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.

 

Advertisements

Do you wanna dance, and hold my hand? Problems and issues facing ordinary Fijians

Including new travel tips!!!!

Yesterday, I got an email from a producer of a BBC Television show asking for some comments as she is looking at making a show about crazy places to drive a taxi.  In doing a response for her, I have included information that gives a picture (through my eyes as an Australian married to a Fijian, living here in Fiji) of what life in Fiji is like – really like!  So, if you wanna dance, and hold my hand and take a trip through Fijian life as I observe it, read on.  I have not mentioned the upcoming election in 2014, or any political views, but I can tell you that living in Fiji to me feels safe, secure.  Like the current government or not, most Fijians I speak to feel that at least the current Prime Minister is a man who gets around to local communities and gets things done.  Anyway, no more on politics.  My response to the enquiries below:

Thanks so much for your email.  I know heaps of taxi drivers as apart from the bus, it is my only mode of transport.  As far as I am aware, there are no “water taxis” as such.  When people need to travel over water, apart from the big barges and ferries operated by Patterson Brothers Shipping, Bligh Shipping and Groundar, they travel mostly by fibreglass boat such as in this story.  Often the boats are bought using microfinance or loans for thousands, and the fare is about $5, so I don’t know how they actually pay off the loans. http://www.fijisun.com.fj/2013/05/03/a-boat-for-yanuca-islanders/

For a list of shipping contacts see here: http://myfijiguide.com/general-info/boatsmarineshipping/shipping-companies-and-agents.aspx

Even from one point to another on the same island, it is easier and faster to get the boat.

Many people die each year in the small “fibres” as they are called.  http://www.fijitimes.com/story.aspx?id=238916 including the late Tui (chief) Macuata.  There is a post in my blog about it.

Even government travel is by these small boats sometimes, such as teaching staff going between the islands.  http://www.fijitimes.com/story.aspx?id=235708

If you wanted to put your man on the water, I would suggest that you do it in the Lomaiviti Group, that is the group of islands including Ovalau(where Levuka is, the old capital), Gau, Kadauv etc .  Actually here is a list of the islands.

There is plenty of boat travel between all of the islands in the group.  Including sea-road travel. for example, a truck wanting to take goods to Koro Island from Suva would have to travel by road to Natovi Landing near Nausori (Rewa Delta), then the truck goes on the boat to the island, then travels overland to destination.

Re normal taxi drivers, the cars are often old, the fare is usually about $3 for short trips, and they have to go on all kinds of roads.  Some travel regularly on the road from Suva to Nadi for $100 FJD.  The scary way to travel is by minibus.  There are minibus routes all over Fiji and the drivers drive non stop in all conditions, with vans jam packed full.

IMGP6677Later that night, further into the conversation, on being thanked for my prompt response (excuse my generalisation, not all Fijians drink Kava, and not all the time, but it is as expected at work here as late night Karaoke and drinking are in Japan.  If the boss says drink, you drink.  If you don’t you are seen as not loyal.  Also, due to the nature of family and clan ties, often there is a traditional relationship involved and to not drink would be considered socially unacceptable, disrespectful and frankly UnFijian:

Ahh, see I am married to a Fijian.  They all drink Kava, all the time.  It is midnight here and I am waiting for him to get home from the “meeting”.  By the way, I also should have mentioned that all the taxi drivers drink kava all the time also, even between jobs, or while waiting at their taxi base.  Especially if they have to go on a long job and take someone to the interior, they will be given Kava when they arrive.  It is not just a quick “one for the road” affair either! 

I do know someone here in Rewa who would be a great person.  His name is Jerry, and he is Fijian and owns traditional land, and drives the other kind of taxi which is a huge truck converted into a carrier with bench seats.  He does daily runs from Nausori to Logani and the other villages towards Bau Landing, which has probably some of the worst roads in Fiji.  Drivers here are very skillful, and he and his family are real characters.  His son is a great friend of mine.  They will take your man in like he is one of the family, and after work he will get to tend to cattle, plant dalo and ride horses in the sea.

IMG_2155

Our sleeping arrangements on the inter island ferry

IMGP2774

Just one small part of our family

Earlier today:

Hi, I am going to try and answer your questions below, I hope this helps you:

Oh by the way… Even if these boats you mention below are not ‘water taxis’ as such – do locals pay a fare? I love the suggestion about the trucks. As a local what do you think are the main ‘current affairs’ affecting Fijians and people like Jerry?

Yes, the locals pay a fare.  They also often pay with their lives.  A fibreglass is an open small boat as pictured in  https://alicevstokes.wordpress.com/2013/02/22/suva-harbour/.  They take officially 7 to 9 passengers across the reef, or if travelling from island to island, over open water.  The weather here is very changeable and the sea often treacherous.  Very few wear life jackets.  The inter-island fare is normally the cost of a weeks’ earnings for some people.  For example, from Levuka on Ovalau to Gau island, the fare is about $70.  Many Fijians earn $10/day.  However, if you “gotta go” then there is little option.  Because of strong traditional relationships, if there is a family event such as funeral etc, then you must travel.  Fijians (even Indo-Fijians) are very much tied to 3 places in this order: their mother’s village, their father’s village, their birth place.  Where they actually live or “stay” as they call it (for example if they have moved to Suva for work) is of little or no consequence.  I think that is one of the reasons there is so much litter here.  It is not your concern as it is not your village. 

For all Fijians that I know and have met, the family and family ties are the most important thing.  That is one of the most wonderful things about living in Fiji.  No matter the problems, family time (even with husband and wife, kids etc) is the number one priority.  Respect for your parents, and elders is paramount.  For example, my niece just had a baby.  Instead of being called the baby’s aunt, I am called the . grandmother or “Bubu” as I am in that generation (even though of course I am still wildly attractive and only 48) and all of my counterparts are considered as important to the baby, and a source of advice for the new mother.  The baby is named after its great grandfather (my husband’s father), my son – no blood relation, and the biological grandmother’s late father.  This is a huge honour to have a “yaca” (yatha).  Even as I write this, I feel an obligation to further explain the family relationships, as it matters so much (for example, that the baby’s mother is the first daughter of my husband’s eldest brother, and that the father of that eldest brother is the first namesake), but I won’t…. but you get the idea. 

The reason I am going into all this, is that for any taxi driver, boat driver, carrier driver, bus driver or whatever, family is the real driver.

Religion is the second driver.  God is real here, and your parents are viewed as God’s representative on earth. 

Even though wages and fares are low, the sense of community here is very strong.  If you ring a driver or get a driver and explain that you don’t have any money but your need to travel to a place for reasons of family, getting home or a commitment that is important (again, only family or religion), then they will take you on a promise.  Often I get home having not paid anything at all, not because I don’t have any money, just because one of my neighbours (anyone living within a 5km radius) or relatives (anyone from Gau or the Lomaiviti group, or Vanua Levu) has seen me and picked me up.

Taxi drivers here are the people you go to if you want or need to find anything.  They take a real sense of responsibility for making sure you get what you need.  They will go  into the shop with you and explain what you need, and negotiate.  They are friends with every one.  They are a very trusted group in the community and often have regular customers and jobs.  When I say customers, actually your taxi driver becomes part of the family.  They pick your kids up and take them to school, they tell people where you live, they help you move house, they make enquiries if you are searching for a house to rent or a car to buy.  They do everything for you.  I published some taxi driver phone numbers on my blog as these people I really trust.  They invite you to their daughters’ weddings, they are a blessing.

·         Who are Jerry’s (Or someone like him) customers – how reliant are people on taxis?

Jerry and the other drivers rely on their regular customers as much as their customers rely on them.  They do deliveries, make sure that all the kids are picked up, run rain, flood, hail or shine, as it is the only way for people to get home.  I came to Fiji in December the day after a cyclone and our road was flooded. Our driver somehow found a way through the flooded back roads, and got us home from the airport.  They will not leave their neighbours stranded. 

·         What is life like for a taxi driver – do they own a decent wage – how are they viewed by society in Fiji?

Many do not earn what we by Western standards would call a decent wage, but that is not important here.  Most people grow at least a decent proportion of their own food (except possibly in Suva City).  See above re society views. 

·         You say the roads are bad   – what are they like? Is there a bad accident rate?

The roads are appalling!  I can’t say much more.  It is really a “see to believe” type of thing.  The accident rate is also appalling.  Buses catch on fire regularly http://www.fijisun.com.fj/2013/07/05/another-bus-burned/ , minibuses crash regularly http://www.fijisun.com.fj/2009/09/16/bus-passengers-escape-death/

 and buses crash .  It is not so much the death rate, but that the accidents are always so shocking.  The shock coming from the cause, and also that we know that when someone dies or is seriously injured here, the financial toll on the family will force them into poverty.  (around 40% of Fijians live in what we call poverty, many in “informal settlements”. 

·         What are the main ‘social’ issues that are worth exploring in Fiji?

Poverty in housing – see “informal settlements” which we would call slums or shanty towns, or squatter settlements http://www.fijitimes.com/story.aspx?id=227553

http://www.fijitimes.com/story.aspx?id=238556 with an estimated 300,000 people in Fiji living in squatter settlements (total population just over 900,000 in Fiji) this is a pressing issue for so many.

tamavua i waiSquatter settlement at Tamavua i wai (near Suva).  Source: http://www.fijitimes.com/story.aspx?id=238556

Another source says that it is only 100,000 in squatter settlements, but I would go with the 300,000 having lived here.  http://news.ccf.org.fj/students-teachers-viewing-the-documentary-struggling-for-a-better-living-squatters-in-fiji/ also notes importantly that “Besides having no proper legal title to their homes, the vast majority of these people lack basic amenities such as piped water, sewerage and electricity”.

Poverty in education (school fees for one child are about $280 per year, but this is a struggle for many families, and children are disallowed from school regularly if their fees are overdue). It is a daily story in both major newspapers at the start of each school year.  http://www.fijisun.com.fj/2013/01/23/children-turned-away-for-not-paying-fees/

A better life for their children (just like all parents).  This involves spending a large proportion of the family income on education, and the hope of immigrating to the developed world.

·         What is Jerry and his family like – when you say ‘characters’ what would we find    compelling about them?

They are an amazing family.  Fijians often live in extended family groups.  Jerry and his family live in a village in Tailevu, and live on land owned under traditional title, that is passed through clans in traditional ways too long to go into here.  Jerry is head of the family.  The family is originally from Bau Island which means that they are highly regarded as Bau was the old seat of power in Fiji.  Also, too long an explanation re their compelling nature.  You will find most Fijian families compelling I think, but as Jerry and his family both operate a business and travel to and from town for work and schooling via boat, bus, carrier, taxi, minibus, and live a rural traditional lifestyle by the ocean, they are a good example of the best of Fiji.  Jerry’s son Eddie is 21, and a real thinker.  He knows everything there is to know about pig farming and takes responsibility for the schooling and school fees of his younger siblings.  He is a very attractive person both inside and out and a dear friend.

·         How real is the risk of flooding in the Delta – does this affect the roads? What season is worse for this?  http://www.pacificdisaster.net/pdnadmin/data/original/FJI_2012_FL_NEOC_Sitrep14.pdf

Gives a true picture of what happens to roads and transport in Fiji during the yearly (sometimes 3 times a year) floods.  Road closures, bus services suspended, bridges washed out.  But still the taxi drivers and carrier drivers manage to get people around.  That is when boat travel comes into its own.  You take a fibre from one point to another and bypass the flooded roads.  Flood season from December to April.  Floods here are devastating due to the quality of housing. Most houses made from corrugated iron roughly put together.  To get a picture of what it is like see http://poleshift.ning.com/profiles/blogs/7-of-10-sinking-fiji-this-current-flood-is-worse-than-the-floods

Some awesome pictures of the Nadi flooding that has many people calling for the whole town to be relocated. https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.365058533519909.106465.112621892096909&type=3

Children brave river dangerous river crossing to catch a ride to school since damage to crossing 7 months ago in Cyclone Evan http://www.fijitimes.com/story.aspx?id=238801

·         Even though there aren’t ‘water taxis’ as such do the boats that people take out loans for carry other passengers.

fibre fdb

Source: Fiji Times Online

Yes, they get loans from FDB (Fiji Development Bank).  This is a real life story and a typical one: http://www.fijitimes.com/story.aspx?id=190741

It’s been such fun reading about life in Fiji from you mails – from Kava to riding horses in the sea – I feel like I have almost transported myself there from London for the day!

Fiji Roads Corporate Plan 2013 – see 1.3.3 and tables.  You will get an idea from the “horses mouth” about road conditions, and also the number of unsealed roads (where the term “road” is used loosely). http://www.fijiroads.org/sites/default/files/fra-corporate-plan-2013-final.pdf

“Irish Crossings”  http://www.fijisun.com.fj/2012/01/27/students-cross-flooded-creek/

are regularly washed out, bridges closed etc.  I can’t find a good example online as most of the info on Fiji is really quite lame, but Air Pacific (now Fiji Airways) has a great map in it’s inflight magazine showing the sealed and unsealed roads on each island.  Maybe you can pick one up from the local travel agent.  That will really give you a good picture.  Unsealed roads literally are little more than dirt tracks. I live on one, and it is very close to Suva.  Anyway, if you hit the google map http://goo.gl/maps/EmR99 and zoom in, you might get a bit more of an idea.  Drivers here are very skilful.  Many of the roads on the islands literally brush the ocean, with cliffs on one side, water on the other, and mud in between.  The road to Levuka from the ferry stop is harrowing, especially in the dark, and if it is raining.  If two vehicles meet, one has to back up.  Often that is a big, full bus or truck.  If one car or bus breaks down, then everyone waits.  That of course is a great opportunity for any taxi or carrier driver on the “lee” side of the breakdown as they come somehow, as if by magic, and ferry people from the traffic jam to the boats.

A woodhouse built or moved here and there…

Given the poverty of housing in Fiji, in particular in the informal settlements (shanty towns), and after the regular flooding and cyclones, plus the skills that many rural and coastal Fijians have in building homes from bamboo and coconut, this could be one solution to the problem. In particular, the moveable homes made from bamboo. In cases of rising flood waters, homes could simply be picked up and moved until the waters recede. With just under 40% of Fijian Households living in poverty housing (CLICK LINK for Habitat for Humanity Report) , bamboo homes, shipping container homes and other solutions could be investigated.

To see 22 beautiful homes made from shipping containers click here.

Cliffhangercorner

View original post 183 more words