or documenting rubbish and PET bottles, burning plastic fires and so on.

Part of the reason I am so saddened by it all, is that I love Fiji so much.  I have really come to love rural life – I never thought I would.  I am a beach girl by nature – the thought of not being able to access the ocean normally terrifies me – really.  I remember years ago, I had the opportunity to move to Botswana.  I am ashamed to admit that the reason that I held in my

“secret heart” and not one of the many reasons I ever voiced, was that I could not do it, as after looking on the map, I realized that Botswana was landlocked!

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Rice harvesting, Fiji

Fiji is a nation of islands,

hundreds and hundreds of islands – and I live on the largest one.  I am not that far from the sea really, and see it every time I take the bus to Suva but no one really swims in the sea here.  If they do, they often swim fully clothed for modesty and cultural reasons, and there are no surf beaches on this side of the island at all (or in fact any place in Fiji that I have been to).  Note to self – must visit surf side sometime.  Even though we live on an island (a big one), we live in a rural setting.  I have once seen some people swimming in Suva near the bowling club, which was wierd.  The water is so filthy that the sand is black and the water is often blackish grey also.  There were rusty cans and

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Rice paddy, Fiji

plastic bottles everywhere, but a mother watched as her two young kids had a ball in the water.  The water in Suva Harbour is so contaminated, and it is widely documented and known, but many people here don’t read the paper, so I guess how are they to know.  I have also seen people daily catching fish in Nubukalou Creek in Suva and in the Harbour.  Maybe they are not aware?

toxic creek

 

Of particular concern is Nubukalou Creek which drains a major area of the city that is without sewerage. The National State of the Environment Report states that “with faecal coliform levels thousands of times above an acceptable level it should be regarded as a sewer. The continued sale of fish along the creek bank, with the consequent use of its water for washing them, is a serious health hazard.” Source: