Fiji and South Pacific Tide Times

Fiji and South Pacific Tide Times

I noticed recently that a lot of people come to my blog searching for Tide Times and have probably been sorely disappointed.  Here they are for any sailors around the place. I also sometimes need them, as now I am an island dweller, it is handy to know if I am traveling between islands as often the fibreglass speedboats only go from certain places at high tide!

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!

How to make a bed from recycled paint cans

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Ok, here it is, as promised, the bed from recycled paint cans, sticky tape, and cardboard!  IMG_0003

Let me make it clear, I am not trying to set myself up as some kind of self professed DIY guru (although maybe I should start a blog site called just that…) or trying to turn this blog site into a site about how to make things out of recycled stuff. Of course my daughter has visions of becoming an overnight internet sensation from this post.  If enough people want a bed out of junk, maybe she will!

I am simply a mum living in a place where furniture is expensive, money is tight, and there is so much that is discarded that is actually useful.  I am often a woman on the edge, wondering how I am going to maintain a lifestyle that I want the kids to have in a country like Fiji where money is always tight.

IMG_0009I am also concerned constantly with the perception here of what is actually “trash” or “rubbish” as once something is discarded it is immediately viewed as that.  All of the paint cans, lids and cardboard that I used would have otherwise ended up in landfill, a problem for my kids to have to worry about in their lives – heavy metals, paints etc leaching into the mangroves and the sea.  Living in an island nation in the middle of the Pacific, the prospect of an ocean full of toxins and rubbish, and void of fish is actually frightening.  I have once seen a fridge floating in Suva Harbour. 

Our live in family recently increased from me, my husband and one teenager; to me, my husband and three teenagers.  The two new teenagers arrived from Australia with a suitcase each that was filled with nothing that is actually useful in Fiji a land of alternating mud and dust – no towels, no toothbrushes, no sheets, just video games and high heels it seemed IMG_0014to me.  Frustration and despair got me nowhere, but I must admit I felt it keenly.

Anyway, with two extra kids, and no extra money or furniture, I had to pull myself together and see what I could come up with.  If only I could work out a way to spin a towel or a sheet set from spiderwebs and butterfly tears, my world would be complete!

I didn’t, but I did manage with the help of my 15 year old daughter to make her a bed using only the below.  IMG_0012The hardest part was being disciplined enough to pick up the stuff when I saw it in the dumpster and take it home, and to stop my family from trying to “tidy up my junk” every Saturday where they would try and put it all kinds of places to get it out of the way.  Also, my nieces and nephews were constantly using the paint lids as frisbees and hurling them down the hill where I would often find them a week later.

I used:

  • 50 used paint cans (you could substitute large juice cans)
  • 4 rolls of packing tapeIMG_0002
  • 3 regular cardboard boxes
  • 1 cardboard box from a large electrical appliance
  • 8 recycled coke bottle lids
  • some of the white plastic binding tape that they use for packing white goods
  • about 30 small screws and a screwdriver
  • 1 thin piece of foam
  • Material to cover
  • The only things that I bought new were the screws and the packing tape and the foam, plus the material to

    IMG_0015

    cover, all the rest of it was salvaged from building sites and dumpsters, plus Jacks of Fiji Nakasi store gave us some great boxes.  The total cost of the bed was $18.

Instructions:

  • We used 50 cans in ten rows of five to fit a single mattress.
  • Lay them out to make sure it fits.
  • Make a cardboard stencil to cover 4 cans, 6 cans and 3 cans.
  • We grouped the cans into fours and sixes and then put them together as you would leggo so as to give the structure some strength.
  • We then had a group of two lots of six cans, and one lot of three cans.
  • You need a stencil for both the top and bottom of each set.  I think we used eight stencils of the 4 can set, twelve stencils of the 6 can set, and two stencils of the 3 can set.IMG_0018
  • Trace the stencils onto cardboard boxes and cut with stanley knife or scissors
  • Tape the paint cans together in sets, then tape the cardboard stencils to the top and bottom of each.
  • Then tape the leggo pieces together.
  • Lay the large cardboard on the floor and place the large leggo pieces together
  • Score the cardboard so that you can fold the extra cardboard up to make the sides of the bed.
  • Tape around the cardboard.
  • Place some cardboard boxes on the top of the bed, and cover with a piece of thin foam if you have it.
  • Lay the material/fabric on the floor overlapping so that there are no gaps if you are using pieces, and make sure that there is enough on each side to cover the sides of the bed, and fold over the bottom.
  • Turn the bed frame upside down and lay on top of the middle of the material.IMG_0019
  • Cover the base of bed with a piece of material, and fold the top material over the sides and to the bottom so that no joins will show when the bed is right side up.
  • Use a piece of white packing tape, or cardboard to get a straight line, and screw the material into the base, all folded in, using the packing tape as a guide.
  • Use some long screws, and screw the coke bottle lids into the base as small legs.
  • Turn the bed over, put on the mattress, go to sleep!IMG_0020 IMG_0022 IMG_0029IMG_0031

This is Fiji – my day off from blogging!

Yesterday, I took a day off from blogging, and researching the effects of beverage plastic PET bottles and other plastics on the environment here in Fiji.  I have a wonderful friend who sent some stuff from home with her friends to Fiji.  My friend collected up some old footy jerseys, footy socks, some solar lights (thanks, and if anyone else is coming to Fiji, please ask your friends to pack a couple of sets of solar fairy lights in their luggage and I will collect from wherever they are!).  Solar fairy lights give enough light to eat, do evening stuff as a family and stay on all night until dawn.  They seem to stay lit a lot longer than the other types of solar bulbs for some reason.

Anyway, so I arranged to meet Katie and Tony Hiller who run the Mount Glorious Butterflies near Brisbane, Australia (www.mountgloriousbutterflies.com)

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Village near Korolevu, Coral Coast, Fiji

They arrived a week ago and leave today so yesterday was my last chance.  With one thing and another (got my wallet stolen, no cash, no cards, no transport) I kept putting off our meeting.  Yesterday, thinking I had money in the bank, I got a bus to Nakasi.  I tried my ATM, but no joy.  On to Suva.  I was lucky enough to get in a return cab for $1.50 (same price as the bus) and met a fellow passenger who is the team manager for the Davuilevu Knights Rugby Under 16s League Club.  Now my son can finally go to footy training!  The club is affiliated with the Newcastle Knights in Australia, but they are still waiting on training jerseys, balls and other equipment.  Apparently the old contact has now left, and things seem to have broken down.  If you have any spare football jerseys, boots of any size, shorts, socks, balls, pumps, or spikes, let me know and I can arrange to get them here.  There are very few clubs outside of schools, unlike in Australia, and this is the first one I have found.  I gave the guy my number, he said he would call.  I got to Suva and they guy (Andrew) offered to walk me to the minivan stand, but I told him that I was ok, as am used to finding my way around in Suva.

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The ubiquitous Coke truck – Coca Cola has basically branded Fiji – it is everywhere!

The cab dropped us off outside the Flea Market. From there I had planned to go to the ATM, get out some cash, buy them a gift as a momento of Fiji, and then travel to the Fiji Hideway Resort on the Coral Coast by minibus to meet my friends.  Well, I had made a boo boo on my internet banking, so when I got to Suva, no cash.  I only had $25 in my wallet and the return fare to meet them and get home was $23.  I decided to make the trip.

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Katie in the traditonal Bure (hut) that is on display at the Fiji Hideaway

I got in the Suva to Sigatoka minibus for $10 and enjoyed the ride.  As always, I was constantly thinking about the mangrove reclamation (a euphamism they use here for the destruction of the mangroves where they cut, then burn, then cover in hessian or similar, then cover with dirt, then build industrial areas) outside of Lami, the Coca Cola, Fiji Water and their other brands and the thousands of bottles on the side of the road, in the creeks and river mouths etc, but decided to give my mind a rest and let some thoughts collect.

For Katie and Tony, on their first overseas trip in nine years, they were literally forced to relax.  Tony did so much at home before they left that he gave himself acute sciatica and could not go anywhere at all.  They did make one trip to the Kula Bird Park which they really enjoyed as Tony breeds and studies birds and Katie is an insect lover who breeds butterflies.   Luckily, they were in the perfect place to relax – a resort in Fiji!  Katie joked about the need for a wheelchair, but in Fiji, I know that any of the Fijian lads who work at the hotel would have happily carried Tony where ever he wanted to go – life is just like that here.  We want every one to be happy – really and truly.

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View from the truck on the ride home

I had the nicest day with Katie and Tony, who are on their way to Nadi airport right now.  By the time they get home, they will be on the internet – as promised!  What an interesting couple.  Katie was born in Aruba, and when she was growing up, she remembers there being only one hotel which the locals called “The New Hotel”.  Now apparently, Aruba is a tourist mecca.  Katie then moved to the mainland USA and then went traveling.  Forty years ago almost to the day she sailed on a yacht to Fiji and landed near Suva.  She loves diving, and still had a hankering to see and dive the Great Barrier Reef, so she traveled to Australia.  Tony, who used to work at a Zoo in the UK (the name escapes me but here is a list of UK Zoos, and Tony might fill in.  He says that the Zoo he used to work at has really come ahead since he has left – I pointed out that that might not be a coincidence!  Anyway, Tony, forty years ago had gone to Heron Island to collect samples of insects or birds, and as he tells it, he collected an extra specimen, Katie.

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Katie, me and Tony

They are a young and vibrant couple, Tony is 71 and Katie is 62.  We talked and talked about rubbish in Fiji, rubbish in the ocean, country life, travel plans for the future, their butterfly and bird park, and my obsession with plastic trash. I even stopped and asked the hotel garbage collector staff what happens with their waste.  They tell me that at the Fiji Hideaway, all rubbish is taken to the back area and sorted into plastic bottles, glass wine bottles, cans and paper, then the rest, and the recyclables collected by a company called

Waste Recyclers(Fiji) Ltd
Phone: 336 1055/992 1056 (Lot 26 Wailada Subdivision, Lami),
Email: wasterec@connect.com.fj

This has to be a good thing!  Suva City Council states that

A total of 1,954,120 kg of rubbish(house garbage, green waste, general refuse) were disposed of at Naboro Landfill. Source: http://suvacity.org/home-composting/

It is not clear whether this is a yearly for 2012, or a total figure since the landfill was established.

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Bele flower – the first time I have seen one, at the Fiji Hideaway display food garden. We normally eat the leaves too fast and the flowers never get to form. Bele is in the hibiscus family and really delicious

I finally tore myself away at about 5pm, to give Katie and Tony some time to enjoy their last night in Fiji, and went across the road to wait for a minivan.  I met a taxi driver who hailed a truckdriver friend.  The driver was not going to Suva, but was going all the way to 9miles, which is a $2 taxi fare from my house!  What a great trip.  Along the way, other passengers got in and out, and we all talked.  In Fiji, everyone is happy to talk.  Everyone wants to know about you, and wants to share information about themselves.

Katie was mentioning that at the resort, everyone says “Bula” which is kind of loosely translated as “Hello” but in a happy way, sort of “Happy Hello”.  I think she wondered whether it was just a tourist thing, but it really is genuine.  Fijians as a nation (including all Fijians, whether iTaukei, Indo-Fijians, or the quaintly named “Others”) are to me at least, very genuine.

Sitting up in the cabin of the truck, I had a great view, a seat to myself, with my big bag of stuff from home stored comfortably at the back!

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Deo, the truck driver

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Deo’s boss who found me a taxi

On arriving back in 9miles, the driver, Deo, gave me his number and invited me to visit at home with his wife.  His supervisor, Suresh, immediately got my bag, helped me jump out of the truck (I literally did have to jump), and insisted on hailing me a taxi to make sure I got home safe.

When I told the driver where I wanted to go, he headed to my old house, remembering me and where I used to live before we moved a couple of weeks ago.  I got home, and still had $5 left in my purse.  I came home happy.  Half an hour after I got home, guess who called – Andrew from the footy club, as promised!

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Katie outside the Fiji Hideaway, saying our good byes

So nice to see and hear from people from home, and so nice to meet new people here.  I know that Tony and Katie will be back to Fiji – they have to come – my husband wants to cook them a lovo!  One week in Fiji is really not enough – if you come, please come for at least 10 days.  We would have been so honoured to have Katie and Tony as guests in our home for a night or two, and show them some of our little part of Fiji, and hope that next time, as they only have to save for the air fare, and not the accommodation, that they will take us up on it, and that it is not nine years from now!

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.

Seaweed House – what an idea!

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Our old house in Koronivia, made of corrugated iron.

Here’s a thought!  Amazing what you stumble upon – apparently seaweed houses have been a traditional method of construction on some island communities.  A modern take on it is on Dornob.  Click here for more information.  Pictures of the seaweed house at the bottom of this post.

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Typical house in Savusavu, Fiji

Informal settlement in Fiji. Muanivatu, Central Suva.
Source: http://www.informalism.net

So many ideas for building in Fiji where timber is expensive.  Funnily enough though, mahogany or mangrove wood is used for firewood here, and the sawdust from the mahogany is sold for $2 FJD per bag to use in chicken houses or on the garden.  Banana crates are made from mahogany, but most Fijian homes are made of either concrete or corrugated iron.  So many of the homes even in coastal villages are corrugated iron loosely cobbled together.  So many (between 100,000 and 300,000) people in Fiji live in informal settlements or shanty towns. http://www.informalism.net/2010/04/asian-coaltion-for-housing-rights-in.html

Seaweed is apparently fire resistant and insulating, and also readily available in Fiji.

Modern Seaweed House 2

Source: Dornob

Suva Clean Air Forum – Participate

IMGP7486Do you want to participate and enable a study on the air quality in the Suva area?  If you have visited, or live in Suva, please have your say.  The chief investigator of thestudy apparently is having trouble convincing her counterparts at a University in Australia that there could possibly be an issue with air pollution in Suva and needs “proof”.

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Burning dump from the local shop at Koronivia, near Suva. The smoke extended for about a kilometer.

If you are concerned about the emissions from vehicles, the thick diesel fumes at the bus stand, the black coating all over the buildings and foot paths, the smoke from burning household waste, or burning community rubbish dumps, then please participate.

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Traffic on the Kings Road Highway on the way to Suva airport

To participate you can either

Log into the Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/SuvaCleanAirForum,

or

Complete the quick online survey at https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/SuvaAir

Results will be published on the Facebook page.

Rural Fiji – labour of love

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Sunrise over Koronivia

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Sunrise Koronivia

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Harvesting rice

Sometimes I know that I may sound negative with some of the posts I put up, complaining about or documenting rubbish and PET bottles, burning plastic fires and so on.

Part of the reason I am so saddened by it all, is that I love Fiji so much.  I have really come to love rural life – I never thought I would.  I am a beach girl by nature – the thought of not being able to access the ocean normally terrifies me – really.  I remember years ago, I had the opportunity to move to Botswana.  I am ashamed to admit that the reason that I held in my

“secret heart” and not one of the many reasons I ever voiced, was that I could not do it, as after looking on the map, I realized that Botswana was landlocked!

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Rice harvesting, Fiji

Fiji is a nation of islands,

hundreds and hundreds of islands – and I live on the largest one.  I am not that far from the sea really, and see it every time I take the bus to Suva but no one really swims in the sea here.  If they do, they often swim fully clothed for modesty and cultural reasons, and there are no surf beaches on this side of the island at all (or in fact any place in Fiji that I have been to).  Note to self – must visit surf side sometime.  Even though we live on an island (a big one), we live in a rural setting.  I have once seen some people swimming in Suva near the bowling club, which was wierd.  The water is so filthy that the sand is black and the water is often blackish grey also.  There were rusty cans and

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Rice paddy, Fiji

plastic bottles everywhere, but a mother watched as her two young kids had a ball in the water.  The water in Suva Harbour is so contaminated, and it is widely documented and known, but many people here don’t read the paper, so I guess how are they to know.  I have also seen people daily catching fish in Nubukalou Creek in Suva and in the Harbour.  Maybe they are not aware?

toxic creek

 

Of particular concern is Nubukalou Creek which drains a major area of the city that is without sewerage. The National State of the Environment Report states that “with faecal coliform levels thousands of times above an acceptable level it should be regarded as a sewer. The continued sale of fish along the creek bank, with the consequent use of its water for washing them, is a serious health hazard.” Source: http://www.unescap.org/drpad/publication/integra/volume2/fiji/2fj02c03.htm

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Cattle, Fiji

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

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Mother and son take a walk in the morning mist

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

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

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

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Farm Road Fiji

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

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Grey herons stalk the rice paddies waiting for fingerlings

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

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

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

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Working bullocks, Fiji

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

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Teenagers enjoy juice after working together clearing our yard

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

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

Suva’s Iconic Past being restored – but what about the rubbish?

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The old Grand Pacific Hotel, opposite Albert Park and the Government Buildings, now undergoing restoration, and due to re-open in 2014.

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Lovers look on as a fridge bobs in Suva Harbour in downtown Suva

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Daily view of rubbish on the beach in Downtown Suva

 

Recently there was an article in the newspaper here in Fiji about a wonderful project to restore the old iconic buildings and gardens in Downtown Suva (for online copy of the article by Graham Davis, click here).  This is a great project, but my concern is – once the work is done, and locals and tourists come to the area, if they look up they will see the beauty of “Old Suva”, currently a faded beauty, and the glory of Suva Harbour, if they look down, they will see hundreds of polystyrene lunch containers that say “Bula” (which means Hello or Welcome) or “Fiji”, co-mingled with plastic drink bottles, aluminum cans, tyres, backpacks and allmanner of other rubbish all along the beach and the sea wall promenade.  Recently I saw a fridge floating about two meters from shore in Suva Harbour outside the Fish Market.  One idea in my response below:

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Polystyrene lunch container “Bula” floats in Suva Harbour outside the Suva City Council Offices

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The Peace Park on Suva Harbour

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Disused fountain in Thurston Gardens, near the Fiji Museum

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The sea wall promenade near the Suva City Council Offices, with a seaplane parked at the Holiday Inn, and the old Grand Pacific Hotel in the background.

I read your article with interest in the paper recently. While it is wonderful news that there are moves to restore the Government Buildings, the old Grand Pacific Hotel and the strip along the sea wall, I wonder if any of the supporters of this project have recently taken a walk along the sea wall? I do not have a car here in Fiji, so I walk or ride the bus. From that vantage point, on any and every day of the week, you can see recyclables, and rubbish by the tonne along the walkway and small beaches that dot the sea wall. Notably, it seems that the majority of garbage dumped on the nature strips and beaches seems to be outside where the Government employees take their lunch. If you look at the beach outside FIRCA, the beach outside the Suva City Council Buildings, and the beach outside the Government Office Tower, you will see the remnants of daily lunches. It is a strange twist of fate that many of the polystyrene “lunch packs” that are used at almost every take away shop say “Bula” or “Fiji”. This is quite embarrassing really. There are also no recycling bins at all that I have seen either along the sea wall, or in Suva City, or anywhere else. Recycling bins must be a priority for those in authority, as there are approximately 44 million PET plastic drink bottles in Fiji every year (that figure though was from 2003). What use the mantra of Reduce, Reuse, Recycle if there are no public place recycling bins. Coca Cola Amatil and Fiji Water have a joint program where they will collect the bottles and pay per kilogram, plus all aluminum cans. Surely Suva City Council could arrange this, and if they need assistance, I am happy to facilitate.
Could part of the cause of the problem be that much of the recyclables and garbage is not visible if traveling by car, and that many in authority have a driver and a vehicle?
Part of the solution could be a “plain clothes Friday” for all government and council administrative staff – a lunch time barbeque could be provided on the beach, and a weekly show of civic duty to pick up one’s own lunch rubbish could be exhibited. Recently we did a

clean up on a 5km stretch of a rural dirt road in Koronivia, and collected more than 1,200 bags of rubbish and recycling.
Cleaning up sporadically is not a solution, and too often every article in the paper about clean ups mentions this or that community group, but does not mention or tally WHAT was collected. Once we learn that the rubbish needs to be tallied,and the results published, then maybe we

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Thurston Gardens, Suva

will get some action. Fiji is abundant in beauty and resources, and could be a leader in the Pacific if we learn how to deal with recycling, and fast!
Recycling bins can even be made from the plastic bottles, so very little expenditure is needed. I am being contacted by communities across Fiji who want to recycle, and just need someone to help them to get it organized. If you or your readers wish to be involved, please feel free to contact me.

Calling Fiji – Environment wake up call on the radio

Update: for all who missed it, here is the link to the radio interview of 19th July on 4BC Brisbane Radio.  mp3 https://alicevstokes.files.wordpress.com/2013/07/alice-tamani.mp3

I have plans, grand plans!  I am doing a slow reveal of the wonderful things happening here in Fiji and abroad in the movement to restore Fiji to a pristine paradise, as while I am working, the support from others is taking shape, and ideas are being added and refined in this new grouping.

IMGP5651People from island communities in Fiji have started to contact me regarding organising recycling on the islands.  I was contacted for local insights by a BBC TV producer, and tomorrow I have the wonderful opportunity to be interviewed on Australian Radio 4BC Brisbane by Catherine McGeorge.  Catherine spent time yachting around the Pacific, and witnessed some of the pollution and changes to this wonderful place that I am now seeing.  The live feed is available at http://www.4bc.com.au/afternoons the Moyd and Loretta Show.  The interview is scheduled for 2.05pm Brisbane time, and 4.05pm Fiji Time.

Background: Since I came to Fiji for the first time in February last year, I was struck by how little it resembles the travel brochures, and the ads on TV.  In fact, it is nothing like that.  The resorts are an anomaly, a little microcosm of their own, cloistered away, and often on islands of their own, or walled completely.  On the island of Viti Levu, the main island of Fiji, which has the international airport at Nadi, and the present day capital, Suva, the resorts are enclosed by high walls and lush gardens, and just outside, or across the road is the “village”.  The village is often no longer the quaint romantic picture postcard we have in our minds while sipping Fiji Water, or trawling through the internet looking for the best flight deals.

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My husband and I in Brisbane

Very few Fijian villages still have the traditional bures (huts with thatched roofs).  The bures have been replaced by concrete block or corrugated iron houses, with corrugated iron roofs.  Perhaps they are judged more cyclone proof.  Perhaps a lot of the old skills are dying out.  Perhaps, as one Fijian man suggested to me, the missionary culture that helped to shape the modern Fiji imposed the idea that God’s house is made of concrete with an iron roof – to be closer to God, the idea that one’s own home should be modelled on the European style “church” building took hold.

Perhaps it is just a sign of modernization or becoming “developed” as Fiji identifies itself as a Developing Nation and one of the SIDS (Small Island Developing States).

Another by-product of “developing” is apparent in the enormous amount of plastic and other rubbish, including recyclables that are thrown anyhow, anywhere, everywhere.  I started thinking about the cause.  At first I was angry, and then disappointed, then disbelief set in, then denial, sadness, anger again, and so on.  It occurred to me that my emotions resembled the famed “7 stages of grief” and I realised that most of all it saddened me.

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Roni getting his shoes shined in Suva

I am married to a Fijian national, and love my life here, with all its ups and downs.  Life is physical, I feel younger, and even though I miss my friends from home, I have come to think of Fiji as Home now.  Home is where the heart is I guess.

I started to think of a solution.  It is mind boggling as the problem is endemic, and systemic.  The system just can’t cope with the amount of rubbish there is (44 million PET bottles in Fiji in the year 2003 – the mind boggles!), and there is no plan.  There are initiatives such as the 3R’s (reduce, reuse, recyle), but no community education or strategy to actually implement any of the initiatives.

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Roni on our honeymoon in Savusavu, Vanua Levu, Fiji

So, first I just started cleaning up my own street.  I went out in the afternoons, rain, pouring rain, torrential rain or blistering heat (the only weather there seems to be) and started picking up rubbish out of the 2 feet wide, 2 feet deep open drains that run on both sides of the street.  These drains take all waste water from the homes, except for sewage which goes into septic tanks.  All of the drains were full of plastic bottles, broken thongs (flip-flops) and coconuts.  Regularly I would pick up so much rubbish in 50kg bags that I couldn’t drag it home, and had to get a taxi home with it.  Once I got it home, there was nothing to do with it.  That is why most Fijians either throw it in the drain, or burn it, or bury it.

I started to become a bit of an oddity in the neighbourhood.  Then I organised a clean up day on the street – 300 volunteers collected 10 tonnes of rubbish on a 5km stretch of dirt road!

I also started a blog for the sake of my friends and family as I can’t often send photos by email.  The blog started to get a readership of like minded folks from most places in the world.  I started a facebook page www.facebook.com/cleanupfijiprotectingparadise at the suggestion of a reader, then a twitter account @cleanupfiji.

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Roni at the hot springs, Savusavu, Vanua Levu, Fiji

You have borne witness to my private thoughts, blasted out over the internet, and if you want, you can also hear my views on radio tomorrow.  I would love your support.  Fiji has a way of life and an abundance of natural beauty and resources that can’t be matched.  If we all do the little bit that we can, we can achieve great things I am sure!  Someone once said, “Boldness has a genius to it.”  Another person said, “If I can so something and I do nothing, I have failed”.  Personally, I know that what I am doing may amount to not much, but if I do nothing, I will certainly die with regret.  If I do what I can do, I have the opportunity to make a difference in developing island nation that I now call “Home”.  If you do whatever you can do to help, you also have that opportunity, no matter where you are.

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Saris on the washing line, Savusavu

It could be volunteering to do a few days’ repainting a village school, or a day replanting coral or mangroves, or just picking up some garbage around the hotel or on the resort beach while you are here.  It could be helping to fund what we need to do, or helping with research and contacts at your home location for where Fiji can send their recyclables for the highest price.  Now, we need a way to fund this project.  Even sending clothes and unwanted things from home with the next visitor can help.  These items can be either donated to those in need, or sold to raise funds.

I look forward to working with you all, and to your input and ideas.  Thank you for your support so far, and thank you in advance for what you are going to do.

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

Including new travel tips!!!!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Our sleeping arrangements on the inter island ferry

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Just one small part of our family

Earlier today:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Source: Fiji Times Online

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

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

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

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

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

Learn to Weave Fijian Voivoi Mats – private classes

Do you want to learn how to weave mats in a Fijian home, rather than at a resort?  Eat real Fijian food? Enjoy a real Fijian home atmosphere and relax?

To find out more, click here and I will be able to contact you.IMGP1938

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

 

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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

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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.

Get our Clean Up published in print – how I did it

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Full page article in the Fiji Sun

I wanted to raise awareness in our small community about the garbage, recycling and environmental issues here in Fiji.  My goal from the start was to get an article in the newspaper.  I didn’t think I’d get a full page with colour photos, but I got lucky.

Here are the steps I took, maybe they will work for you.

First, I looked up the Clean Up the World website just to get some information.  The Clean up the World Weekend this year is in September.  I decided that it was too far away.  As I am originally from Australia, I also knew that Clean Up the World was initiated by Ian Kiernan who started Clean Up Australia so I did some research on that also.   I registered our group for Clean Up the World, and we now have our own member area where we can post information, or people can contact me if they want to be involved.  Member area click here.

In 1989 an ‘average Australian bloke’ had a simple idea to make a difference in his own backyard – Sydney Harbour.

This simple idea has now become the nation’s largest community-based environmental event, Clean Up Australia Day.

It is hard to believe that this campaign began as the inspiration of one man, Australian builder and solo yachtsman, Ian Kiernan.

As an avid sailor, Ian had always dreamed about sailing around the world.

In 1987 his dream came true when he competed in the BOC Challenge solo around-the-world yacht race.

As he sailed through the oceans of the world in his yacht ‘Spirit of Sydney’ he was shocked and disgusted by the pollution and rubbish that he continually encountered in areas such as the Sargasso Sea in the Caribbean.

Having waited years to see the Sargasso’s legendary long golden weeds, Ian’s excited anticipation turned to anger and disappointment when he found them polluted and tangled with rubbish.

The polluted state of the world’s oceans motivated Ian to act.

Once back in Sydney Ian organised a community event with the support of a committee of friends, including Clean Up co founder Kim McKay AO – Clean Up Sydney Harbour.What happened after this is now well documented.

Clean Up Sydney Harbour Day in 1989 received an enormous public response with more than 40,000 Sydneysiders donating their time and energy to clean up the harbour.

Rusted car bodies, plastics of all kinds, glass bottles and cigarette butts were removed by the tonne.

The idea of a clean up day had ignited an enthusiasm and desire among the community to get involved and make a difference to their local environment themselves.

The next year Clean Up Australia Day was born. Ian and his committee believed that if a capital city could be mobilised into action, then so could the whole nation.

Almost 300,000 volunteers turned out on the first Clean Up Australia Day in 1990 and that involvement has steadily increased ever since.

In the past 20 years, Australians have devoted more than 24 million hours towards the environment through Clean Up Australia Day and collected over 200,000 tonnes of rubbish.

The next step for Ian and Kim was to take the concept of Clean Up Australia Day to the rest of the world.

After gaining the support of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), Clean Up the World was launched in 1993. Source http://www.cleanupaustraliaday.org.au/about/about-the-event/history

IMGP5651I looked up the Department of Environment website here in Fiji.  Their calendar had no items, but I heard on the radio that as part of World Biodiversity Day, that the Department was coordinating a clean up.  I contacted IMGP5654them by phone, and they let me know that there was no clean up being organised but that groups were free to celebrate biodiversity in any way they pleased, and that if I needed gloves and garbage bags, they could assist.  The did let me know that there was a clean up being organised from June 5 – June 8, and that they could send me the registration form by email.

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I completed the registration form for our area, and sent it in, nominating that I would have 100 volunteers.  From there, as there was no publicity of note, no TV advertisements, nothing in print that I could find, and nothing on their website, I made a flyer.  I decided that we would clean up on Saturday 8th June in Koronivia, near Nausori (home of Suva airport), Fiji.  If you haven’t already read other posts, I live in a rural area, on a long gravel road, with approximately 18,000 residents, and no garbage collection.

I knew that the amount of garbage we would collect would be massive, as I have been in the habit on a Sunday afternoon of doing an informal pick up, and each time, I collect about 75kg at a time.  Because I knew that there would be a lot of garbage, including a lot of recyclables IMGP5755such as plastic drink bottles and aluminium cans, I put in writing and confirmed on the phone to the Department of Environment that I needed a commitment from them that the garbage would be collected on the same day as the clean up, and not be left overnight.

The commitment was given.

With flyer in hand, my husband and I took a day out from work, and went door knocking.  We went to the local Police Post also and asked them to assist with traffic control. The response from the community was so positive that I knew we would make the 100 volunteers.

The next day, on the bus, I started talking to the lady I was sitting next to, and asked her if she was interested in being involved.  She was very enthusiastic, and we exchanged numbers.  Within an hour she phoned me and told me that she would have about 100 volunteers.

IMGP5627My husband contacted his friends at Fiji National University, and told me that they had organised a group of about 40 students.

I knew then that we might get about 250 people turn up, so decided to increase the number to 300 volunteers .

I contacted Department of Environment with our new numbers, and requested 300 pairs of gloves and 600 bags.  I phoned Coca Cola Amatil in Fiji and asked them about recycling.  They have big bags (1,000 kg rice bags) which you can collect from their facility in Suva to fill.  If you bring the recyclables back to them, they pay $1FJD per kg, or 75c per kg if you call and ask them to collect.  I organized that I would collect eight bags from them.  I also IMGP5628spoke to their marketing manager and asked them for some Tshirts or similar as we would be picking up a lot of packaging from Coca Cola and their owned brands.  They said that they have no Tshirts, but they could provide 10 cartons of Coke Zero for the volunteers.  They take all their own brands of plastics, plus Fiji Water, plus all aluminium cans.  I mentioned to them that I would be contacting the two big newspapers here, and would like to mention their support in the media release.

I phoned BSP which is a local Bank here, that promotes themselves as “Go Green”.  I explained what we were doing and they agreed to support us with some wristbands for the kids, stickers, and hundreds of biodegradable shopping bags.  These bags I gave to Shanila, our local shop keeper.  I also told BSP about the proposed contact with the media.

IMGP5624On Friday afternoon before the clean up, I hired a taxi, and went to pick up the gloves and bags from the Department of Environment, plus some Tshirts (only 100 were available), and some bottled water.  As I had to stop by the Coca Cola factory to get the recycling bags, I had to leave some stuff behind, and the Department staff were to drop it off that night.  I arranged with Liti to meet me and she would collect her supplies.  We ended up with double the bags and gloves, making it 1,200 bags due to a mix up, but we used them all!

I emailed the newspapers alerting them to our activity and the number of volunteers, and some background information about our area.

I knew that to get into the paper, we would have to have a massive turn out, and collect a mountain of rubbish.

On the day of the clean up, we went out very early, with me coordinating at one point, my husband at another, and Liti down her end of the street at the Village.  We also had another great coordinator mid way near the Police Post, called Tema.

We had great support also from the local Police football team and the students from Fiji National University Campus that is on our road.

All the volunteers were so positive that during the morning, so many other people came out onto the streets to help.  They helped also by going into feeder roads and yards and assisting others to clean up whatever was there: tin, metal, glass, coconut husks by the sackful, you name it.

During the clean up, I took lots of photographs.IMGP5755

Once the rubbish had been collected, and the truck was due at the pre-arranged time of 11.30am, I phoned my contact from Environment.  I also wanted to let her know about the volume of garbage, as a small truck would have to do many trips. She told me that ‘the truck driver was a Seventh Day Adventist, and would not be coming today’.

Knowing that the community would feel a huge let down at that news, I decided to press on, reminding her that she had given a commitment.  She asked me to call the Minister’s personal staff.  I did just that, and informed him of our problem.  Being a pragmatic person, he quickly organised a solution: two trucks from the nearest Town Council.

The trucks came, me taking photos all the time, the street was clean. The Department of Environment dropped off hot dogs for everyone, and the atmosphere was one of jubilation and pride.

I compiled an email and sent it in to the newspapers after the event, with photos included.

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Capt Niumataiwalu from the Office of the Minister (far left) organised the Town Council trucks to collect the rubbish

One of the editors from the Fiji Sun picked it up and contacted me for some more information.  I sent him a blurb, and it was published the following Thursday.

The community has really come together through this activity, and rubbish and what we are going to do is a hot topic on the street whenever neighbours meet.  There will be another clean up in the next month, leading up to the Clean Up the World Weekend in September.

In the meantime, we have now got recycling bags at every shop along the road, and soon to have recycling at the FNU campus.  I am in touch with other communities about how to get their recycling started, and have been contacting some of the major makers of plastics asking them what other measures they might take to reduce the amount of recyclables that go into the ocean or are IMGP5662burned or buried here in Fiji.  So far, the response from them is less than adequate, but I will continue working on it.  If you have the time to like the facebook page, it really does help spread the message and help this issue gather momentum.  http://www.facebook.com/CleanUpFijiProtectingParadise

Getting around Fiji – part two – taxi driver phone contacts -Suva City, Nadi airport and Suva airport/Nausori

Getting a taxi in Fiji is normally easy, unless of course you are in a hurry and really need one.  Then, Murphy’s law applies.

To phone a taxi, you normally need the driver’s number.  In the Suva/Nausori area, most drivers will come anywhere you need, and travel freely along the corridor (Kings Road and Princess Road).  You can book a taxi in advance, or call as you need.  It is a good idea to have a few numbers stored as if you are in Nausori at the Suva airport, and the driver is stuck in Suva, you will wait about half an hour or more.

If you know another reputable driver in another area and want to add their details, please respond below.  See also, Getting around Part One – tips, mobile phones, ATMs.

Suva Airport area (Nausori area) reputable licensed taxis

Atish +679 9216093

Soni +679 9212511

Deo +679 9953568

Satea +679 9724312

Saleim (modern 5 seater van with luggage space) +679 9425271

Forum Taxis (very quick service) +679 9337818  /+679 8400402/ +679 7192710 forum.taxis@gmail.com

Suva City areaIMGP0198

Bau Taxis (Vinesh) +679 9953521

Saleim (modern 5 seater van with luggage space) +679 9425271

Ali +679 9667994

Forum Taxis (very quick service) +679 9337818  /+679 8400402/ +679 7192710 forum.taxis@gmail.com

Nadi Airport to Suva City/ Suva City door to door pick up to Nadi Airport

Safe Shuttle Service – modern sedans $25 per person, will pick up and drop off door to door +679 8777047 (Tiko)

Getting around Fiji Part One – Transport tips Nadi to Suva, ATMs, Mobile Phones

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Buses lined up at Suva Bus Stand

If you are planning to travel in Fiji – here are some tips to help you in your travels.  There is so much to tell, so this is Part One.  For additional info see also Part Two with taxi driver numbers and contacts.

IMGP2413Nadi (pronounced Nandi) to Suva by plane

Flying into Fiji is so memorable, and I always love it.  You know when you are approaching Fiji as after flying over open ocean for hours, suddenly you see billowing clouds that go up and up into the heavens.  They seem so solid, and are in layers, one on top of the other.  If you are travelling to Nadi International airport, as you arrive there will be a little troupe of singers to welcome you, and also see you off.  Many tourists do not know what to make of this, but it is really a welcome sight and sound for homecomers to Fiji.  The group normally has a wooden box on a stand for tips/gratuities.  I encourage you to support them as wages here in Fiji are very low, and every dollar counts.IMGP3269

If you are getting a connecting flight, after you go through customs, go out the door and turn right, and walk over to Domestic check in.  Don’t delay, as there is often a long line.  Once you check in, you can go outside for some fresh air, or get a drink or whatever.  If you have been told that your bags will be checked right through to Suva, and you don’t get your bags through customs at International, you will have to run back for them, and risk missing your connection.  I have done this once.

As Nadi International is the first port of call, you must get your bags through customs.  Coming back however, if you check your bags at Suva and then are going through Nadi to your overseas destination, you will not have to collect your bags, they will be sent straight through to your connection.  There are toilets once you get down the escalator at the baggage claim.

IMGP0198Mobile Phones -There is also a vodafone shop as at the airport where you can get your Fiji Vodoafone sim or internet wireless device (dongle/flashnet etc).  Note:  you must have a handset that its unlocked, and not locked to any network as if you try and use an Australian Vodafone prepay phone, it is locked to Vodafone Australia, and the Fijian sim card won’t work!  Otherwise a dual sim phone is handy.

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Elliot, Dom and Roni at Suva/Nausori airport

The overhead lockers in the Nadi to Suva flight are very small, so make sure that your carry on baggage is within the limits for your own sake and the comfort of all.

The trip from Nadi to Suva by plane takes 23 minutes.  Suva airport is not really in Suva, it is in Nausori.

Nadi to Suva by Road : Taxi, Bus, Minibus, Safe Shuttle, Hire Car?

To get from Nausori airport to Suva City, you have to get a taxi, bus or minibus.  Taxi costs around $25FJD.  Make sure that you confirm the fare with the driver first.  If he says he is going to put you on the meter, that is fine, as the meter will show about $25. Sometimes, you can negotiate a bit of a lower rate, depending on the driver and time of day.  If you are on a budget, get a taxi to Nausori Bus stand.  At the bus stand, there are the local buses to Suva (fare $1.60FJD).  Also, there are minibuses just next to the bus stand near the Mobil service station.  You just get on – sometimes they are very crowded, so if you have baggage, you need to pay for the seat for your bags.  Fare to Suva is $1.50FJD.  There are also express coaches such as the Sunbeam, Intercities, and Pacific.  They are comfortable, and you can put your luggage underneath the bus.  The fare to Suva is still only around the $2 mark.  It is not my favourite way to travel though as it gets very hot inside sometimes.  I prefer the buses with the open windows.

The trip to Suva by taxi takes about 25 minutes if there is not too much traffic, by local bus about 45 minutes, and by coach about 30 minutes.

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Local bus

There is also a smaller bus (about a 30 seater) that goes from the Nausori bus stand about every 20 minutes.  Just ask anyone to show you the Princess Road Bus, or as the “Back road Bus”.  This is by far my favourite way to travel to Suva if you get a chance.  Rather than going on Kings Road, it goes the back way through the mountains, past Colo-i-Suva which is in the rainforrest, through Tacirua (pronounced Tathirua) and Tamavua, and then down Edinborough Drive to Suva Bus stand.  The fare is $2 and it takes about the same time as the local bus.  The trip is so beautiful though, and it really gives you a feeling of being in Fiji.

Tips

  • There are some services which operate outside of Nadi Airport.
  • Hire car – I know you can hire a car, but I have never done it, and if you are not experienced on driving the Queens Road Highway, it may be best to think twice, especially in bad weather.
  • Express Bus – the Sunbeam stops outside Nadi Domestic terminal.
  • Taxi – all airport taxis are painted yellow, and the standard fare to town is $15.

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    Licenced Minivan

  • To get to town cheaper, walk outside the airport, and cross over the road.  Wait on the side of the road for a minibus to Nadi.  Just hail any van that has the initials LM for licenced minivan on the numberplate.  The fare is $1.50. Once you get to town if you are going by taxi, ask them to drop you at the minivan stand at the bus stand in Nadi.  If you are going by minibus, they will normally drop you off outside Jacks Department Store.

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    The road from Nausori/Suva airport on the way to Suva

  • It is a 5 minute walk to the bus stand, or minivan stand which is behind the market.  If you are worried about asking where the bus stand is, just ask where the market is, and you will see it.  All of the Fijian people I have met are very keen to help you and show you where to go, often accompanying you.  They love to find out where you are from.  Don’t be put off by this, as your place of origin is very important here in Fiji.  Fijians are very attached to their birthplace, and mothers and fathers villages, so they will often ask two questions: Where are you from (where were you born), and where do you stay (where do you live now away from your birthplace).  For example, Fijians who live in Suva but were not born there will make the distinction that they “stay” in Suva, but are “from” Gau.

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    Suva to Nadi plane

  • The minivan stand is where you can find a “return” taxi to Suva, or a minivan.  The cost of return taxi or minivan to Suva is about $20 to $25 per person.  If you hire a whole taxi, you can travel to Suva in comfort for about $100 negotiated.
  • If you are traveling by minibus, and have luggage, you have to pay for 2 or 3 seats so a taxi is just as cheap.  Minivans are notoriously dangerous, so many Fijians out of concern for you will advise you not to travel that way, even though they do so themselves due to financial constraints.
  • There is also a service called the “Safe Shuttle Service”.  This service takes passengers from Nadi airport to Suva or any place in between.  They have clean, modern cars, and you book in advance.  It is $25 per person, or $100 if you want to hire the whole car.  Returning, they will pick you up from your door.  Best to phone in advance and talk to Tiko phone +679 8777047. Their base is near the sea wall outside the Olympic Pool in Suva.

IMGP0720Tips General once you get settled

  • Taxis are recognisable by the numberplate which starts with LT (for licenced taxi).
  • Minibuses have numberplates that start with LM (licenced minibus).
  • Some taxis do not have the little taxi sign on the top, but if they have the numberplate, they are licenced.
  • To tell where a minibus is going, their route is written on the side of the bus – for example Nausori/Suva/Nausori.
  • You can hail a minibus anywhere along the road, and if it is going in the right direction, it will stop.
  • You pay the minibus driver when you get out of the minibus.

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    Elliot, Dom, Roni at Nausori Bus stand

  • You don’t have to tip taxi drivers, and if you do, they will be very happy if you just round it up to the nearest dollar, and will STILL try and give you back the 10 cents!  Taxi drivers in Fiji are a really nice bunch.  Often students earning extra money, or retirees.  They are a great source of information.
  • Taxi drivers will often try and give you their number – TAKE IT, as there is no central number to call if you want a taxi.  You call the drivers you know and see if they are free.  Also, you can book them in advance for a negotiated fare back to the airport, or if you want to go on a longer trip.
  • All taxis have a little red sticker on the top of their numberplate on the bumper bar.  It says where they are based.  For example, you will see “Suva City”, “Nadi Town”, “Suva Rural” which is near Colo-i-Suva rainforest park and Tamavua, “Nausori Town” etc.  Why does this matter? See next tip…
  • If you see a taxi driver or minibus driver flashing their lights at you while you are waiting at a bus stop or by the side of the road, that means they want to know if you want to get it.  Flashing lights from a taxi often means that they are returning to base and want a return fare.  This is very handy, as if you are on the way from Nausori or another town, heading back to Suva, and you can get a return cab, the fare is between 70 cents and $2 depending on the distance.  You would be safe if you gave $2 for any of these trips.  Make sure before you get in that you ask the driver if he is a “return”.  If he says no, he will put you on the meter.  The meter fare from Nausori to Suva is about $20 to $25.

    IMGP0176

    Tom on the bus

  • If you see a minibus flashing their headlights, it means that they have a spare seat if you want it.
  • To hail a bus, minibus or taxi, you put your arm out at about 45 degrees, and make a downward motion with your handIMGP8167
  • If a fellow passenger taps you on the leg, it doesn’t mean that they are keen on you, it means that they want you to ring the bell for them
  • If you have a lot of shopping, you can put it behind the driver on the bus, or on the gearbox cover.
  • If you have vegetables with dirt on them such as a bundle of root crops which you should take if you are visiting someone, you put them under the bus in the open section, and when you get off, tell the driver you are getting your things.  When you have them out of the compartment, slap on the side of the bus to let the driver know that you are OK for him to go.
  • If you hear people making a kissing sound with their lips, it also doesn’t mean that they are keen on you or another passenger.  You often hear it on the minibus.  That is the noise people make to alert the driver that they want him to stop at the next bus stop.  Many ladies simply say loudly “bus stop driver”, but men make the kissing sound.  The kissing sound is also how you can hail a taxi.

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    Suva bus stand

  • If you hear a car beeping its horn behind you as you are walking, it is a taxi driver asking if you need a ride.  They will do this often, as most Fijians do not have cars, and taxis are so cheap, it is a very popular mode of transport especially after shopping.  Normally just a couple of dollars if you are going from the market to home.IMGP6619
  • A quick note on shopping – if you are in Suva or Nausori market, or other large markets, there are wheelbarrow boys.  They will carry your shopping to the bus or taxi stand for you for $1 or $2.

ATMs

There are so many ANZ ATMs in Fiji, and also many Westpac ATMs.  You can get out up to $900 FJD at one time, and the cost at transaction is around $9FJD.  Both my Australian cards work at the ANZ, but only one of them works at Westpac and BSP (Bank of South Pacific).  There are ANZ ATMs at both Nadi and Suva airports, and at many supermarkets.

IMGP5146IMGP6914IMG_8772DSCF0884IMG_2144IMGP2654 IMGP0215 IMGP6399  IMG_2254 IMG_2155  IMGP0025 rainbow suva harb 1   IMGP0729 IMGP0278     IMGP1041 IMGP0717  IMGP6724 IMGP7012

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

Clean Up Fiji – Protecting Paradise

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Fishing for bottles in the drain, Koronivia

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Rubbish at Koronivia Road and Kings Road

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Morning on Koronivia Road. No need to stop drinking just because it’s time to move to pasture.

Fiji is literally a paradise.  It is easy to believe in a higher power or God when you come to this vast group of islands in the middle of the Pacific.  Fiji is not like in the tourist brochures at all.  There are resorts, yes, and beaches, but most of Fiji is rural in every sense of the word.  We live in Koronivia, Fiji, on Koronivia Road near the Fiji College of Agriculture.

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Koronivia Road during the clean up

It is a dirt road that goes from the Kings Road Junction of the Nausori to Suva road, all the way down to Lokia Landing.  If you click on the map you will get the picture.  It really is just a dirt road, on an island, in the middle of the Pacific!

 

My husband and I took a day off from our normal activities on the Thursday before the clean up and went door knocking with a little brochure.  The next morning, on the bus to Suva, I met a lady (Liti) and we got chatting, she also was keen to be involved.  We estimated that we would have 300 volunteers, and hoped and prayed that we would.  We had three committed groups in place and hoped for fine weather and success.

The night before the clean up was due to start, with a commitment from the Ministry of Environment that they would collect the rubbish on the same day it was collected, it rained, and then it rained some more, all night long.

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Kids from Lokia Village after the clean up

In the morning, Roni, Dom and I went out a bit heavy hearted with out Tshirts, gloves, and bags, and started cleaning.  The Ministry had helped out with 600 pairs of gloves, and 1,200 feed bags (50kg bags) plus water and hot dogs.  One by one neighbours started coming out of their homes.  After a while, we saw large groups heading towards us, thinking they were on their way to the football.  They were there for us!  Even the local Police rugby team turned up before their game!

What a relief – a godsend – and it really made us proud to be part of this community! We saw what they were made of.  Indo-Fijians, and iTaukei alike joined in (plus me and Dom!).

IMGP4212Rubbish Suva foreshore – day after day after day

 

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This is Fiji! Even the garbage men called to work after their shift finished are cheerful!

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Our local shopkeeper and friend, Shanila, who coordinated the supplies for the clean up

Between 7am and 12pm we collected more than 1,200 fifty kilogram bags of rubbish, plus eight big 1,000 kg bags, plus metal, tyres, etc.  All of this rubbish had been either dumped in the open irrigation drains, thrown as litter from cars, buses or foot traffic (again, view the map and imagine how little traffic there might be), or was on people’s compounds.

The truck did not arrive on time, so after phoning the staff from Department of Environment and learning of their unfortunate miscalculation in hiring a Seventh Day Adventist truck driver to work on a Saturday, I was asked to phone the Minister’s personal staff.  I did, and that person was a real pragmatist.  He arranged for two off duty garbage trucks to be sent to collect the rubbish.  The amount was astonishing – but not if you consider that like many parts of Fiji and other developing nations, there is no regular garbage collection, even though the population of our Road is approximately 18,000 souls. 

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Loading one of the trucks in Koronivia

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The group from Lokia Village

There are also no rubbish bins  – at all!  and no way to dispose of rubbish but Burn or Bury.  The problem with that approach is that like many developing nations, a lot of the rubbish is NOT ACTUALLY RUBBISH, but recyclables.  A very large proportion of what was collected consisted of packaging that could be recycled.  Coca Cola Amatil Fiji provided us with 10 cartons of drinks, and eight recycling bags which I collected from their Laucala Beach facility.  The recycling was collected by the garbage trucks, and the drivers would have taken it back to Coke.

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Roni with some of our friends on Koronivia Road

Large companies that trade in developing nations do not seem to have many regulatory requirements to meet with regards to corporate responsibilty for recycling or community engagement. 

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Cheryl and the girls at the shop

 

Every beach, every road, every waterway – plastic!

 

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Rubbish in Suva

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Man on the street at Samabula, Suva

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).

 

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Rubbish at Natovi Landing

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 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, and why charitable donations to Fiji represent approximately .002% of the net profit for the year as stated in the 2011 Fact Book.

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Rubbish dumped in Koronivia Creek

Currently in Fiji, there seems to be no real strategy for recycling.  Consumers have to go to the Coca Cola Amatil facility near Suva to collect a bag.  Once the bag is filled with recyclable plastic bottles from any CCA product, or any aluminum can (no matter the brand), CCA will collect the bag, and provide a replacement.  They will pay $1FJD per kilogram if you drop it off to them, or 75cents FJD if they collect it. 

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Rubbish Samabula, Suva

I was told today however, that it may be possible for CCA to drop off the bags to communities and islands on a monthly basis with the delivery truck that delivers the products, and collect the bags the next month.  This is a step forward.  CCA stated that they are in a holding pattern in Fiji currently with respect to recycling, due to discussions regarding upcoming plans by government to introduce Container Deposit Legislation. In Australia, CCA challenged a move by the Northern Territory to introduce the LegislationClean Up Australia has more information and updates on the container deposit issue.

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Getting ready for the big clean up day at the shop

Our little community has shown that people here want to do the right thing, they just need to find the tools to do it with!  A bin at every bus stop sponsored by and manufactured from recyclable plastics makers might be a step in the right direction!

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.

Suva Harbour – solace and septic – a paradox

rainbow suva harb 1IMGP1271Rainbow on Suva Harbour.

What is below the surface on closer inspection?

Photos of the myriad of moods of Suva Harbour – a place I never tire of.

I seek it out, and find solace in its company.

Rainbows in the mornings, fishing boats tied together in a line.

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High tide, low tide.

The sea wall. IMGP5449

Small boats buzzing in and out from fishing, or to tie boats to their moorings.

The drunken sailors at night, gambling in the Chinese restaurant.

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Tugboats in Suva Harbour

Tugboats in Suva Harbour

Lovers.  Travellers, waiting for time to pass until they continue on to their next destination, squeezed like tinned fish into decrepit mini-buses. IMGP2478

Cruise ships, tourists – what do they see?  Do they see the Harbour in all it’s glory, the morning mist on the mountains, revealed one by one?

boy sulu 1Do they see the drink cans, alcohol bottles, cigarette packets, rubble and rubbish.

Do they see a vibrant and alive doorway to a city of yesteryear, or a developing nation full of hope and promise of the future, or do they like me see the discarded waste of a populace unaware of the slow choking of turtles ingesting plastic bags in the belief that they are jellyfish?

One morning while photographing a rainbow, I saw a cigarette packet fly into the ocean from the sea wall.

I asked some men if they knew who threw it so carelessly.

One man proudly proclaiming it was he.IMGP1346

When I asked him why, his reply: “Oh, it doesn’t matter, I am from Vanuatu”.IMG_7883

I hope he wrote his name on the packet so that he can find it when he gets home, or will he just pick up all the packets that are red and gold from the beach and hope that one of them is his?