On Saturday night the old dogs howled into the night. On Sunday morning, it took time for the church to fill up for the 7.30am service. My mother was sad that her favourite player Peni Rokodiva was not able to play in the quarter finals. I even found myself using rugby metaphors in my sermon on “Prayer, Love and Service”. No one was even in the mood to joke that perhaps the Fiji team had given up the Melrose Cup for Lent.
Perhaps it was unfair for the unsuccessful 7's team that they carried to Dubai more than just the hopes of the rugby loving public for a back to back World Cup victory. They were burdened with the weight with the hopes of the entire nation – not just for victory but for anything positive on which we could cling to in these dark and uncertain times for Fiji.
A visitor this country recently asked me what kept us Fijians positive as we live under a totalitarian regime. After cautioning him to be wary of who he asked this question to - unless he wanted to be one of the few, the proud, the deported/expelled, I gave him my response. I first said that although we live in a “Coconut Republic, where election timetables, Public Service and Board appointments, and perhaps soon even laws are written in the sand; and the even though our children were now forced to make a pledge of allegiance, that could very well go against religious beliefs, and sing a national anthem that has yet to be translated into every language (including Rotuman and Chinese); I did not think that the current regime had reached the level of Stalin's dictatorship and his “Great Purge” of the late 1930's nor were we being commanded to call our fearless leader, “Der Fuhrer” - well not yet anyway.
But how do we keep positive? Well, we find joy and laughter in the smallest things, a silly commercial on television; any of our teams winning any sports match; the Phantom exacting “Jungle justice” in the comic section of the Fiji Times, and the like. We now cling to these small things more than ever, because, frankly speaking, that is all we've got.
We are not treated to powerful, emotive and inspiring speeches by our fearless leader, or any of his speech writers. There is not even any worthwhile propaganda that we can at least buy into, unless you count the NCCBF theme song.
That is why the Rugby Sevens World Cup meant so much to everyone. And why our unexpected loss has been perhaps more devastating to the national psyche than New Zealand's exit from the 15's World Cup in 2007, which sent many New Zealanders into depression and into psychotherapy. In Fiji we don't even have the luxury of feeling sorry for ourselves nor the money to pay for psychotherapy, so we drink kava, breaking many self imposed bans along the way, and complain about the team and the coach and the FRU.
On Saturday night, immediately after the Fiji vs Kenya game we switched to Serevi LIVE on Mai TV to see an emotional Dr. Serevi thank the team and their families for their sacrifice and enduring criticism in the build up to the tournament. Watching the dignity with which he responded to questions from Stanley Simpson and comments from the public, many of which were critical of the FRU and the management of the unsuccessful team, I reflected on what it was that made us as a nation pin our own personal hopes for the future on this sports tournament.
I believe that the political crisis in Fiji, has not just destroyed democracy, hacked away the role traditional institutions and attacked our right to not just the facts but the truth, it has also amputated the arms with which we can reach out to each other in peace, severed the tongues which cry out for mercy and justice. More importantly it has pierced our hearts and wounded our souls – the soul of this very nation.
It is because of this that it is not just the 7's team that was “clueless” (to borrow a word from Mr. Simpson at Seven) on the field against Kenya. Because the soul of the nation has been pierced, time and time again by those who are either responsible for protecting it or for nourishing it – we have become a clueless nation. Drifting on the tide.
The same visitor who asked me about our nation's positivity, asked me about the leaders of tomorrow. Those who could offer a fresh perspective, a new style of leadership that was less about struggling for power, and more about healing the wounded soul of our nation. A leadership that was less about doing what they wanted and more about listening to the people. A leadership that had learned from the mistakes of the past.
To you my brothers and sisters of Fiji, I tell you where such a leader can be found. You can see them any time you want to, without even making an appointment. All you have to do is take a long hard look in the mirror. Each one of you is that leader. It's up to you to start acting like one.
May your week be blessed with love, light, peace and the courage to respond to the cry of the wounded soul of our nation!