Behind the story

Ruben Vulawalu returned to his village of Drue, Kadavu after 20 years for his story, Between a rock and a hard place. He writes about the experience of seeing the devastation caused by Keni and Cyclone Harold.

It was quite a true and humbling experience setting foot in my village after 20 years. I had always wanted to visit Drue but due to work commitments and raising a young family, this was put on hold. The village is a five-hour boat ride from Suva from Fiji’s capital where I live and the return to a village in our traditional culture has cultural expectations that I wanted to do properly when I did return home. This made covering the story for the ABC and Islands Business more important to me.

The essence of the prodigal son returning home was signalled through a sevusevu (traditional kava ceremony) when I arrived in the village, with each bowl of the muddy concoction I tasted tears, relief but also uncertainty as to where our future as a village and community lies. Would my children and I be able to sit in this spot which I call home in another 20 years, or will the impact of climate change and disaster continue to erode my home?

I visited childhood picnic spots, that brought back many fond memories of primary school holidays with my grandparents and family who have passed on.

I fought back tears hearing their stories, and seeing the devastation caused by the storms which was still visible more than a year on.

I was shocked to see that the shoreline had receded and was now only six metres away from the front of our house. It makes the reality of climate and disaster real when you see your home at risk of being claimed by the sea in the near future.

I remember the Kaka or Kadavu parrot (Prosopeia splendens), a distinctive crimson colourful shining native parrot bird found only in Kadavu. These colourful birds used to nest in the nearby trees overlooking the village from the nearby cliffs. It was always a joy to hear them chirping in the village greens at the break of dawn, sadly, there was no cheerful song to wake us in the morning this time.

I made a point to walk the dangerous path to Muidule which is the only access the community have to the local township and the path our children traverse to go to school. As soon as the cameraman and I had settled in I wanted to walk in their shoes and feel the struggles the women and children endure daily. I struggled the entire way and back, what used to take me 10-minutes before, felt like forever, oh, my poor legs!

Climate change and the increased risk severe disasters pose are real and is happening right before our eyes, we don’t have to look far. Using this platform and using my capacity in the Disaster Risk Reduction space as a Communications Assistant for the Pacific Community (SPC), I hope to tell my family, my community and my nations’ story to a larger audience. This is my way of giving back to the village that helped raised me.