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.