Piggy-backing my neighbour’s four-year old daughter to Vale ni Cheli (our friend Cheli’s house) was not what I expected to be my first real life situation where animal welfare education came in handy.
There we were, me and two small Fijian girls, walking barefoot with two stray dogs. On our way to Vale ni Cheli to borrow a knife to open my house. My housemate Deb had just left for a vet clinic in Nadi and I had locked myself out.
Well, actually my puppy locked me out. I took him for a walk around Veiuto then thought I would bring him inside to play. So I put him in the house and left the front door ajar while washing out the cat's litter tray at the outside tap.
At the same moment Luisa and Josi came over to play and in all the confusion Vuaka started doing his scratching/drumming routine at the door and pushed it shut while we were all outside. I could see it happening the split second before it did but could do nothing to stop it.
So then Vuaka and the cats were inside and I was outside with no keys, no money, no phone and no shoes. I couldn’t get in through a window because each one is covered with a metal grate. Aka wasn’t home so I decided to walk to the closest house I knew. Josi took great delight in calling out ‘O Dia i tauba’ (Thea outside) to all our neighbours.
There was no one home at Vale ni Cheli (Cheli and Lars’ house). As we reached the end of that street, a pack of angry dogs encircled us, growling and barking and flashing their teeth. The girls were afraid and started to whimper. I tried to reassure them with calm words of ‘just don’t look at them, look at the ground, turn your back to them, don’t run,’ all the while thinking ‘please don’t let these dogs attack us, what will I tell the parents of these kids?’.
Slow steps and a few deep breaths and we were safely past the dog gauntlet. We went to find the girls’ father. He was sitting under a tarpaulin with his friends drinking grog; we interrupted hesitantly. He looked at me with one of his daughters on my back and the other clutching my hand and said ‘where are your shoes?’ (even though all the kai Viti - locals - were barefoot).
He sent Luisa to fetch a kitchen knife (he’d done this once before for a Japanese volunteer who used to live in our street). After watching the ease with which a thin knife could slice between our door and doorframe, I decided we should get a new lock.
Now, three months later, our lock has been replaced. Things take time in Fiji. First we fixed it with blu-tack, then the public works department men tightened the screws - it took three of them and two onlookers to do the job.
Then it came loose again and the door wouldn’t hold shut. Supa and Irava from SPCA bought a new lock.
Two weeks later, me and our housekeeper Aka tried to hammer in the new lock but didn’t have the right tools to make it fit. It was like a bizarre game of Tetris as Aka rotated each lock piece to try and figure out where it should go. With my limited Fijian it was difficult to explain. We bore holes in the door with a hammer and nail, then hammered the screws in tight. The wood was rotted and the screws were rusted. It lasted a day.
Then the public works men tried again. I told them the new lock was too thick and eventually they chiselled off a bit of the doorframe to make it fit. They were splintering wood to use as nails and hammering bent screws straight and all before (without) breakfast. I love this country.