Hearts bigger than big

The author says our people have been to always care for one another in times of adversity. Ravindra Lal waiting for the water to recede at Galiwalu settlement in Lautoka. Picture: BALJEET SINGH

The author says our people have been to always care for one another in times of adversity. Ravindra Lal waiting for the water to recede at Galiwalu settlement in Lautoka. Picture: BALJEET SINGH

In the late 1970’s our Marist/St Columba’s Soccer Club was preparing for a road trip to play the Nadi Airport Soccer Club. It was time for our yearly friendly rivalry and get together and everyone was looking forward to the trip away to the west. But there was a snag. Fiji had just been hit by another Cyclone so the likelihood of us going was pretty remote. And when we heard of the devastation the Cyclone had caused in the West we decided to put the trip on hold until later in the year when things would settle and be less stressful for our Nadi hosts. This yearly event had become so popular with the two clubs that both sides were saddened the trip wasn’t going ahead.

However, one person thought otherwise. Despite the devastation of his home town, the effervescent and extremely positive Bobby Tikaram, President of Nadi Airport Soccer Club, had other ideas. He insisted we make the trip. To say we were in a quandary is an understatement. We were gob-smacked because we knew that it would be nigh impossible to host the tournament due to the extensive damage. What was even more concerning — there was no running tap water. We weren’t aware at the time what this trip would mean until a lot later.

After much deliberation and lots of phone calls we decided to make the journey by bus knowing how much the camaraderie meant to both sides. However, we knew without a shadow of doubt it wouldn’t be a walk in the park. Firstly, there was no water at all at the Namaka Public School where they had organised for us to stay so showers were completely out of the picture. And because the showers and taps weren’t working you can imagine our consternation.

However, nothing fazed Bobby Tikaram nor his amazing band of Club members. Firstly, they had water delivered to the school. What’s even more amazing is, they organised for mouth-watering food to be delivered to us as well — and all this during an extremely difficult time for all of them.

I’m still mystified how they did it considering their lives were in an almighty mess. But the best was yet to come. For showers we were ferried on a bus to the Nadi river. I can still picture the shock on everyone’s faces when we arrived. I remember wading into the murky Nadi River and thinking this is an experience I’ll never forget. And I haven’t because it was one of the most humbling moments of my life. We realised what the trip meant for the people who were hosting us. They had no water either and some of them must’ve been struggling to put food on the table yet they cared for us like we were family, putting our needs above their own.

Just thinking about it brings me to tears because I know what they had to go through to host us and make us feel welcome and at home in a place that was far from ideal and without our creature comforts. However I realise that our presence there also lifted their spirits and gave them the message that our trip wasn’t only about the game or our creature comforts. It was about the bond we had. That bond of love and friendship is what makes our people so special in Fiji and something I hold extremely dear and never take for granted. It’s one of the things that makes Fiji and Fijians such an incredible people and country.

I write this story because some of our brothers and sisters have either lost family or dear friends during the floods and cyclonic activity. Some have lost homes and personal belongings. It’s an absolute tragedy to lose a loved one at any time. And I can’t even begin to imagine the grief and sorrow people are going through. But there’s one thing I know about our Fijian people and it’s this — there is always a ray of hope even in times of tragedy, adversity and difficulty. And our people are known for caring for each other despite their own grief and challenges. Yes, there are an odd few who’ll take advantage of the vulnerable and suffering. The vast majority of Fijians are nothing like them. They have bigger than big hearts!

It was really heartening to hear that one of these amazing people is taking the lead in organising a Charity Benefit Concert event for the people in the West. Good on you Seru Serevi. You’re exactly the kind of person who has a huge heart and thinks of others before himself.

Take heart brave hearts — if you only knew what an inspiration you are to the rest of the world!

*Colin Deoki is a former Fiji resident now in Australia. The views expressed are his and not of this newspaper.