Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Twisting Hemispheres...

Over the last month, it has been hard to keep the Rugby World Cup out of conversations. Even with the Flying Fijians not progressing beyond the pool games – valiant and impressive as they may have been, the conversation round the tanoa, at tables, on buses and just about everywhere else has been not only about the World Cup but also about the issue of Tier 1 and Tier Two nations and the sense of discrimination felt by those in the second group that are often made to feel like backward relatives who are invited because they have to be and because they bring the best gifts to the party.

The fact that the last 4 teams remaining in the tournament were Southern Hemisphere teams may have been heartening for those of us who still think of the world as divided along the equator into the rich and powerful North and the poor and exploited South. Our past desire for strong “south-south” partnerships has been out of necessity as well as an expression of solidarity.

But we’ve also been “looking north”. The government for years has had a look north policy - politically, and economically. Our rugby players have also been looking north, to Europe, Japan, the Americas etc.

Perhaps we need to change our perspective.

I remember as a young boy meeting a man who visited my school, who was known as the Wizard of Canterbury. One of the interesting things I remember from his visit was a map he showed us. It was a map of the world, the kind we are used to, with one difference. The map was upside down for us  - with the South Pole, and New Zealand at the top and the North Pole and northern hemisphere at the bottom.

What a sense of empowerment my classmates and I felt that day. We were literally on top of the world! I have since often wondered what dominance of the southern hemisphere could mean for the world and what a rethinking of the hemispheres would do for how we see ourselves.

Could we go one step further?

Instead of North-South, perhaps we might benefit from an East-West orientation, split along the Prime Meridian of 0 and the Antemeridian of 180 degrees rather than the equator. The conventional split along the prime meridian is of course historically Eurocentric. Half way around the world from us is the Greenwich Observatory in Greenwich London, from where the first longitude was marked. Accordingly Western Hemisphere is the half of the Earth that lies west of the Prime Meridian and east of the Antimeridian, the other half being called the Eastern Hemisphere.

This means that, allowing for a few twists and turns, similar to the twist of the international dateline to ensure that Taveuni, Udu Point, Rabi and parts of Lau are not literally divided into yesterday and tomorrow (depending on which side of the meridian you may be), it would place Fiji, along with Melanesia, part of Micronesia, New Zealand, Australia, Asia, most of Africa, the “Middle East” and Europe in the Eastern Hemisphere also known as the "Oriental hemisphere". Polynesia, the Americas, Caribbean, Greenland, most of the as yet United Kingdom, parts of France and the west-coast of Africa would be the Western Hemisphere.

Looking at the world in this way could perhaps provide us with another perspective of the world and how Fiji with the world.

Taking this perspective to our favourite sport of rugby, the US, Canada, Argentina, Samoa, Tonga, Ireland, Scotland, Wales, England and possibly France would be the Western Hemisphere rugby nations while Fiji, New Zealand, Australia, Japan, South Africa, Italy, possibly France (as there’s more of France on our side of the meridian) and even Russia could make up the Eastern Hemisphere rugby nations.

Could rugby as a sport benefit from tournaments within the eastern and western hemispheres? It is quite possible. Would spectators and fans of rugby enjoy these games? That is highly likely.  Would World Rugby agree to something like this? Given the recent reflections of Jeremy Duxbury (read “Rugby outcry” in the 5th of October, 2015 edition of the Fiji Times) – not likely.

How global trade and geo-politics would be shaped by such a shift in orientation would be an interesting discussion. Would trade agreements be renegotiated? Given our foreign trade and investments recently, we are already in business with many countries in the Eastern Hemisphere. Perhaps this orientation would strengthen our relationships with these partners and open up a few more markets.

The reality however is we are in a global village, or on the edge of the village. World Rugby is just another example of our place in the global village – providing the ingredients and doing the cooking, yet still waiting to see if there are seats available for us at the feast.

Yet, visualising the shifting our axis of symmetry or our orientation from North-South to West-East is really an exercise in contemplating the possibilities, the alternatives to the status quo. It’s a way of looking beyond our horizons and our comfort zones. It is a way to step out of our own worlds, and out of our own points of view and look at the other’s point of view.  

For example most of us tend to be urban-focussed people. Urban drift continues to be a major issue in Fiji. The Suva-Nausori corridor and increase in informal settlements bear testimony to this. There is also an urban-centric view, in terms of approaches to issues facing us.

In Monday’s Fiji Times (“Survivor shares story” F/T 26/10) my sister, Sharon Bhagwan Rolls, raised an important issue regarding Breast Cancer awareness. After sharing her own experience she went on to challenge readers to move beyond the horizon of being satisfied with simply raising awareness in an urban-centric oriented approach to also look at the issues of accessibility, affordability and full information, to “good surgical options if needed but also treatment via radiation following a lumpectomy or any other early cancer detection.”

There is certainly a need for more rural-centric perspectives. Not just in projects and development but in also terms of what we value: from technology to nature, from materialism to relationship, from individualism to community, from ownership to stewardship, from out there to in here – from vertical and hierarchical or top down approaches to horizontal, participatory approaches which recognise our interdependence.

Sometimes that shift may be 90 degrees, sometimes 180 degrees. Or sometimes it may only take a small degree of shift to change the status quo and “level the playing field”.

Even if the shift is a 360 degree movement that brings you back to the same spot, something will have changed. The situation may be the same, but you and your perspective will have shifted all the way around.

“Simplicity, Serenity, Spontaneity”

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