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Sunday, July 16, 2000

July 17, 2000-Life In The Enclave

Savu Savu Fiji, July 2000

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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Thursday, July 06, 2000

July 7, 2000-More Tongan Adventures

Tongan Girl

Tonga is wonderful. The people are a delight, and the anchorage's are second to none, the water is clear, and diving is superb.

Nieafu Anchorage

We ended our Tongan stay at Nieafu Harbor. On Saturday night I sat out in the cockpit with soft music on the stereo and a rum and pineapple drink watching the lights of the harbor. It was my night for dishes, and Judy was sleeping on the couch, so I couldn't get too relaxed when the dishes were waiting, but I did enjoy myself.

The night before we had sailed in the Vava'u Friday night sailboat race, our second one there, and we won handily. In the previous race we were second but this time we smoked the whole fleet. Of course we had the advantage of using racing sails instead of the normal roller furling sails the cruisers use. Our crew of other cruisers and some folks we picked up at the bar were all terrific. Vava'u has the best Friday night racing anywhere; we love it.

Saturday we had a photo shoot arranged for the Tongan staff of one of the restaurants. The Tongans are Polynesians, with beautiful features. The owner agreed to have his entire staff there at 4:00 so we could photograph everybody, plus their brothers and husbands, babies and grandmothers, and we had a lot of fun with them. What we really wanted was a cross section of Tongans, and that is what we got. They were shy at the start but after a half hour of formal poses they finally loosened up and we got some good shots. We promised to send back prints, which we will do. Anyhow it was fun and we exposed a few roles of film and we'll see how they turn out.

Sunday night we were waiting at the town wharf for a bread delivery (which never showed) and we watched a couple of families of Tongans, still dressed in their church best, load themselves into small skiffs to head back to their villages. What a scene: In the last colors of sunset, with the women perfectly groomed and made up, dressed in colorful dresses, and the men in either suits and ties or sulu skirts with a shirt and tie, at least eight adults and four children carefully and slowly seated themselves into a 10 foot aluminum boat, leaving no more than two inches of freeboard. Their 4hp Yanmar had a broken starter so they took the cover off and started it with a knotted rope. How they managed to pull on that rope hard enough to start the motor without upsetting themselves impressed me, and then they sedately motored off into the twilight. Another family loaded into a slightly larger, but tippier, wooden boat with a small cabin, and they too motored off, this time with grandpa seated on the cabin top like member of the royal family.

Next we sailed to Fiji. On Monday the weather forecasts were for light or no winds, and that is what most of the boats experienced. Some motored all the way or delayed their departure waiting for wind. We took a look outside the harbor at Vava'u and saw a little breeze, so we set out. We took a longer route to the North, kept our breeze, and had a delightful sail of three days. We had perfect winds, flat seas, and we arrived in Savu Savu Fiji rested and happy on Thursday.

We really love Fiji but the political situation here is sad. It is hitting the poorest people the most, and we feel for them. There are lost jobs in government and in the sugar industry and other upsetting happenings. Recently the army and some of the rebels at the parliament building had a confrontation and shots were fired, putting four people in the hospital with gunshot wounds, and yesterday there were large crowds gathered outside some of the military bases, plus a power outage resulting from some landowners who turned off the flow of water to the hydroelectric dam. What this is all about is that the military, who have been keeping order, have stopped negotiating with the rebels still holding the previous government hostage and are proceeding with setting up a new government. A few Fijians around the country are making small disturbances to show support for the rebels while most people who really just want a sense of normalcy returned are simply worried. As we sat with a group of other cruisers eating pizza and drinking beer in the Savu Savu Yacht Club we noticed the Fijian kitchen staff crowded around a TV to watch the news from Suva. The impact on us foreigners is minimal, and if there was any, we'd just move on to the next country, but for the people that live here, it is a worrisome time.

Fred & Judy SV Wings, Savu Savu

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