For 20 months now, I have been selfishly coveting my fellow PCVs for their electricity. I have longed to fall asleep to that familiar hum of a refrigerator. However, now that my PC experience is nearing it's end, the development I've hoped for is finally happening. Electricity is finally coming to my district.
Unfortunately, my definition of development has changed. Is rural electrification actually development? Or is it just rural electrification? Is development only the westernizing of a nation? I once thought that giving aide (whether it be financial, advisory, medical supplies, food rations, etc) to other countries was a positive initiative. Now I'm not so sure.
As I sat around a grog bowl with my favorite talanoa-er, basking in the amber glow of our kerosene lamps, I thought out loud "these days are almost over." The times of sitting around in the near dark, listening to the crickets outside, peeking through the open doorway at the stars shining brightly in the clear night. When the electricity is finally turned on, the radios and televisions will play all night. People will be up until the wee hours washing clothes.
Even the bus ride is different. Instead of a blur of green, I see all the trees have been cut down (and left in unruly heaps) at the mercy of a chainsaw to prepare the way for the utility poles. Some trees housed entire ecosystems, that's how big they were and how long they'd been here. The view of the ocean is spotted with connecting wires which spoil the silhouetted coconut trees against the periwinkle sunrise.
With development comes change. Fijians now have vaccines for tetanus and birth control pills, but some have forgotten how to use their herbal medicines. Fijians now have institutionalized schooling and the teaching responsibilities have fallen from the traditional elders to the young, new teachers, possibly upsetting the role elders play in the lives of the youth. Fijians have electricity, but will soon stop pulling their food from the ground daily because refrigerators make it possible to buy cheese and cold soda from town. This change in lifestyle is happening. I want to throw myself in front of this bus and say "Stop! Not here! Not in my district! We live simply and we're happy." But the wheel has started turning and I cannot stop it just like I cannot stop a Fijian bus from barreling on toward it's destination, wherever that may be.
So what is development? Will electricity help the villagers remember their traditions? Will widening the road cure scabies or help prevent the spread of typhoid? Why do other countries think they know what's best for Fiji? And then give money to bring these plans into action? Why is development always defined so strictly?
I don't have any of these answers, but talking about it helps.