‘Gem’ of a home

MORE than 130 years ago our ancestors from various parts of India set out for a foreign land in hope of a better life. They set foot on the “gem” of the South Pacific, our beloved Fiji.
The nation’s beauty mesmerises the entire world which has attracted stars from Bollywood and Hollywood, celebrities and business investors alike to experience its natural opulence. By taking a bus ride from the Capital City via the Queens Highway through the Kings Rd right to Rakiraki, one is intrigued by the white sandy beaches which tourists pay a price to see once in a year or every few years.
The citizens are blessed to wake up to a breath of fresh air free from toxic substances and unnecessary stress.
Despite all the positives, materialistic individuals still leave the country not temporarily but permanently. Our ancestors did not venture here so we would abandon their achievements, sweat and tears for greener pastures. The pastures are still green in Fiji if one stops by the Sabeto mountain ranges for confirmation.
While the world struggles to grow their own vegetables relying immensely on imports, our markets have readily available organically produced fresh vegetables and fruits in abundance.
Seafood comes from the open seas and not through tanks with processed feeds.
On the contrary, the same cannot be said about consumables abroad. For example, the National Cancer Institute (2018) predicts “1,735,350 new cases of cancer will be diagnosed in the US and 609,640 people will die from the disease”.
This is an alarming figure for a developed country. Various factors contribute to this in the US, among them, the consumption of processed foods.
Let’s pose a simple question. Is Fiji safe to raise future generations?
Every established country such as the UK, America, France, Singapore, Canada, Denmark, Tunisia, Belgium, Turkey, Malaysia, Germany, Sweden, Philippines, India and Russia have been targeted by terrorists.
Australia also had an unfortunate incident in 2014 when a cafe in Sydney was taken over by a gunman. People were held hostage for 16 hours resulting in three deaths.
Such terrorism has not reached Fiji while other countries are spending billions beefing up their security and on the alert 24/7 to protect their citizens from these heinous acts.
During New Year celebrations, people walk freely to enjoy the festivities rather than face security checks. It was no surprise then, that ABS News (2015) declared Fijians as the most content and happiest people on the globe ahead of Finland.
Furthermore, Fiji being a secular state, one is at a liberty to belong to any religious denomination. It is safe to say the “Noble banner blue” will continue to shield its future generations from any calamities.
In addition, Fijians take pride in their children’s education. With the inception of the Tertiary Education Loans Scheme (TELS), National Toppers Scheme and other private sponsorships, tertiary education could not have been made more affordable.
The three major higher education institutions are fully staffed with academics who constantly upgrade their qualifications and use new teaching methodologies to deliver quality education to the next generation of leaders.
On average a Bachelor’s Degree in Fiji for three years will cost anywhere between $F10,908 to $F15,120 for 24 units tuition fees with a total of 360 credit points. There is a huge disparity when compared with foreign universities.
In Australia, undergraduate degrees range annually from $A15,000 to $A30,000 which is equivalent to $F70,407 to $F140,813 for three years. Scholarships to study abroad are available to students from Pacific Island nations but on numerous conditions.
Thus, students undertaking tertiary studies locally are spared from hidden costs, homesickness, and part-time jobs.
William Shakespeare in his play The Merchant of Venice intelligibly puts it “all that glitters is not gold” an idiom that can be eloquently related to today. Many families that have left Fiji often lament not being able to spend time with their loved ones properly. Most of the occupations in other countries involve shift work so when one family member returns from work, another leaves.
Suddenly, loneliness sinks in especially for the elderly who are more accustomed to a free spirit lifestyle in Fiji without any restrictions or being dependent on others to take them to places.
Due to “visa” and other adhoc work-related requirements, immediate family members are unable to travel to Fiji to attend weddings, funerals or pivotal family gatherings. In times of grief and joy it is crucial that all families are present to support one another but having resettled abroad leaves room for immense regrets.
Also, homes in Fiji are reasonably affordable and some are also inherited through family lineage. But paying off mortgages abroad takes almost one lifetime; in the end, what “life” is really left after clearing the loan? If one were to die tomorrow, a debt-free death in Fiji would be appropriate than one buried in debt overseas.
Our roots are embedded in our culture, the language we share as people of the islands thus, our traditions can only be intact here. Those who leave Fiji behind try to continue the language, dance forms, traditions by enrolling their children in different cultural institutions abroad but the value of this being imparted by the land it belongs to cannot be put a monetary value to.
Satendra Nandan in his selected prose Between the Lines (2009) echoes this point when he affirms “The minerals from the soil of Fiji land are in the marrow of our bones; the salt of the sea around us is in the air we breathe; the ashes of cremation and the dust of burial of all our ancestors are part of our inheritance.” (pp.246-247).
Finally, in the words of Ratu Joni Madraiwiwi, taken from his book of speeches, A Personal Perceptive (2008) “We Fijians conceive of ourselves as a friendly people who are generous and live for the present.” (p19) There is truly no place like Fiji; free from violence, full of cultural diversities, educational opportunities and hope.
Why ponder upon a new beginning in a foreign land when our forefathers accepted this enthralling country as their own? Do not be taken in by family members from abroad when they paint a glamorous picture of their world.
We belong to Fiji, ‘For Fiji Ever Fiji’; for the sun will always rise first here with its enriching rays of hope for the Fijian people.

* Prashneel R Goundar is an academic, he is the author of In Simple Words (2017) and Writing and Publishing in Fiji; Narratives from Fijian Writers (2018) an edited volume with USP Press. The views expressed are his and not of this newspaper or the employer. For feedback please email prgoundar@gmail.com