THERE'S a place I know that some either haven't heard about, avoid or dread. But its home to many others who can't be moved.
This special place has a "bank" - down Soqeloa Lane, a "pub" - currently closed pending new owners, a "hotel" - Skull's place , a Government medical and dental centre, a busy bottle shop, groceries stores, taxi bases, a couple of bakeries and heaps of kava vendors, to name the least. It even has its own neighbourhood band. A good package when you think about convenience.
"Why would we wanna move anywhere when we have it all here?" Bree once pointed out.
It's not as bad as the general perception of the place is.
There are churches too. Four denominations, if I am correct - for the Catholic, Muslim, Methodist and the Seventh Day Adventist churchgoers.
They have an annual bazaar and charity clubs too. Did I say anything about their great sporting abilities and the sports teams they field for volleyball, basketball and rugby?
That's Raiwaqa or RRA - which, as my mate Aitch claims is short for Raiwaqa Revolution Area. And if you don't know the definition of RRA, you sure are not from the hood, he pipes up.
The struggles, the strife and their stride to survive - and have fun all at the same time - gives true and sound meaning to the term "hard-knocks". It's something I can't explain. But thanks to buddies like Bree and Aitch, I have come to learn and experience the better and safer side of this otherwise notorious zone that once featured the famed four-storey buildings which are now no more.
The neighbourhood - and the neighbours of course - are loaded with history some of which can't be mentioned for obvious reasons.
Here, every second or third house sells hand pounded kava, milky ice block and chaser for that heavy grog session. I only just learnt through Aitch they have their own names for the various confectionaries that serve as chaser. For instance, Aunty Andie sells "tongue painter" amongst a whole host of other sugary snacks in her quaint canteen.
There's even the mobile vendor who goes from door to
door selling Indian snacks like barah, bean and the works on certain afternoons. He probably knows the streets and lanes of the neighbourhood like the back of his hand - because we see him all over the place.
And every one that has lived there long enough has a unique story or two of their own to tell - they'll probably share it with you if they like you or want to impress you. Some stories are truly interesting, captivating, mindboggling, and amusing, but all mostly true - just ask my friend Uncle Vivi. His got stories that would flood your ears.
The "hotel" on the other hand is owned by a gentleman who sometimes demonstrates the traits of Superman. Sometimes, he acts like he trained Muhammed Ali. Other times, he tries too hard by displaying some Batman-like moves when he misses the door and thinks the window is the door.
Life members - and there's only a handful of them - of his "hotel" rock up with a carton or two of "chillies" at unearthly hours and drink on the verandah of his "hotel" until "Skull" descends from his tower to open the doors and bring out the music box. And the show would roll on like it never ended just a few days before. The "manager" of the hotel is none other than my buddy Bree. There are so many stories about this "hotel" that the owner even named his gold fish after me. I haven't seen the gold fish since.
Sponji's place down Bryceland is another favoured hot spot. It's as equally entertaining, more earthy though
with a homely setting that is home to the occasional soothing sessions of grog by candle light and jazzy blues music playing in the background.
But Aitch's place is like the super base of the place where the younger generation - comprising the who's who of the hood - gather for grog from time to time - and sometimes all night for nights on end. They can be real heroes like that, Aitch and the "boys".
For all that glitz and glamour, this part of Raiwaqa is where the community combines its efforts to give generously for the church, for funerals, for what they deem are worthy causes. And there are those of us who are privileged to be included in some of that.
It's where the children play so carefree, so joyously. Call it the Bronx of Fiji, but it's someone elses piece of paradise.
True, cabs can be a little difficult to flag down late at night if you haven't called for one but that's probably stigma on the drivers' part. Raiwaqa is changing. It's not so bad, even late at night in Bryceland - the once most feared street in the hood.
In saying that, Raiwaqa boasts some seriously talented but untapped musicians. Like "my son" Tawake and his bestie Vincent. And Etienne. Even Talisa. And of course there are the living legends like Bree and Aitch who are always there for the "boys". But that's another story for another time.
If you're in the hood next, check out Uncle "Lips". He has an endless list of side splitting stories, including one about barbecue bele!
These folks still have it in them to have a good laugh, a good time, wherever that may be. Just one thing - don't cause trouble when you're there.