VANUA

The heat clings to the back of my neck. In front of me the upturned roots of the coconut tree stare up at the sky. This isn’t the postcard island scene – something is wrong.

I’m in Fiji for a two-week, sustainable development course. A sense of responsibility has brought me here, and the guilt that I contribute to a system that wreaks havoc on the planet and spews waste. The planet is dying, heaving with the weight of our carelessness. It is incredibly easy for us in Australia to close our eyes and build safety in our daily routines. Buy the latest gadget. Upgrade my sneakers. Numb the mind with a Netflix binge.

But this trip is jarring with its inescapable heat and unpredictable downpours. We stay for a week at Waivaka Village, a relatively small community in the central mountains of Viti Levu – Fiji’s main island. Internet free, the main source of entertainment is floating down the river on a plastic carton. The people are incredibly welcoming; wide open hearts reflected by their wide open doors. It seems awfully cruel that they come from one of the fourteen South Pacific island nations that contribute a miniscule 0.026% of global carbon emissions, yet they will be one of the first to go under due to rising sea levels.

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I spoke to Jim, an architect who resides in Waivaka Village who told me that the mandarins outside his house no longer bear fruit. All the villagers’ plantations have suffered as a result of the fluctuating weather patterns causing soil erosion and flooding. The fragility of the ecosystem which we rely upon is teetering to a point of no return. This terrifies me. It should terrify all of us.

Yesterday, I read that back at home in New South Wales, up to a million Murray Cod died due to similar unstable weather patterns. From a scorching 46.2 degrees on Friday, temperatures plummeted to lows of 16, killing the local algae. This released toxins that further depleted oxygen levels and thereby suffocating the fish. The Murray Darling is Australia’s most important river system and yet is another example of the out of sight, out of mind attitude of our politicians.

But we mustn’t lose hope. Here in the Pacific, the inspirational 350 Pacific Climate Warriors blocked the world’s biggest coal port in Newcastle through a canoe blockade. They defiantly chant ‘We are not drowning, we are fighting’. Samuela Kuridrani holds a similar fighting sentiment, as the founder of Kai Ni Cola. It is the first village based NGO in Fiji that works at ground level – through coral planting restoration projects and preventing soil erosion by planting mangroves. Kuridrani warns ‘for the youth, it’s our future at risk… in a hundred years even if we fail – at least we can tell them we tried’. We have so much to fight for.

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The fight for me starts within. As spokesperson of Waivaka, Petero says to me “If I say I love you then I should love nature… nature is myself, we are nature”. A lot of what we do is unnatural but fundamentally we are part of the earth. The Fijians have a word – ‘vanua’ – which describes this relationship between the natural world and our bodies as one; we are not disconnected.

Turn off your phone, take off your shoes – go outside and get soil under your feet. Observe the ants and count the birds and listen to your body. Then shift how you interact with your surroundings, tuning in attentively to all that is around you. This isn’t easy – our modern world is screeching for our attention. But we must try.

Let’s try.

// Images and words by Nina Pirola @nina.pirola

Bachelor of Design in Visual Communications, Bachelor of Creative Intelligence and Innovation

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