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Josefa's troubing past

Sikeli Qounadovu
Wednesday, October 11, 2017

FOR most of his life Josefa Ravuaka has been running.

Whenever he feels uncomfortable, he will have to run away.

Originally from Namuana in Kadavu, Mr Ravuaka was educated at the Namalata District School before moving on to Kadavu Provincial School, now Vunisea Secondary School in 1961.

Initially he had applied to further his education career at the Queen Victoria School but withdrew his application as he had applied to be enrolled at the Derrick Technical Institute, now commonly known as the Fiji National University.

Four years into his carpentry and joinery program, Mr Ravuaka decided to abscond.

"When I went to Derrick (Institute), our uniform was white shirts, white pants, long white socks and black sandals, and that was new to me and I remember the first day I wore it. I was embarrassed.

"So every term, my father would send my school fees, which at that time was six pounds for one term. One time in 1968, he sent over my school fees and I used it for my boat fare back home. I took off my uniform when I reached the village. I did not bring anything else, just me in my uniform."

A year after staying in the village on December 12 1969, he was recruited into the Fiji Corrections Service but did not last long as he decided to leave the job and return to the village.

With limited knowledge, Mr Ravuaka worked at several places before finally deciding to join a fishing vessel through a friend who had made arrangements.

Days before they departed, they received an advance payment and off they went to the Hotel Suva for a few drinks before their fishing expedition

"We went to Ono and out into the open sea, just the fourth day at sea and I started vomiting and felt seasick. We were still sailing and had not even started to fish when I started feeling homesick and regretted joining that fishing trip.

"I could not run away so I just had to force myself to adapt to this way of life."

After a few days at sea, he mastered the art of long-line fishing. They had one more deck to fill when they experienced mechanical problems and were told to dock at Auckland, New Zealand.

"When we were told we would remain in New Zealand for a little while until the boat was repaired, I silently told myself that I would escape.

"When we arrived, we were told we could loan any amount so on the first day I took a loan of $1000 and on the second day another $1000 and also on the third. I had saved all the money to keep me afloat until I found a job in Auckland."

Within the first three days, he quickly made friends with Fijians who were overstaying in New Zealand and together they planned his escape route.

"First I tried to hide at Auckland University, lying to them that I had suffered a fall at a nightclub and they needed to scan me. I thought it was like Fiji where the scan results will be determined after four days, but there it was on the same day. So that plan failed.

"On my way back, I met another man from Namara who invited me to his home. He cooked dinner and we had grog. He did not know I was planning to run away. When we returned to the wharf to be dropped off, I ran away to my two friends.

"They told me I needed to remain in the house for one week because police would be looking for me and after that one week they would look for a job for me."

Mr Ravuaka spent the next few months working on a cattle farm before meeting another Fijian, who was there on a work related visit — precisely hunting for overstayers.

They would go to bars and nightclubs but little did Mr Ravuaka know, his whereabouts had been monitored by his fellow countryman.

"When he returned to Fiji, he informed on me and a warrant for my arrest was issued to New Zealand authorities.

"I was drinking at a bar and was a little bit tipsy when an officer called out, 'Josefa Ravuaka from Namuana in Kadavu, this is a warrant for your arrest for overstaying in New Zealand'."

Mr Ravuaka said after striking a deal with immigration officials, he was allowed to stay in New Zealand for a short while before being allowed to return to Fiji.

It was not the end of the road for him. He was given a second chance to make something out of his life. And today, Mr Ravuaka is the head priest for turtle calling in Namuana.

He may have run away from a lot of things in his young life but his traditional duty is one he cannot escape from.

And it is a duty he carries out with pride despite his troubling past.

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