"The Day I Was Kissed By A Coup Leader"
'THE DAY I WAS KISSED BY A COUP LEADER'
24 May 2000: 11.00am
By Losana McGowan and Noora Ali
USP Journalism Programme
"As much as I wanted to go to Fiji's
Parliament, I was very aware that with my Indian looks
crossing the line into the Parliament where all the
indigenous Fijians were gathering, would be kind of scary.
But journalism got the better of me and I took off to
Parliament with two of my fellow student journalists, what
awaited me there was a moment I would not forget for a long
long time. I was not harassed, but eyes were certainly laid
on me just curious and confused as to what an 'Indo-Fijian'
was doing in an indigenous Fijian gathering. Being kissed by
the rebel leader was something - but being the only
Indian-looking person in the middle of hundreds of
indigenous Fijians made the day for me."
- Noora Ali, second-year USP journalism student from the Maldives Republic
SUVA: When we entered the Parliament complex most eyes seemed focused on us.
I instantly knew what they were thinking about. My colleague, Noora Ali, could easily be mistaken for an Indo-Fijian.
We made our way to the place where a large number of people were gathered and yes, in the middle of it all stood the rebel leader himself.
George Speight was answering questions put to him by members of the crowd.
When he started making his way back to the place where another large group, which consisted mainly of old people who were having a grog session, we took this opportunity to dash forward to interview him.
Noora got to him first, and when he saw her, he seemed a little shocked but held out his hand to Noora for a handshake and asked: "You're Indian and you liked me?" Noora replied, saying she was actually from the Maldives.
Speight quickly leaned forward and planted a kiss on her cheek.
He also extended his hand to my other colleague, Laufa Eli, from Samoa, and then asked them if they would like a picture. Cameras clicked from all angles. It was mostly foreign media around now.
While we were standing on the walkway I could feel the atmosphere was getting a little tense.
A Fijian man dressed in three-quarter pants, a worn out t-shirt, a pair of flip-flops, and a black beenie on his head, was standing behind us and was looking at us in the strangest manner.
For a moment there, I froze with fear but I didn't want to let my colleagues know about it.
I knew that whatever happens I am the only one who could help get us out as I was the only one who could speak Fijian.
From the corner of my eye, I could see that the man, who I assumed was a rebel because of the way he was dresssed, was signalling to an old man who was in the grog session crowd and also to a group of "gangster" looking Fijian boys who were standing in a group, facing us.
I started chatting up the guy and he asked me as to where we were from. I told him we were student journalists from the University of the South Pacific.
I asked him why there was no local media in sight and he said there were only about two reporters there.
"We don't trust the local media anymore," he said. He asked me about which countries my two friends were from and I told him Laufa was from Samoa and Noora hails from the Maldives.
"She's not Indian?", came the surprised reply.
After that he made a thumbs up sign to the old man and the group of boys. He told us that we were welcome to stay as long as we want.
"We provide 'chow' for these overseas media people and if you stay I'll get chow too for you people," he said.
We slowly made our way back to the gate. When we were about to go out, the rebel in a balaclava asked if we were coming back. I told him the police officers down the road are not letting any local media to go in.
"Oh....don't worry about that, when you come again just tell the police officer in charge to come and get me and I'll bring you people inside, O.K!"
People were still coming into Parliament in large numbers and going out in numbers as well in what seemed like a Parliament open day.