Sunday, December 16, 2007

Returning to Cikobia Island

from Peceli
Many young people who come from Cikobia do very well. Perhaps those who start off in a difficult environment know how to cope with the various circumstances of life espeically the hard times. Here is a story from the Fiji Times about a young man, now a soldier, who went back to the island with the relief team after the damage by Cyclone Daman. His name is Lieutenant Taniela Dolodai.

Bittersweet homecomingFREDERICA ELBOURNE
Monday, December 17, 2007

LIEUTENANT Taniela Dolodai never dreamed he would be a military officer some day. And after deviating from his parents wish for him to become a school teacher, it never dawned on him that he would climb up the military career ladder to become an officer at an early age.

Thats why most of us on the trip to Cikobia had great difficulty believing the 27-year-old army engineer was in charge of the nine RFMF engineers on board, most of them much older than the Cikobia lad. However, they treated each other with the same degree of respect and it was difficult at times to differentiate who was boss and who was not.

Last week, he returned to his village on Cikobia more than 12 years after he left to pursue his education on the mainland. Admittedly, only duty prompted him to return to Cikobia as part of a government relief team sent to the island following Cyclone Daman. Had it not been for Cyclone Daman, he may never have returned to his village for a long time.

The trip back home brought back many fond memories. He recalls how he would often raise his late grandmothers ire. 'My job every Saturday was to collect coconuts for our Sunday feast. Naturally, Id forget to do it and spend all day swimming and after that Id get a hiding,' Lt Dolodai said. The first 10-odd years of his life was spent with his grandparents in Cikobia.

He had the best of both worlds his grandmother lived at Vuninuku Village by the coast, while his grandfather lived in Vatulele Village in the interior of the island.

The eldest of five siblings, he was raised for the most part of childhood by his late grandmother. And he didnt make her work any easier, he says with a boyish grin and a wicked glimmer in his eyes.

'I used to get a hiding from my grandmother all the time. Thats how I remember it. But I always had fun. I got the hiding for stepping household duties. When I wasnt well and didnt go to school, my grandmother would insist complete bed rest for me. But the minute she turned her back and walked into the kitchen outside, Id be playing outside with the other children,' he said.

What I remember the most is how I always got it (hiding) after swimming. Id signal to the children in the village for us to go swimming even after we were told not to. Wed come back and Id get to pay the price of disobedience. I must have been quite a handful for her. Rebellious, I suppose. Once, my cousin now living in the United States hid our clothes while we went swimming. You know how it is as children when you go swimming with only your underwear on and leave other dry clothes on the beach.

'I ran and hid in the plantation (200 metres away) that day when my grandmother was ready to give me a hiding. This same cousin of mine had to chase after me when I ran to hide,' Lt Dolodai recalls laughing.

He pursued tertiary education through the University of the South Pacifics extension centre in Labasa. It was at the Labasa Town library while he was doing research for his studies that his mother suggested he attend an army interview at Nabouwalu on the other side of Vanua Levu.

'Imagine, I left Labasa at 8am on the bus and got to Nabouwalu at 4pm. By then the interview was over,' Lt Dolodai said. He said army officers who were there to conduct the interview were having tea when he arrived.

'I arrived in a T-shirt and shorts. When they agreed to have the interview, I dashed back to the police station where I had left my knapsack with my clothes. After changing into decent attire, I caught a cab and went up for the interview. The officers took into account the fact that I had travelled around the island just for the interview,' Lt Dolodai said.

As it turned out, his interview was held in the kitchen by Lieutenant-Colonel Tuitubou, who was a captain then. 'I was the last of the 300 applicants to be interviewed and I got through,' he said. A week later he was accepted for training by the army and at this point all dreams of becoming a school teacher faded into oblivion, he said.

Physical training was intense and half way through, Lt Dolodai was ready to throw the towel in when it dawned on him how far he had travelled at his familys expense.

'From that moment, as unfit as I was, I knew I didnt want to be a disappointment to my family. I didnt want to give anyone a chance to lose faith in me. In the end I made it,' he said.

Just before passing out in 2000, the coup took place. For Lt Dolodai and his peers, theirs was the task of manning checkpoints. 'Before we had officially qualified, we were manning checkpoints. It took about a year for the events of the coup to settle down, so along the way, we passed out,' he said.

But by then Lt Dolodai had his mind set on advancing his military career. While he remained a sapper in the engineer corp for five years, he twice applied for an officers course and got rejected. Finally on May 16, 2006 he was commissioned as a lieutenant.'The role I play now is different from what I did as a sapper. Now I am a leader. No disrespect to anyone, but I lead the sappers,' he said.

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