Greetings from a hot and humid Suva. This is my annual “I know I don’t write much, so here it is all in one go” letter.
One of the things I have realised since coming to Fiji is just how many of the things I do and feel are triggered by the weather. Christmas is approaching and yet I don’t feel like it is Christmas. Even though the local department stores blare out their reminders, just as in the northern hemisphere, I don’t have the cold weather cues to do my usual Christmas things like carol singing, baking puddings and cakes, driving around to find holly to steal, and putting up decorations etc. It just doesn’t feel the same. I am more inclined to think, “Should I visit the Village Six cinema or Cost-U-Less supermarket, to spend some time in an air -conditioned environment?”
On the local scene this year, following the attempted coup, military take-over and army mutiny of last year, we had the parliamentary elections (with the most blatant vote buying I have ever seen) and the return to racially based democracy. The SDL, representing the indigenous Fijian side of the divide, won the most seats and the Labour Party, representing the Indians, won the most votes. After a short spell of Pajero buying, things have settled down to mutual mud-slinging.
George Speight is still enjoying his time in Nukulau Island prison camp, along with the more senior of his fellow conspirators. A year and a half after the attempted coup and their trial has yet to start. However, he has been kicked out of Parliament for not attending sessions. This is not a great cause for celebrations though, as the electors of Tailevu North will just vote in another clueless thug when the by-election comes around.
For those of you not familiar with the UK, there is no national celebration of Queen Elizabeth’s birthday there. However, here in the Republic of the Fiji Islands (to give the country its full name), her birthday is a national holiday. Marijke and I were fortunate enough to be invited to the formal celebrations at the High Commissioner’s residence. Held in the beautiful gardens, the occasion was a delightful mixture of formal speeches, the Fiji Military marching band, good food and socialising.
We were also invited to lunch with the new Ambassador for the Netherlands, who was making her first visit from New Zealand, where she is based. All the Dutch expats (and their spouses, which is how I sneaked in) were invited. It was much like the Queen’s birthday celebration, but without the marching band and the sunset.
This year, in response to either press requests or my attempts at explaining psychology to a wider audience, I wrote papers or gave interviews on virtual communities, adolescent suicide in the Pacific region, the psychology of terrorism and the psychology of expat workers. Articles on these can be found at http://www.blue-oceans.com/education/
This year we only had one burglary and no muggings, so it was a distinct improvement on last year. We improved security around our house and since then, the only thing that has gone missing is a rubbish bin.
A year ago, Marijke and I went to the Big Island of Hawai’i. It was our second trip to that island and our sixth to Hawai’i. We had a fabulous time. Christmas Day snorkelling with turtles, seeing in the New Year with a Hawaiian band and crashing surf behind them, and scuba diving with Humpback Whales on my 50th birthday, all shared with my ipo – it just doesn’t get any better than that.
It has been a good year for scuba diving – we managed to get out most weekends and we also went up the PADI hierarchy a notch when Marijke and I were both made up to Master Scuba Diver Trainers. When we go out we usually head for the nearby Beqa (pronounced beng-ga) Lagoon, although we also dived along the Coral Coast and around the island of Nananu-I-Ra, off the north of Viti Levu. If you are into diving, you can find more at http://www.blue-oceans.com/scuba/fiji/
One of the people I taught to dive later became Chairman of the Conservative Party in the UK. That is not an inevitable consequence of learning to dive with me, though. We were observed by sharks on one of our training dives – so nothing new for him there then.
One dive trip illustrates cultural differences quite well. Marijke and I were out on a dive boat teaching a group of Fijians to dive. There were also tourists from USA and Australia on the boat. We went to a dive site where a large batfish had become used to being fed by divers and it used to follow divers around the coral heads. After the dive, the tourists were still throwing bread to the fish when the Fijians caught sight of it. Out came the fishing lines (carried for just such moments as these) and in seconds it was being hauled in and clubbed. The Fijians were whooping and cheering their great catch, while the tourists were all looking shocked, but saying nothing because, well, this is Fiji and they are Fijians. Boy, did they complain afterwards, though.
It reminds me of the green turtle that was tagged and released by the University of Hawai’i, that swam a couple of thousand kilometres to Fiji and then ended up in a Fijian cooking pot. The local people have different priorities to visitors.
On the job front, I have less than a year left on my three-year contract with USP and I am looking around for somewhere else to go (my CV is at http://www.blue-oceans.com/ohana/pmfcv.html if you know of anything in community psych). I may be offered another three-year contract here though and, if I can’t find a nice job anywhere else, I may stay at USP. By the way, the Education & Psychology department here is having a really hard time filling a counselling psychology position. If you know anyone who might be interested and who is fairly heat-tolerant, I would welcome hearing about them. There are plenty of other vacancies here too, so check out the job ads at http://www.usp.ac.fj/ if you are interested in working on a tropical island.
Finally, Marijke has had some stunning successes in the garden this year. We have had bananas, mango, coconut, limes, chermoya (called soursop here), breadfruit and others. The supreme achievement was getting orchids to flower in a little over a year.
That’s it from me until next year. Now it’s back to the eternal conflict – stopping ants from taking over the kitchen.
Ni sa moce!
[Thanks to Dr Peter Forster for sending this to us. If you’re keen to find out more about Peter’s life in the Pacific, especially loads of fascinating information on diving and beautiful pictures of Fiji and Hawai’i, why not visit his excellent site?]
Peter Forster’s home page