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VITI.you still live here?

Recently, I bumped into an overseas-based acquaintance at one of Suvas shopping m alls and after the usual pleasantries; she asked me a question that many others have asked in the past. "So you still live here?" she asked. I answered in my us ual: "Yeah, unbelievable, huh? But that seemingly innocent enquiry got me thinkin g for days on end. Was that a smirk on her face when she asked? Was it a sneer? Or was it envy? Or, God forbid, pity? And when it really comes down to it, what the hell am I still doing here? Why am I not queuing up at the Australian or New Zealand or US Emba ssy with migration application papers? What is it about this place that is keepi ng me grounded to its soil instead of taking flight to a foreign country so my k ids can, and I quote what many others have said to me, have better opportunities? Since blowing out 25 candles on my birthday cake a few year ago (ok, ok, so it w as many moons ago..), the question of whether to migrate or not has cropped up mo re than several times. Like the time all the families on our street, save one, e xperienced home invasions, one after another. In 3 weeks. Or the time my outspok en older sister was taken to the military camp and physically assaulted for her political views. And who can forget the many job interviews where prospective bosses ask what you r future plans are and you know that what they really mean is: So are you plannin g to migrate as soon as you clock up some experience here? The thing about reaching a certain age in Fiji is that you are expected to migra te like the many others who do at that age. It has become a norm to relocate to g reener pastures once you reach your mid to late 20 or once you have settled down with the spouse and a kid or two in tow whichever comes first. The problem is that when I hear the word migration, I immediately think of migra ting geese. I dont like geese. I prefer bears. They hibernate and stay put. The way I see it, it is almost expected for us yes - those of us who have consci ously chosen to still live, work and play in Fiji - to not admit that we actuall y like this place. It irritates me no end when visiting relatives from abroad, r ock up home for a cuppa and a chat then end up monopolising the entire conversat ion with their moans and groans: Oh, its so hot here! or Man, the price of clothes h ere are so expensive! or I just cant believe the price of apples and pears in MH! I usually scream silently: Hey! Did you come to Fiji to visit relatives and frien ds or to shop and bitch about the weather because the last time I checked, this place has not morphed into Vegas! But, I nod politely, smile and offer another cu p of sickly sweet tea and breakfast cracker biscuit, smacked thick with salty bu tter. I dont blame them for their comments. Life as we used to know it in Fiji is no lo nger the same. Weve come through some pretty tough times - coups, political uncer tainties, increasing costs of living, lower standards of living, increasing crim e rates, devaluations, massive job cuts etc, etc.... We dont have all those big and fancy malls, designer-label boutiques, up-market c offee haunts and snazzy eateries or clubs that they have overseas. The weather i s definitely hot and humid almost all the time. Its certainly getting tough to fi nd a half-decent school to enrol our kids in. We have roads that resemble the su rface of the moon. And for certain neighbourhoods, dry taps after 9pm is the nor m. So I get that, yes. It is frustrating, it is annoying and when you really take t he time to mull over it, it is heartbreaking. But there is a part of me that ref uses to just give up on this land. Yet. This is my country, where I was born - m y beloved Viti. Its seared in the very core of my being my soul, my essence. For the life of me, I simply just cant find the nerve or the heart to pack up and lea ve. Not yet anyway. One of my best friends, Vicky, nailed it on her Facebook update the other day. On the bus down to Lautoka, saw taki session under mango trees.Viti Noqu Viti!!! she wrote. Thats just it. Its the way of life and the people of this country that to tally rocks my socks off. As far as I am concerned, there is no other place out there, in the whole wide world that can offer me what my beloved Fiji has. And t

he list is long. But right on top, above everything else, are the people the kai Vitis. Whether i t s an indigenous Fijian (or i-Taukei, for the politically correct), or Indian o r Rotuman or kai loma or palagi or Chinese or whatever, true Fiji people are und oubtedly the friendliest and most genuine people in the world. The smiles that those tourist folks keep promoting to the rest of the world are for real - there is nothing fake about that. A kai Viti genuinely loves life - w e really like hanging out with our family members and relatives, we really like long-drawn out family gatherings, we really still hang out with friends weve know n since we were 3 years old, we really love to eat and dont care much for countin g calories or maintaining model-like figures, we really enjoy our grog and booze while sharing stupid jokes and recycling stories we just shared with each other yesterday and the day before that. We laugh at everything, even the crazy stuff like when someone trips and falls o ver or when two people kiss on screen in the movies or when a dog is chased with stones by a group of teenagers. And by gawd, do we love our rugby! We may be po larised on many issues but when it comes to a match featuring the national 7s te am, everyone is literally glued to the TV. We also dont see anything wrong with serving others - most foreigners find it wei rd but really, we don t expect too much in return when were helping someone out. Its just our way of life from the moment we can talk, were taught to put others and their comforts first. Cousins, aunty, uncle and grandparents visiting this week end? Not a problem. They get to sleep in the bedrooms while the hosting family b unks in the living room. They get the good pillows and blankets, the choice piec es of jungli murgee; they get to eat off the plates bought from Tappoos while the rest use the ones from Rups. That s just how we roll. Always have and God help us, always will. I cannot yet imagine a life where I cant exchange more than passing hellos with n eighbours that I have lived next to for years; where I cant turn up, unannounced, at a friends house and she not only lets me in but is glad that I dropped by and even dishes out the last piece of chicken she was saving for her husband (sorry , mate!). And I cant yet see myself living in a place where its normal to not smi le at every person you pass on the street because if you do, youre either a perve or up there with the fairies. I dont consider myself well-travelled but Ive been around. Ive met, talked, laughed and mingled with many different people in different countries. I have tasted an d sampled many different foods. I have drank a lot of different drinks too many, in fact. And I have soaked in the atmosphere, cultures and way of life of these foreign lands and people. But despite enjoying these regular overseas sojourns, I always long to come back home. One week away is enjoyable, 2 weeks is ok, 3 weeks is really stretching i t and if its a month, I literally sprint into that Air Pacific plane, soaking in the friendly faces of the Fijian air hostesses and almost choking, out of sheer joy and happiness, on the cheap-line bhuja they serve, The way I see it, theres only so much shopping, sight-seeing, sampling of foreign cultures, food and drinks that one can do. After all is said and done, the law of diminishing marginal returns quickly sets in with each additional bite of for eign life, my incremental increase in satisfaction and happiness plummets until I am downright miserable and crabby. Viti..Im not through with you yet. And yes, I still live here. By Tam Digitaki

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