I’m back in the southern hemisphere, on the tropical South Pacific island of Fiji. This is the 19th country I have visited in 2012 and I arrived in the middle of the night just a few hours after cyclone Evan had lashed the island. The 300 mile (480 kilometre) wide cyclone packed winds of up to 150mph (240kph) causing damage and leaving much of the island without power. However, the good news is that, thanks to early warnings and preparations, nobody was killed as a result of the cyclone that was the second most powerful cyclone to hit the country since records began.
I arranged to ‘couch surf’ in the home of a local family who live in a village not far from the town of Nadi. My host was Save (pronounced Sah-vey) who lives with his wife and father in a typical village house made from wood and corrugated metal. Their home had weathered the cyclone surprisingly well, though the kitchen, a relatively new addition to the house, had blown away in the storm.
After a good nights sleep I woke early as Save and his wife, Nanni, got up at dawn for prayers. As devout Christians, Save and his wife keep a regular prayer routine together, praying twice a day at 5am and 7pm.
At breakfast we discussed the cyclone and Save told me it had been scary. “My wife sat under the table,” he told me with a smile. The entire area had been left without power and Save did not expect it to be restored for quite some time, but oddly enough he seemed relatively unphased by this.
The simple life in the village had certainly been disrupted by the cyclone, and there was some damage, but not as much as I had expected to see, and certainly nothing compared to the destruction I saw in Mississippi after hurricane Katrina had smashed into the Gulf coast of the United States back in 2005.
I had expected to be involved in some pretty intense post-cyclone clean-up work, but as I looked around it seemed that much of the destruction was being taken care of by small groups of local people. The task of reconnecting power would have to be handled by specialists, and as I was there the Australian Air Force arrived bringing with them supplies and personnel to help with the clean-up and recovery.
At lunchtime Save prepared a delicious traditional Fijian stew served with Cassava, which is a bread like shrub root. He cooked the entire meal on an open fire outside where, until the cyclone, his small kitchen had been.
As we sat eating the meal with his father, I asked Save if he would rebuild his kitchen and he told me he would. “Soon maybe,” he said, with the kind of smile that I knew meant, maybe soon, maybe not. The disruption to his simple home life seemed minimal, so rebuilding the kitchen will be done on ‘Fiji time’ which is a rather relaxed clock full of laid back maybes and laters.