Commentary: Metal City
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SUVA: The Suva shopping centre is becoming a city of wired net windows. The new protection is ugly, but effective. Shop windows look unappetizing.
Even by peering through the badly welded iron crisscross grids, it is still almost impossible to see anything in the shop windows. Usually there is nothing to see.
Shopkeepers are still removing the last fragments of broken glass, ripped curtains and trying to make the inside of the shops fit places for customers to enter. On one door I saw a huge rod of broken iron sticking out. It was flying a small dirty red and black rag that reminded me of a child's pirate flag.
On the outside of shops are handwritten signs saying "Sale" or "Final Sale". Many are permanently closing. Insurance companies have declined to pay.
But a number of cheap cafes are re-opening. We have to eat, eh!
Gold shops have a few cheap items in their once beautiful shop fronts. I checked three of them. Two were still closed. I saw a CD record shop. The reinforced glass windows had survived the attack, but the goods inside were gone.
Only paper and broken CD covers remained. And this is nearly five weeks after the day of destruction.
A few shops are opening and redecorating. I counted three shoe shops and five clothes shops in the same street. Outside one of them, a man was painting.
Inside, three men, all Indo-Fijians were trying to cobble together what was left of the shop counter. Ahmed, a worker told me that he couldn't understand how the counter got so badly damaged.
"Look" he said, "is strongly made. Mad fellas break this shop, eh"
Further along from where I talked with Ahmed is a new plaza. An attractive place with cafes and small shops. It was far enough away from the centre of the city to survive the fire and looting.
But once again the crowds are gathering. This time it is a peaceful affair. People sit around. Chairs are being provided.
There is a makeshift canopy to keep people cool during the long wait. Officers hand out forms and there is much muttering and discussion.
Inside is the home of the Fiji National Provident Fund (FNPF) the government insurance scheme for old age. This fund is now the only reservoir of money for many people who lost their jobs.
There is no unemployment benefit here. And although Fiji has a group of fanatics in the Parliament grounds, an army in the streets toting guns and no government, it appears that someone had enough wisdom, caring and political clout to decide that people need money to live.
And they need it now. There have been queues now for over a week at the FNPF. And tomorrow you can be sure there will be a new crowd.
I bought the morning newspaper on the way to work and began reading a report by Mithleshni Gurdayal, one of our former journalism students and now working for Fiji's Daily Post.
Her curious and alert mind prompted her to check up on how many Indo-Fijian students were actually going to school in and around Suva. Her findings were sad.
One primary school had an attendance of 81 out of a roll of 750. Another school opened it doors and 14 of a roll of 343 arrived for classes. Out of eight schools that were surveyed, none had more than a fifty percent student turn out.
Teachers were saying that parents feared for the safety of their children. It seemed well founded. On another part of the same page Mithleshni was reporting about the pupils of Suva Grammar School being sent home because there had been a threat to burn down the building if the school was not closed.
There will be a tomorrow, another tomorrow and many more tomorrow's in Suva, but at what cost? Already this city seems to be acquiring dirt and dinginess. Education is becoming a casualty.
Factories are closing. There are more beggars on the streets and the police aren't around to move them on. Or they don't care to do so. Old age will, surely be a little harder to bear once the FNPF money is gone.
Just before I closed the newspaper I saw alongside the school articles that the Fiji SAS veteran Ilisoni Ligairi was saying that he and his men in the Parliament grounds would rather die than surrender the cause for which they stand.
It just reinforces the view that Suva is becoming a dirty city both physically and morally.
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