September 2011

G E N I U S H A C K E R GENIUS HACKER g e n i u s


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Fiji, 2-9 September, फ़िजी गणराज्य, Matanitu ko Viti, Gaṇarājya – Racism beyond race

Friday 2 September

Modern travel: of a week comprising as is usual seven days two entire days will be spent travelling. We had extra organisational details to attend to perhaps, the dog to the Country Club for Dogs, the car to the cheap lock-up, but still most of today went between waiting to check in at Auckland International, checking in, and the long haul of arriving, queuing, arriving. While the flight to Nadi itself took only two hours and fifty minute.

Appalled at the improvements at Auckland particularly with regard to food on offer. KFC, an overpriced cafe, McDonald’s, and sushi. The area where we’ve in the past spent most time, because of the floor to ceiling windows, is now occupied by a very woody bar, dark and woody, with upholstered things in perforated ply tree-like structures. Odd.

Once through the gate, the style picked up. Egg chairs, a vortex type fabric thing with projections ethnically inspired, emitting native bird song. Looked to have picked up, until I realised that the egg chairs were all branded and part of a promo campaign for some drink. NZ’s gateway to the world.

Fiji. Tepid air. The plane plumetting and hitting the tarmac hard. Old plane. Video projected movie. Beastly. It was. But the stutters made it almost palatable as a period affair. Q. having watched the whole observed that there had been no dialogue. It had all been music. It happened that he had been tuned to the wrong channel throughout.

So the plane hitting down. And glimpses of a scrubby coastal flat land dotted with insubstantial buildings and the odd field of sugarcane and beyond the flat, the craggy volcanic interior mountains. Today bathed in silty clouds.

A welcoming committee inside the terminus, a quartet in loud shirts singing in close harmony with ukulele and guitar. Are they trotted out for every landing?

We did not declare that we had Holy Water or that we had indecent or obscene items in our possession but we did declare the foodstuffs we were carrying. In the end, the official let the camembert through. She was more perplexed by the bag of lentils without any English labelling. But let that go as well. Even our almonds made it.

Once out of the airport, a typical low-profile servicable and unattractive Pacific building, we got a cab. A yellow station wagon. For the quoted price of Fiji $25. Not bad, we thought.

The driver was informative about the current state of the country. Very bad. Racial discrimination. You see those guys at the airport, all Indian. But when you get to the resort – Sheraton Villas, Denerau – all Fijian. They don’t let us go from the resort. But from the airport…

How much of the population is Indian? 43%, but it used to be 53%. In 1987, when the first coup occurred. Since then many Indians have been trying to leave. They’ve been going to Australia, New Zealand, Canada, the United States.

But it’s not for everybody to just be able to leave, he said.

The major industry used to be sugarcane. But 80% of the land is native land. And the native Fijians didn’t renew the leases to the Indian sugarcane farmers. So most of it has returned to bush. Now tourism is the chief industry.

There had so far been no indication that this was the case. The roads were bad. And the land rough. And there were at intervals military type guys stopping vehicles, attending to traffic flow and so on.

As we crossed into Denerau, things changed. To the left an undulating golf course and to the right privately owned houses, huge in scale, often on waterways. You have to be very rich to have one of these, our driver said. Most of the owners are from abroad. Many of them are owned by New Zealanders.

We talked about the buses. The Sheraton will tell you you cannot take the bus into central Nadi. But you can. A dollar per person. If you want to take a taxi, twenty-five.

You see this, he said, pointing at the meter. Only Indian drivers have to have them. The military government put the clocks back twenty years.

So far the meter showed only eight or nine dollars.

That’s why we charge $25. I will have spent eight or nine dollars in petrol to get here from the airport.

We were met by a weirdly theatrical reception committee at the Sheraton. A guy did a drum roll and the other guys said Bula! in unison. Then each of them had to give us a little handshake.

The Sheraton is plantation style expansive dark-wood fittings a soothing and attractive environment. Which we got to enjoy for several hours until it was admitted that our bookings had been cancelled. By the NZ agent.

After several hours, we were compensated with one night in adjoining rooms in the hotel and dinner vouchers for Feast, a seafood buffet we’d had time to enquire about. $90 per person, we’d been told. That includes 20% tax, VAT. Tomorrow we would get the villas we booked.

A swim. And Feast. Not so terribly fresh seafood. But excellent Brazilian dish. And wine too expensive to buy ($19 a glass on special for wine we’d bought at NZ$11 a bottle dutyfree). Fiji water instead, at $9 a bottle. Entrapment! (Read about the politics of Fiji water here.)

Saturday 3 September

We awoke at 7.30 in the old rooms, part of the hotel, adjoining rooms given to us because our villa had been given away. Due to, according to Sheraton, the NZ agent having cancelled the booking. We awoke to rain, and Michael the gardener said it hadn’t rained for several months.

A walk a swim and breakfast buffet. Excess sufficient to put one off one’s food. The most interesting combination available, English Cabbage and Roti. Pots of coffee, American style. Not bad.

The huge pavillion style room full of fat white people, waited on by not so small native Fijians for the most part, who, in concert processed to one of the tables in the middle of breakfast and sang Happy Birthday, with beautiful South Pacific harmonies and special new lines, like Happy long life to you! The three egg chefs, however, were all Fijian Indian.

Family resolved, given the weather, to head by bus, Westbus – $1 per person – into Nadi. (An ‘n’ is added to the ‘d’in pronouncation, giving Na(n)dy, rhyming with Mandy.) So we did. Hurtling along at one point on a short section of sealed road, the driver decided to brake precipitously, as we went around a stationary vehicle. Squeal of tyres and the bus pulling drastically to one side. Haha, we all laughed. Every hump and bump the shocks hit their limit. Haha!

An American had sat next to J., and gave her the lowdown on where to get off in Nadi. The bus stop. Right next to the market. Which occurs everyday apart from Sunday.

The bus stop turned out to be the bus depot, full of Westbuses and open-sided buses and the local hi-ace taxies, a sort of poor relation to the Philippino decorated or personalised jeepneys.

Entering the market, nothing to be seen but rows of washed corms of cava and brown paper bags of the stuff in powder form. And men. Very few women serving. The ethnic makeup seemed to be – against expectation – more Fijian Indian.

Through a door and into the covered market with the vege. A mixture of men and women, native and Indian Fijian sellers. Ginger in big piles, three types of chilli, a small-leaf spinach, tomatoes in little heaps, most vege in heaps, and selling for $1 a heap. To one side Indian spices displayed in buckets and the smell of fresh curry leaf, tumeric and coriander.

Okra. Bananas, either large and green or small and yellow; pineapples, tiny ones; watermelon. Eggs. And potatoes.

We stocked up with fresh produce, the small chillis for me. And I was approached by a guy, Tony, who slipped me his card and followed conspicuously our progress through the market, to the bakery, at every opportunity prevailing on us to visit the true Fiji craft market. Where it does your soul good to give knowing that your money is going straight to the communities who are responsible for the craftwork. Unlike those Indian shops who bring in stock from China, India, anywhere, and rip the money out of the hands of the native Fijian people.

The odd thing was, Tony looked to be Fijian Indian. We finally headed in a direction he agreed with, and he took us around a corner to a driveway behind the shops, telling me, We hate Indians!

His craft market amounted to a single store on a second floor, next to a very popular barber and video store, the former’s popularity attested to by the fact people were queuing inside on pews. A young man went at a cava bowl with a chisel in the doorway. This is the real Fiji, announced Indian Indian-hating Tony.

M. picked up the only thing in the store that was obviously imported. An Indian silver charm bracelet. But we bought nothing.

And out on the street again, we spotted covered stalls with more craft. Taking it for the real craft market, if not the real Fiji, we headed over. My stall is all real Fiji, said a seller. Take your time, I won’t rush you.

I felt compelled to look closer and found the same things we’d seen at Tony’s. Miniature cava bowls, hair-combs, wooden things, bracelets, tapa stuff – or, in Fijian, Masi. I asked a guy in the strip of stalls what gives when over the street people are saying don’t go there, we hate the Indian stall-owners.

His answer was that of course they were the Indian owners, getting rich. Rich! Paying for electric lights. Paying for good sites with exposure. While here they were the real Fiji. Everything in the store made locally.

He didn’t say, We hate Indians! But he may as well have.

Two little Indian Fijian girls told us, in the same strip of stalls, Take your time! Here we are on Fijian time! No hurry. Have a look at our stall.

Another stall had some more interesting looking Masi/Tapa but it turned on the same strange discrimination between what was being produced locally, what one could buy and know one was making the ethical choice, and that that the nasty exploitative Indians were bringing in goods, enriching themselves and their… their nations? their generally economically parasitic race? The gypsy pariahs of Fiji? Gastarbeiter?

Further into Nadi, having been put off by the blatant racism of the commercial zone, or Nadi, we looked for a supermarket, for tonic water – Indian tonic water! – tuna, meat to self-cater a little. Surprising prices for chicken, $25 a kilo, sirloin, neck chops and curry ‘pieces,’ the cheaper.

The other shops are Fiji Indian owned, only this one is Fiji native. What I suppose is not grasped is that all out racism does not encourage tourist expenditure.

Loaded down with extra bags, we flagged down a taxi. He was one of the chosen. No meter. He set his price at $12 back to the Sheraton for the five of us.

A crucifix hung from the rear-vision mirror. He said, five coups later, what’s important is that you can still put food on the table for your children.

He told us that Denerau had been built by the Japanese. It was all reclaimed land. It used to be mangrove swamp. Beautiful. Every tree taken from the mainland and planted here, at $80 a tree.

A small slice of Dubai. Very. It even has a small sculpted landmass on the interior, beside the port, in the shape of a half moon, divided into residential sites and waiting for development.

I may be thinking crazy, he said, but if I’m going to spend two to three million dollars building a house that I visit for maybe three to six months in every year am I going to do that on land that I don’t own? that I pay lease on? for ninety-nine years? After which the lease may not be renewed. All the land is on leases. Even the hotels on Denerau pay an annual lease.

The major crop of Denerau is the major crop of Fiji: tourism. If things are wrong with Denerau, things are wrong with Fiji.

I’m left with the impression that the disease afflicting Fiji is racism. That it has infected Fiji natives against Fiji Indians but that it is so deeply ingrained that even those who are of Indian descent are divided against their own, or simply in profound denial. I am Fijian Indian AND I hate Fijian Indians. But the disease is such that like a leprosy everybody has anybody can suffer from it. And it is worn on the outside. Putting it out there is part of the disease.

The children came home and played with the baby frogs. Until we were told they were poisonous baby cane toads.

We had brought home coconut oil to cook our bolognese in our new house, the villa, with a kitchen. In fact, after arriving home despondent from Nadi, we waited, waited and waited for the porters to relocate us. Eventually, after a sleep, the porter came. Loaded us up onto the golf cart and left us. Between the lagoon pool and the lily ponds, in our palatial villa. Lacking only a convection oven.

Sunday 4 September

The big rains never arrived. We remained resort-bound. The sun came out.

I’d woken in the night determined that I would find a bicycle and escape. Either or hire or purchase, second-hand. In the event, as we were eating breakfast at the excessive buffet, called Feast, we espied a sign: bicycle and scooter hire.

I leapt to my feet. Ran over to the guy sitting in the bure. Where are these bicycles? I asked.

Port Denerau.

How much?

Maybe $40 an hour.

Ok. Really.

But maybe there’s specials for September.

He got on the phone.

OK. $30 an hour.

He wasn’t yet through.

And I come here or have to go to Port Denerau?

The Port.

He got through.

$10 an hour. … $40 half a day. … $70 a day. Would you like to book?

But I can just go to the Port and get one?

No. He was still on the phone. You must come back through me and I can confirm the booking.

You will come back to me to confirm, yes?

I said I would. But didn’t. The weather.

It cleared. We reclined next to two characters from Fitzgerald/Ballard. She had a scar the length of her spine and perfect posture as a result. He, rather paunchy, had an equally conspicuous scar. But in a quarter circle, on his back.

They ordered a strawberry daiquari and a lager. She sat bolt upright. He sipped at the frosted glass. They conversed in clipped highspeed American.

Later they had a pizza. Too big. From the racquet club.

I read Embassytown, the new China Mieville, and turned pink. My neck pendant outlined in pink.

Then we played lawn tennis. How brilliant not to have to wear shoes!

A pair of black and white Fijian members of the Kingfisher, Kookabura family insisted on settling on the nets.

We returned to the edge of infinity pool for sundowners and watched as the rain swept down the coast. A late afternoon burst of sunlight from the West. And then bats.

From the island off the coast, bats. They must spend the daylight hours over there and after dark descend on Denerau, artificial island, to feed. Hundreds of them. With the characteristic desultory flapping of batwings, as if half blown, half under their own power, the bats crossing in front of us. Small bats. Large bats. Their claws hooked up and trailing like tails behind them. Blindly criss-crossing the sky and settling clumsily into the coconut palms.

As we ate dinner, the sound of the toads grew louder from the lilyponds behind the villas. Throat engines at full throttle.

Monday 5 September

Under the pall of an excess of family debriefing last night, assisted by dutyfree Absolut.

But by the time it came to the banana boating, which is not about tallying me bananas, rather about straddling a synthetic canvas tube and being towed at high speed behind a fast speedboat, by that time… No. The adrenalin – Adrenalin Watersports is the brand monopolising most of these activities – did what rest and food could not. And at the last moment, I really did not want to risk limb if not life in the name of fun. But it was fun. I think it was probably the helmet that made me cavil. And the guys in the boat asking if we wanted to flip over.

Eye-stinging bouncing fun and the chance to see a bit more of the coastline.

Since it was J.’s birthday, we ate, against the wind blowing in – because it is high tide, said the waitress – at The Wet Edge. Proscuitto wrapped salmon. Crispy chicken breast on a bed of pea mash with spicy corn salsa. Asked for extra spicy. Excellent. But not the style of food that really suited. And insufficient without side dishes.

The late evening we spent sitting out behind the villas, listening to the throat singing of the frogs or toads. During the days, you are in constant danger of squashing all the little black, tan, green frogs jumping in the cushiony lawn.

This snap deserves to be marked out. In it you see the sign pointing to Indian Tony’s authentic Indian-hating Fijian handicrafts; another sign pointing to the barber where the people queued up on pews and some particularly suggestive political pro-Indian graffiti. Although the R.N.C. could simply stand for Ratu Navula College and the intended meaning be nothing mere than support for a local sports team. Surely it doesn’t stand for Republican National Convention.

Tuesday 6 September

Waking at 7.30, a walk down the reclaimed beach, with the shipped in sand, past the several resorts beyond the Sheraton. The Raddison, the Wyndham. Into the no-man’s land of replanted palms and re-purposed built up embankment, which has still to be developed. Big holes where crabs have hidden. And the occasional interloping tiger-camouflaged fast-moving crab, scurrying into the surf.

On the way back we were stopped by another touter for the Wyndham. But just come and spend some time – spend some time is a favourite turn of phrase – in our delightful pool, the longest pool in the South Pacific, and we will give you $100 shopping vouchers, and cruises to the islands, two adults for $20; the resort tour starts at 11 am: be there to… But we don’t want to. He was disappointed, the touter. Sweating on his face. And his big pink tongue. Perhaps his family will not eat tonight?

And what do they do? Assemble the touters to judge how much success they’ve had?

Back around the point, an early morning Japanese wedding was in progress at the chapel. And a discreet bower had been erected, with a trail of petals, frangipani mainly, and tables with white table-cloths blowing in the breeze, for the reception.

My staple has become at the excessive buffet hotcakes with maple syrup, yoghurt, fruit salad and prunes. Today there was also bacon. It tasted a little wild as if it might be local wild pig taken and cured and that this might be the reason for the intermittent supply. Coffee and pineapple juice.

A short sojourn thereafter beside the infinity pool, shirted up to avoid further reddening, and M. and I decided we’d take cycles into Nadi. Walked down to Ports of Denerau. The guy said, $20 an hour. I said ten, I was told ten by the Adrenalin Watersports rep at Sheraton.

Of course, he had to ring and confirm $10 an hour. But conceded. So I was less than attentive to the state of the bicycles, thinking I’d got a bargain.

The bikes were broken. Chinese brand mountain bikes. Adrenalin guy tried to raise the seats and the seat columns popped out, dented and shortened where others had tried to ride with too little of the column in the pipe, as it were. The clamps had crushed the columns. So we wobbled off in fear that something of column or pipe might end up engaging fundamentally with our persons.

Plus the handlebars were loose.

Clunk. Clunk. And one pedal shaft had eaten away at the lower bracket to the point of slipping. The nut had been replaced but didn’t make it right.

We got out of gated community Denerau. We have decided there are degress of gatedness here, from so gate to quite gate through totally gate. Since there are closed gates – gated housing developments – within Denerau’s gates. Comprising both water obstacles and guarded bures. Gates.

M. and I stopped at a cemetery. Bleak. A blasted trunk with an ant colony occupying it. Headstones with the epitaphs scratched into the wet concrete.

Onto Nadi. Clunkingly. Traffic oblivious to the bikes.

We saw the decaying arcades. Indian women in saris collecting mangoes from a fenced wasteland. Their overseer offered to look after our bikes if we wanted to leave them with him. The second such offer.

We saw the same frocked up hucksters as we’d struck before, saying, Only our shop is real Fijian. All the others are run by Indians. They bring in goods from who knows where. Only from goods purchased at our shop does the revenue go back to the communities that made them.

We stopped at Lazy Shirts to buy something for I. A guy asked M. if he could buy our bikes because it’s hard to get bikes like this in Fiji.

I looked at my bike like this. And the pedal fell off. The whole shaft.

In the store the front staff were all Fijian native but then the old lady seated up by the jewellery was clearly Indian. A bindi. The grandmother.

Equally, where we stopped for an iced tea and a banana juice. Not too thick; not too thin: just right. Here the couple comprised a middle-aged gap-toothed Fijian lady and her droop-eyed white-whiskered Indian husband.

We asked her if there was a local Nadi Adrenalin office. Undrenlin? She asked, stress on first syllable.

I phone my sister. When it was explained to her what had happened to the bike.

I talked to the guy who’d hired out the bikes. Asked him to come and pick us up. But you are not allowed to take these bikes out of Denerau!

So gate!

You didn’t tell me that, I said. I did, he countered.

Oh no you bloody didn’t.

He arrived after an interval on a scooter with tools that had never been used. He tightened up the new nut on the pedal shaft with great show and proceeded to tighten all the allen keys all over the bikes.

Did you bring the pump? I asked. Our tyres were rapidly going down. No.

We close at five, he cheerfully left with.

We clunked slowly back to Denerau, because of course the new nut couldn’t compensate for the worn down metal onto which it was attached at the bottom bracket. Clunk. Clunk.

Watching all the school kids come out in their diverse uniforms. These various races. Some Hindi, Muslim, Christian.

A beautiful girl in a figure-hugging short dress, all the boys leering and pointing. She smiling and swinging her hips past them. Swimming against their tide. And boys who looked like twenty-year-old men, so bewhiskered, and big.

We stoped once. As on the way in. And said hello to a musician, carrying a guitar case. He made a hang loose sign at the Westbus driver.

The guards on the bridge, of which the ‘slab’ was cracked but the supports were intact, yelled at us, Go up to top speed!

We returned the bikes and gratefully walked home. Our bums sore from the rocking, narrow and low seats.

A swim. Watching the bats come in from the island. Sundowner.

Rissoles, orzo and potato salad and fresh chilli for dinner.

Wednesday 7 September

My unschooled version of events would be, which I admit I have altered since, in its detail if not in its tenor: the Indians are imported by the British imperial power as a labour-force to work the sugar plantations; hence preferred over the native Fijian workforce for the reason that the British don’t want to be seen to be exploiting the native population.

Between 1879 and 1916, 42 British ships conducted 87 transports averaging 800 indentured Indian workers per ship from Calcutta and Madras. The journey took 30 days. A bonus was paid for each worker landed alive. 60, 553 individuals arrived at port in Fiji; over 400 died in transit; the number of arrivals being slightly corrected by births onboard.

Workers were contracted for five years under the British. They usually worked nine hours per day, seven days a week; despite the legal nicety of indenture they were treated as slaves, that is, maltreated. This period is known as the ‘girmit’ period, meaning agreement.

After five years hard labour, girmityas, indentured Indian workers, were ‘freed’ and could choose to remain in Fiji or return to India. At their own expense.

The Girmit period ended officially in 1920.

The existence of a substantial Indian population attracted further immigration to Fiji from 1900 onward, leading to division in Fiji’s Indian population. Girmityas and their descendents regarded themselves as more Fijian than the free immigrants, who were for the most part Gujarati and Punjabi and who retained a stronger sense of cultural affiliation to India, which included retaining caste. Internal resentment had religious as well as economic underpinnings, since free immigrants included many Muslim, whereas the existing Indo-Fijian population was largely Hindu, and because the former were regarded by the latter as more highly skilled, therefore as having economic advantages granted by circumstance.

What I was witnessing in the case of Tony the anti-Indian ethnic Indian was racism borne of cultural differences within the Indian population brought about by the singular historic circumstance of the girmit, that is, by the actions of the British, under a colonial policy of Empire.

While the Indo-Fijian and Indian population explodes and its economic dominance is assured, resentment on the part of the indigenous population escalates. But it is worth returning to the point at which Britain chose to distinguish between exploiting one race over another. Because it was at this point that a policy of separate development was instituted. With the best intentions. The policy could be called an Apartheid.

Indigenous Fijians were to pursue a traditional way of life – outside of the economic sphere that the Indo-Fijians generated under British rule and that the free Indian immigrants later developed. While free not to be exploited, they were also released from the lands the plantations occupied. The trajectory of separate development has a territorial component making land reform a political priority for the successive regimes brought in by the series of coups beginning in 1987.

Fiji was granted independence in 1970; a constitutional democracy was introduced; the first parliaments were numerically dominated by Indians. Resentment leads to a unrest and a movement to return native lands to ethnic Fijians, with an emphasis on those lands to which the girmityas had originally been indentured to work, from which they, upon independence, continued to reap the benefits.

In 1987, the military coup under George Speight, takes representation of native resentment into the institutions of putative but badly worked out democracy, overturning those democratic institutions and opening the way for military elevation, showing that beyond colonialism, native interests can and will be represented through direct military intervention. The government installed by the coup undertakes to reform land ownership, returning sequestered lands and properties to the native population and also thereby institutionalising economic and racist disenfranchisement of the Indo-Fijian and Indian population. Who are now largely relegated to the commercial districts.

Coups, counter-measures with best intentions from New Zealand, particularly; mass emigration of Indian Fijians; native Fijians finally feeling they have a voice and that that makes it OK to hate – venting long-standing transgenerational resentment; to today’s situation, under the Commodore, with fascist pro-natives harrassing tourists and a confusing miscegenation – including ethnic division amongst Indians – giving rise to all sorts of paradoxical racist arrangements; the Indians running commercial enterprise still, vilified and yet getting on, commercial pressure on Indian Fijians to leave businesses, and in addition, the inability of the native population to restore the thriving sugar industry.

Now our crop is tourism. Denerau is providing the lifeblood to the economy. Fiji is barred from the Pacific Island Forum. Prime Minister Commodore Voreqe Bainimarama promises elections in 2014 and puts out the offer for companies to tender to take over ‘electronic’ vote-counting and impose a techno-democratic infrastructure.

Today we drank cava. Analgesic. I was made chief and drank around seven bowls on the manicured lawns of the Sheraton, with Ely and City presiding. A hearty clap. Bula! and the gathered ‘tribe’ of tourists giving three hearty claps as each of us downed the half-coconut shell. Cava grows stronger with age. The stuff we were drinking was seven years old. Tasted like the spray dentists and pharmacists use to numb mouths and throats. Thick tongue. And a greenish water-logged feeling. Quickly allayed by a cocktail at Bula Hour, happy happy.

We watched the firedancers. Prerecorded music, unfortunately, in the main. But crazy hips and bum-fronded bustles to accentuate the hips of the female dancers. One of the men defnitely Indo, in his demeanour and dance style as well.

Dinner at Flying Fish. Special deals: seventy something Fijian, including two glass each of New Zealand wine and two courses from a selection. The best was seared scallops. My prawns were overpowered by the dressing. My main was delicious. Mahi mahi, pan-seared with Indian style augergine and fresh cucumber relish and a sauce like a raita, yoghurt and spices. Only M. had desert. Peanut icecream confection. Rich. Three blocks spread over three hollows in a long plate, the central block having a banana mash topping, which went well and as a foil to the rich peanut.

The restaurant spoke English exclusively. And the maitre d’ was a whitey.

Walking home around the sandy beach. Frogs everywhere beside the ponds. Bats scrabbling in the palms above.

Thursday 8 September

The first day muesli, prunes and yoghurt. The latter in a short glass topped with raspberries. The second and third days hotcakes with maple syrup, yoghurt and fruit salad. Then I discovered the congee bowl, with fresh coriander, shredded dried meat, pork cubes and fresh red chilli. But today, returned to hotcakes. No chilli. Bacon at least.

A day of rain. Raindrops swelling to the size of eggs. Falling on us as we played volleyball in the sand, which stuck to us.

A formation of birds crossed overhead. Big sea birds. What are they? I only know it in Fijian language, said the barman.

Kaite kaite.

Unseasonal rain. Pooling on the lawns. All activities suspended. Even the ferry to the offshore island.

We tried to settle in Chime, one of the bars, on mattresses with bolster pillows. But the clash of musics made it difficult to read. And the surface was too soft to play boardgames on.

We went back to the room and played the train game, set in Europe. The object being to connect destinations and create the longest continuous line.

Dinner of pizzas beside the infinity pool. Games and running around. Since by evening the rain had ceased. Frogs and toads everywhere. Bats in the palmtrees overhead.

Friday 9 September

Leaving day. But no leaving song for us. Compensation being that the table next to us in the breakfast buffet room, Feast, got a combined leaving and birthday song, sung in Fijian, interspersed with wahoos! Affecting harmonies, tearing up these big Ozzies.

Ridiculous photo today of the ‘leaders’ at the Pacific Island Forum – from which Fiji has been decisively excluded – in the Fiji Sun (Vanua Levu, Taveuni – $1 VIP – everywhere else 70 pages 80 cents VIP (=20%)) – on Waiheke, all dressed in janitor’s jackets, PM John Key slumped in his like a naughty schoolboy wearing clothes too big for him, a little white boy mascot pushed to the front of the PI leaders’ team.

A brief glance at Rajendra Prasad’s Tears in Paradise corrects my unschooled impression that Indian workers were brought to Fiji to be overseers under the British. [here] In the “girmit” period, they were indentured by the British and held under contract to work nine hour days, seven days a week on the plantations. Prasad shows how badly the Indo-Fijians were treated over this period; they were no better than slaves despite the legalistic dressing up of their relationship to the colonist power.

We claimed our posi – by staking a claim, in the way of such signature items as towels and bags – the Germans establish, the French build, the English inhabit, says my book, the biography of Deleuze and Guattari – beside the infinity pool, looking out to the island, the intervening stretch of water lapping on the rocks below a glass barrier, evidence that this land is reclaimed, and it soon started to rain. Black rain clouds running down the long curve of the coast, promising this time to dissipate but instead gathering overhead.

So we repaired to our room, prepared for the decamp, and portered the total baggage out. Do you need to book a taxi? asked the porter. Suspicious of this as if it were a ruse, probably it was not, I told him we’d make our own arrangements.

And then we moved ourselves to the pools at one end of the foyer. Where the weather had broken and the sun while not quite out was at least warming. A warm breeze from offshore.

Here we hung about until quite fortuitously we re-encountered City, with Ely, but another Ely, his flatmate, as it turned out, both of them originating on the neighbouring Vanua Levu. And we wove baskets. They took down a couple of banana palm fronds and a cache of green drinking coconuts for later and preceded to show us how to make a shopping bag.

We have a saying, they said, As useful as a banana palm. Which began Vinaka something. Thank you banana palm. Because they use every bit. Even the husk is for the cooking fire. And oil can be extracted from the meat. We’d chucked the oil we’d bought. It had congealed. It had ruined our bolognese.

Push each leaf against the direction in which they grow. Then every second is woven over and under. A few turned back to hold the weave in place. The top woven together and as the ends are approached, the weave turns to a plait, which continues to the entire length of the leaf.

Now the magic, because what you end up with is a sealed pod, woven up, with dangling moustachios: machete – if you are a man, because men like to use machetes -, kitchen knife – if you are a woman, because for women this is ordinary work and nothing spectacular – to the central stem of the frond, slicing its heart out, opening it, as they say, like a zip, and the bag becomes one. The dangling moustachios are then tied together to make a handle.

The farms are a long way from our village, said City and Ely, because we choose the best soils, usually on the slopes; so the farmers have to carry the fruit and vegetables in these baskets, cassava, yams, taro, taro leaves, things like cabbages. But even the fishermen, they use these these baskets. And it is only recently that modernisation has come and we don’t take them to the supermarkets, so we don’t have to make new baskets every time. A good and time-saving thing.

When the baskets were made, City and Ely cut the tops off of the coconuts and got the two kids’ club girls with the fully braided hair and the slightly pot bellies from constantly eating chips and ice creams, who were always all over these two guys, to go and get some straws. Hold the straw in your mouth, like this. Point the end in this direction and blow away the rain! said City. Even the kids didn’t laugh.

The milk was slightly sweet water, not sweet compared to the cream or milk we are familiar with. City said, When you are on an island and there is no water, you can use the coconut.

They found out we were leaving and said wait, we will sing you a leaving song. City came back with a guitar. Their harmonies were just as rich as the group of cooks, waiters and waitresses at Feast. The interesting thing, the two interesting things are that these two tuned their voices before they began, for each song, singing a couple of notes and then proceeding, and that they have a skill in resonating their voices against each other, choosing the harmonies that will enhance the other’s voice.

Of course it was beautiful. City explained that back in the village visitors are very important. That if there are visitors all the village will gather together. Because usually it’s just them. Visitors are prized.

We stayed and sang some more, reduced, although the way they sang it was no reduction, to singing Old MacDonald had a Farm. It was hard to drag oneself away from these two. Because their ingenuousness and their charm were only a fraction of it. It was their energy. A commitment. A very solemn undertaking to make everybody feel good. To make a move away seemed not so much a betrayal as an act of selfishness. This two man tribe.

Inbetween we were also shown how to climb a coconut palm. Both City and Ely made it to the top. Ely ribbing City for not being as good a climber.

Americans can do this kind of entertaining ingenuous, faux naive schtick, knowing that wit is the killer, it must be kept simple, but this was remarkable for the difference, that even when in the leaving song they mentioned Sheraton Fiji, there was a piece of earth inside it, a deep sense of place so shallow that it could be given on the surface, as a generosity, a gift.

We did finally take our leave. And lay on the mattresses in Chime bar for a while, waiting for time to pass, reading, but also Ely had said he would find us some Fiji cava, $35 per kilo. A trio stepped up on the stage and played. A big close-harmonising sound for such a small group.

Eventually I went in searh of Ely. 5.30 was approaching. Any luck? He opened a secret cupboard in the side of the bure. How much? Oh, anything goes in Fiji now. …OK. Well, you said $35 so here’s… $36.

Cava session at your place tonight! shouted City.

Taciturn taxi van drier.The road was like a river. Even though we had ridden it on clunky bikes, slowly, still it was all different; all changed. Machines had been through scarifying certain sections. New currents had made new lanes. Over one stretch, branches had been laid to restrict traffic to the semi-sealed section.

When do you think the road’s going to be finished?

Never! said our driver. You know: Fiji time!

A stock punchline.

We caught a snippet of the World Cup opening ceremony playing on a TV screen in front of Tappoo. Everybody had gathered around.

Best seat in the house! said the guy I sat next to on the floor. And, Bloody great! when coverage ended.

I was impressed by the how big the celebrations looked. Taking over the whole city. But the techno-Maori element, although predictable – I’m talking about the superslick update of Maori identity as a graphic and performative element – reinforced what I don’t like about 21st century Pacific regionalism. Not cheap. But expensive and affect-less. Camp, even. In the effort lavished in making it NOT mawkish, twee, parochial, FOB.

Our Air New Zealand A320 seemed to be brand new. Black seats. New uniforms for the staff. Even the bread rolls came in futuristic silver baskets.

What if the Indo-Fijians were never in a superior position in relation to the native Fijians? Their presence on these islands would still be one more legacy of colonialism. But then would not the native Fijians impute a certain role to them? as representatives of a regime that has passed?

The benefits of that regime would leave with the British. The problem of a competing population would remain. Along with its competition with itself.

The current systematic economic disenfranchisement of Indians in Fiji under successive Fijian nationalist (ethnicist or racist) military regimes connects less to a resentment at the privileges accorded the indentured Indian work-force than to a programme of what might be called colonial ethnic cleansing. Fijians have undertaken to correct or erase the colonial mistake.

Still, still the disparities in economic involvement in production, the competition for competion amongst the various races.

The public face of the Sheraton Denerau is determinedly ethnic Fijian. But in the kitchens, fixing the tiles, doing the infrastructural work – Indo-Fijians and Indians.

The key point in this narrative is the transition after the girmit period and the transformation in the status of Indians in view of the land. Since independence from British rule would obviously have meant a return to a former status of the native population with a view to property – a return to landedness. For the Indo-Fijians – no return! Except at their own expense.

By choosing to found the economy of Fiji on the indentured labour of the Indians, the English produced the most conducive environment for resentment based on the economic division of the indigenous population, which was only compounded with the granting of independence, where a colonial policy of separate development and Apartheid has led to post-colonial militarism – and alienation – with the disease of racism as its most obvious expression.

It is not the land that is now being worked, only owned.

Can the contest between the United States and China for influence in Fiji be anything but a further obstacle to racial reconciliation?

Nadi – a mosque at one end, at the other a Hindu temple and in the middle a Catholic church. No sign of a Methodist one.

I realise I haven’t mentioned our only encounter with the security police, in Nadi. This was at the Original Curry Restaurant, where we stopped when the pedal fell off my bike. The policeman eyes us up, suspiciously and then goes and plonks himself down in the shade of the restaurant, with the owners looking on but not making contact, directly behind us.

Eventually, sick of him staring at my back, I went up to him. He had a lopsided grin, was past middle-age, and his remaining teeth were spikes.

What are you doing here? He asked.


What are you waiting for?

One of our bikes is broken. We’re waiting for the guy to come and fix it.

This was very funny.

Where you from?

New Zealand.

Kia ora!

You go back for the world cup?


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on tour

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what has happened is that the economy is being used as a weapon against democracy – what does ‘economy’ mean? mesh, grid, world wide web, social network

What some would call the death of the political is only the birth of a new world and new politics: the success of the 1970s reaction and the appearance of a “No Future” tendency linked to the creation of an Integrated World Capitalism (IWC) that neatly slices up the planet. With the IWC, individuals are all the more subjected since they cannot localise power. The world market is presented as an efficient instrument for putting poverty into a “grid” and “enmeshing” marginalisation. Despite the global grid overlaying the social universe, the revolution and hence hope are not things of the past.

– François Dosse, Gilles Deleuze & Félix Guattari: Intersecting Lives, trans. Deborah Glassman, Columbia University Press, New York, 2010, p. 299

As Foucault had sketched it out, power is everywhere and first of all in us. We must “make do with it.”

– Ibid., pp. 299-300

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Trans-European Express

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the persistence of mysterious objects in domestic situations, hypocrisy still the greatest luxury; the persistence of domestic situations into the city, stills

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on August 15 it snowed in High Street, downtown Auckland, amongst other things

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