Thursday, March 31, 2011

Babasiga kid has a birthday

from w
We had a barbecue party last night for our grandson Andrew who is now twelve. About twenty-four people, some touch rugby or was it Aussie rules in the backyard, lots of good food, a trombone recital which caused some interest, and good conversation. Andrew's Mum, Bale, cooked the cake, and Epa looked after the barbecue. Most of the guys just drank kava in the kava saloon in our back yard. Happy birthday Andrew.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

I think they call us kind of people Luddites

from w
I'm more on the side of keeping a pristine environment or a rural life that is not tainted by massive earthworks, river pollution, tree felling, so I suppose people like this are called Luddites - or machine breakers as they once were. There are arguments for and against mining development in countries such as Fiji and the current situation in Bua, Vanua Levu is that the landowners have received large cheques for the use of their land, but there are still submissions going in to question just how well the environment - social and physical - will be managed. The rather gross photo here is from a govt collection (oops, not got permission here)

One of Fiji's watchers of such things is Noeline in Suva and she had just published an article looking at the dangers of bauxite mining and its impact. Those who want the mine in Bua can argue that the local men (and maybe women) will get jobs, good roads, electricity and development, as well as fat cheques for landowners and qoliqoli owners. However it is also possible that the Chinese company will bring in their own staff and labourers. Also I do have concerns about the need for massive amounts of water for the project and the damage to the land and sea.

Noelene's article can be found easily and google have already picked it up, and many emails are going around from Fiji to friends far and wide.

From the author:
Hello everyone,

I have just written an article on the planned bauxite mining in Fiji. It is
rather difficult to know how many official submissions have been made
directly to the Ministry for Land and Public Resources right now, so this
article is an alternative submission, if you will...

The article can be found at the DAWN website

Please share this with your networks.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Meanwhile down on the farm

from w
It's been reported that times are so tough in the babasiga area around Labasa town that farmers have to sell some of their farming equipment to put food on the table. Sugar-cane brings little money and Fiji people even have to buy overseas sugar in the shops!
From Fiji Sun
Farmers sell machinery, stock


Desperate for cash, a group of sugarcane farmers in the Northern Division have started selling farm machinery and livestock including fertiliser from their farms. The farm gate sales include bulk fertiliser, surplus farm machinery and spare parts and even working bullocks and cattle. According to these farmers, they have no choice but to look for cash in order to provide for their already-poor families.

National Farmers Union president Surendra Lal said the farmers were looking at alternative measures because they are desperate for cash.

Confirmed reported cases involved farmers from the sectors of Daku, Wainikoro, Waiqele and Buceisau.

“We cannot do much as farmers have suffered a major loss in the last two cane payments. They’re desperate to provide for their families and they will do anything. This is the truth where farmers have had to start, selling from their farms livestock, machinery and fertiliser,” Mr Lal said. He said working bullocks were up for sale to around $2000 and other farming equipment price ranges according to its durability.

Fiji Cane Growers Association chief executive Mohammed Rafiq shared similar sentiments saying that times are hard now especially with the increased cost of living. Mr Rafiq said his office had received reports of farmers selling their farming tools because they needed money. “Livestock are up for sale apart from machinery and this is the reality. Farmers have to earn their living and they will have to sell whatever they’ve got to provide for their families,” Mr Rafiq said.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Fijians in Melbourne

from w
This afternoon we took two cars from Geelong up to Melbourne to St Marks Uniting Church for a combined service with four or more Fijian congregations from different parts of Melbourne. We meet every three months in this way for fellowship, worship, lovely lovo food and of course singing. The church was packed and children were out in the Sunday School for part of the time. Choirs were informal but based on vanua groupings and it is always enjoyable to do this. Tovata were in fine form singing polotu accompanied by a triangle. Here are some photos from today. (In Australia the Methodists joined with the Presbyterians and Congregational churches to for the Uniting Church many years ago but of course there are Fijian families in Melbourne who also belong to penticostal and other denominations.) It was a lovely afternoon of catching up with friends who we have known a long time, and for our eldest son and his family to meet up with those that he knew a few years back before he went overseas to Fiji to work. I took photos of the children (left the church before the sermon, ha ha) who were practicing for their Palm Sunday program.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Where is the compassion?

from w
I've read only a little about the case of the Fijian soldier that got into trouble in England and I wonder now who looked after this man when he probably had some kind of post-traumatic stress. It sounds very sad and I wonder about the Fiji Embassy in England or whoever is taking up his case.
from Fijilive
Uluilakeba homeless in UK
March 19, 2011 06:14:37 PM
Former British army Soldier Epeli ‘Pex’ Uluilakeba now faces being homeless after British Army Defense of Officials (MoD) ordered him off MoD property.

Officials of Dr Liam Fox the British Secretary of Defense had ordered Uluilakeba to leave after discovering that he had been living with a Fijian friend on Ministry of Defense property, reports Daily Telegraph.

Uluilakeba’s case has been put to the British Home office by a charity worker for Veterans Aid, an organisation that helps homeless British Veterans.

Uluilakeba is being threatened with deportation because he temporarily took to heavy drinking, leading him on one occasion to wave a bread knife at a fellow soldier.

He was jailed and discharged from the Army with only the clothes on his back.

Uluilakeba was badly injured in Iraq in 2005 when his Snatch Land Rover was blown up by a bomb that killed three of his comrades.

By Tevita Vuibau
more of the story from Pacnews:
Fijian man in British Army fight for UK residency
By Online Editor
2:54 pm GMT+12, 01/03/2011, United Kingdom

Private Epeli Uluilakeba with his comrades in 2005 A Fijian man who has served in the British army and was wounded in Iraq says he will refuse to leave the UK, even if the British Government rejects his re-application for permanent residency.

Epeli Uluilakeba was wounded during his first tour of Iraq and sent back for a second stint.

Private Uluilakeba was later dismissed from the British Armed Forces after serving time in a military prison for threatening a fellow soldier.

Both he and his supporters say the military didn't provide him with enough physical or physiological support, and are vowing to fight to allow him to stay in the UK.

Presenter: Stephanie March
Speaker: Epeli Uluilakeba, former soldier in the British Armed Forces from Fiji

MARCH: In the eight years that allied forces have been in Iraq.... thousands of Fijians have served there as part of the British Armed Forces. One of them is 28-year old Private Epeli Uluilakeba. His was first deployed to Iraq in 2005.

ULUILAKEBA: So we went to Iraq and then we got blown up by the improvised explosive device, you call it IED, which killed three of my colleagues, two of us survived.

MARCH: He was evacuated, and returned to the UK for medical treatment. Within a year, he was sent back to Iraq.

ULUILAKEBA: I can't say no, you know? Because the army policy you have to go, you can't reject them.

MARCH: After returning from his second tour, Private Uluilakeba's mental health started to decline.

ULUILAKEBA: I told them I have dreams like I'm angry all the time, and I drink heavily and I couldn't stop so I started to see psychiatric (sic) , and it didn't really help me, and they kept discharging me from psychiatric

MARCH: Private Uluilakeba's heavy drinking became a serious problem. He threatened a fellow soldier with a knife at a military base. He was court martialled and sentenced to a year in a military prison. He was let out after seven months for good behaviour, the army discharged him as "no longer being of service". Fijian soldiers have to serve with the British Army for 22 years, to gain the maximum benefits, like residency and a pension. With little to go back to in Fiji, Private Uluilakeba applied for a permanent residency permit to stay in the UK. Without citing a reason, it was rejected by the Foreign Office. Private Uluilakeba is living rent-free with some of his Fijian cousins in England. He's is not allowed to claim benefits, work, or open a bank account. Through the mother of one of his fellow soldiers killed in the IED blast, Private Uluilakeba has found some supporters in the UK. Elaine Laga, who lost her own soldier son, is one of them. She says the military and the government have treated Private Uluilakeba unfairly.

LAGA: I don't think he should have been discharged from the army 'services no longer required', I think he should have had medical discharge or had proper treatment for PTSD.

MARCH: Post Traumatic Stress Disorder?

LAGA: Yes, definitely. I think a little more care and attention should have been paid to him really.

MARCH: Ms Laga says while Private Uluilakeba is still struggling to deal with the things he witnessed in Iraq, he has stopped drinking alcohol and tried to turn his life around.

LAGA: You know he's kind of pulled things together for himself. At the weekend he was out with another group of lads helping the homeless and distributing things to the homeless and distributing things to the homeless. And he is a real devoted Christian. To me he is a good person and he deserves a break,

MARCH: It's not clear how long it will take for the British Government to decide on his second application for permanent residency. He says regardless of the outcome he has no intention of leaving the United Kingdom.

ULUILAKEBA: If the result come back and then get rejected again, I will stay here and I will fight for this until I get it. I won't leave this country until I get this.

MARCH: Do you have any advice for other Fijians, young Fijians who are in the military back in Fiji, what would you say to them about going on tour with the British military?

ULUILAKEBA: If they want to join, it's up to them. I can't stop them. But the only thing I can say is if they join they have to stand by themselves, they have to stand by the truth, to fight for them(selves), like what I am doing now. Because if I didn't do this thing, then who might be the one to do it later on. Because they didn't really treat the Fijians very well in this country. I can say that.


Thursday, March 17, 2011

Making a lovo, again and again

from w
Two weeks ago we made a lovo for Eperama's 19th birthday, and today another one for a friend, Christine, who is having a birthday party tonight. The men and boys in the family, plus friends, make a good job of it. Here are pictures from those two tasks. Now I know where my blankets are getting to!

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Shelter boxes and other matters

from w
As aid starts moving to help the desperate situation in Japan, one project by Rotary is worthy of attention. This is about Shelterboxes and this is one practical kind of aid to emergency situations. Kits are designed to suit certain environments and issues, but the kits going to Japan include:

• A custom-made shelter tent that fits up to 10 people, designed to withstand extreme temperatures and rain. It even has privacy partitions inside.
• Thermal blankets and insulated ground sheets.
• Water purification system that runs for six months.
• Industrial-grade steel mini stove that can use wood or any other fuel, for heating and cooking.
• Cooking utensils.
• Bowls, mugs, and other containers.
• Toolbox with hammer, axe, saw, trenching shovel, hoe head, pliers and wire cutters.
• A children pack with drawing books, crayons and pens, to keep the kids distracted after losing all their toys.
• The heavy duty box can be used to store anything, from food to water.
A couple of bloggers I read occasionally live in Japan. One blog site worth reading at present is Life in the Land of the Rising Sun written by a music teacher. His two most recent posts show what it was like during the past week. A very worthwhile read.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Once a home, now what next?

from w
Words cannot describe the suffering in Japan this week. Like the panic after a nightmare, the people want to wake up to an ordinary day, but it is just so very sad.

Isa, farewell Joan

from w
I was saddened to read of the passing of a former teaching colleague, Joan Raj Singh, a lovely woman who I knew many years ago at Dudley High School but then lost touch.

Education mentor passes on

A longtime teacher and educator in the local education sector died in India at the age of 74. Joan Raj Singh passed away in Gurgaon, New Delhi, India on Friday, March 4. Mrs Raj Singh had an extensive career in education in Fiji where she taught at Dudley High School, Suva Grammar, Marist Brothers High School and the University of the South Pacific. She was born in Rangoon, Burma and grew up all over India where her father was a government official.

She came to Fiji in 1961 after her post-graduate studies in India when she married Raj Singh whom she met at university. Among other things, she was extensively involved in curriculum development for senior English and English Literature as Senior Education Officer in the Ministry of Education.

She also organized and choreographed the numerous Indian dances for the Fiji Independence Celebrations on October 10, 1970. Joan Raj Singh was very active in a wide variety of social and philanthropic activities in Suva.

These include serving on the Vestry of the Holy Trinity Cathedral, the organising committees of the Hibiscus Festival, the Secondary Schools Music Festival, and the Flower Show, being a Representative to the Fiji Council of Churches, Treasurer of the Fiji National Council of Women, a member of the Fiji Arts Council and PASEAWA.

But her most significant achievement was as a teacher and mentor to hundreds of young people over the forty years she lived in Fiji.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Vinaka Gary Eckert and Fiji Meteological Service

from w
I found some super photos of our mataqali land including Vatudamu Hill where the radar tower was built. Thanks to Gary Eckert and Fiji Meteological Service for the scores of pictures on facebook. Here are a few of them showing the process of building the tower and the necessary infrastructure. Vatudamu of course is very much 'babasiga' kind of land, dry and sunburnt!

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Weather radar tower for Vatuadova

first four photos are from Gary Eckert facebook Fiji Meteological site so click on here to view many photos

picture from Fiji radio website.
from Peceli,
I was surprised and happy to read that the new weather tower is being officially opened today. This has been built on the Vatudamu part of Nukutatava, our land near Labasa. This will really benefit the people of Vanua Levu by being able to assess weather even as far as Rotuma and Funafuti. The benefit will go to the northern people by having better knowledge of the approach of hurricanes and floods. Vinaka vakalevu.

New weather station commissioned in Labasa
Publish date/time: 11/03/2011 [13:09]

People of Vanua Levu will now be given more accurate and timely cyclone and flood warnings after the commissioning of a new weather station in Vatudova, Tabia, Labasa this morning.

Project Manager, Amaniasi Tuidraki said Vanua Levu has been badly affected by flooding and cyclones in the past decade with damages amounting to millions of dollars.

He said the new weather station will benefit the country socially and economically.

There is an audio file attached to this story. Please login to listen.

The $2.3 million new weather office was officially commissioned by the Prime Minister, Commodore Voroqe Bainimarama this morning.

Story by: Shalvin Deo
from w
I was amused to read another story about the radar launch - this time in the Fiji Sun about Epi Dakai making a speech as leader of the landowners. Dakai is not 77 as the article indicates - he's my age! He's always been a brilliant speechmaker, pragmatic and polite and is a valuable man in the Labasa area for formal Fijian vanua occasions. The reference to the land being barren - well it just ain't suitable for sugarcane though all the surrounding area is sugarcane. The article is by a Labasa journalist. Epi Dakai is of course my lovely brother-in-law!

A landowning unit of Wailevu district in Macuata has labeled Prime Minister Commodore Voreqe Bainimarama’s leadership as a godsend. Turaga ni Mataqali Nadogo, Epi Dakai made the remarks as he greeted Commodore Bainimarama during a traditional ceremony at the commissioning of the Labasa weather surveillance radar station yesterday. Mataqali Nadogo owns the land where the new weather surveillance radar station stands.

Mr Dakai, 77, said the country had been blessed with development and progress since the Bainimarama-led government took over leadership. He said they (landowners) are proud to be in partnership with the Government on the installation of the weather surveillance radar system. He said the Vatudamu Hill on which the radar site is located was always barren. Only now, it is lively with development seen and infrastructure improved.

“It is God’s plan for you to become our leader and be the agent of change,” Mr Dakai said. “The Government under your leadership has developed our barren land and made it productive. This radar system will not benefit us, our island and country but the Pacific as a whole.” He said it was a joyful occasion for most of the Vatudova and Wailevu villagers who for the first time have the opportunity to meet the PM. “We have only seen your pictures in the newspapers and television or hear you on radio but never see you with our own eyes. This is one of our happiest days to meet you visiting our land. We thank the Government for developing our land and making a difference in the lives of our people,” Mr Dakai said.

In his response Commodore Bainimarama said the government of the day is here to serve the people. He said the commissioning of the radar was only one of the successful projects in the Northern Division.

The cost of living in Fiji today

from w
Isa, the people of Fiji are having a really tough time finding food for the table, unless they can plant almost all of their own in their food gardens. The following is from a Fiji Labour Party survey which included tables which I haven't put here as they won't do tables properly but you can look up their website.

Price survey of basic consumer prices
[posted 10 March 2011]

A Fiji Labour Party survey of prices of food and basic consumer goods in the past three years show massive increases ranging from 20% to as much as 400% for some food items.

These increases are registered even for food items that are under price control. The FLP’s objective was to see how prices of basic items have soared as a result of devaluation in April 2009 and the increase in VAT to 15% from January 2011.

While current prices are as indicated on supermarket shelves, the pre-devaluation prices are a guide only. We took March 2009 as the cut-off date and prices are based on specials advertised in the Fiji Times for the month. Actual prices prevalent at the time could not be obtained either from the Commerce Commission, the Fiji Consumer Council or the Prices and Incomes Board which has since been scrapped.

The increases, or decreases shown in the table (below) should, therefore be viewed as indicative only, not actual. (not given here in this blog)

Despite the constraints, the picture that emerges is quite clear. Except for one or two items, most basic goods have registered exorbitant increases.

The highest increases are for staple imported food items like potatoes, onions, garlic and carrots. The price of 500g of garlic has soared from 65c pre-devaluation to $3.29 post January 2011 – a massive 406% hike. Likewise, potatoes have shot up from 99c kg to the current price of $2.38 – up 140%. Onions have gone up 125% from 89c kg to $2.00 kg now.

The price of imported carrots has jumped 212% from $1.15kg pre-devaluation to $3.59 post January 2011.

Rewa Butter (500g) is another essential food item that has almost doubled in price (85% increase) from a pre-devaluation figure of $3.29 to the current $6.09. Punjas ghee is another – from $6.99 pre-devaluation to the current price of $11.49 for a 750ml bottle – a 65% hike.

In the meat range, the price of lamb neck/curry pieces has doubled from $3.99kg pre-devaluation to $8 kg post January 2011. Lamb chops have gone up 65% from $7.99 kg to $13.16c kg.

Local Crest chicken (No. 15) has seen a 40% increase in price from $8.99 pre-devaluation to the current price of $12.59.

Even FMF Breakfast crackers (375g) show a 29% increase in the period surveyed – going up from $1.05 in March 2009 to $1.35c after January this year. Weetbix (Sanitarium 375g) went up by $1.30 from $2.79c pre-devaluation to $4.09 post VAT increase in January.

The price for FMF flour/sharps for a 10kg bag increased by 80c from $10.19 to $10.99 – up 8%.

In the toiletries/ detergent range, toothpaste has registered a 62% increase in three years, while toilet rolls (Viti) have gone up 95%. The price of Cold Power(900g) washing powder rose 43%, from $3.49 in March 2009 to $4.99 after the 15% increase in VAT this year.

Cooking Oil even though VAT zero rated, shows a 41% price increase. Punja’s Soya Bean Oil registered an increase of $5.11, jumping from $12.50 to $17.61 for a 4 litre gallon.

Price for cooking gas (Fiji Gas) for a 12kg cylinder refill shot up from $37.50 pre-devaluation to $45.50 post January – an increase of $8.

Fuel prices (Super and Diesel) have an average recorded increase of well over 50%.

Only two items out of 30 surveyed registered a price decrease. These were: Red Cow powdered milk and Brunswick Mackerel in Tomato Sauce.

The price spiral continues to rise imposing severe hardship on families with ordinary incomes. Despite the continuing rhetoric by the Commerce Commission, the housewife sees no respite from the constant struggle to ensure the family food basket fits in with the dwindling purchasing power of her family income.

Local vegetables, fruits, meat and seafood prices have in most cases, doubled, since January 2011 largely as a result of the spiralling impact of the increase in VAT to 15%.

For thousands of poor families it is now no longer a question of what is essential but simply what is affordable.

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

International Women's Day

picture by Maneesha Karan.
from w
It was good to see that many women in Labasa met together for International Women's Day as by now there is still concern about gender equality as the 'talk' doesn't always equate with reality.
Special Celebration (from Fiji Times
Wednesday, March 09, 2011
MORE than 500 women gathered at the Labasa Civic Centre to participate in International Women's Day celebrations yesterday. The women observed a minute of silence to remember women who had lost their lives to violence and abuse. The event was organised by the Labasa Women's Forum. Labasa Women's Crisis Centre project officer Sera Bogitini said women did not deserve to die horrific deaths, including being strangled, burnt, and stabbed to death.
and from Fiji Sun
Kutty sings ‘the strength of a woman’
It was a celebration with a difference at Labasa yesterday where women from different cultures took a day off from the usual household chores to celebrate their day - International Women’s Day. Women of various communities in the province of Macuata gathered in full force at the Labasa Civic Centre to mark the day.

A packed auditorium was a sure testament to how important the day, March 8, was for the women - the majority came from rural areas. More than 600 women from all walks of life shared music, laughter, role plays, dances and refreshments in unity. Some dressed up in colourful traditional attire while others opted to wear character costumes for the event.

Women were empowered to speak out about their experiences as mothers, wives, daughters and caregivers.

Chief guest at the occasion, Vodafone ATH Fiji Foundation executive, Ambalika Kutty encouraged women to honour themselves.

She spoke on the roles and strength of women in society. She said regardless of their past or present circumstances, the important thing was that everything happening or happened was for a reason. “By honouring ourselves and treating ourselves with respect, you set the stage up for others to treat you with respect. “It’s important to view yourselves and to motivate and inspire you to move out of powerlessness and limitation and into the fullness of who you are as a human being.”

The Labasa Women’s Forum organised the event incorporating a multiracial and religious programme.

Ms Kutty said women should always be respected because they contributed a lot towards the family, society and the economy. She encouraged women to exercise their rights and be treated as equal to the opposite sex. The rural women were encouraged not to work in isolation but to work hand in hand with charity organisations and non-governmental organisations. “Amidst all difficulties, I salute the women of the North for holding the fort even with minimal support provided in the past years,” Ms Kutty said. “However, now has come the time to work together hand in hand and educate our children, improve our health, sustain our environment and continue to make social and economic contributions towards national development which will benefit the communities of the North.”

Monday, March 07, 2011

There are bridges and bridges

from w
I wouldn't like to be walking, even gently, over a suspension bridge in Bua - Like a Bridge over Troubled Waters as the song goes! I did walk over a brand-new footbridge over Footscray Station yesterday. It wasn't there the last time I went to Footscray to buy taro to make a lovo. Very nice new bridge but plenty steps to walk up and down for an old girl like me. And we ended up buying frozen, cut up, cleaned taro at $10A a kilo as the 'real' dalo didn't look very good. $10A is about $18F! However the kumala was only $1A a kilo so we bought a lot of that. There's a birthday party tonight for a lad who is nineteen so we wanted a lovo for the party. The blokes in the family are out in the back yard now firing up the lovo and the local Fire Brigade has been informed as is the usual practice.

By the way a funny thing happened last night. There were two huge explosions about 11 p.m. in our street, red flashes, and smells like gunpowder, and the fire-brigade trucks and guys came searching for the cause. It was a possum frizzled and fried who had had his last day of climbing on electricity poles. Isa, poor little possum.