Fijian Elections in 2014 – Overseas Fijian Citizens Can Participate

I’m so immensely excited about having the chance to vote in the first Fijian elections in more than a decade. I’ve never had the chance to vote! And I’m absolutely uninterested in voting for the lesser of two evils in the U.S.

These are the parties seeking registration under the new decree:

There is much controversy about the registration of political parties but hopefully, things will be sorted out. I’m neither a fan nor foe of Commodore Bainimarama’s regime, which is currently in power. I supported overthrowing Laisenia Qarase’s racist regime in 2006, while I also criticized Bainimarama’s deportation of Fijian academics, abolition of the judiciary and censorship of the bar. His stance against guaranteeing sexual orientation rights in the Constitution is also simply homophobic, even though Fiji was the first country in the Pacific to decriminalize homosexuality and only the second country in the world to provide affirmative protections for LGBTQ people in 1997.

Flag of Fiji since 10 October 1990

Flag of Fiji since 10 October 1990 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I am hopeful to see Fiji returned to democratic rule, even though I’ve always been suspicious of how well democracy would work in such a racialized electoral system. Bainimarama’s staunch advocacy that all Fiji citizens, regardless of our ethnic groups, should be called Fijians should go some way in bringing about much-needed social change. However, the new Constitution suffers from serious defects, and I’m not too confident that it will prevail in the long run.

We seriously need to return the Fiji Labour Party to multi-ethnic roots, though it makes sense why a labor party in Fiji will be predominantly Fiji-Indian–we make up most of the labor force. My parents were staunch supporters of the FLP, and my Dad participated as an overseer of the electoral count during the 1998 elections. His cousin’s husband, Mr. Chaudhary, was elected as the first Fiji-Indian Prime Minister of Fiji. It all went downhill when in May 2000, George Speight kidnapped thirty-six government officials and held them from May 19, 2000 to July 13, 2000. The rest is the history of a true banana republic.

I was already in the United States when Speight abolished the Constitution and instituted military rule in Fiji and never witnessed any of the coups. But the 2000 coup brought about the exodus of thousands of Indians from the country, who are now settled in countries such as Australia, New Zealand, Canada and the U.S.

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Fijian nationals living in the U.S. can subscribe to a newsletter issued by the Fiji Embassy for updates. Contact info for the embassy:

EMBASSY OF THE REPUBLIC OF FIJI
2000 M Street, NW, Suite 710 | Washington D.C. 20036 | Tel: (202) 466-8320 | Fax: (202) 466-8325 | Email: info@fijiembassydc.com

More details will be posted here once registration of overseas Fijians begins.

 

Pani (Water), Memory and Post-Colonial Identity

Miles from a place fondly called home,
a small plastic bottle of FIJI Water peers at me
through the doors of a convenience store,
teasing and tormenting, begging me to take it back.

I reach out fondly,
only to jerk my hand away.

They say it’s untouched by civilization,
They say it provides jobs,
They swear to carbon-free emissions,
Then why does my body break down in sobs?

Water that leaves my people dehydrated and dead,
Water that kills,
Water that props up an illegal military regime,
Who knew it could have so much power?

Your colonial thirst for a taste of my paradise,
Highly dense and hyper-sexualized,
Life reduced to an exotic merchandise,
The blood of my people actualized.

This plastic bottle is all I have left of a place I’ll never see
With some half-forgotten memories of a country that doesn’t remember me

A Winter Vacation in Chicago

Far away from any colonized setting, glittering and shimmering, sitting on a river of lights next to Lake Michigan, with brand name outlets, world-renowned tourist spots, historical architectural designs, the buzzing energy of a lively place that never rests, this is Chicago, as urbane and metropolitan as it gets in the United States. At first glance, the city does not resonate with any pain, tragedy, or buried untold stories; it seems like a great vacation spot and escape from my own traumatic life. The city, half-imagined, returns to me each night.

Caught in a snow blizzard, I hurry past someone carrying a sign that read “I am just homeless and hungry. God gives to those that give to others.” Almost instantly, blurred images of a distant past flash through my mind. Homelessness is a part and parcel of every city and suddenly, I am not away from home, on any sort of vacation. I freeze, unable to escape my reality. This is not history yet, it is memory—intimate, painful, joyful, personal and nostalgic. Jolted out of my consumerist shopping spree, I realize with strange awe that tragedy, violence, a sense of belonging are not stuck in geographical space; they come with us in our memories, our intimate personalization and self-definitions.

Shaking off the feeling almost instantly, I walk into a convenience store to get some water for my sore throat. Staring at me through the sliding glass doors is a bottle of water from the Fiji Islands. Face to face with my reality, I stand there gazing at the tiny bottle as my mind once again loads and runs a cinematic reel. Half-remembered and half-forgotten memories from another place and time, now encompassed by this beautiful luminescent blue bottle, conjures up an entire history.

It’s problematic to hold a bottle of FIJI water with such nostalgic tenderness and pride, especially since it is owned by an US company, and yet we do it. When I discussed this with a friend from Canada, she admitted that she went into a gas station on her way to Los Angeles and bought a bottle of FIJI Water, because it is a Kai-India (Fiji Indian) thing to do. I pay for the FIJI water bottle and hold it as if I am holding Fiji and the history of my people in my hands, and coincidentally, realize that even the rights to FIJI water is owned by an ‘Other’; I am holding colonialism in my hand.

Indentured laborers from India crossed the Kala Pani (Pacific Ocean) in the late 1800s to come to Fiji. They called themselves girmitiyas, derived from the English word ‘agreement,’ which referred to the labor contract, while the British called them ‘coolies.’ The girmitiyas were supposed to simply serve as a working population, but by 1970, not only was Fiji independent of British rule, but the now free descendants of the girmitiyas were a majority population. However, as the 1900s came to a close, many more Indians (more properly referred to as Indo-Fijians) once again crossed the Kala Pani to seek refuge due to ethnic tensions at home.

I drink every drop of the water in the tiny bottle. My thirst quenched, my throat feels better. But my eyes water up.

Real tears aren’t the ones that flow easily. They are the unshed ones hiding behind hooded eyelids, stinging with permanence. And my heart cries.

What Do Google Users Know About Fiji and Fijians?

Searching Google for Fiji? Try stopping for answers here.

Where do Fijians Come From?

I am sure the question above is asked by Americans the most. Where do Americans come from? Fijians come from the South Pacific Island country of Fiji.

Why is Fiji water so good or so bad?

I’ll pick so bad. Where do we start? A sizable population of Fijians cannot access safe drinking water while the rest of the world is having the ‘drop of water untouched by civilization.’ Fiji Water is actually not owned by Fiji, pays no taxes to the military regime, and the people of Fiji do not benefit from the corporation in our country. Moreover, the American corporation has trademarked the brand name FIJI–the name of a nation-state–without paying anything to the Fijian government.  Lets not get started on the carbon footprint.

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Getting Over Sex Tabboo Critical to HIV+ Prevention

It’s World AIDs Day and nothing hampers the prevention of HIV and AIDS more than ignorance and tabboo.

Sex is still a taboo subject in most Indian and Fijian communities.

In India, over 2.3 million adults live with HIV. Even a liberal Bollywood has been slow to push the envelope with no real commercial films on the subject though a recent film Kaminey did contain an AIDS awareness song and Aamir Khan is thinking about making one next year.

As for Fiji, given the ultra religious climate and condemnation of everything from abortion to pre-marital, HIV and AIDS education poses a real challenge. President Nailatikau, for all his faults, at least realizes the outdated and foolish nature of preaching abstinence. Whether or not the faith-based and religious leaders follow his advice is another matter.

AIDS is not just a gay male problem. Women’s empowerment and sex education are key preventative measures that cannot come faster for societies faced with a growing number of HIV+ cases. And big pharmaceutical companies won’t distribute vaccines or medications to people in need anytime soon. We are left to fend for ourselves.

Fiji Falls On the Press Freedom Index

The latest press freedom index rankings released by Reporters Without Borders (RSF) has Fiji plunging 73 places to 152 after a crackdown on the media by Fijian dictator Frank Bainimarama.

No criticism whatsoever is allowed of Commodore Bainimarama or the military regime. Under Section 16 (1) of the Emergency Regulations (titled “Control of Broadcast and Publications”), if the Permanent Secretary for Information (Lieutenant Colonel Neumi Leweni) “has reason to believe that any broadcast or publication may give rise to disorder … or promote disaffection or public alarm, or undermine the Government” then he “may, by order, prohibit such broadcast or publication”.

As a consequence of this policy, Baimarama moved soldiers into newsrooms for weeks to censor stories. Foreign journalists were deported, including Rex Gardner, publisher of The Fiji Times. A Fiji One TV reporter, Edwin Nand was thrown into jail for reportedly transmitting information overseas. Recently, a Mother Jones reporter doing an investigative piece on Fiji Water was kidnapped, questioned and almost raped.

When the Permanent Secretary of Information was asked whether censorship regulations of Fiji media would be relaxed, he replied that if it was up to him, it would be kept in place for another 5 years.