It often happens that the week between Christmas Day and New Year's Day simply merges into a a post-Christmas / pre-New Year's blur. For some it's just a week of partying. For others, it's time to take some leave and spend time with family. Even others visit the village and for a few die hard “swipers” it's a non-stop grog party. For the most everyone is in a kind of limbo. Most of the money has been spent, the food eaten and the presents opened. Now everyone works on their water-throwing skills and builds their collection of baby powder for the New Year rituals so popular and somewhat dangerous to motorists in Fiji.
For a lot of us this a time of reflection as we look back at the year that was and think about the year that will be. Some make resolutions, some make promises, some make predictions.
Then there is New Year Eve, which unlike Christmas Eve is really only busy at the end of the day. Tonight, thousands will say goodbye to 2008 and hello to 2009 with parties: at home, in bars and clubs and on the street. Tens of thousands will spend the last hour of this year and the first few minutes of the next in Church (an invitation is extended to those in Suva who would like to join me at Dudley Methodist Church in Amy Street, Toorak at 11pm). For hundreds of thousands of our brothers and sisters in Fiji, though, it will be a quiet time as many ponder the uncertainty of 2009 after the unpredictable 2008.
This is a time of global uncertainty. Will US President-elect Obama,be able to really bring about a lasting change? How long will the global economic recession last? Will India and Pakistan be able to avoid war? Will Israel enter Gaza?
Here at home we ask questions of the future? Elections? Democracy? Peace? Employment? What does the future hold for our country? Is there a place for us in this future? Will we have a say in our country's future or are we expected to just “follow the leader”?
The other day, on my way from Suva to Deuba, one of our car's tyres was punctured. As I attempted to change the tyre, the jack broke, leaving us stranded and hoping for a kind passer-by to stop and lend us their jack. For half-an-hour, my wife tried to distract our children who were running out of patience in their excitement to visit my in-laws as I stood on the side of the road trying to flag down a passing vehicle. It was an interesting experience. No-one stopped or slowed down.
I understood that the tourists and expatriates might not want to slow down; after all perhaps in their mind, this neatly dressed man with his family in tow was actually a car-jacker in disguise as warned in travel advisories: “do not stop on the roads to help anyone as they may be related to or be friends with, or go to church with or know soldiers or someone in the interim government” (my own musing).
I understood that those who disagree with something I may have written in this column over the past few months may not want to stop: “There's that James Bhagwan – who missed his son's birthday. Don't stop!”
But I also understood that perhaps we've lost our sense of trust in this country. Our trust has been broken so many times that we don't know who to trust anymore. Sure, I could have been someone in need but I could also have been someone waiting to take advantage of a kind person. The saddest realisation was not that we have lost our trust in others, we seem to have lost our trust in ourselves.
Telepathically receiving my S.O.S or divinely inspired, or merely by coincidence, my cousin Mervyn drove past and as he has done so many times came to my rescue, even going to his house to get a jack I could use until I replaced my damaged one in the event of another flat tyre or, perhaps after reading this article, a snap LTA inspection. Thank you “Boy”!
As I joined my in-laws in celebrating yet another round of FEA power-sharing and reflected on my rejection on the side of the road, it became apparent that despite the best efforts of many we are still a broken country. We second-guess ourselves and each other, accept hearsay about others as truth and make our judgements about others based on our own insecurities. Our current crisis in Fiji, political, social and personal, has shown us that reconciliation exercises of the past have not taken root.
On Christmas Day, I shared with those in attendence at Dudley Church that peace (and by extension trust and reconciliation), cannot be found in a document, in the barrel of a gun, the peace that can not be taken by force or false promises, the peace that cannot be forced upon people or traded on like stocks. The peace that Fiji needs can only ever be given and received in love. If not the love for each other then at least the love for our country.
Peace means consensus, where there are no losers – where everyone can be a winner. But until we reach that point have to keep working. We have to keep unwrapping the gift until we find that precious thing inside. If we say - “I can't find it” or “I don't see it” or “This won't happen” it is because we are not working hard enough to make, keep and share peace.
In my travels, as I reflect on what I see, what I experience, one of the saddest realisations for me is, as our nation lurches from crisis to crisis, from conflict to conflict, is that the majority of people involved call themselves Christians. We research, hold meetings and create documents, with pillars that are supposed to ensure change, peace and progress when we ignore the most important pillar for peace – the command to love one another as God in Christ loved us.
The United Nations has declared 2009 to be the International Year of Reconciliation and has called on societies that have been divided by conflict to adopt reconciliation processes in order to establish firm and lasting peace.
In his Christmas message, Rev. Dr. Sam Kobia, the General Secretary of the World Council of Churches said, “Reconciliation is a glorious message. It offers the promise that some wrongs of the past may be set right, the truth may be discovered in all cases, forgiveness may be sought and even
ancient enemies may come to live together in mutual respect.”
This New Year's Eve I invite you to commit yourself to playing your part in creating a firm and lasting peace in Fiji. In renewing your trust in yourself and in others. In forgiving and respecting others. It is a commitment that requires no international monitors. It is a commitment in which you set the time line. It is a commitment that only you an God know that you are being faithful to. It is a commitment which you can achieve.
May 2009 be blessed with love, light, truth, peace and reconciliation.