Monday, May 22, 2000
While the army, police and the President of Fiji work around the clock
to manage the coup ringleader, George Speight, the people of the city
are doing what all people have to do - feed and look after their
families. Getting food is a new crisis on the horizon. It is now
nearly impossible to buy either rice or flour in a shop. There are
queues outside the few shops that are open. Some are rationing their
sales of basic items Ask for salt, butter and even onion and you get a
shrug from the tired shopkeeper. They are all sold out. And guess
what, you can pay more for what is available. Yes, prices are rising!!
This morning I visited an Indian family living in a Suva squatter area
where nearly four hundred poor Fijian and Indian families live cheek
to cheek in tin huts with rusting roofs held together by rusty nails
and plastic sheeting. To get there is the first hurdle. There are
checkpoints being manned by tired looking police officers who have
been on duty for just too many hours.
On arrival I found the family distressed. Local thugs had taken
advantage of the tension in the city. All night the house had been hit
with stones and sticks and the windows broken. Voices in the darkness
threatened rape, killing. But come the morning the sun began to shine
and life seemed normal. Then I heard the rest of the story. Daniel is
a baker in central Suva. He said he has no job. The shop where he
works is in fragments. Glass windows smashed. Counters destroyed. The
freezer is smashed. The till with the money was been ripped from the
wall. Both the till and money are gone. Even shop shelving has been
stolen. Only the huge bread oven remains. Friday is payday. But when
the riots were over Daniel left the ruins of the shop and forgot about
his pay. He felt lucky to be able to walk home to his wife and two
young children. But that took two hours. Buses and taxis had stopped
At the time of the looting the baker's mother was in town. Her handbag
was stolen and she was pushed around. " They are dacoits, daku daku"
she said, meaning thugs and bandits. I gave the family money to buy
food and left feeling deeply embarrassed. At least I have money to
give, these people have nothing. I have a safe house and they will
spend the next night worrying in case the stones and sticks come
again. The police should protect them, but there are not enough be on
every street corner.
>From that scene it is a short journey to the university where I work.
At the security gate I met a former student crying. Her brother, an
Indo-Fijian was going on a hunger strike. I talked with him and her,
but got nowhere and returned to my computer. On the way I meet the
office cleaner, a Fijian woman. She is cleaning windows. We smiled
and said our greetings. What an irony. I thought of Suva city. Broken
glass everywhere. I turn on the radio. Radio commercials are still
trying to persuade me to buy this and that bargain from the city that
was looted last Friday.
I phoned the father of the young Indo-Fijian student and told him what
I knew. I played down the tension I had seen in the face of his son.
It was now time to type this story. I found myself thinking that the
tourist bureau talks of Fiji and Paradise in the same breath. Should I
begin my story with a sentence using the word Paradise?
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