Fulaga, Lau Group, Fiji
By: Kerry, photos by Kerry and Damian
Most of the time, Fulaga doesn’t loom large on the Fijian Government’s radar, but while we were there a ship turned up with no less than 108 government officials aboard, from 21 different departments, led by the Commissioner for Lau.
The ship was unable to negotiate the main pass, so it steamed around to the far side of the island and disgorged its retinue, via the local pangas, onto the beach of Muanaicake. Apparently, it was only after they landed that the villagers were told they’d need to billet the officials for the night: an extraordinary imposition on the 90-odd population of the village, we thought, especially considering the officials reportedly receive a daily living allowance.
Nevertheless, fish were caught, mountains of food were prepared and beds were found. Such is Fulagan hospitality.
There were some practical visitors: engineers who repaired the faulty solar panel inverters installed last year and installed some water tanks, but for the most part, there was a lot of rule checking and note taking.
Nurse Sera had no less than 15 Health Department officials to contend with.
One jobsworth noted that the lone VHF radio in the village, installed at the nursing station, which had been donated by yachties and which the villagers relied upon, was unlicensed. It was duly disabled.
This small-mindedness played out the next morning when the ship’s captain, wanting to collect his passengers, was unable to raise anyone in the village since the radio was now inoperable… In the end, he radioed for ‘any yacht in the anchorage’. Graham on Maunie answered the call, launched his dinghy, went ashore and walked the 15 minutes to the village to pass on the message.
Fortunately, en route, he bumped into the Commissioner and Simoni, one of the village elders. The Commissioner was informed of the situation and discreetly decreed that the radio could be recommissioned, since Sera needed it ‘for medical purposes’. But it was left to Graham and Damian to get it working again.
Another official confiscated all the drugs and medical supplies that had been donated by cruisers – no real reason was given, other than that they weren’t on the official clinic inventory.
We stayed away on the day, figuring the villagers had enough on their hands. But next day we went in to hear the goss. Clearing up was still underway. Sera and Sikele, Gele, Biu and a couple of others were laid out in the shade of a lean-to looking thoroughly exhausted. Sikele admitted the kava session had gone on until 3.30am and I caught Sera sliding him some dirty looks.
She then produced a five-litre box of icecream – already soft, since there’s no freezer on the island – that her brother, who was the engineer on the ship, had brought from Suva.
Women and kids suddenly materialised from everywhere and Sera heaped spoonfuls of vanilla into all available cups, glasses and bowls. Some of the kids obviously hadn’t had it before and weren’t expecting it to be cold – very funny to watch their alarmed reactions. Then everyone sat and ate in reverential silence until the entire five litres were gone.
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