Monday, 31 March 2008

"Sai yau levu na lotu keina lomavinaka..."

THE FERRY left behind the tiny, low-lying sand islands of Beachcomber and South Sea and took us towards Fijian paradise. Shortly, land appeared: the island of Waya Sewa, transparent turquoise seas giving way to white sands, lush green tropical vegetation — coconuts and pandanus palms — and there, penetrating the centre, a sort of Pride Rock, an enormous mountainous granite outcrop dominating the landscape and providing an immense backdrop for the village below. It was absolutely beautiful. We weren't stopping here for now, but in a few days this would be our home.

When that time came, we jumped off the ferry into our transfer speedboat, the choppy seas guaranteeing a bumpy ride. On the beach the resort staff grabbed our bags and led the way between the houses through the village, my bare feet in quite some discomfort on the fine stony ground. The village was a mixture of concrete and wooden bungalows, appearing more prosperous than might have been expected. Cats, dogs and cockerels wandered freely around, and the men at the boat shed gave us a cheery wave as we all passed.

The Waya Lailai resort sits adjacent to the village on two tiers directly below the mountain and its forested fringe. Residents sleep in thatched bures and dine overlooking the Pacific Ocean and beyond. Unlike many of the resorts in the Yasawa island chain, the resort is owned by the neighbouring village itself. All profits are returned to the village community and the villagers act as the staff. As a result, the village is more open to travellers than elsewhere. Where other villages might expect a gift for the right to visit, visitors to Waya Lailai can enter freely — within reason of course: your receipt from the resort is not a ticket to invade people's houses or offend the villager's sensitivities.

In search of adventure, we went straight to the beach, where some of the village wives were selling jewelery and teaching people how to weave palm leaves. I would return later to weave a bracelet for myself (much to the amusement of the ladies), but for now I left Jeannette behind and walked with sand between my toes, into the sun and toward the village.

Almost immediately I found about twenty villagers sat around a big mat on the floor, eating and drinking.

I offered a polite hello: "Bula!"

"Bula my friend! Come and join us!"

I hesitated, but then they offered me tea. Since I find tea very difficult to turn down, and because I was now presented with a perfect opportunity to get a feel for traditional village life, something I had been keen to observe, I accepted. They sat me centrally and handed me a mug of a pale brown liquid which tasted very much unlike tea. In fact, it was quite revolting, but I smiled nonetheless. Then they handed me cake, which did the trick.

In front of me a man introduced himself as Moss. He explained, with the assistance of the gentleman to my right, that they were taking a break from building a new house for the chief. To my left was the house itself, at present a big framework of wood and logs, a sturdy structure at the base of the ubiquitous mountain. Construction would continue for another month. Moss said that they take breaks at 10am and 4pm daily to relax from the tough construction work. I looked at my watch. It was twenty past six and the sun was beginning to set. Moss giggled nervously.

"Look at this guy!" said one of the builders suddenly about a fellow villager.
"He is a girl. A girl with man bits! A boy–girl. Half man, half girl!"

This went on for quite some time. At first I just smiled and nodded, in the way that embarrassed Englishmen do. What was I to say? Was I to join in and agree with him? No, no, better to keep grinning until he changes the subject.

He didn't change the subject.

"Which part is which?" I enquired.
This seemed to break the ice, as the men roared with laughter. To this day, I'm not quite sure why.

We started to talk about the village, and what it was like to live here. Conversation eventually steered toward the church, a quite wonderful white wooden building in the very centre of the settlement. Unadorned but bigger than all of the houses, it was a statement of wealth and faith more powerful than I had predicted of an unassuming village beside the beach.

One of the builders, an energetic and friendly man named Sau, stood up and offered to show me around. Sau became a good friend over the next few days. Everytime I went on a walk along the beach he would be there to say hello and take me to see something new. When a man named Jesse took us on an impromptu trek through the forest for a few hours to the building site of a new resort, Sau was already there, waiting with his friendly smile and wave. Sau even took me into a lady's house, confident in his assumption that as an Englishman I would be able to fix her "English-made phone charger". With interior design yet to take off in Fiji, her living room contained an old brown sofa, which clashed with the drapes on the concrete walls, an old television and two posters of Jesus and Father Christmas. When the "English-made phone charger" was handed to me, however, I had to admit defeat, on the grounds that it was actually a sealed, Korean-made power transformer for a portable DVD player. Where the portable DVD player had come from, I do not know.

On this first afternoon at Waya Lailai, Sau took me to see the church. He stood outside with his friend Seya as I entered. The church inside, as out, was immaculate, and a real haven of peace. I could just imagine the wooden pews packed on a Sunday with worshippers singing their hearts out in praise. On the pulpit sat two Bibles, one in English and one in Fijian. Above the altar was a tapestry of the Last Supper, above which a sign read "Sai Yau levu na LOTU Keina LOMAVINAKA..." I do not know what it means, but I know that I like it.

Outside, Sau walked with me back to the resort. He explained that the major form of Christianity in Fiji is Methodism, based on Church of England orthodoxy.

"Is Christianity strong in Fiji?" I asked.

"Yes," he replied.

But then he stopped walking and turned to me smiling.

"Actually no. Jesus is strong in Fiji."

I love Waya Lailai.

More photos from Waya Lailai and Fiji here.

Saturday, 29 March 2008

Dear Anonymous

THANK YOU for your recent comment on the entry entitled 'Johnstone River Crocodile Farm'. You might notice that I have decided not to publish your comment, on the grounds that you have used your anonymity as a mask for some quite strong wording, for which otherwise you would have to accept responsibility.

I would like to accept that your message signifies a turn-around in the establishment mentioned in the title. Your claim that you witnessed only unconditional love for the animals at the farm is hopefully a promising sign, but I refuse to back down on my comments. I was distinctly uncomfortable during my own tour, and thus at least in the past the farm has been less than satisfactory. Whilst you speak the truth in stating that "troublesome crocs" were rescued to protect them from being shot by national park rangers due to the risk of human interaction, being taunted for entertainment is not much of an alternative. I might also add that, while I do not know the methods used at Johnstone River, the methods used as standard to kill crocodiles in farms are far from humane and are about as wholesome and loving as your aforementioned worst-case-scenario: a shot in the head. If you don't believe me, click here. It is nice to know that you feel so much love and care goes into making handbags.

Thank you for highlighting the factual inaccuracies in the entry. It is true that crocodiles gain their energy from the sun and thus by being in a greenhouse this energy is retained, therefore I rescind my comment on the lack of energy that they receive - I concede that I cannot remember why I wrote that. However, this is not direct sunlight, the benefit of which is that they can escape into shade when too hot. Granted, they can cool in the waters of their enclosure, but this setup is hardly natural. Crocodiles are not social creatures and thus by being kept in these conditions a great deal of stress is imposed on them. I may be "naïve" (which, by the way, contains an umlaut), but I can at least use the correct form of 'their' and I can construct a complete sentence.

Your advice regarding my phobia of snakes has been taken on board and promptly disregarded. If you had read the blog properly, you will have noted that I was taken to the farm by a tour company and did not visit of my own accord. Even if I had refused to enter I would still have witnessed the spectacle of Mick Tahone throwing a crocodile at a girl in our bus. As for deliberately avoiding "an interactive reptile park that clearly states what the show involves and is about", I would like to state that just because a show is interactive does not mean that I expect to have a snake draped around me unexpectedly from behind, and nowhere in the title 'Johnstone River Crocodile Farm' is there the word 'snake'.

Thank you for your time. If the farm has improved as you suggest, then this has my approval, for I was thoroughly unimpressed on my visit six months ago. I noticed on researching this response that the Johnstone River Crocodile Farm is now up for sale. How unfortunate.

Yours sincerely,


Tuesday, 11 March 2008

A is for Parrot (Again)

"A is for Parrot", originally uploaded by SBishop.

The subject of a previous post, I finally got around to publishing a photo of John Lennon's poetry in the Hard Rock Cafe, New York.

Sunday, 9 March 2008

Swings, Roundabouts and Gangs of Vicious Keep Left Signs

THERE are good days and bad days. They are inevitable, really; no job would be complete without them. Yet I know better than to complain here about the trials and tribulations of my particular employment. It wouldn't be fair, and besides, I haven't exactly kept the essential details of the whole affair secret - you don't have to search hard here to find my full name or my employer. You can even find my middle initial up there in the address bar (contrary to popular belief, the 'R' is not for Rachel).

Therefore I shan't be giving you a synopsis of the events of the past few days, only to say that, in my defence, a breakdown in communication takes at least two people, not one. Office politics, you see, is a vicious game. I'm the newcomer: go figure.

I will, however, tell you about Tuesday, when a man in a very pink shirt came to my desk with a spring in his step, to test my work economics. Clipboard in hand, he looked down at me over the rim of his glasses and asked me lots of questions such as "do you use Microsoft Office?" and "do you have regular office parties?", the former presumably relating to the sponsors of ergonomic testing and the latter relating to the birthday drinks and cake I was missing out on because of the assessment.

He ticked off options relating to every tool of the trade, even ten questions on my computer mouse. He sat on my chair, exposing his bright yellow socks. He swivelled and played with all of the knobs and buttons on the chair to make all of the component parts slide up, down and around. He seemed to be enjoying himself.

Then, without further ado, he announced that "you, Sir, are compliant! My second today!" With a hop and a skip he then vanished into thin air, thus revealing himself to be the office genie.

This has been the highlight of my working week. It has been a bit of a slow one.