July 17, 2000-Life In The Enclave
Right now we are living our life in a foreign enclave, the Copra Shed Marina, a small insular world of the european yachty community in this part of Fiji. Outside of our enclave there is unrest and turmoil. The police station in town is in the hands of rebel terrorists and the shops are closed with regular irregularity, but here at the Copra Shed we are safe, protected, and insulated. We drink at the Yacht Club bar, eat at the Cafe, have our laundry done by the girls in the back room, and do our email at the computer center. All these and more are behind the guarded wall facing the town and the street. Other than an occasional expedition to the local bank for money or to the supermarket for provisions we have little need to go offsite from the Copra Shed Marina. This is not to say that it is unsafe to go to town. Not in the least. Today Judy and I went for a long walk through town and into the neighborhoods and everywhere we were greeted by smiles and pleasant hello's. But when we passed the police station the villagers occuping it watched us closely. We knew we were five feet from a hostage situation. What keeps us safe then? Just the good will of the rebels, or maybe their fear of pulling the tiger's tail by molesting American tourists. Whatever, we are in the middle, or at least on the periphery, of a nation undergoing major turmoil.
Fijian Soldiers on Board
The conversations among the yachties and expatriates at the bar at the Copra Shed are mostly about the rumors of what is going on in town that day, which place had armed men threatening it, which bank was closing for good, which family was run off their land. We also voice our opinions about how stupid it all is and what should be done about it. Of course this is all a waste of time. This problem won't be solved by foreigners sitting in the bar at the Copra Shed. It will be solved, or at least concluded, if it ever is, by the people of Fiji, according to their rules and preferences. All we can really do is watch and wait, or leave. Maybe we should.
Junior Sailing In Fiji
But we don't leave. We keep to our wishfull thinking that it will all be better tomorrow, that all of this doesn't affect us, and that we can keep to our cruising plan which includes a couple of months in Fiji. Besides, it is stunningly beautifull here and we don't want to leave. Right now it is late afternoon. This is a mountainous region and as the sun's rays get lower the jungles on the mountainsides turn into more intense, deeper, shades of green. The rows of peaks in the distance are each more hazy than the one before, and nearby a lazy column of smoke from some burning vegitation wafts our way. A local named Curly and his partner stand motionless on their pontoon boat dingy as their 3.3 hp outboard powers them sedately up Nakama Creek towards their floating home upstream. We sit in WINGS' cockpit on our recliner deck chairs drinking rum and pinapple juice, watching the pastoral scene unfold. We think it will be alright. We hope it will. We stay.
Wings at the Copra Shed Marina, Savu Savu
What is behind the political problem in Fiji, and how serious is it? In the first place it is deadly serious, and we wonder if the worst is yet to come. The background, in a nutshell, is that the native Fijians are watching the wealth and power shift to Indian immigrants, people brought here 150 years ago by the British to work the sugar cane fields. The Fijians own the land and occupy most of the government, police, and military positions, and the Indians own the shops, have the professional jobs, and do most of the raw labor. Whenever the Indians have won elections and taken real political power, twice since independance in 1970, the Fijians use strong arm politics to wrest it back. First in 1987 and now in May of this year Fijian strongmen have taken over and kicked out Indian elected governments. This time it was triggered when the new Indian government uncovered a kickback scheme on a government Mahagony lumber deal. They stopped it and the Fijians who were set to make a bundle took matters in their own hands. They deposed the Indian led government, revoked the constitution, and are arguing amongst themselves about how they are going to set up a new government. The natives figure this is a perfect time to draw attention to every real or imagined grievance they have suffered in the last 100 years, usually at the hands of their own Fijian governments, and throughout the land they have taken to reoccupy traditional lands, set up roadblocks, taken over schools, burned shops and terrorized their Indian neighbors. The Police and Army have generally done little to stop this lawlessness which has enboldened the natives. The tourism and manufacturing economy is in ruin, the country is deep into deficit spending, and overseas governments are invoking sanctions against Fiji. It is hard to see how this coup will ever result in any improvement for the Fijians. More likely it will set back their country by 30 years, however, they at least have gotten the power back in the hands of their corrupt insiders, the powerful few can fill their pockets with timber bribes, and they can certainly break the backs of the Indians. Of course this latter move will probably ruin the sugar industry as well, but who cares as long as the upstart Indians aren't getting ahead of the Fijians.
Do we sound cynical? Of course we do. Originally we were saddened by the events in this country, now we are just disgusted and angry. Right now we are waiting for some parts to be shipped in and then we aren't sure what we'll do or where we'll go. One thing is for sure, life in the enclave, while seemingly safe and easy, is an awfull lot like keeping your head in the sand. In order to enjoy yourself you have to ignore what is going on outside.
Fred & Judy, SV Wings, Savu Savu
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