Friday, 14 December 2007

If You Pick A Raw Paw

THERE I was, all ready to write something original and interesting about a side of Fiji you had probably never thought existed, something clever and important about poverty in paradise, with the added spice of political unrest. But then the hurricane came along and changed everything.

I had thought it was getting a bit windy. I'd been down on the beach, swinging in a hammock and reading my book when suddenly it started raining and getting a bit blowy. No matter, it was nearly lunchtime anyway.

But at lunch we received some quite startling news. Predictions came in that a cyclone, the worst for ten years, was on its way to Fiji. Not just Fiji but the Yasawa Islands where I happened to be. It would hit in about 12 hours.

Now in my head a true melodrama erupted. After all, a hurricane is not a concept familiar to the English. You see them on television, but you certainly don't get them in Lyme Bay. Where would I have to hide? Would the buildings be safe? What if the toilet cubicle flew away at the worst possible moment?

The villagers put us at ease. They did not seem to be concerned at all - but to reassure me they advised me that the hut where I was staying was the safest of the lot (concrete huts will fall to pieces, wooden huts like mine stay composed and tip rather than collapse). Indeed the villagers found it almost comical that we tourists were concerned at all, finding it incredulous that we had no concept of a cyclone.

So we sat and waited. In the evening we played cards, for if it was going to happen, we might as well be having fun.

And goodness, what a quiet hurricane. I slept straight through it all! In fact, the only thing that woke me up were my drunk room mates who returned to the hut at 2am and began re-enacting Big Brother scenes and singing songs.

Of course, you will realise that the cyclone did not hit that evening. In the calm of the following morning, in which the rain and wind ceased and the sun came out, we thought we had avoided it. So much so, we spent the morning walking through the jungle to coconut groves and doing handstands on the beach. However, it was still headed our way, getting stronger (now a category 4), and now due to hit Waya Lailai at approximately midnight that night. As the sun went down, the sky turned an apocalyptic red, bats flying high up above, all other wildlife silent. This was the calm before the storm.

Cyclone Daman hit Fiji that night. Cikobia island was the worst affected - homes were destroyed, freshwater supplies contaminated and widespread flooding problems continued for days. It was not a trivial storm.

Fortunately for us, the cyclone hit northern Fiji and unexpectedly turned East, petering out over the Pacific, and not the Yasawa group. We were very lucky indeed.

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