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: http://www.unescap.org/drpad/publication/integra/volume2/fiji/2fj02c03.htm

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Cattle, Fiji

Anyway, enough about Suva…..What has made me love it here in Rural Fiji so much I often ask myself?  Is it the sunrise over the coconut trees – some days red, some days golden?  Is it the sight of a hawk flying low (a sign that bad weather is coming)?  To me, when I think of Fiji, I don’t think about beaches at all, I think of the country side.  I think of the beautiful rural places and people.  Most of Fiji is rural and people live off the land.

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Mother and son take a walk in the morning mist

Is it the peace and quiet? Is it that every where you look it is green and whatever you put in the ground grows like wildfire?

It is all of those things, but mainly it is the people.  Life here has a different pace.  A friend of a friend is here in Fiji for a week at the moment and she has kindly brought some donations from home.  I am so looking forward to meeting her, and will travel by bus tomorrow to the Coral Coast to collect the donations, and have a conversation.  A week goes so fast here, not because you fit a million things in, like in the developed world, but because you don’t!  I started wondering how I would ever find the time meet with them, and that if I don’t do it tomorrow, soon the week will be gone, and so will they.

The pace of life is often determined by the task at hand, and the tools available.  My task right now is to write this blog – I have a working computer in my home – not many people

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Farm Road Fiji

here have that.  I have a working internet connection – also not common.  Once I hit publish, the job is done, and all my typos and immature thoughts will be out there for the world to see.

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Grey herons stalk the rice paddies waiting for fingerlings

Here, much is done by hand.  Many hands, over long hours.  Yesterday, I needed some milk powder, so I took a walk down the farm road about a kilometer to my friend Sanila who owns a small shop in Koronivia.  I could have gone by bus to the nearest supermarket which would have taken about 10 minutes, but I felt like a chat and seeing a friendly face.  So, I got my cloth shopping bag (also an oddity here as this is still plastic world where service means double bagging!) and my camera and took a walk.  On the way, in the field, some men were harvesting rice from a research paddock.  They were doing it all by hand.  Cutting each bundle, walking it over to a pile, and then the piles would eventually be put into a tiny threshing machine and then the rice bagged into 50kg bags.  After that, the rice straw will then be carried to a big pile.  Sometimes we use the rice straw on the garden and it is a great weed mat.

I stopped for a chat and asked if I could take their photo for my website.  They happily agreed, posed, and then went on with their work – all day. Each of the men probably earned between $10 and $20 for the day’s work.  That is not much, but bread is 75 cents a loaf so the money they made (less their bus fare) will pay for the family meal.

A lot of work here is manual, and people still have time for a chat.  Even though I sometimes get lonely, I am never really alone as everyone I meet is keen to talk, and share and find out about each other.

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Working bullocks, Fiji

Ploughing is often done by a team or working bullocks, or a horse.  Cassava, dalo, corn, ochra (bindi), bele, bananas, coconuts, limes, everything seems to be harvested by hand.  Milking is often also still done by hand.  And all these tasks are seemingly, to my western eyes, done with pride, love, laughter and happiness, and always in groups.

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Teenagers enjoy juice after working together clearing our yard

It is the love, laughter, togetherness and conversation that has made me love rural Fiji.  Everyone asks us to come to the village for holidays, and they mean it.

There is a calmness to Fiji rural life that I find comforting.

Recipe – Fijian Roro and corn balls with tamarind sauce

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Roro balls served with braised bele and cucumber, and fresh corn in our back yard

Fijian food is delicious!

If you come to Fiji, whether your hosts are iTaukei (indigenous) or Indo-Fijian, make sure that you ask them if it is ok if they serve you the normal food that they eat, as so many Fijians really do believe that you won’t like the food at all, and are really not sure what you will eat at all, as they believe that there is nothing in the cuisine that you will like.

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dinner at our place on a school night – mashed dalo, braised beans, and other goodies

Here is a little recipe which can be easily adapted if you want to try it.  These balls are really light and delicious and are the perfect quick fix if you are having friends over for drinks at the last minute, or have to take something to a party.  It is my husband’s only concession to Kava (yaqona – pronounce yangona) drinking and our mix of cultures.  Traditionally, food is not eaten at all until all of the Kava is finished and the guests are gone.  In fact, it is traditional that the male guests do not eat no matter what kind of feast is prepared, but you must pack a meal for them to take home.  It is a real panic if you have inadvertently run out of yoghurt containers for the purpose!  Anyway, I digress: if my husband invites people home, he asks if I can cook this quick snack, and serve it while the kava ceremony is in progress, which is normally several hours.

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Dom with his dinner

This snack is served at roadside food vendors all over Fiji (here, they are called Bean Carts).  Roro is actually the name for the green dalo leaf which looks like an elephant ear, but the balls are not made with roro.  If you do try and use roro, you will find that the balls make your throat itch, as roro needs to be cooked for a long time to take away that side effect.  Indo-Fijians use mothe which is kind of like English Spinach, but I use bele as a substitute.  Bele has a bigger leaf, and is related to the hibiscus plant, and for me at least is much easier to grow.

The only thing you have to do is make sure that you have some pea flour (besan flour), normal flour or plain flour, and oil in the cupboard just in case.  The rest you can wing it.

This recipe is courtesy of Mrs Kumar of Shane Cafe in Nausori, Fiji, but I have adapted it slightly as I like to use the coconut scrapes (or fresh grated coconut) as many families simply throw it out.

All of the fresh ingredients normally come from our garden, and you can use your common sense and substitute for other stuff you have lying around.

Ingredients

  • 1 cob fresh corn – cut kernels off the cob (or a small tin of corn)

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    Roni with some corn from our yard

  • 1 cup very finely chopped bele, mothe, or spinach/silverbeet (bele and mothe are soft leafy vegetables freely available in Fiji)
  • 1/2 cup pea or besan flour
  • 1 and 1/2 cups plain or normal flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • juice of one lime OR half a lemon, OR teaspoon of any type of vinegar just to get the baking powder going
  • 2 small hot chilies or to taste
  • 1 small onion, very finely diced (or chopped to within an inch of its life without blood loss if you are in a hurry)
  • a couple of cloves of garlic chopped as above
  • salt, pepper
  • a pinch of any type of curry or masala powder if you like
  • corriander (dhania/cilentro) if you like
  • cooking oil
  • newspaper or paper towel to drain
  • 1/2 cup fresh coconut scrapes, or 1/4 cup dessicated coconut
  • 2 cups water

How to do it: Don’t labour over it, as it is really very quick

  • take the skin of the onion and garlic, and chop roughly on a big board
  • chop the spinach, chili, mothe, or bele roughly (and corriander if you like)
  • then with them all on the same board, chop them up some more until they are a fine dice but not mushy
  • put into medium mixing bowl

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    Dom and Save Jnr as little chiefs at the Palm Sunday lunch, which included the roro balls

  • throw in the pea flour, normal flour, salt and pepper, and the baking powder, and curry powder if you like
  • throw in the coconut and corn
  • pour in the water
  • mix quickly and not too much
  • it should be a bit sloppy, so that you can pick some up with a spoon, and use another spoon to drop it into the oil.  If it is not sloppy enough, they won’t cook through
  • put enough oil in a saucepan to deep fry (but you don’t need a huge amount, as you can turn the balls over)
  • heat the oil on medium high heat until it is hot enough that when you drop in a tiny bit of the mix it starts to bubble, turn golden and float
  • then start spooning in about
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    mixture should be sloppy but not too sloppy – just so that you can put some on a spoon, and use another spoon to drop into the oil

    half a desert spoon of the mixture at a time into the hot oil

  • depending on the size of your pot, you can take up about half the surface area.  I normally put in about 6 at a time.
  • they cook quite quickly so make sure you are organised with a tray and some paper towel or newspaper to drain them
  • once they float and turn golden, you can turn them over a bit in the oil to make sure that they are cooked
  • test one to see if it is cooked inside.  If not quite, then add a tiny bit more water, and a bit more baking powder to the mix
  • cook all and drain on the newspaper, paper towel
  • serve hot or cold and they last even outside the fridge for a good day or two, however, they are so yummy that it is hard toIMGP1689
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    the oil will bubble briskly and they cook in about 30 seconds each side

    test that theory as they normally disappear by the handful!!!!

  • serve with tamarind sauce (recipe next time), or tomato sauce, or barbeque sauce.  You can add some chopped chili to the tomato or barbeque sauce if it is for lovers of hot food young or old
  • here, we serve on a banana leaf, and it looks and tastes great