I’ve met a few expats and Cook Islanders who’ve grown up abroad and are now living here on Rarotonga.
Sometimes I get the feeling they want to ‘fix’ Rarotonga and want to be heard for their knowledge and opinions on how to improve the current situation in the Cooks – anything from roads, infrastructure, shipping, food, you name it, they have the solution to it! If only the locals would listen…how much better this place would be!
I can’t help but detect a slight colonialist breeze blowing in the air during these conversations, although I would hope the intention isn’t so. I’ve even found myself venturing into this territory at times, all the while thinking I’ve got something ingenious to offer.
Of course I recognize the value in expertise-sharing in tackling issues of a nation, and in such a small nation the need for expertise can and may need to come from outside of the country.
But my spidey-senses are picking up on a sentiment that seems racist deep at its roots and slightly condescending.
I’ve heard too many comments about ‘lazy islanders’ and the preference of hiring expats to make sure the job is getting done and getting done well. I’m clearly not a local, but find this offensive and embarrasing. Over dinner one night with a local colleague of my husband’s, she made it clear that perhaps the development money that comes in to the Cooks from New Zealand, China, the EU, Japan, etc, wasn’t necessarily needed and that ‘progress’ might mean different things to different people – and not necessarily always in a positive way.
My first reaction when we moved here was: whoa – this really is a developing country (vs developed as I am so used to back home in Toronto – maybe a bit too developed I think now). A lot of hot issues on ‘the Rock’ right now are about getting a stable supply of water to all households as droughts sometimes occur, making sure kids know that they need to brush their teeth regularly, increasing awareness and preventing domestic abuse against women, ending corruption in the government, and protecting the vast economic resource of the ocean that surrounds the islands, to name a few.
Yes, a developed nation may be beyond most of these issues, but to feel sorry for the people of this island, or to label them as uneducated and needing fixing would be a serious disservice to some of the most resourceful, fierce, compassionate, friendly, proud and hospitable group of people I have met in a long time.
What I see from my angle is an island full of people who value their families more than any job, who dote on and take care of their young, who respect their elders in subtle and overt ways, who cultivate the land and sea providing nourishment to everyone, who think of their people in the outer islands and load ships full of supplies they might need, and offer a helping hand to you whenever they can, even if you’re a know-it-all papa’a (Maori for European, used to describe anyone Caucasian). What I have come to learn is that ‘development’ and ‘progress’ can set us too far apart from each other as we concern ourselves with building our careers and our castles, only to become lonely and stressed.
You need a problem in order to fix something. Perhaps the better question would be to ask ourselves if the way of life in Rarotonga is problematic – and in looking at that answer, problematic for whom?
*The above image was found online at cookislands.org.uk