IT’S raining a sigh of relief on this humid day, which heralds the official turf turning ceremony at the Conua Primary School Kindergarden project. And aside from providing a welcome reprieve from the mugging March heat, it’s seen as good luck. I’m in Fiji’s Sigatoka Valley, hunting and gathering stories on the community tourism projects in which the Outrigger Fiji Beach Resort plays a critical role. And the new kindy is just the latest in a long line of voluntourism activities available to the resort’s guests.
This is a story about hope, community, cyclones and courage. The cyclone component was never meant to be a part of this tale, but when Mother Nature speaks, she cannot be ignored. In late February, just weeks before my visit last week, Tropical Cyclone Winston struck Fiji, killing 42 people, completely flattening more than 108 villages, leaving more than 80 schools without roofs and causing more than $1 billion damage to infrastructure and crops.
While the Outrigger Fiji Beach Resort was relatively lucky, weathering only superficial damage to things such as thatching on bures and destroyed gardens, its sister property Castaway suffered more serious damage and will be closed until mid year. Castaway guests were relocated to the Outrigger and everyone was placed in lock-down for six long hours while the cyclone raged. But Winston forgot he was dealing with Fiji. And despite the destruction, it’s still open for business with Fiji rapidly launching a fearless campaign #strongerthanwinston
These are warrior people from a warrior nation and aid is flooding in from around the world. But tourists don’t have to wait for something as devastating as Winston to help Third World nations such as Fiji. Since 2010, Outrigger Fiji Beach Resort has been involved in community projects and in 2014 it introduced the concept of “voluntourism” to its guests. Under the scheme, visitors are invited to become involved in a variety of projects from coral planting on the reef to visiting local village church services.
Outrigger Fiji Beach Resort General Manager Peter Hopgood has been instrumental in driving community tourism in the Nadroga province in which the resort is located.
“In my first year as GM I visited the 168 schools in the province and gave every kid a green shopping bag to take home to their parents to be used instead of plastic bags,” Hopgood says.
“We are now three months away from the introduction of Local Government legislation banning plastic bags in the province.
“It is still so pleasing, five years on, that every time I go into town I still see the green bags. Everyone has got one.”
And there are some big projects too. Last November, the resort opened the
$128,000 village meeting and school hall bure at the Conua Primary School in the Sigatoka Valley. The project took 14 months and the assistance of 80 volunteer guests to complete. The latest project is the construction of a $51,000 Kindergarden at the school. When finished in November it will accommodate 30 children. For the first time, the kids will have outdoor playground equipment.
Perhaps one of the most crucial projects about which he is most passionate in the new $384,000 maternity ward at the Sigatoka Hospital, built by the Coral Coast Hotels Association of which Hopgood is chair. The Association includes Outrigger, Intercontinental Fiji Golf Resort and Spa, Shangri-La Fijian Resort and Spa, Warwick Fiji, The Naviti Resort, and Fiji Hideaway Resort and Spa. Outrigger visitors can book a half-day tour every Tuesday and Thursday to tour the Conua School Kindergarden project, Sigatoka Maternity Ward, and local produce markets. Money raised from tour fees (Adults $64/Children $41) is used to purchase building materials.
Hopgood says while there are many areas of need in the province, the hospital was “diabolical”.
“There were no birthing facilities in this province. Because of the distance, the mortality rate was horrific,” he says.
“Health is the biggest issue in Fiji without a doubt. We do a really good job here on the Coral Coast but we can only really target our area of responsibility. You go outside the province and you see how harsh it is.
“It took us five years to build the facility, now it’s the best in all of Fiji. The reality is Fiji is still Third World but we have a very good hospital.”
The resort also enables 20 international professional eye surgeons to come to the province each year, who restore sight to between 80 and 100 people. And every year, former champion Australian swimmer Shane Gould is invited as a guest of the resort to teach village children, who have to cross the Sigatoka River to get to school, how to swim.
“It just can’t be a hand out to the community. We help those who help themselves. They have to contribute both funds and labour,” Hopgood says.
“From a tourism perspective this is what all the other resorts in the area need to do…engage and bring guests into the community.
“It’s almost like every western child should experience this.”
Fiji may be the occasional cyclone, but it is overwhelmingly warm waters, sizzling smiles, aqua oceans and white sand. These are fresh fruit, frangipani and hibiscus flower days. It’s local seafood washed down by cold beer. Champagne and sunsets. Fire dancing under crescent moons. Shuffling hermit crabs and kids who play outdoors. It’s warrior dances and sanguine smiles. Bold singing and big hearts. Humility, humanity, resilience, family, community and courage. Above all else, Fiji is courage.
The Global Goddess travelled as a guest of the Outrigger Fiji Beach Resort – http://www.outriggerfiji.com
The resort has established a Cyclone Appeal to assist people living in the north of the country. The bank account details are:
Account Name: Outrigger Fiji Beach Resort
Bank: Suncorp Bank; Gold Coast Business Banking Centre
Month: March 2016
Welcome to Country
THERE’S an amazing Australian tradition in which our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people perform a “Welcome to Country” ceremony at official openings, conferences and other important gatherings around the nation. Essentially, through dance, music and talk, it’s a message to convey that you are meeting on the sacred land of the traditional Indigenous custodians, and that you are welcome. Last night, arriving back in Australia after a work trip to Fiji, I experienced a very different welcome to country courtesy of our Customs officials.
I had spent five humbling days in Fiji reporting on voluntourism activities being spearheaded by the Outrigger group, and surveying a country still hurting in the wake of the devastation of Tropical Cyclone Winston. Every single moment of every single day, I was greeted with a hearty “Bula”. Arriving in Australia last night things rapidly went from Bula to bullshit. Australian Customs and Border Protection Service have recently been combined into one new entity: Border Force, and it appears some officials are taking this $10 million rebrand seriously.
Despite having “nothing to declare” on my Customs form, I, and several others from my flight, were taken aside for random luggage tests. I secured the grand fortune of meeting Border Force Officer Emma #39308, who, when I asked her why I was being detained, barked: “That is classified information. You are a Person of Interest. If you’ve done nothing wrong, you have nothing to worry about.” Emma criticised the way in which I loaded my bag onto the x-ray machine (despite her male counterpart saying it was OK). And then she pulled me aside after another officer claimed I was carrying an “orange” in my hand luggage. As she started to rifle through my luggage, Emma turned to the line of other travellers whose luggage was also being x-rayed and said: “Do you still think I’m picking on you?” To which I replied: “I don’t think you’re picking on me, I simply asked why I was being detained.”
So intent was Emma on finding the alleged “orange” in my handbag (for the record, I can’t remember the last time I ate an orange and certainly not when I saw one in the South Pacific) that she kept saying “I know there’s an orange in here somewhere.” Unfortunately, for Emma, it was my Revlon face powder that turned out to be the “orange”.
But Emma wasn’t done with me yet. During her search for the catastrophic citrus fruit, she stumbled across something so heinous, she could hardly breathe. She found…a packet of Panadol! A packet of Panadol I had bought off the Coles supermarket shelves in Australia. Emma then proceeded to read me the riot act, and told me that I needed to mark that down on the Customs form in the same area that you tick that you are carrying firearms. “Is this not a medicine?” she barked.
Still not content that she had berated me enough, Emma then went through my checked-in suitcase where she discovered, horror of horrors, half a box of Green Tea, that I had again bought off the Coles supermarket shelves. There were five tea bags in the box. Emma took great pleasure in telling me how that was “food” and that I could face serious fines or jail for this.
Curiously, when Emma stumbled across some coconut sugar scrub that I had, in fact, forgotten all about and had bought in Fiji, she simply looked at it, smirked, and said: “Oh, look, it’s spilled in your bag.” She then told me I was free to go. I resisted the urge to remind Emma that there are young Aussie kids dying from our current Ice epidemic and that she might want to focus on the drug smugglers in future.
Having spent the past 30 years travelling the globe, and returning to Australia, I have never ever faced such scrutiny. At this point let me say, I am the daughter of a grazier in the Lockyer Valley and having seen first-hand the diseases which have been brought into this country, I know the damage undeclared items can wreak on our agriculture industry. I have also spent more than 15 years reporting on the tourism industry and know the struggle that Australia has trying to convince overseas visitors to travel Down Under. Despite our reputation for being a beautiful land, repeatedly we fight the perception that Australia is “too far away” and that it’s a “some day” destination.
What Australia does have above all else, is a reputation that we are a friendly nation. If, what I experienced last night, is an indication of what’s to come under our new Border Force, then this is cause for serious concern. Welcome to Country? I need a cup of Green Tea and a Panadol.
Postcard from Fiji
A Quick Pick Me Up
THOSE crazy funsters at STA Travel have released a new survey, which reveals some of the most popular pick-up lines among holidaymakers. A survey of more than 600 Aussies reveals we are not only well travelled, but we know a thing or two about romance while on the road. God, it’s the entire modus operandi of The Global Goddess, so you can imagine my delight when this literary gold landed in my inbox late last week. In no particular order, here’s the Top 10 travel pick-up lines (and my take on them).
The only part of Dubai I’ve ever seen was the airport, and to be more precise, the hole-in-the-ground airport toilet where I dashed from the plane nearly 30 years ago, on not only my first international fight, but my first flight ever. Suffering from motion sickness and culture shock, I dashed past the men with machine guns at the airport in my mission to be violently ill. Thus guaranteeing no one would use this pick-up line on me.
While I’ve never been to Jamaica, I certainly feel like I have, as does any Australian traveller who has spent more than their fair share of time in Bali. The Indonesians love Bob Marley as much as they love their Bintang brew, and it’s a dreadlock holiday every time you enter the country. No Woman, No Cry? Not an issue in Bali.
I have been fortunate to travel to Vietnam on a number of occasions. On my most recent trip, in which I found myself in Saigon, not only did a little girl become enamoured with me during my visit to the confronting War Remnants Museum, so did her aunty. Just my luck to have a middle-aged Vietnamese woman fall in love with me.
It pains me to say this, but I have been to Paris three times, and each time I have stood in the shadow of the Eiffel Tower just willing the love Gods to strike me down with that fabulous French magic by which other travellers swear. Has. Not. Happened. All I can see is a nation of chain smokers and some pretty nasty dog poo on the streets. I know, I know. Sacre bleu!
While I have been known to frequent the sunny shores of Thailand’s famed beach destination on numerous locations, I have yet to find love among the long tail boats. This could have more to do with the fact that for years I have been mixing up the Thai terminology for “the weather is hot” (because I’m such a witty conversationalist), and instead telling every poor Thai man and woman upon whom I stumble that “I am hot” (as in sexy) right down to fanning my body. In retrospect, this does explain all the strange looks.
Ah, Rome, sweet Rome. Home of all those gladiator types, you’d think I’d be able to pick up. Hell, I couldn’t even find the Spanish Steps. The fact I was sitting ON them, while looking for them, is somewhat concerning for a professional travel writer. I did, however, catch the eye of a young Roman girl on a public bus, who pointed at my then boyfriend at the time (yes, I ONCE had a boyfriend, miracles can happen), and asked in perfect English so that everyone could hear. “Is he your lover?” Had I known then that boyfriends would become such a rare commodity, I would have shouted “yes” from the rooftop, rather than pretending I was a German tourist who couldn’t understand this crass child.
Well, you’ve opened the floodgates with all this boyfriend talk and it was this very same European trip, with this very same boyfriend (did I mention I ONCE had a boyfriend?) that we travelled to Amsterdam. And being broke backpackers we decided to stay in some stranger’s home for a very reasonable fee, long before not only was Airbnb not invented, but the entire bloody internet. We wondered for years how we managed to get this room so cheaply until it dawned on us that some nefarious Netherlanders who knew the Internet was just a decade or so away from becoming a reality probably captured our nether regions on some hidden camera.
Despite being a massive, and rather tragic, child fan of the TV series MASH, Seoul has never been top of my travel list. But based on this pick-up line, perhaps it should? Move over Hotlips Hoolihan, The Global Goddess is in town. I wonder if Klinger would lend me a frock?
I’m flat out spelling this destination, let alone knowing where it sits on the US map. A quick check of Dr Google reveals it’s in Nashville where I believe Australia’s very own country singer Keith Urban lives. If things don’t work out with Nicole…
10. Customs and Immigration
It would be fair to say if I added up all of my travelling, I have spent several years simply standing in customs and immigration queues around the world. So it stands to reason that I should have found love somewhere along the line. Given Australia is so far from anywhere else, the chances of me looking even half decent by the time I arrive in a foreign land, and have to clear customs, is reasonably remote. The hilarious line I like to use on immigration officers “I look much better in real life than my passport photo” hasn’t jagged me a boyfriend yet either. But I had a boyfriend ONCE…did I mention that?
The Global Goddess is off to Fiji this week on assignment and is searching for some witty pick-up lines fearing “I’m feeling a bit Nadi, do you want to Fiji me?” may be lost in translation. All suggestions welcome…