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Commentary: Just Another Day In Paradise

Commentary: Just Another Day In Paradise
23 May 2000: 3.30pm
By Patrick Craddock

SUVA: While the army, police and the President of Fiji work around the clock to manage the coup ringleader, George Speight, the people of the city are doing what all people have to do - feed and look after their families.

Getting food is a new crisis on the horizon. It is now nearly impossible to buy either rice or flour in a shop.
There are queues outside the few shops that are open. Some are rationing their sales of basic items.

Ask for salt, butter and even onion and you get a shrug from the tired shopkeeper. They are all sold out. And guess what, you can pay more for what is available. Yes, prices are rising!!

This morning I visited an Indian family living in a Suva squatter area where nearly 400 poor Fijian and Indian families live cheek to cheek in tin huts with rusting roofs held together by rusty nails and plastic sheeting.

To get there is the first hurdle. There are checkpoints being manned by tired looking police officers who have been on duty for just too many hours.

On arrival I found the family distressed. Local thugs had taken advantage of the tension in the city.

All night the house had been hit with stones and sticks and the windows broken. Voices in the darkness threatened rape, killing.

But come the morning the sun began to shine and life seemed normal. Then I heard the rest of the story.

Daniel is a baker in central Suva. He said he has no job. The shop where he works is in fragments. Glass windows smashed. Counters destroyed. The freezer is smashed.

The till with the money was been ripped from the wall. Both the till and money are gone.

Even shop shelving has been stolen. Only the huge bread oven remains. Friday is payday. But when the riots were over Daniel left the ruins of the shop and forgot about his pay.

He felt lucky to be able to walk home to his wife and two young children. But that took two hours. Buses and taxis had stopped running.

At the time of the looting the baker's mother was in town. Her handbag was stolen and she was pushed around.

"They are dacoits, daku daku," she said, meaning thugs and bandits. I gave the family money to buy food and left feeling deeply embarrassed.

At least I have money to give, these people have nothing. I have a safe house and they will spend the next night worrying in case the stones and sticks come again.

The police should protect them, but there are not enough be on every street corner.

From that scene it is a short journey to the university where I work. At the security gate I met a former student crying. Her brother, an Indo-Fijian was going on a hunger strike.

I talked with him and her, but got nowhere and returned to my computer. On the way I meet the office cleaner, a Fijian woman. She is cleaning windows. We smiled and said our greetings.

What an irony. I thought of Suva city. Broken glass everywhere. I turn on the radio. Radio commercials are still trying to persuade me to buy this and that bargain from the city that was looted last Friday.

I phoned the father of the young Indo-Fijian student and told him what I knew. I played down the tension I had seen in the face of his son.

It was now time to type this story. I found myself thinking that the tourist bureau talks of Fiji and Paradise in the same breath. Should I begin my story with a sentence using the word Paradise?

© Scoop Media

 
 
 
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