Thursday, April 10, 2008

In Labasa to see a game

from w
Here's a nice piece of writing from a visitor to Labasa to see the Babasiga Lions at play. From Fiji Times a few week's ago.
Labasa's friendly magic!CULDEN KAMEA
Monday, March 17, 2008

I rose early last Saturday morning, excited by the clash later in the day between the two Vodafone-sponsored champions - Labasa and Ba, in the first of two games in the Pillay Garments Champion versus Champion Series.

I could see Subrail Park from the bathroom in my hotel suite at the majestic old lady of the friendly north; The Grand Eastern Hotel. The empty grandstands looked eerily quiet in the soft light of the early morning sunglow, but I sensed that this magical serenity would soon surrender to the searing heat of the white-hot northern sun leading up to kick-off at 2pm.

Labasa's heat is a suffocating heat. It tries to drown you in your own perspiration. It sucks the breath of life out of your lungs, leaving your throat parched and dry. At its worst, it can cause meltdown of body and mind.

It was going to be a scorcher of a game between the raiders from Ba and their friendly hosts Labasa and I would be one of the lucky six thousand sports fans to witness the clash.

But before that, let me tell you about the absolutely best curry duck in the whole of Vanua Levu!

In fact I had two beautiful meals of duck curry during my short stay in Labasa. The first was at breakfast on Saturday morning, where I was told by my good friend, Pradeep from Tabia that the secret lies in the masala; that special blend of spices and chili handed down over the generations from Mother India through her daughters in the dusky light of kitchen fires. Thank you Imran and Jermima, your special duck curry masala was the best!

How Pradeep knows about the secret of masala I'm not sure, but I guess since we men know everything, he must be right!

Anyway, later at lunch I had duck curry made by Hamida and her masala was just magical. (Memo to me: Must get Tongan bride on masala mixing course at USP).

One can't visit Labasa and write about it without mentioning the huge crab and fresh fish so here goes!

The duck curry breakfast set me off on a trot following the rest of the tourists from Suva armed with fistful of dollars to attack the re-sellers, posing as fisherman on the banks of the river, which snakes around, but often pours through and floods Labasa town.

We were easy marks; taller, bigger to a man, decked out in the latest brands, flush with cash! They saw us coming and held their nerves.

The standoff was over in a minute, because while we paused the locals around us just kept buying up the best fresh fish and biggest crabs that I had seen in a long time! We had to move and we did: Within minutes the tourists from Suva had done the capitol city proud, snapping up bundles of fish of all shapes, colours and sizes, their eyes bulging-fresh out of their sockets. Long strings of gigantic crabs were next on our feeding frenzy. I bought my lot off a FBI (Fiji Born Indian) man called "Dalo" who I would meet again and hug later at the football such is the magic of Labasa!

It was all over in a sweaty, frantic burst of Super 14-like rugby action of wave-after-wave of turnover of possession - our cash for their possessions until they had all our cash and we had their possessions! In the end, everyone was smiling the re-sellers posing as fishermen home from the sea, the tourists from Suva with crabs and fish dripping from their arms and the curious bystanders who all suspected that somehow I was world famous! Well that's what I suspected that they suspected anyway!

We disengaged and retreated to the air conditioned cleavage of the grand old lady.

The block around Subrail Park was a tangled mess of a junkyard with cars, trucks, tractors and 4WDs strewn all over the place.

My good mate Satish double-parked on the main road right behind the main grandstand. We were running a little late but hey we were VIPs from Suva with reserved VIP grandstand seats, specially roped off and guarded for us. Yeah right.

When we finally made it into the arena, the game was already underway with the MiB (Men in Black) from Ba hard on attack. Did they say they expected a crowd of six thousand today? Well there must have been about five thousand of them sardined into my VIP grandstand area and they were mean looking cane farmer types - tough as nails. We glared at each other momentarily. Damn why didn't the NLTB just renew their land leases? OK guys you win. You stay seated in my VIP grandstand seat and I'll sit here on the ground behind the Labasa reserves bench with Dalo the crab seller.

The MiB were so confident, so strong, so purposeful in their play. Everything they did was forceful. They were unfazed by the crowd and they were so fast.

The Labasa boys seemed physically smaller, tentative, frail-almost. They lacked cohesion and struggled to maintain possession and so unable to apply any real pressure.

Ba on the other hand forced corner after corner and had a scorcher of a 40 metre shot at goal by Shameel desperately tipped over the crossbar by the Labasa goalkeeper.

Labasa could only mount long-range counter-attacks off scraps of possession. Still, they forced the Ba keeper off his line a couple of times and also made him work to keep a clean sheet with a couple of good saves.

It was well after 3pm that the referee blew for halftime. So much action, so little time, the pace was a killer. Who would crack first?

Dalo the crab seller shook my hand then without a sideways glance at the security guard slipped over the fence and joined the Labasa Team seated in a circle on the ground plotting their 2nd half strategies. Dalo put in his two cents worth before returning to my side saying, "Don't worry boss, Labasa will win"!

Ten minutes later, Labasa Captain Pita Baleitoga slotted home the winner and as they say in Bollywood, the rest is history!

Dalo the crab seller and I jumped for joy and hugged like long lost brothers!

Labasa hung on to win 1 - 0 with the rematch in Ba in early April.


Anonymous said...

Very interesting commentary about the game and about Labasa town and its people.Have visited there a couple of times and hope to retire there in a couple of years. Thanks for the fine details about ordinary but special people that we seldom hear about. Yes, the place is blessed with fish and other sea food. Very entertaining comments. Pikaki

Peceli and Wendy's Blog said...

I thought the commentary was really funny and he certainly picks up the quirks of life in Labasa. In our blog we try to 'promote' Labasa and Macuata, but sometimes can't resist putting in stuff about the shenanigans that go in in Suva as well. Sometimes I rage a bit, then upon reflection, delete the posting! It was Peceli's idea to do a blog based on 'babasiga' and my idea to set up a second one on Geelomg.

Anonymous said...

Thanks, I wondered if you could publish more about how the people of Vanua Levu can protect their land from loggers who are out there to make a fast buck for themselves. In addition, not much has been said about leased land and how much it will cost the landowners to get it back when improvements have been made on the land. I don't think NLTB has done a good enough job or protecting the landowners, particularly now that the interim government is trying to put their hands on idle land. It may be idle but it belongs to someone and that someone needs to know what happens when they lease out their land. Loloma Pikaki

Peceli and Wendy's Blog said...

About 'idle' land - I don't mind resting the land, giving it a spell after years and years of planting cane. Alternative crops also might bring health back to the soil. The obsession with growing sugar is obstructing real thinking about other ways to use the land. NLTB know the facts about costs for an indigenous person getting a piece of land back after a tenant leaves - I don't. I only remember what happened in the 70s when Peceli had to go to a land tribunal to get some (undeveloped) land back. We had to pay rent on our own mataqali land and then 3/4 would come back to the mataqali when the lease money was distributed.
Our extended family members do grow cane but we are trying to tell them to grow more vegetables and fruits. The village of Vatuadova of today was means an independent farm in the 60s just for ten people.
Do you really think the former Fiji-Indian tenants will want to go back to cane farming once they havde left?
About forestry - well, I hate the stripping of forests and it's very hard to find the truth of what is really happening in Vanua Levu. There is still a timber mill at Malau and others near Labasa. I'm a greenie so I'm not the right person to ask!

cheskie said...

I will be in Labasa this month so pleaseplease reveal the site of the BEST DUCK curry!!generally I'd be grateful for leads to the best curries labasa can offer, I don't care what the restaurant looks like, its on the trail of fine curries that I wander-as well should there be like minded persons reading this, and hot tips for eating out in vanua levu or viti levu would be appreciated!!I do business in Fiji and visit 2-3 times a year.