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

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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.

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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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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.

 

Fijian Pancakes – Babakau – light and delightful

IMGP7331These little pancakes are a favourite for breakfast here, and sometimes for any other meal where I need bread, the only resort, as a trip to the nearest bread shop is a half hour walk down the dirt road, then a bus to town, then return which all takes about 2 hours.  By the time I get back, my “need” for bread has often passed, so I make these instead while I am pottering around.

This recipe is for a half batch as it is enough for us, and if you eat the pancakes the next day, while still nice, a lot of the “air” goes out of them, so they are best eaten fresh.  Plus, it makes a lot!IMGP7333

Method and ingredients

  • 2 cups flour
  • half cup flour for kneading
  • one and a half cups water
  • one big spoon sugar
  • 5 grams yeast
  • pinch salt
  • oil for cooking
  • sugar, lemon, lime, butter or jam for serving

First, make yourself a coffee the old fashioned way, using a small pot of water on the stove.  Keep some of the hot water.  Drink coffee and enjoy.

IMGP7306In a mixing bowl, put 2 cups of normal or plain flour, a pinch of salt, a tablespoon of sugar, and half a sachet of yeast.  I use DCL yeast here in the 11g sachet, so this recipe only requires about 5 grams.  If you are making the full 4 cup recipe for a party, use the whole 11g sachet. DCL seems never to fail me.  Not sure what brand you can access where you are.

IMGP7307Add about a cup and a half of tap water or other room temperature water and mix roughly with a butter knife or spoon until it seems to start coming together (only takes about 30 IMGP7310seconds).

Bring it together with your hands until it comes into one large piece.  If it is too sticky, sprinkle on a bit more flour and cut through with the knife again.

IMGP7313Cover with a tea towel and place on a plate or saucepan lid on the top of the pot you used to make your coffee.  The water will be a bit hotter than lukewarm by this stage.

Go about your Saturday morning activities – take the kids to sports, read the paper, clean the house, practice yoga, spend quality time with your spouse, or whatever.

Just when you have just about forgotten that you are making pancakes (about an hour or two, it really doesn’t matter),IMGP7314 the dough will have risen to about 3 or 4 times the original size of the dry ingredients.

Use a large mixing spoon and turn it out onto a large board that is liberally dusted in flour (about another half cup).

Using a floured hand, pick up one side of the dough and kind of fold it in half lightly.  Do that a couple of times until the dough has been dropped onto itself maybe four times, and tIMGP7316he surface is all covered in flour.  The dough will be very light, and easy to manipulate.  If you touch the dough without flour on your hand, or if it touches the board on a part that is not floured, it will be sticky.  I normally irritate my husband by doing this in the kitchen and making a little cloud of flour that drifts to the floor, but you could do it outside.

Kneed the dough now that you can manage it, and as you do, fold it in half, turn, turn over, fold in half etc.  Just a IMGP7318minute or so.

IMGP7319Use a rolling pin and roll out the dough so that it covers the surface of your large board.

Then fold the dough into thirds, press, turn clockwise, fold, press, turn over, fold press, for a few times (about another minute).  This is just to get some air embedded into the dough.IMGP7320

Roll again to cover the surface of your large board.  Go right to the edge and the dough will be quite thin (less than 1cm thick).

IMGP7321Put a 1cm layer of oil into a heavy frypan to heat on high.

Cut dough with a knife into triangles.

Work quickly now (maybe drink the coffee you made for yourself before but forgot about!)IMGP7322

IMGP7327Place 5 or 6 of the pieces into the hot oil.  They will puff up immediately.  Turn over.  They will be golden brown and puffed up to about 3 or 4 times the size they were when they went in.

Don’t worry if the oil starts to go a bit dark as it is just the excess flour, and doesn’t affect the taste of the pancakes.IMGP7328

Take out of pan and put into serving dish.

IMGP7331Serve with fresh lemon or lime wedges and a dusting of sugar, butter and home made jam (here I have grapefruit marmalade that I made a

few weeks ago), and enjoy!

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My guests, Vuli and Koto

One Saturday morning in Fiji – we are what we eat

 CaptureThis time, I will let the pictures taken near home speak for themselves.  For my home, click here.  Maps source: Google MapsIMGP7053IMGP7100

Last Saturday on our way to the market to buy  fish for dinner, we found ten garbage bags of dirty daipers and plastics and garbage in our little creek near my home.  Please click above to see where “home” is.
The creek flows into the Rewa River, the river into the reef, the reef into the Pacific.
The water feeds the dalo we harvested for dinner, the chickens, ducks and other livestock feed on the water and produce, the fresh water mussels harvested that day from the river, and the reef fish caught nearby live and breath and eat in that same water.  Some of these plants and animals are for sale charmingly at our local market, some are making their way  perhaps to your table at the resort, or via export overseas.
Fiji Water, whose major market is the USA, told me when I asked them what they are doing about recycling here in Fiji told me not to worry as their water is sourced on the “island of Viti Levu, thousands of miles from industrialization and pollution”.
Newsflash:  I live right here on Viti Levu (the largest island in Fiji, and home of Suva, the capital).  All the photos here were taken on Viti Levu, very close to home. Make up your own mind.

Are you prepared to contact an international company trading profitably in Fiji and ask them the same question and post their response?  What are they doing proactively in developing nations such as Fiji to tackle the problem of recycling and packaging stewardship in the absence of a robust compliance framework?

It’s important that people
know what you stand for.
It’s equally important that they know what you won’t stand for.
Mary Waldrop

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You can’t build a reputation on
what you’re going to do.
Henry Ford (1863- 1947)

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The greatest thing in this world is not so much
where we are, but in what direction
we are moving.
Oliver Wendell Holmes

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There’s only one corner of the universe
you can be certain of improving,
and that’s your own self.
Aldous Huxley, (1894-1963)
Which are you? IMGP7157
The person who says “ I don’t know “
or the person who says, “ I’ll find out ? “
David Baird

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Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it.
Boldness has genius, and power in it.
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832)

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All glory comes from daring to begin.
Eugene F. Ware  (1841-1911)

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An error doesn’t become a mistake untilIMGP5449
you refuse to correct it.
Anonymous

Aubergine or Eggplant Jam (Fools’ Raspberry) – Beaigani in Fijian

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The old MH Supermarket in Levuka, Ovalau Island, Fiji.

Here in Fiji, the home made jams are truly amazing.  There is such an abundance of fruit IMGP2410here.  Store bought jams are very, very sweet, and not really fruity.  You can buy home made jams at most open air daily markets.  Recently, I tried a jam made and sold by a friend, and it took me so many guesses as to the fruit!  I never guessed, and had to be told, as it is a bit of a game with this jam as it looks and tastes exactly like home made raspberry jam, but is much cheaper to make.

It also provides a bit of fun when you serve it to guests, or give a jar away, as you can play the guessing game yourself.  I have not had one person guess correctly yet, and they are amazed when the answer is revealed.

IMGP7170

Eggplant on sale at Nausori market yesterday, along with live birds

I don’t have any photos of the process, and will add them when I make it next time, but it is not rocket science, and there are no tricks!

Method and Ingredients

  • Chop about 10 Chinese eggplants into about 2cm cubes, leaving the seeds in, and put into a large, heavy based pot
  • Add 3 cups of sugar
  • Add juice of any kind of citrus to taste (2 large lemons, or 3 limes, or 3 organges)
  • Add the zest of the citrus (I normally just zest one but it is up to you)
  • star aniseSource picture: http://www.food.com/library/star-anise-345
  • Add water to cover
  • Optional – I add just one spur of the star anise,just because it makes the guessing game a bit more fun, and it gives a mellow undertone)
  • Bring to the boil and stir once in a while
  • When the jam begins to turn red, and you can see all the seeds have come out of the eggplants, then turn the heat down to a simmer and simmer until the jam becomes glossy
  • To test, drop a tiny drop from a spoon into a glass of water.  If the jam kind of sticks together and remains visible without immediately dispersing, it is done!

Bottle and enjoy the fun!

It will be a tiny bit more maroon, and less red than raspberry, but I defy any cook to give it the “guess test”, and let me know if anyone catches on.

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.

IMGP1827

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.

IMGP1826

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)

    IMGP1626

    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

    IMGP2647

    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
    IMGP1686

    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
    IMGP1685
    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