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The year that was

Mereseini Marau In New Delhi, India
Tuesday, January 01, 2013

NEW Delhi - In the Mayan calendar, something was supposed to happen on December 21, 2012.

They were not sure whether the world would end or if it would go through a new beginning.

Despite that we are still here on the first day of the New Year.

As I wait for my Air India flight to Kerala where I will be spending the New Year and the first week of 2013, I would like to look back at the year that was for us, your children and your families who are here in the world's biggest democracy and the world's second largest populous country.

I would also highlight some of the things achieved in the arena of Indo-Fijian bilateral relationships.

Fiji might be small compared to India, but it is not insignificant.

When the who's who from our tiny island nation came to the subcontinent during the year, the Indians took time out for them.

And the same goes for any ordinary Fijian who was here whether for studies, holidays or for medical reasons.

We always look forward to anyone coming from home. January is always the beginning of the second semester of the academic year and students like me have to brave the freezing winter to get to classes.

Around February the weather becomes normal again.

In March last year, a group of women from villages around Fiji who came to India to train as solar engineers made the news back home.

They came to Barefoot College at Tilonia in the state of Rajasthan. They were here for six months.

In April, Prime Minister Commodore Voreqe Bainimarama was in New Delhi for the International Sugar Organisation conference.

During his official visit to the national capital, Commodore Bainimarama met his Indian counterpart Dr Manmohan Singh, President Pranab Mukherjee, who was then the Union Finance Minister, and Union Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar.

Apart from trying to get assistance for Fiji, Commodore Bainimarama met Fijian students studying in various universities here and discussed some of the hardships they faced.

The students came from as far as Pune and west Bengal.

Commodore Bainimarama, after listening to the plight of the sons and daughters of Fiji, agreed to subsidise their allowance.

Health Minister Dr Neil Sharma also came for talks on how Fiji could benefit from India in the health sector.

There were talks on telemedicine as well as arranging with hospitals here regarding the treatment of those who come as medical tourists.

Right after final exams in May, I took a bus ride to the Golden Temple in Amritsar in the State of Punjab.

I also visited the Wagah border, the border of India and Pakistan.

In June, Minister for Women, Social Welfare and Poverty Alleviation Dr Jiko Luveni came to visit the 10 women who were training in Tilonia. High Commissioner Yogesh Karan, fellow Fijian and photographer Peni Totoka and yours truly accompanied Dr Jiko on this trip.

The women were happy to see us.

That night in Tilonia, we all gathered on top of a water tank and drank grog.

We also visited villages in Tilonia area.

The villagers expressed their gratitude saying none of the ministers in their state government as well as the union government had visited them.

They felt very special, saying they were very proud of Dr Jiko who had come from a country so far away and took her time out to talk to them.

It was also during this trip that we visited the famous dargah in Ajmer.

Upon returning to Delhi, we visited one of the Seven Wonders of the World — the Taj Mahal.

Our three-day trip was a real eye-opener to life in rural India.

Dr Luveni also went to Kerala on her second trip to meet stakeholders from there to develop the cottage industry back home.

In July, a batch of freshers arrived from Fiji.

Their first week here involved a lot of running around from registering at their universities as well as looking for their accommodation.

This year, 26 students from Fiji were given scholarships under the Indian Council for Cultural Relations scheme.

I am also a recipient of this scholarship.

I am grateful to the Indian government and the Indian High Commission in Suva for giving students like me this opportunity to study here.

President Ratu Epeli Nailatikau also came to New Delhi after the official opening of the Olympic Games in London.

While he wished it to be a private visit, Ratu Epeli was the first to pay a courtesy visit to newly-elected President of India Pranab Mukherjee.

He also had a one to one session with Fijian students in Delhi.

In August, a Fijian living in Delhi, Bhaichand Patel, hosted all the Fijians here to a lovo dinner.

Mr Patel, a former director at the UN, a journalist, and an author, is Fiji's very own who calls President Ratu Epeli by his first name.

In October, the national women's rugby team came to play in Pune for the 2013 Rugby World Cup qualifying in Moscow, Russia.

They won the Asian Women's Rugby Sevens Championship and secured a spot in the world cup.

Later in the month, the university students in Delhi hosted their Fiji Day celebrations.

The mission then had its celebration in the first week of November.

At the beginning of last month, the Papua New Guinea High Commission hosted all Pacific islanders in Delhi to a Christmas dinner in the true Pacific way.

High Commissioner Tarcisius Eri is always a father-figure to us. We are always welcomed to their residence.

We were also part of their national day celebrations in September.

On Christmas Day we all gathered together for a potluck lunch.

After lunch with students and medical tourists from Fiji, we visited Rakiraki high chief Tui Navitilevu Ratu Meli Bolobolo.

Throughout the year, I have made a lot of new friends who came from Fiji, mostly for medical treatment.

They have become very good friends.

I've also made friends with the locals.

My trips to Jain Dera, a slum on the border of Delhi, and Faridabad made me appreciative of the little things I take for granted.

As I reflect on the past year, I can say that it has been a blessed one, full of challenges but also of good things.

And those are things that will make my stay here in India memorable.

Another year has gone and we now look forward to the new year and what it has in store for us.

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