My life in Fiji -I met my husband in Australia. At the beginning of 2012 he had to return to Fiji. The day before he returned, my dad had an accident and landed in hospital for many months, so I stayed behind, working at a University, and caring for him, traveling back and forth to Fiji over the year, traveling to SavuSavu on Vanua Levu (the second largest island), but basing ourselves in Suva. In November 2012 we made the decision that I would move over to Fiji with our son. We landed in Fiji on 18th December 2012 and I have been here since.
Since I have been living here in Koronivia, my life has changed so much. We live in a semi rural community on a long dirt road that runs along the Rewa River. We live in a corrugated iron 2 bedroom house with no hot water, no fridge (although I did buy a freezer), no washing machine or dryer, a TV that only gets on channel, no stove or oven, (just a two burner camping stove), no bed, no furniture save a folding plastic table and three chairs, a bed for our son, no car, no high heels… you get the picture.
So what do we have?
We have time with family here, and friends, although I miss my family and friends from home so much.
We have lots of time to think and observe while traveling by bus. We have a garden that grows almost everything we need – corn, bele (which is like spinach), pumpkin, rosella, dalo and more. We have neighbours who know our names and consider us their valued friends. I have internet – sometimes! We have time to travel cheaply and in every place we go we seem to have relatives.
I have been to Levuka, Rakiraki, Suva, Nausori (our closest town), Korolevu, Beach Cocomo, Sigatoka, Nadi, Savusavu, Namoimada and seen every place in between.
Fiji is truly a paradise, but it is being drowned by rubbish. No need for us to go and investigate the famed “garbage island” in the Pacific, it is right here!
Major corporations that are overseas owned are trading profitably here, but seemingly with little corporate responsibility for either community projects or packaging stewardship and recycling. Is it because in other countries there are covenants such as the Australian Packaging Covenant and other regulations with respect to waste water, water efficiency, and corporate responsibility to adhere to, but those things are not developed here? Is that what they mean when they call Fiji a Developing Nation?
Fiji, unlike what may be in the press back home, is a peaceful and harmonious place to live, looking forward to a 2014 election. There is progress everywhere you look. There are approximately 48% iTaukei (indigenous) Fijians, and 43% Indo-Fijians who have been here for many generations since they came on “Girmits” (agreements for indentured labour), with the rest “Other”. “Other” includes Chinese, any other nationality, plus importantly, Fijians of mixed race. This group are people who may have had a European great grandparent, but also who have lived here for generations.
There are still many people (between 100,000 and 300,000 out of a population of approximately 900,000 – depending on the statistics you read) living in informal settlements (which we would call shanty towns or squatter settlements) of corrugated iron, tin, and wood, all held together with a hope and a prayer. Fiji is a nation of islands, with a surfeit of shipping containers. Couldn’t we make safe and secure tropical homes from shipping containers? Couldn’t we make mobile libraries and health centres from these resources? The cost of buying a used shipping container here is approximately $5,000 FJD. The cost of building a corrugated iron two bedroom house is approximately $25,000 FJD. What about mobile bamboo homes, what about seaweed homes, or tyre homes (Earth ships). All sound whacky, but are real and accessible if only the right people have the motivation to act. You could be a “right person”, if your only act is to share this blog and raise awareness, the 6th degree of separation that you provide could be the key.
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We have fresh fruit and vegetable open air markets daily, but about 40% of women and children have anaemia. There is an alarmingly high maternal and infant mortality rate. For some reason it seems to be a source of pride that Fiji was recently placed the 40th best place to be a mum out of 80 less developed countries in the Save the Children State of the World’s Mothers Index 2013.
Many Fijians live with boils, believing they come from a change in the weather. Diabetes is a growing problem and Fiji has the highest per capita amputation rate because of it.
The drowning rate is seven times per capital what it is in Australia, as most children who live in this nation of islands (over 300 islands) do not have access to learn to swim programs.
Approximately half of all Fijians do not have access to fresh drinking water, or sanitation. Meanwhile, Fiji Water takes more than 3.5 million litres of water a month from the acquifier on the main island of Viti Levu and sends almost all of it overseas and is now the premier bottled water brand in the USA. However, they do not proactively recycle here. There are more than 44 million PET bottles a year (figure from 2003) produced in Fiji.
Paraquat (weed killer) is a popular suicide method. Very few public toilets have toilet paper or soap for the fear that it might get stolen by the needy. Suva City Library staff informed me that if you want to use the toilet, you have to go downstairs to the front counter and ask for toilet tissue, and that this, unbeknown to me, is a FACT, known by all others. The public toilets on Terry Walk in Suva are closed after hours and on Sundays and Public Holidays.
Fijians all hope sincerely that tourists will return in droves after the election, but my fear is that intrepid travelers wanting to see “the real Fiji” will be saddened beyond belief when they see the refuse along every beach, waterway, road and path. What will sadden them most is perhaps the feeling that they can do nothing, but they can! Purchasing power is an immense tool. If consumers when reaching home purchased only products from companies that traded ethically in developing nations, would that make a difference?
If instead of shaking their heads and returning to the hotel or resort after an excursion, each person picked up a bag of rubbish and took it back to the hotel for disposal, would that make a difference? If before going out and about, each person asked the hotel staff for a bag and disposable gloves to do just that, would that make a difference?
If on a one week holiday, each person volunteered to replant coral on the reef, would that help?
Couldn’t we recycle here, rather than baling up recyclables and sending to Hong Kong? Couldn’t we create some “Spiral Islands” and use them as educational facilities? Couldn’t we do something? Is it possible to create a good news story from our situation? With recyclables being worth $1 FJD per kilogram, and the cost of a year’s schooling for a child being $280 FJD, couldn’t we turn our problem into a solution?
Could we make recycling bins from recycled plastics? Could we have a total 100% recyclable solution? Is it possible for Fiji to become a change agent and leader in the Pacific? Could we produce plywood from mixed and dirty plastics and use it instead of corrugated iron for our housing? Could we produce planking and decking out of plastics and sawdust? It is possible, and it is being done elsewhere, with Modwood in Australia and Ecosheet in the UK. According to the manufacturers, these products are durable, sustainable and recyclable at their end life journey.
Which companies are going to stand up and do what is right, not because they have to, but just because it is right?
Please post your comments as you travel with me through Fiji, and perhaps, united, we can make a change!