Wednesday, July 10, 2013

It's time to ask the Journalist some questions

...and naturally, I prefer to question an interesting one, someone who is controversial sometimes, 
okay - a lot, banned from several islands most times, but more importantly, brings Pacific issues to the fore in mainstream media - without the sugarcoating and the pe'epe'e (Yay). 
Again, to keep with my blog tradition, the questions are more the stuff you'll ask him as you lie on your fala lilii, with a sturdy ali supporting your head, mosquitos buzzing over your head, anufes crawling past your mat, pondering...
Tell us a fagogo Michael Field.
Aue.


How did you end up in Samoa in the first place?

Like most New Zealanders my age, in the 70s I headed off on a ship on the great OE. In London I went into voluntary work and was posted to a farm and school for mentally handicapped kids in Wales – and then went to Africa to work as an agricultural journalist with Botswana's Ministry of Agriculture. To cut a long story short, somewhere in the Kalahari, my appendix ruptured and I was medivacced out and my voluntary work was cut short. But after a year on the Evening Post in Wellington, I signed up with Volunteer Service Aboard. But it took some time to find me a posting; Tonga wanted a journalist for the Tonga Chronicle, but for some reason they turned me down (how history would have been different, if only?) The Solomons was becoming independent and although the SIBC wanted me, the new PM wanted no white chaps any more. Fair enough. For reasons I don't know Tupuola Efi wanted a journalist in his department, and at two weeks notice, I was it.

Who would you rather go spear fishing with, Tuilaepa or Bainimarama?
 
 I fear Tuilaepa has a certain stranded whale look about him and would only attract the bottom feeders and the sharks. Bainimarama looks a bit fitter but if I was with him he would have to swim in front; so I could watch that spear.

Where did you live when you were in Samoa?

I was entitled to a house, but when I arrived the PM's Department did not have one. So the PM Dept tea lady offered me board with her five teenage girls and her policeman husband in Vaivasi-Uta. It was great and the bus service was splendid. After I got married I was given half a house at Mulinu'u – that house was then modified to be a beach house for Malietoa, then became Samoa TV… and I am not sure now what it is. One of the best places I have ever lived in (and Jim Kebbell lived just past the yacht club in the house that is now a fancy restaurant

Do you like corned beef? Why Not??

It seems to be a belief of Samoans that they invented corned beef. They did not. It was invented by my mother many years ago, and I grew up with the stuff. I never liked it although that could be because in our household we always had it with cauliflower, which, after brussel sprouts, are the worst of God's creation. Thus, in my mind corned beef and cauliflower have that indelible association. I cannot eat scones – to this day – for much the same reason. That said, I once had a corned beef meal in Port Morseby that was absolutely delicious.

 Is there any Samoan food you like?

Palusami with taro (boiled, not baked).

You worked for our first Prime Minister, Tuiatua Tupua Tamasese Efi. Many of us (many means just me) only know him as the revered and articulate HOS who speaks with so much mana and wisdom. Can you tell me more about him before he was HOS?

He always had an air of pomposity about him but I think that was because most of his life he always had people to do things for him. I was lucky to know him for one strong point; another white guy in the PM's Department was one Jim Kebbell, who had gone to school at Silverstream with Efi, and they knew each other extremely well. Thus we had a rather human side to him. I remember him most for his sense of humor about Samoa, and about people like Muldoon. He is a compassionate sort of fellow; he could see the dark side of people's souls and could see the possibilities of redemption. He would give people a fair break. He had some annoying sides to him; he could be distracted so easily and could so easily float out of a conversation – in the midst of half a sentence. You would wonder if you had said something wrong, only to realize he had drifted off. He had a fierce intelligence and I always felt he was a left winger. That was why I liked working with him. After I became a parent we would occasionally meet up in New Zealand with him – and came to see that there was a sadness in his not having any close children around him; he was marvelous with kids. My daughter (now 30) knew him as "Uncle T." As for all the fa'a Samoa and that kind of stuff, that kind of came later, although there was never any doubt even then that he regarded himself as a guardian of the language. His more important speeches he would translate himself rather than trusting anybody else. But you have to remember also that when I was with him, the then Tupua Tamasese was alive – and it was regarded as very bad form to discuss that particular succession. I got into bad trouble with his wife for once suggesting in Island Business that when Malietoa died, her husband would become Head of State.

You have been made 'unwelcome' in several islands of the Pacific, can you please explain yourself sir?

I confess I practice a style of journalism with gets up the noses of a lot of people (like saying Malietoa was not immortal and that Efi would take over the job). I see my duty to my readers and to the story, not to politicians. That was why I got banned in Kiribati – I simply wrote about how much human shit there was on the beaches of Tarawa. Nowadays they thank me (literally) for highlighting the issue. In Tonga, there was a democracy movement and I was one of the few outside Tonga who thought it was worth writing about – to the irritation of the nobility who banned me. And in Fiji, having spent a large chunk of my life in the place and loving it to bits, I just could not accept the violence of military rule. I get banned because people – the ordinary people – trust me to report what I see.

Was there a time where you truly felt your life was in danger because of your work?(this last week, lol:)

A number of times, although there was an element of combat reporting to it. In places like Bougainville, for example, or the Solomons during the conflict, I thought there was a real possibility of dying by accident. I cannot say it greatly bothers me. I kind of take a Hindu view of things; when its time, its time. I have been threatened, punched, abused, spat at and all the rest over time … it makes for an interesting life.

How do you deal with negative comments and downright stupid angry outbursts from readers and politicians?

I am blessed; I don't have too many friends, but those I do know me and support me, as I do them; thus when the outside world launches into me, I have my own little world to escape into. Besides, I know the rules of the game; if I dish it out, then I have to take it back…

When you drive through Apia today (or in recent years) what is something you miss from when you first got there?

My youth! Apia remains a town of beautiful women…. And when I first arrived there, ignorant, I had just read Coming of Age in Samoa – and thought I was in the land of free love! Sigh, never happened. Apia is changing, no doubt, but many of the changes are for the best… its heart and soul is still beating strong…

....awww, that is so cute....but yeah nah, you are correct,...there's been no more beauties since I left.

You can read more of his work at www.michaelfield.org.


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