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.

 

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

IMG_2073

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

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

How can you tell, what are the signs?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Approximately 40% of women suffer from anaemia

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

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

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

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

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

Today, I saw the sign…..

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

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

plastic sea

Source: vimeo.com

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

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

plastic sea 2

Source: vimeo.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So, what to do? Who is responsible?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Making a chicken house out of plastic bottles – part one

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Chicken house in progress

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Top of completed wall

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

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

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    Plastic bottle wall in progress

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

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

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

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    One wall completed

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

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

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

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Filling the bottles with water and food colouring

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

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

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

How to make a herb garden on wheels from recycled pallets

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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.

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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.

 

Fold up shipping container home – another solution

portabatch

Source:dornob.com

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

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

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

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

Funeral in Fiji

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

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

I have just copied some of my email text below:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

Plasticized – from sushi fish to fish sushi

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

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

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

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

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One of my favourite photos, backflip, Levuka, Fiji

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

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Rubbish that will find its way to the sea, Fiji

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Old and new co-exist in Suva Harbour

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

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

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Lovers watch as a fridge bobs romantically in Suva Harbour

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

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

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

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

Coming to Fiji and making a difference – radio interview and what you can do

Last Friday, I had the wonderful opportunity to be interviewed on Australian Radio 4BC Brisbane by Catherine McGeorge and Chris Adams.  Catherine spent time yachting around the Pacific, and witnessed some of the pollution that is also threatening Fiji in the next 20 years if we don’t think about what to do with our plastics.  We can all help to reverse the trend.  The mp3 file of the interview is available at

What, you may ask, can I do if I don’t live in Fiji?  There are so many things we can do if we have a spare day.

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Boys on the ferry from Suva to Savusavu

When you fly in to Fiji – ask your airline what they do with the plastic bottles they use in-flight, and let me know.

When you stay at a hotel or resort, ask them for some garbage bags for when you go walk-about, so that you can collect some plastic bottles and take them back to the hotel for recycling.

When you come to Fiji, you can spend a day replanting coral on the reef (coral planting material available, or I can hook you up if you are not sure where to start).

Spend half a day replanting mangrove seedlings (again, readily available and I can hook you up, as many of the resorts have their own marine biologists).

Volunteer a day or so to go to the local primary school and do a bit of a spruce up or some gardening – you will be welcomed with open arms  – or…. I can hook you up.

Let me know when you are coming to Fiji and do a village stay and volunteer a bit while you are here and having fun – you can stay in the village or just go for a visit, and your only costs will be your air travel.  Ask me and I can arrange it all – pitch in a bit like in a normal family, and bring a few pairs of thongs or flip flops, some fishing line and hooks and some rugby balls and ball pumps and your stay is covered!  maybe some solar garden lights and you will be remembered for ever!

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Dom and Savenaca scrape coconuts to make fresh coconut milk (lolo)

You will learn to fish, cook Fijian food, drink yaqona (Kava), make fresh coconut milk, cook a lovo (like a hungi), weave coconut baskets, and voivoi mats, and become part of a new family.

44 Million PET bottles in Fiji in one year! It’s Official – Pollution spiralling out of control

More trawling the internet……..  I came across a report prepared by the Department of Environment, Fiji, for a meeting of the Small Island Developing States (SIDS).  Maybe they didn’t know that acronym is already being used for Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, which is unfortunate.

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On the banks of the Rewa River, Fiji

Anyway, while trying to get a handle on the scope of the problem of pollution in Fiji, I found this paper.  I am not sure of when it was presented, but it was last modified on 27 September 2010. http://www.uncrd.or.jp/env/3r_02/presentations/BG4/4-1FijiCountryReportKL.pdf

It states, amongst other things, that:

PET Bottles

In the year 2003 from January to December,the total influx of PET bottles in Fiji was recorded around

44 million which includes 1.7 million of imports and 42 million PET bottles being produced locally. (Note that the production 5 (sic) of PET bottles serves to mean the bottles that are blown up locally using imported pellets)

If that was in 2003, what has happened since then, in the last 10 years?  I might be able to work it out.  Coca Cola Amatil, Fii Water, and perhaps some other companies use blowfill technology  here in Fiji.  Perhaps others do too. If one looked at the companies using blowfill, and their profits and units in 2003, and then did a calculation on the subsequent years, one may be able to come up with both the number of PET bottles present in Fiji over 10 years, and also the percentage of them produced and sold by each company using the technology.   Blow fill technology in itself may reduce a company’s carbon footprint, however, the sheer weight of numbers of the bottles is overwhelming when there is no real plan to dispose of them.

The paper also highlighted

Solid Waste at the moment is either being thrown in the open dumpsites, illegally disposed of in the sea or on unused land, in the streets or being burnt in piles in the backyard. Burning of municipal waste is also quite common despite and towns and cities have been continuously exposed to destructive effects such as carcinogenic toxins from burning and impacts of poor waste management.

and it goes further to indicate

Litter

A litter survey was carried out along the Suva Edinburgh Drive for 1.8km and1.5km along Suva Queen Elizabeth Drive. The predominant pollutants identified in both the Draft 12 surveys were snack packets followed by Polyethylene Terephthalate (PET) bottles and plastic bags.

 and that:
Solid waste disposal facilities are currently very poor in Fiji with about 7 out of the 11 sites being located in mangroves, which are polluting the water bodies. Not a single rubbish dump around the country is environmentally safe and socially
acceptable. These dumps are managed poorly. Most of these open dumpsites are infested with flies, rodents, pests, and scavengers. Besides it emits a foul smell and there are no  mechanisms in place to ensure that the leachates do not leak into adjacent land and waterways.
About Plastic Bags:

b.
Plastic Bags
At the moment, the department are working closely with municipal councils on how best this issue could be tackled, where the focus would be more on awareness and setting up incentives, rather then focusing
too much on alternatives such as bio-degradable plastics, which also has adverse effects.

Coca Cola Amatil – recycling in Fiji – a fuller picture

Recently, I emailed a major Water Bottler here in Fiji, with its main market in the USA, and asked them some questions about their recycling plans and initiatives in Fiji.

Their response so far is very positive, and I will keep you posted, however, I am not sure that what they are being told is the full picture.  Today they told me:

We work with Coca-Cola on the recycling initiative. We pay Coca-Cola a fee to process our recycling; they arrange the bags, and do pickups for our large customers.

Additionally, Regular consumers can drop off their recycling directly at the Coke depots.

A fuller picture of the situation here regarding recycling from my observations: The information the Water bottler received regarding the joint procedure with Coca Cola Amatil is correct, but doesn’t quite give the full picture.   The reality of the situation is quite different from how they make it sound.  I live here in Viti Levu and travel all around the island.  Additionally, I do also have to travel to other islands in the Fiji Group.

Recycling here is not what your sources have made it out to be.  I met with Coca Cola over the last couple of weeks at their facility in Suva.I asked them the same questions that I asked you, including how do they plan to be proactive regarding recycling.  The current situation is that most of the population do not know that you can recycle here in Fiji.  The reasons being numerous and complex:
1. there is no public education campaign
2. there are no bins outside supermarkets or bus stops.
3. there are very few bins on the roadside.  In fact between Nausori (where Suva airport is) and Nabua (Suva City), there are no bins at all that I can see on the roadside.
4.  I personally have never seen a recycling bin anywhere in Fiji, although I understand that some resorts have them, and I did see some cardboard versions of them in the security office at the CCA (Coca Cola Amatil) facility.  Even at the new ANZ stadium, Olympic Pool, Damodar National Aquatic Centre, there are no recycling bins.  In fact at ANZ stadium, there are no bins at all in the forecourt or on the stands.  This could present an opportunity.Outside even major supermarkets the only bin I can see is often a plastic bucket for ATM receipts.
5. I asked at CCA if they could provide some of the cardboard recycling bins and some pamphlets, and was told that I couldn’t have any of the bins, and that the pamphlets would have to be emailed to me to print.  That still has not eventuated.
6.  I was told emphatically that the recycling bags (which are like big garden waste bags) would not be dropped off to customers in the delivery cycle, but that their regular customers know that the bags have to be collected from Suva.
I indicated to them that as Fiji has 332 islands (and over 500 islets)and the Fiji Islands are scattered over 1,290,000 square km of the Pacific Ocean, that collection from Suva for many people would be an impediment. This was hotly denied.  I asked what islands currently recycle, and was told only Taveuni.  There is no indication of any recycling on Vanua Levu (the second largest island) or any other islands that I know of, or were mentioned by CCA. As mentioned, I know that some resorts and perhaps other communities have instituted recycling on their own. Apart from that, most of Fiji is rural, including on Viti Levu and Vanua Levu.  The Coca Cola trucks deliver to all of these places.  I asked whether bags could simply be put on the delivery trucks and the process explained to the shop keepers or business owners, but was told “no”, as sometimes people put other “rubbish” in the bags. I was also told that CCA had no plans at all to initiate recycling programs as they are awaiting container deposit legislation here in Fiji.  I am not sure how much you know about the political situation here in Fiji, but that is likely to take maybe several years.
On pressing the CCA staff, I did finally persuade them that if I found “specific people” on the islands or around Viti Levu (the main island), that they would agree to drop off the bags in the monthly delivery cycle (and I was clearly told it would take one month!), and then collect as required.  I was told that I needed to pass on the list of “specific people” to CCA and they would deal with it from there.  I am reluctant to do so, and will monitor it myself, due to the attitude and defensiveness of the CCA staff at the meeting. I also know from other contacts at some of the resorts that the Coca cola delivery is weekly, not monthly.
I also asked CCA about why their community spending in Fiji is so low compared to other countries they operate in such as PNG and Indonesia.  For example, in Bali, Coke branded trucks and staff clean the beaches daily.  This has proven to be a market share driver for them in that area.  Coke also sponsors scholarships, community farms, orphanages etc in those other countries.  The reason I was given for community spending in Fiji being so low is that they wait to be asked, and if it is a worthwhile cause they would agree, but that they do sponsor the Coca Cola games each year which costs $500,000 FJD.  Are there any recycling facility at the Coke Games?  I question why this expenditure is not on the table of spending.
I am in contact with resorts and other island communities, and they are interested in recycling and want me to get this moving as soon as possible.
To give you an idea of what the daily rubbish (which is mostly recylclables) looks like in Fiji, I have made a special link of photographs giving a recent snapshot of the issue at https://alicevstokes.wordpress.com/2013/07/09/could-one-simple-idea-help-solve-the-problem-of-how-to-get-recycling-going-in-fiji/

koronivia to lokia 5km

Source: Google Maps

lami nausori

Source: Google Maps

I have a link to the article published in the Fiji Sun about our group https://alicevstokes.wordpress.com/2013/07/08/get-our-clean-up-published-in-print-how-i-did-it/.  It was reported recently that on the one weekend of 5-8 June 2013, that approximately 1000 volunteers (our group had 300 volunteers so we were most likely the largest group) collected 25 tonnes of waste which were transported to landfill.  The clean up was only from Lami to Nausori which is just a very small part of Fiji, so you can imagine how much is still left!  Lami to Nausori on map below marked A to B.

I have been racking my brains about the cost of getting recycling bins for public places, and how they could be made from recycled PET bottles, and stumbled across the below idea.  Wouldn’t it be great if we could make these bins out of dumped or salvaged bottles!  It could also provide employment here, and be a great brand advantage fora company that wanted to take it up.  It would really promote the concept of true corporate responsibility being companies that are proactively thinking about their packaging and its stewardship, without being forced to, in the absence of any robust compliance framework as exists in developing nations such as Fiji.  See link for picture https://alicevstokes.wordpress.com/2013/07/08/15-ideas-on-how-to-recycle-plastic-bottles/
My blog and facebook site are only new, but already the reach is wide, with the Australia, New Zealand and the USA topping the list of viewers. Every shaded area on the below map has a reader of my blog.blog reach new  This indicates that the issue of recycling and environmental and cultural sustainability is important to many.

In Fiji,it seems that on every road, in every waterway, on every beach, it is hard to take one step without stepping over a Coca Cola Amatil package.  Coca Cola Amatil owns Fiji Bitter, Bounty Rum, Coke, and many still and carbonated beverages (see fact book for product lines).

CCA’s Fiji market is stated as representing less than 1% of the group’s total earnings.  The total profit for 2012 was $558.4million AUD.  That would put the Fijian market at somewhere less than 1% of that figure, which is somewhere less than $5,558,400 AUD for the year (CCA 2012 Fact Book)

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Rubbish, Suva

In 2011, the company’s Sustainability Report (Corporate Responsibility Section) puts their total spending in Fiji on Corporate Responsibility at $178,967 AUD.  I was told that the $123,623 for Community Investment is for buy back of recyclables.  Charitable gifts and foundations represented $12,949 AUD for the year, and products and merchandising $42,404 AUD.  With net profit in 2011 at $532million AUD, one can only wonder at the current recycling problem in Fiji.   Also see 2011 Fact Book for net profit.

 

 

Could one simple idea help solve the problem of how to get recycling going in Fiji?

 

plastic bins

Bins made out of PET bottles

Could this one simple idea be part of the solution to community education and a call to action for recycling of PET bottles and aluminum cans in Fiji?  Picture Source: http://www.designsclue.com/15-best-ideas-of-how-to-recycle-plastic-bottles/

The below photos are all taken in Suva City Fiji, Levuka (Ovalau Island, Fiji), Samabula (Suva City), Nakasi (on the Suva Nausori corridor), Nausori, Rewa River bank at Manoca Estates Nausori.  Even in the tranquil looking photographs, see if you can spot the floating PET bottles.  If you drive by, or stand on the river bank of the Rewa River, Nausori, which flows directly into Suva Harbour at Laucala Bay, you may not be aware of what lurks every 5 meters down the river bank.  Take a look over the edge, and you will see dump site after dump site of rubbish, PET bottles, recycling, cardboard, car parts, washing machines, tyres, fans, daipers.  All of this is regularly set alight (normally on Friday afternoons), or if heavy rains come, it is washed into the sea.  As the Rewa Delta is prone to flooding, at least once a year, a great proportion of this is washed into the ocean.

 

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Koronivia Road, Fiji

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Koronivia Road, Fiji, the large bag is the recycling bag provided by Coca Cola Amatil in partnership with Fiji Water – the only concession to recycling here. I had to get a taxi which cost $40 to collect the bag myself as a few weeks ago, Coca Cola would not drop them off anywhere.

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Makoi, near Hanson’s Supermarket, Nasinu, Fiji

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The alleyway between the Chinese restaurant and the Immanuel Christian Fellowship Church, Nabua, Suva City, Fiji

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Suva City, the sea wall near the Holiday Inn.

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The beach outside the Suva City Council Offices, Suva Fiji

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Daily Skip bin, Suva City Markets, Fiji

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The beach outside the Presidential Palace and Fiji Inland Revenue and Customs Authority Building, Queen Elizabeth Drive, Suva City

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The beach opposite the Suva City Council Buildings and Sakuna Park (near McDonalds), downtown Suva City, Fiji

Capture

My location, Koronivia, Fiji

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Fire burning rubbish in downtown Suva, on the sea wall area between Suva City Library and the Holiday Inn.

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The beach in downtown Suva City opposite the Government Office Tower

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Street bottle collector, Muhammad Ali, with his bags of PET bottles that he salvages from rubbish bins outside the Suva City Council Offices, the Government Towers, and the rubbish bins of Suva City. He walks miles to take these bottles back to the Coca Cola Amatil factory for $1FJD per kg, or washes them at the Mobil service station on Victoria Pde, and sells them to the juice sellers at Suva City Market.

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Polystyrene lunch packs and plastic bags in downtown Suva City, by the sea wall near Tiko’s floating restaurant. Every one of the white polystyrene packs say “Bula” or “Fiji” so if you see one washed up on your beach you know where it is from. Maybe they should change the words to “From Fiji with love”

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MH Supermarket, Nakasi, Fiji. Note the small red bucket near the door that serves as the only bin.

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Rubbish at the bus stop, Nakasi, Fiji

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Rubbish and recyclables in the drain at the bus stop, Nakasi, Fiji

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Fiji Water bottle floats quietly towards the sea, downtown Suva, Terry Walk, Nubukalau Creek outside MHCC department store.

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Garbage bags full of daipers and PET bottles dumped in Koronivia Creek at the Fiji National University, Koronivia Road, Fiji

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Contents of 10 garbage bags of rubbish dumped in Koronivia Creek, Fiji National University, Koronivia, Fiji

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Rubbish Koronivia Road, Fiji

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Household rubbish dumped on Kings Road, between Nakasi and Nausori, near Koronivia Research Station, and Fiji National University Farms.

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Plastic computer monitor disintegrates slowly in creek at Fiji National University Farm, Koronivia, Fiji

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Plastics mixed with household rubbish, found in creek, Koronivia Research Station Farm, Fiji

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Rubbish dumped over the bridge, downtown Suva, outside the fish market on Nubukalau creek.

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Plastic MH supermarket bag floating in Suva Harbour

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Coke bottles float in Suva Harbour, downtown Suva City outside Tiko’s floating restaurant

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Small boat moored near Tiko’s floating restaurant, downtown Suva City, with Coke bottle

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Plastic Coke bottle Suva Harbour

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Rubbish on beach in Suva City, opposite Sakuna Park and McDonalds

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Close up of rubbish and recyclables on beach in Suva City, opposite Sakuna Park

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Rubbish and recyclables on beach daily opposite Government Office Tower and Suva City Council Buildings, Suva City, Suva Harbour. Tiko’s restaurant floats in the background.

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Tyres and assorted rubbish and recyclables on beach in Suva City, opposite Government Buildings

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Private rubbish dump, Koronivia Road, Fiji. Once a week, the dump is set on fire to burn rubbish, daipers, plastics, glass, recyclables. The smell of burning plastics is overwhelming.

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Recyclable PET bottles flattened by vehicles at the junction of Kings Road and Koronivia Road, Fiji

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Rubbish and PET plastic bottles on the beach right outside the fence to the pool at the Holiday Inn, downtown central Suva City. The Suva City Council Office is also next door.

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Rubbish and plastic bottles dumped in Koronivia Creek, Fiji

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Rubbish, plastics, PET bottles, at Samabula, outside BSP bank, Fiji, near Suva City

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Street person sleeping in doorway of shops near BSP bank, Samabula, Suva City. At least he has recycled bottles and packaging.

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One of two full trucks that took away 10 tonnes of rubbish from a 5km stretch of rural road from Koronivia to Lokia, Fiji, collected in one morning by 300 volunteers.

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Council workers and residents with the big recycling bag – the only avenue for recycling for a very limited number of Fijians.

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Rubbish, PET bottles, recyclables, plastics, collect on the roadside between Nausori and Suva (this photo in Koronivia on Kings Road at FNU research farm) after being thrown from buses and cars.

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Large bags of rubbish and plastics are regularly dumped in creeks and drains, Koronivia, Fiji

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Rubbish and plastics awaiting collection to go to landfill near the beach at Levuka, Ovalau Island, Fiji. The stand is to try and keep dogs away. Children swim in the sea in the background.

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Rubbish, plastics, tyres wash up on the beach at Levuka, Ovalau Island, Fiji

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Plastic PET bottles, aluminum cans, and other rubbish is thrown into the sea at Natovi Landing, Viti Levu, Fiji. This is the place where you can get the boat from Suva to Savusavu on Vanua Levu, and Levuka, on Ovalau. There is a canteen at the landing (jetty) but no bins.

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Rubbish, plastics, PET, cans collect along the roadside everywhere. Photo taken on the road between Nausori and Bau landing (Viti Levu), rural Fiji.

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Government ship yards, Suva City, Suva Harbour, Fiji

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Rubbish, PET bottles dumped in Nausori, Manoca Estates, at the edge of the Rewa River

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Opposite the Mobil service station, Nausori, Fiji, Rewa River. Rubbish, plastics, PET bottles are dumped daily and burned as part of business practice.

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Another rubbish dump for local businesses and households on the edge of the Rewa River, Nausori, Fiji. These rubbish dumps are all along the river, spaced out by about only 5 or 10 metres.

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Another rubbish dump, Rewa River, Nausori, Fiji

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Yet another rubbish dump, banks of the Rewa River, Nausori, Fiji

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Five meters further down, another rubbish dump on the banks of the Rewa River, Nausori, Fiji

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The view from the same spot, Manoca Estates, Nausori, Fiji, on the banks of the Rewa River, if you don’t look over the side. Maybe that is why people don’t know! You can’t see the rubbish from a car or bus. Most government employees have a staff driver, and they travel in SUVs.

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And again, the next rubbish dump, Rewa River

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And another!

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And another!

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The same private rubbish dump pictured above, across the road from my home, Koronivia Fiji. This rubbish has collected since 8th June when it was cleared during the clean up. It is regularly set on fire. It contains many many PET bottles, glass bottles, aluminum cans, as well as daipers, rotting food and cardboard. This was taken yesterday 8 July. It burned for many hours and the smoke haze could be seen for kilometers. The smell is choking. This dump is directly opposite the shop that has a recycling bag, and is used by only two families.

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Rubbish that has accumulated from two families in Koronivia Fiji being set on fire last night, 8 July. All the rubbish has accumulated in one month. It contains plastics, PET, aluminum cans, daipers, cardboard, food waste. This is the only option for many people in Fiji. There is no rubbish collection here, and even though there is a recycling bag for these families, right at their house, they are not motivated enough to use it. People here do not see the benefit of separating rubbish.

15 Ideas on how to recycle plastic bottles

I came across this today: http://www.designsclue.com/15-best-ideas-of-how-to-recycle-plastic-bottles/

Wow!  Maybe it will solve some of our problems.  I have been wondering how to get recycling bins in public places in Fiji and worried about the cost.  No need to worry further – just find someone who can help me with putting them together!

Also, check out the garden fence, hydroponics, and house!

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

Levuka, the Old Capital of Fiji

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Dominic outside the old Wise family home, abandoned many years ago. Home of Vaseva Marama Wise (nee Tamani) of Gau, and Thomas Wise.

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Main street looking towards the sea wall

No-one seems to go to Levuka at all, certainly no tourists. It is the old capital, and a bit off the beaten track. We stayed in the Royal Hotel (circa 1861) which is the oldest hotel in Fiji. The place is amazing. A step back in time.  The hotel is just as it was, filled with old furniture and paintings of Fiji from another time, painted by guests of long ago.

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Painting in the Royal Hotel, Levuka, painted by a guest long gone.

It is easy and cheap to travel to Levuka from Suva or Nausori.  Patterson’s Shipping (contact details for Patterson Brothers Shipping here) has a bus-ferry-bus service for around $35FJD per person where you get on the bus either in Suva or Nausori, pass through Korovou and then after a short wait the bus drives onto the boat (Spirit of Harmony) at Natovi Landing where you get off and can go on deck, and then the bus goes by road from the

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War memorial, with Levuka town in the background

landing point on the other side of Ovalau Island to Levuka.  The trip is about an hour on the bus, 40 minutes on the ferry, and another hour on the bus, but a beautiful journey.

Levuka is on the sea, surrounded by mist covered mountains, with a series of sea canals snaking through the town.

Most of the buildings are from Colonial times, and some old buildings stand as monuments, burnt out during one coup or another.  In the centre of the town stands the shell of the old Masonic Lodge, built in 1913, which was destroyed in a

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The shell of the Masonic Lodge Levuka (c. 1913), destroyed in a previous coup

coup, for fears that the Masons were involved in demonic arts.

In many of the villages they still have some of the traditional bures with walls of woven coconut and thatched roofs.

What is really distressing though is that EVERYWHERE along the beautiful sea shore, and in EVERY stream coming down from the mountains is washed up rubbish.

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Tapa design drawn on the canal bridge, Levuka

The trappings of becoming “developed” as a nation.

The place is choked by it. People travelling on the bus from the jetty to the towns and villages have an odd behaviour: when eating or drinking anything, they nicely keep their wrapper or plastic bottle in their laps until they go over a bridge, or near a body of water of any kind such as creek, river, ocean. At that moment, as one, they fling their rubbish out of the bus window.

All I can think is that they truly believe that the water will wash it away and that plastic is biodegradable. I am not talking the odd plastic bottle, I am talking washing machines, tyres, backpacks, bottles, aerosol cans, thongs, clothing, glass, fans, millions of tin cans, Macdonalds cups (from who knows where -I haven’t done a google search, but I would guess that the nearest Macdonalds is in Suva or Laucala Bay, many, many nautical miles from there).

Visitors may wonder at the number of tin cans, roughly opened with jagged tops.  The reason behind the number of tinned cans is that many Fijians don’t have a fridge at home so they consume an enormous amount of tinned corned beef, corned mutton, and tinned tuna and mackerel.

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Approaching Ovalau Island

While waiting for the boat at Natovi jetty, we started picking up some of the rubbish strewn around the rocks and on the beach.  One man joined us, then the small children selling roti to the waiting passengers also helped.  All of the other passengers seemed frozen into inactivity, until it was time to leave, whereby one adult watched this young children dispose of the plastic soft drink bottles they were drinking from by tossing them as far as they could into the sea before boarding the boat.  The only place to put the collected rubbish was in a massive half burned pile.  I am guessing that there is no rubbish collection, and that it is all burned.  From the boat, we saw a huge plume of smoke rising from the spot about 15 minutes later.

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Rubbish on the sea wall at Natovi Landing

The jagged tops of the cans is because Fijians don’t have or use can openers, but open every in this method: Take a very large kitchen knife, put the point of the knife on the rim of the can, hold the knife vertically, use one hand to bang down hard on the handle of the knife until the point pierces the can, then slowly work the knife back and forwards to open the lid.  Even children do this.  It took me more than a month to even attempt this technique as I was so afraid for my safety, but now it is second nature.

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Inside the old Levuka Club, looking towards the sea.

Right on the sea shore, at a beautiful point that juts into the sea, underneath the war memorial which stands on the hill is the Levuka Club. It is a non-descript building with a lawn at the back, on the ocean, where you can sit and stare at the sea, and the surrounding islands, including Gau where Roni is from.

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The old Chubb safe in the Levuka Club – one of the only things that couldn’t be carried away

The funny thing is that the building is trashed, stripped bare, and open. Rain floods the floor. There are only two items left there which I guess where too heavy to be carried away.

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The old pool table left to decay in the Levuka Club

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Chubb safe in the Levuka Club

One is an old Chubb safe that looks like it is a left over from colonial days and could be over 100 years old, the other is a pool table. It is the most massive pool table I have ever seen, perhaps also left over from Colonial days, with legs as thick as a Fijian lock forward’s thighs.

The whole thing open to the weather. It seems that the owner of the club went to Viti Levu (the main island) years ago for a holiday and died in a car accident. He was renting the building, but no-one at all knows from whom. Apparently there are no records of ownership at all, so the building just lays open to the weather, to slowly deteriorate. People in Levuka believe that they will soon be World Heritage listed, and that after the 2014 election tourists will come flocking back. I am not sure that they understand tourists!

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Family sitting on the sea wall, Levuka

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Jumping off the bridge into the sea

Levuka is also the only town in Fiji where I didn’t see a covered fruit and produce market.  I wonder why the Town Council or the community doesn’t make a ruling that the Levuka Club be utilised on Saturday mornings for that purpose.  It would be the perfect spot!  It actually would also be the perfect spot for the Levuka Club where people could gather for a drink, catch up with friends and neighbours, and share a bite to eat.

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Typical home on the way to Levuka

The town also has a fish cannery which operates 24/7.  The cannery is the major source of employment in the town, and the constant noise is also a tourism killer, so I fear that Levuka is destined to fall into disrepair ever so slowly, and never be seen by anyone except the locals, and the odd tourist who is running out of time or money to travel to another island.

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View of the Old Capital cannery and the sea from the Chinese restaurant, Levuka.

There are only a couple of restaurants in town.  There is a Chinese restaurant where the owner is very hospitable, and will entertain you with stories about the history of Levuka and its buildings.  The food is delicious, and it is upstairs in the old Westpac bank building in what used to be the staff club for bank staff in the colonial days.  It has a great view of the sea, and the cannery! The other restaurant serves a Fijian version of western food which to me was completely unappealing.  Considering that almost half the population of Fiji is Indo-Fijian, it is surprising that there is no Indian restaurant in town, and disappointing as Fijian Indian food has a flavour that is so unusual and memorable.

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Levuka Town

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Whole fish with cassava

Fijians have a view that Westerners will not like Fijian food – I am not sure why.  Fijian flavours are so fresh and the ingredients such as cassava, cumquat, chili, fresh lolo (coconut milk), boiled fish, bele (a leafy plant with a thousand uses), dalo, lime, otta (which is like the leaves of a bracken fern), kai (sea mussels), lobster, raw fish, pawpaw, pineapple, plantain bananas, ochra and coconut are so clean in an Asian way, but so different from any other food in the world!

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Old fountain near the Catholic church, Levuka

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Children swimming, rubbish collection

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Waterfall at Levuka (photo: Elliot Stokes)

If you go to Levuka for the weekend, and want to see the waterfall, be sure to walk to the waterfall on Saturday as soon as you arrive in the mid-afternoon, as on Sundays you cannot walk through the village which is on the way to the waterfall, as they do not allow anyone to walk through the village on Sunday as that is church day.  Apparently the Lord does not want us even to use our legs or marvel at the beauty of the earth which he entrusted to us on a Sunday.  No outdoor work is to be done on Sundays, and no children are supposed to play outside.  The only thing you can hear all over town on Sunday is the sound of church services and meetings or “Fellowships” which go on for hours and hours, and involve a lot of stereotypical preaching in Fijian interspersed frequently with a loud “Praise the Lord”, and singing of Fijian language Christian music which is reminiscent of the kind of songs sung in Sunday Schools in the western world.

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The Royal Hotel, Levuka, with the sea canal on the right

To me, there is a disconnect surrounding Christianity in Fiji – a feeling that the more time you spend at Church, the less likely you will be able to commit sins.  The mother of one of my neighbours explained to me that she tells her daughter to fill the children’s minds with the word of God, so that their mind will be so full that the outside world cannot get in.  Fijian Christians seem to have two selves – a Monday to Saturday self, and a Sunday self.

These two people are completely different.

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Volcanic rocks near the site of the first Catholic mass in Fiji more than 150 years ago. Levuka

On Sunday people get dressed in their Sunday best and

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Catholic church, Levuka

travel mainly by bus or foot to Church.  On the way to Church, they throw rubbish.  Arriving at the bus stand, they buy snacks or drinks, and walk to church dropping litter everywhere they go.  The churches are the only buildings with clean compounds, and are the only buildings that are regularly painted and upkept (this goes for the Hindi and Muslim buildings also).  At the end of church there are often “meetings” which involve men sitting around on the floor drinking kava. Then it is off to the market stalls near the bus stand to pick up some fresh fruit or vegetables, and back on the bus to home, dropping rubbish all the way, and then both at church and at home, stinking fires are lit which choke the air with plastic fumes.  The acrid smell penetrates to the throat, and is the smell of a Sunday afternoon at home.

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Catholic church, Levuka

The first Catholic church service in Fiji was held in Levuka,

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Oustide the Methodist Church, Levuka

and Levuka is also according to the Archbishop of Polynesia and New Zealand, the birthplace of the Anglican church in Fiji.

Birds on a wire – waste water in Fiji

Birds on a wire at the back fence.  It was so unusual to hear them all there at once – some finches, some other types that I left my bed on a Sunday afternoon to investigate. All household water (shower waste, bathroom waste, kitchen waste) comes from taps in our house.  It all goes nicely and neatly into a sink of some kind and then disappears through the plumping.  It quickly re-emerges into the open drain that surrounds the house, that flows into another open drain that flows into the Rewa River about 200 metres away.  Sometimes the open drain fills up in various places with mud or weeds or topsoil and creates a filthy, stinking mosquito and toad ridden moat that surrounds the house on three sides.  On this day, I had managed to go knee deep into the slime and dig a trench that seemed to let the water flow away.  As the water flowed away and got shallower and shallower, the remaining water became too hot for tadpole survival, and the birds noticed that the tadpoles had no-where to run, no-where to hide.  It was like the birds were watching the best show on earth.  The next day the drain was empty, and the mud was covered in a myriad of bird footprints of all sizes.

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Birds on a wire

 

Fiji Pollution

Been in Fiji two months now. Every day I try and think of one great thing that has happened and focus on that.  I wish I had written them all down earlier, as very soon after the great thing, comes another not so great thing, that makes me forget the feeling I had before.  Fiji calls itself a developing nation.  That seems to be a catch phrase that is not based on reality, and the ways it is choosing to develop make me reflect on the “civilised” world I have left.  To “develop” as a nation seems to imply taking the worst traits of the developed world and making them a way of life.

Pollution is everywhere.  From a distance, Fiji is beautiful, but on closer inspection, on every beach, in every stream, in every waterfall, the signs of developing are everywhere in the form of plastic bottles, discarded fast food wrappers, tyres and rusting whitegoods.  In a land where so much is provided from the earth, and growing food for the family is easy, the desire for processed food is overtaking, and plastic is swamping the pacific.

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Plastics, whitegoods, flip-flops and backpacks are just some of the scenery at beautiful Levuka, the old capital of Fiji on Ovalau Island an hour’s ferry ride from Viti Levu and about 2 hour’s travel from Suva.

No plan has gone into how to dispose of anything at all.  There are only two options: 1.  burn it in your back yard; or 2. throw it in a watercourse whether that be an open roadside drain, a stream, a creek or river, and hope that the sea will wash it away.

The smell of burning plastic from backyard fires is choking the air on a daily basis.  The sea does wash away the plastic and rubbish, but it just washes it onto another beach.  The garbage island in the pacific is not limited to the island of trash in the middle of the ocean, but is actually deposited on every beach and harbour, yet still, the appetite for things that come in plastic is insatiable.