Cyclone in Fiji…We missed it by seven weeks…

Lilies are blooming in the lily pad in the huge stone pot in the yard.

Many of our less frequent readers have written asking if we were still living in Fiji’s during the horrific Cyclone Winston on February 20th, (ironically, the day of my birthday). Having left Fiji on January 4th to fly to Sydney for our last cruise we were long gone from the islands. Thank you for all of your inquiries.

We’re grateful we left when we did, but saddened by the loss of 42 lives as recorded to date, thousands injured, and loss of homes, crops, and livelihood for many of its residents. 

We can’t possibly imagine how hard life must be for them now grieving for their lost loved ones and friends along with homes destroyed, no power and water, and, Savusavu roads to the village being completely washed out.

Had we still been living on the island of Vanua Levu high on the hills above the ocean, the house held up on stilts on the ocean view side, we can only speculate on the awful experience of living through one of the worst cyclones (referred to as a hurricane in the northern hemisphere) in recorded history. 

This streak across the sky seemed somewhat long and wide to be from a plane.

Here’s a link describing the storm in detail.

A cyclone or tropical storm is a system of winds rotating inward to an area of low atmospheric pressure with a counterclockwise (in the northern hemisphere) or clockwise southern hemisphere circulation; a depression.

As it was, there were power outages 10% of our time in Savusavu without any major storms. We can only speculate on how long the islands may be without power and public services over the next many months. I tried writing to our two past landlords on both islands, only to get the messages kicked back as “undeliverable.”

Here’s a video of some of the devastation in Savusavu, Fiji.

We spent our first three months in Vanua Levu beginning September 8, 2015, flying to Viti Levu, the main island on December 6th, living in Pacific Harbor, eventually leaving for Sydney on January 4, 2016.

View of Mount Taranaki from a walk in the neighborhood.

Five people were killed by the cyclone in Pacific Harbour, the small town where we spent our final 28 days in Fiji.

Here’s a video of some of the devastation in Pacific Harbour, Fiji. 

It’s hard for us to believe this occurred shortly after we left Fiji. In our world travels, we always run the risk of political unrest, wars, terrorist attacks, accidents, earthquakes, and destructive life-threatening weather. 

Some of our family members have expressed concern over our being exposed to such devastation to a greater degree by traveling the world. Sure, airport terminals, flights, and cruises do expose us to additional risks. 

The scenery from a recent drive.

But, as we watch the US news on a daily basis, we’re often appalled by the devastation that occurs in our native country; lives were taken by the radicals and lives taken by natural disasters. 

There’s no place in the world that is exempt from risk. We don’t take these risks lightly. As we thrive in this simple, beautiful life in seemingly innocuous New Zealand, we continually hear of more earthquakes in Christchurch, South Island, NZ.

On February 11, 2011, 80% of Christchurch and the surrounding areas were devastated by a 6.3 magnitude earthquake as described in this recent news story as more and more quakes continue to occur. As reported in the news 185 souls were lost as a result of this quake.

The flower blooming season is coming to an end.  I spotted this solitary flower yesterday on a walk in the neighborhood.

It makes no sense for us to spend our lives in fear of what “could happen.” We can only proceed with our journey with a degree of caution and alertness for our continued safety as we pray for those who suffer at the hands of humans and nature.

May the lovely people of Fiji find their way to recovery and healing with the heartfelt assistance and prayers from millions worldwide. May your lives be safe from harm.

Photo from one year ago today, February 29, 2015:

There was no post on February 29, 2015, when there was no February 29th one year ago with this year as a leap year!  Back tomorrow with March 1st!

Another cultural story of life for Fijian people as shared by our driver…

Often houses are tightly packed onto a smaller plot of land.

Spending the better part of a day with Alfaan proved to be a perfect opportunity to hear about life for many locals of both Fijian and Indo-Fijian descent on the island of Viti Levu, the largest island in the Fijian chain.

Although Alfaan is quite shy, he readily responded to my endless inquiry of his lifestyle after receiving his permission to ask him questions that may be construed of a personal nature. 

Fijians are a humble people, never to brag or to seek acceptance or popularity in their daily lives other than the joy derived from family life and the exquisite nature surrounding them, provided by the Almighty per their personal belief system.

For our previous story of life for the local Fijian people, please click here.

His ancestors immigrated from India to Fiji in the 1800s, not by choice, but by force of British rule to live as indentured laborers, in essence slaves, mainly to farm sugar cane and also as laborers in other fields. 

Fruit is readily available for picking in most villages saving the locals the cost of purchasing fruit.

“The contracts of the indentured labourers, which they called girmit (agreements), required them to work in Fiji for a period of five years. Living conditions on the sugar cane plantations, on which most of the girmityas (indentured labourers) worked, were often squalid, degrading and brutal. Hovels known as “coolie lines” dotted the landscape.

Public outrage in the United Kingdom at such abuses was a factor in the decision to halt the scheme in 1916. All existing indenture was cancelled on January 1,

His family has passed down sorrowful stories through the generations of the difficult lives they’d lived, the horrors they experienced without freedom which didn’t fully occur until Fiji gained its independence in 1970, a great day of celebration in Fiji during which this year we were living in Savusavu, Vanua Levu.

Alfaan never knew his great-grandparents although he heard their stories from his grandparents who were born in Fiji.  To say the Fijians are “a proud people” is a misnomer. The intense humility they possess has made them “grateful people.” Above all, they value family, friendships, caring for one another, and hard work.

As mentioned in our above previous post (see the link), there are no governmental subsidies or handouts in this country. One must earn a living and in doing so, at minimal wages are able to care for those who cannot work.

(Some of our photos are blurry, taken from the fast-moving car through the windshield). Locals waiting for at the bus stop.

Alfaan has a wife and two boys, ages 4 and 7. He lives in a small house he owns, passed down through generations.  His income is minimal working for the tour company as a taxi driver, using company-owned vehicles.

He doesn’t own a car and walks 20 minutes each way to catch a bus to the tour company to pick up a vehicle for the day and returns home, often after 12 to 16 hour days, by bus and another 20 minute walk..  He lives in a neighboring village approximately 9 kg, 5.7 miles, from Pacific Harbour.

He’s paid FJD $21, USD $9.75 per day, six days a week. He’s allowed to keep tips he earned, turning in all the taxi fares at the end of the day. His tips may be minimal on many days when few tourists tip generously in Fiji, especially when they’ve read online on numerous websites that Fijians don’t expect tips. 

Goodness. Their humility keeps them from “expecting” tips, but they certainly need them and in most cases deserve them. We’ve made every effort to be generous with this in mind, not only in Fiji but in many other poverty-stricken countries.

An upcoming round trip taxi fare to the Pearl for Tom’s birthday on the 23rd only requires a taxi fare of FJD $6, USD $2.79. Would a meager 10% tip, the maximum most tourists pay, be of any benefit on top of his FJD $21, USD $9.75? Hardly. 

Rarely, do native Fijians live in houses such as these with pools, manicured lawns, and a variety of amenities? Most of these homes are owned by foreigners from the US, Asia, and Europe,

An extremely frugal and modest life is the only option. To accomplish this Alfaan has a garden which he maintains daily able to harvest all the produce needs of the family of four.  There are multiple fruit trees offering luscious fruit year-round which his children, particularly love, often walking about with a slice of fresh-picked pineapple or mango in their sticky little hands.

Alfaan has 10 egg-producing free-roaming chickens plus an additional four roosters. They are able to collect 10 eggs per day. They don’t slaughter their chickens. Occasionally, a wild dog will kill one of their chickens, which is disheartening for the entire family.  They purchase chicken and beef from other locals. 

Each week, early in the morning he goes fishing, often able to catch ample fish to feed the family for many meals. Having a refrigerator enables him to freeze fish for future meals when he’s been able to catch larger species. Sadly, the reef fish may contain toxic chemicals and bacteria which has prevented our purchase of local fish while in Fiji.   
For one another, the locals offer affordable prices on other meat which allows them to include a variety of protein sources. With four grass-fed only milk-producing cows on their land, they’re able to acquire enough milk for the family with his wife making other simple dairy products for the family. Alfaan arises at 5:00 am each morning to milk the cows and tend to the garden. 

Here again, he never slaughters their cows instead appreciating their ability to provide their children with nourishing fresh milk without chemicals, preservatives and processing.

Local successful business owners may own modest homes on land such as this.

They rarely go to a grocery store other than for rice, sugar, flour, and a few household goods and never frequent a farmers market. With this type of income it’s impossible to indulge in grocery shopping.

Diabetes and obesity are rampant in Fiji. Why? Flour, sugar, and rice are cheap and the Fijian people eat considerable amounts of home baked bread and baked goods to offset hunger and supplement meals. 

“The rate of diabetes in Fiji is among the highest in the world. Estimates range between one in five and one in four people are affected by the disease. A diabetes-related amputation is carried out by surgeons in Fiji every 12 hours. It is estimated also that 33% of patients on the surgical wards are people with diabetes.”

These statistic are frightening for these hard-working people and easily understood when the one major benefit provided by the government, free medical care, has multitudes of Fijian people heading to the hospital for their free medication and insulin injections.

When asking Fijians about diabetes, they easily acknowledge the prevalence relaying horrific stories of amputations and ancillary disease as a result of diabetes in their family members and friends. The natural solution for remedying this fast-growing worldwide disease through diet is costly and impractical for those living in poverty.

Building and renovated homes in Fiji provides work opportunities for the locals.

They can hardly afford a diet of fresh meats, low starch vegetables, no sugar and grains, comparable to my way of eating. This problem only continues to grow in poverty-stricken countries such as Fiji. And yet, a lucky few, somehow are immune to the ravages of diabetes living well into old age. 

Smoking is common in Fiji with the cost of making cigarettes relatively inexpensive. Kava, the intoxicating beverage, is also popular among locals often provided among family and friends who are able to harvest the kava plant readily grown in these parts.

Alfaan explained he does have a TV, stove, refrigerator, and washing machine all of which he purchased second hand by saving his meager tips over a period of a year. He happily shared this story and if for only a glimmer, I saw a sense of pride, it was over this fact…making life a little easier for his wife and family bringing him great joy and happiness. 

Of course, he has no computer, no smartphone, and only a flip-type phone provided by the taxi company. He’s been able to browse online on a few occasions through public services and friends.  Surprisingly, he has a good understanding of the Internet.

He watches world news on TV and is well versed on local and world affairs as well as customs in some other countries, much of which he derives from tourists who share their stories with him. He’s never traveled outside the island but has experienced flying in a four-seat prop plane with a friend a few years ago. He loved being able to see his homeland from above although he was terrified during the one-time experience.

The Fijian people appreciate the sea and lush vegetation in their homeland, welcoming rain for enhancing the water supply and growing their produce. 

Many make assumptions that local workers are unkempt with little regard for personal hygiene. We’ve yet to notice a single Fijian worker smelling of body odor or shabbily dressed.  Even the outdoor workers appear in tidy clothing which most often is old, maybe worn, or recycled which doesn’t prevent any locals from a keen desire for cleanliness. They may have access to a makeshift outdoor shower or a simple shower inside their homes.

Alfaan explained how grateful he is to have electricity and running water, neither he had growing up. Evenings were spent reading by candlelight, telling stories, and playing simple games. Today, when time allows they watch TV, play games, and read. There are no iPads for children in Fiji. 

Alfaan’s story is different than the last cultural story we posted while living in Savusavu for three months. He earns over three times (with tips) the monthly income of the household help in Savusavu, FJD $200, USD $93. 

His meager monthly income of roughly FJD $525, USD $248 (plus tips) is hardly sufficient income to support a family of four. And yet, his joy and appreciation for his life are evident in his demeanor and kindness. His eyes twinkle when he speaks of his family and his lifestyle.

Crab holes are commonly seen close to the beach. Alfaan explained he fishes for crab often able to bring dozens home for his family and friends.

How fortunate we are to have the opportunity to interact with these gracious people. We treat them with equality, kindness, and patience, even if on a rare off-day when we may have a less than ideal experience.

Alfaan hesitated when I asked him how he is treated by most tourists. After careful thought, he finally shared that many tourists, not all, will complain about a variety of things most of which he can do little, if anything, to remedy; the weather, the heat, the bugs, the occasional delay for a pickup (Fiji time), a disappointing trip or venue and on and on.

Long ago, we decided not to be “those tourists” which has become easy for us. Then again, we’re often in a location for an extended period, not on an expensive one week vacation where a sense of urgency may prevail for some tourists.

Now, as our time in Fiji winds down, we relish in the gift we’ve acquired over this past almost four months offering us a greater understanding of life among the Fijian people. 

Once again, we’re in awe of our surroundings and its people, even with the unimportant nuances we encounter each day; extreme heat and humidity, power outages (yesterday), ants, mozzies, limited products at the market, and of course, “Fiji time.”

We have all the time in the world for these special people.

Photo from one year ago today, December 19, 2014:

This is a news-generated photo from the lava crossing Apa’a Street (in our neighborhood) taken on October 25, 2014, shortly before our arrival. Visitors were prevented from getting close to the lava although we were able to do so on a few occasions during our stay on the Big Island. Please click here for details. 

Life for Fijian people…Generations of ethics and values…Blue Lagoon photos!

This morning Mario and I went to the village to meet with the phone/internet company.  Mario knows them well and they’ve promised to come today is coming to resolve our connectivity issues, whatever it takes. Once this is resolved, we’ll be able to post more photos each day. We apologize for the inconvenience and are exciting to be working well once again.

Seeing Vanua’s Levu Blue Lagoon was pure pleasure.  The color was breathtaking.

It’s only been almost a month since we arrived in Fiji. During this period, we’ve had numerous opportunities to speak with many native Fijians, with an ancestral history reaching back hundreds of years, many of whom were bound by a life of slavery and poverty.

These ancestral roots coupled with newfound freedom from slavery during only the past 45 years bespeaks the demeanor and ethics of a nation of people. Although only witnessed by us on this quieter of the two main islands for this short period, we only reference that which we learned here in this sleepy little village of Savusavu on the island of Vanua Levu.

It was two years ago, almost to the date, that we spent a day in the Maasai village, gleaning every morsel we could gather on their simple lives, their dignity and honor, and their traditions so foreign in our own naivety.

That’s not to say there’s a direct comparison between the Maasai and the people of Fiji. The only correlation I can make is the fact that they maintain a degree of integrity and work ethic befitting their culture and lifestyle, leaving no one in the lurch to falter without the dedication and without commitment in upholding their honorable heritage.

The people of Fiji embrace a life of simplicity only enhanced by the use of technology necessary to fulfill work obligations via the use of cell phones and now computers, not necessarily affordable in their homes but available at certain locations throughout the village; for managing their businesses and to maintain contact with loved ones from afar.

The Blue Lagoon is a popular spot for tourists to visit for sunbathing and swimming but we only saw one person near the water’s edge.

The only Fijians who don’t work are those with a severely disabled and/or the elderly who are unable to care for themselves. In those cases, the family members and friends provide for one another. 

When speaking to Fijians we find that everyone is “related” often referred to as an “aunt” or “uncle” or “grandma” or “grandpa” or other relations. Perhaps, in essence, particularly on this small island, they are related and if not, they give one another the respect in referring to their friends and neighbors as relatives of one sort or another. They all look out for one another. 

They explained that the government doesn’t provide assistance for those who can’t find work. They explain saying, “Everyone in Fiji works. We provide for ourselves. If they can’t find a job, they make a job…go fish in the sea and sell the fish at the market…someone will buy…grow a garden and sell the plentiful fruits and easily grown vegetables in the Farmer’s Market…sell coconuts, free and plentiful for the picking…farm chickens  and goats.” 

Peer pressure, moral and spiritual views, strong in Fijians, prevent them from expecting handouts and we see no begging on the streets, no pressure from vendors on the streets as tourists wander about the village.

If a neighbor or friend is without food or shelter, others will come to their aid, offering immediate sustenance and shelter and mostly, offers opportunities to work for a friend or relative.  Ah, would that the world be this way… helping one another…nudging one another to seek love, to seek work, and to live the best life possible.

The tourist trade on this island of Vanua Levu is subtle. As we walk into the village, it appears that 90% of the people are locals. However, these locals, along with the remaining 10% tourists are also consumers of products and services. They serve one another. They serve us. With kindness and generosity.

We asked the question, “When you go home from work at night, what do you do?” They answer, “We have no computer or television. After we cook and have a meal together, we do our work in our home to be clean and then spend time together in prayer, reading, playing a game, and talking about our day. That is our life. We are happy people. We don’t think of bad things and worry.”

Families stay together, all family members sharing in their age-appropriate roles to support the family. Many families include five or six children. They stay close and connected to adulthood and old age.

It’s not an easy life. But, if a life is lived without worry or stress, filled with love, and exercising a sense of responsibility and dedication to attain the best quality of life, happiness and joy is a natural response.

In one of my favorite books, “The Road Less Traveled” by M. Scott Peck, the author espouses, that “love” and “work” are secrets to true fulfillment in life;  loving one another and a higher power to give us strength and meaning; finding value and purpose in our work, as quoted from the book:

“Until you value yourself, you won’t value your time. Until you value your time, you will not do anything with it.”

“Love is the will to extend one’s self for the purpose of nurturing one’s own or another’s spiritual growth… Love is as love does. Love is an act of will — namely, both an intention and an action. Will also implies choice. We do not have to love

To the extent that the Fijian people have embraced in their own knowledge and values, who they are as a people, who they’ve become in this day and age, and who they will be in future generations, we remain in awe.

                                                Photo from one year ago today, October 5, 2014:
Due to the poor WiFi signal, we aren’t able to bring up the year ago photo and link. As stated above: This afternoon, a technician from the phone/Internet provider is coming out to make repairs in our house. Hopefully, we’ll be fully operational by tomorrow’s post. We apologize for the inconvenience.