He’s cool at his job

James Forbes at work in his office at the FNPF Plaza in Suva. Picture: SIKELI QOUNADOVU

PROBABLY one of the coolest expatriates in Fiji, he loves to stand while doing his work and almost every second word is followed by a laugh or giggle. Something which makes for a really funny interview.

When James Macbeth Forbes was told that he was coming to Fiji, he was delighted because he had heard so much about Fiji.

He was based at the Balkans, Kosovo in southeastern Europe when his Polish friend taught him a little bit of how to drink yaqona in Fiji.

“When it became clearer that I was coming here, the biggest European mission abroad is in Kosovo, when I started, there were more than 1000 European officials. There was a Polish gentleman who worked for the European Union, he was a good friend. He said he was an election observer during the 2014 General Election here in Fiji and he took some photos which he showed me when he travelled to villages during the election.

“Then we sat down, we had half a coconut shell and he taught me the basics of the kava ceremony, the bula and stuff like that. So I sat down and practised so I don’t make a fool of myself.”
During the Balkan, Kosovo conflict of 1998-1999 Fijian personnel were sent for peacekeeping duties in southeast Europe. What they had done remains cherished in that part of the world.

“In March it was clear I was going to be posted to Fiji, so we had some stuff that needed to be shipped to Scotland and also Fiji. So I rang up the removal company and I told them I am going to be posted elsewhere, and needed stuff to be shipped.

“First, I said there will be two lots of stuff that will be moving. The first one was quite easy, it’s in Scotland and he said not a problem. The other one I said he might not be able to know where it was, it’s Fiji, I need to have the children’s clothes and toys over to Fiji and he said of course I know Fiji. So I asked how and that’s because Fijian army and police were stationed in Kosovo to keep the peace after the war, and they have very good memories.

“The Fijians are a known entity in south eastern Europe, particularly also because you recognise Kosovo as an independent state.

“So your country, come to think of it, is quite well known overseas and you would not believe it. Even before COP23, and for good things also, not only because it is in danger of climate change and extreme weather but for good things it has done in the world, and something you should be proud of.

“The other thing your own military, you have a wonderful military brass band and in my hometown in Edinburgh every year, we would have the military tattoo and I have seen your guys when I was a teenager, blowing away with the trumpet in your sulu, with zigzags.”

Born in a military family, James father was a member of the British Air Force, while his maternal grandfather was also in the Polish Army. His mother had to leave Poland following the rise of the Nazis.

“They were refugees in the United Kingdom at the time, they made it out of Poland because they were Polish. My mother told me she has a scar on her head, the Nazis lined them up and just shot them with their machine gun and she fell down because she was unconscious. Her little brother was alive and they left him for dead. They were helped by friendly Germans and went over to the UK.

“My grandfather was an officer in the Polish Army, and the Soviets at that time did not like the Polish academia, so when they came they were actually locked away.

“We have a bad history, so I think I believe I can put on my kilt — which is the Scottish answer to the sulu, and go bag piping or whatsoever, I can do that in Italy, I can do that in Denmark, nobody will look at me any differently. Your cultural identity has nothing to do with your support and that’s why I am a great friend of our common things. You can retain your language, you can speak your language, you can do your tribal dancing and I can still be a member of something bigger and not pick a fight with any neighbour.”

The 54-year-old father of four is the director programs Pacific Islands for the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) German International Corporation.

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