Dar­ling Doc­tor Leli

mailife - - Contents - By MELA KATONIVUALIKU Pho­tos ANDY PAUL

His name is Dr Isireli Bi­u­ma­to­toya – but most peo­ple call him Dr Leli Dar­ling. Born in Lau­toka, the 48-year-old was just a few weeks old he was whisked away to his vil­lage in Tubou, Lakeba in Lau, where he grew up think­ing his pa­ter­nal grand­par­ents were his bi­o­log­i­cal par­ents. But then his life has been full of sur­prises. “I am not re­ally cer­tain as to what hap­pened af­ter my birth but since I was one of five chil­dren and named af­ter my grand­fa­ther, I think he just de­cided to take charge of me,” Dr Leli said. “So I spent my child­hood in Tubou un­til I was in Class 3. I was at­tend­ing Ratu Finau Me­mo­rial School, the only pri­mary school in Tubou and I loved it there.” In 1979 he got the shock of his young life when his grand­par­ents in­formed him that his par­ents wanted him back in Lau­toka. “All the while I thought my grand­par­ents were my par­ents and I didn’t want to leave, Tubou was heaven for me. They sat me down one day in the vil­lage and said ‘look Sireli, your Dad and Mum they want you back. “I don’t know whether I cried but it was on my mind for a good few weeks be­fore we left. Yeah, my grand­par­ents ex­plained it as much as they could and of course I could un­der­stand what they were talk­ing about. “But ar­riv­ing at Lau­toka and meet­ing my par­ents and younger sib­lings for the first time was for me ab­so­lutely alien.” Dr Leli ar­rived in the midst of the first school term and the only school that would take him then was Ma­hatma Ghandhi Me­mo­rial Pri­mary School – which at that time had a to­tally Indo Fi­jian en­rol­ment. “Bear in mind that grow­ing up in Lakeba, I had not seen an Indian per­son be­fore in my life, so it was quite an­other shock for me,” he said. “I had no choice but to at­tend that school as my fa­ther would not have me stay­ing home, so while the chil­dren at our Natabua Set­tle­ment at­tended Natabua Pri­mary School, I had to walk up­hill to MGM Pri­mary.” “Ooohhh it was trau­matic as I did not un­der­stand a word of Hindi and dur­ing those days, teach­ers would speak in Hindi and every­thing was con­ducted in Hindi so I was quite lost,” Dr Leli said. He spent half of the year 1979 at MGM Pri­mary School and finds it funny how some of his class­mates up to to­day contact him for con­tri­bu­tions to school fundrais­ing drives. “I don’t re­mem­ber every­one be­cause I spent only six months there but it is good some of them still re­mem­ber me.” From 1980-1982 he went to Natabua Pri­mary then did Forms 3- 6 at Natabua High. From there Dr Leli en­rolled at the Fiji School of Medicine and pur­sued his am­bi­tion of be­com­ing a doc­tor. “As I re­call I didn’t re­ally think much of be­com­ing a doc­tor but dur­ing my child­hood days I heard a rel­a­tive men­tion ‘be a doc­tor, be a teacher or be a nurse’ and that sort of stuck in my head.” “Since I had been to the hos­pi­tal I had al­ready seen what was re­quired of a doc­tor – so that idea and vi­sion stuck. I didn’t know what the role of a teacher re­ally was and I didn’t want to be a nurse.” Dr Leli said he in some way re­grets get­ting into the med­i­cal pro­fes­sion be­cause he didn’t re­ally re­search what be­ing a doc­tor re­ally meant. “I didn’t speak to any young doc­tor to tell me how trau­matic it is be­cause the first years of be­ing a doc­tor is re­ally trau­matic – ohhhh long, long hours of work,” But he threw his heart and soule into it and in 1993 Dr Leli was the first iTaukei stu­dent to scoop the Gold Medal award at the FSM grad­u­a­tion. “It was in shock get­ting that gold medal and be­ing the first iTaukei stu­dent to get it was amaz­ing be­cause I re­ally worked my butt off for that prize,” Dr Leli said. He added that soon af­ter his fi­nal ex­ams, the sur­gi­cal doc­tor who took his prac­ti­cal ex­ams was so im­pressed with Dr Leli that he wanted to make him an of­fer of a med­i­cal schol­ar­ship to Aus­tralia, pro­vided he takes up surgery. Dr Leli missed out on the schol­ar­ship be­cause he didn’t want to be­come a sur­geon, he said he wanted some­thing eas­ier in the med­i­cal field. “I had al­ready made up my mind that I didn’t want to be­come a sur­geon be­cause of the long hours in­volved in op­er­at­ing the­atres, but thought I would be just as happy just be­ing a gen­eral prac­ti­tioner,” he said. The fact that Dr Leli is gay has not af­fected his life or ca­reer. “Of course I have come out. I have shown peo­ple through the way I dress and carry my­self that I am gay. This is not the time to hide or be scared about who you want to be­come,” Dr Leli said. He added one of the rea­sons he dresses as fe­male dur­ing med­i­cal con­fer­ences is to show peo­ple that the gay com­mu­nity ex­ists and they are here to stay. “Some of my friends think I have gone ‘kuku’ but I tell them

I have not, be­cause I still have all my mar­bles down here,” Dr Leli said. Amidst gales of laugh­ter about his last com­ment, Dr Leli said his fam­ily on the other hand – well, not so much his fa­ther – have ac­cepted his fem­i­nine side. “My fam­ily, if I can be ab­so­lutely hon­est, are just shocked to si­lence,” he said. “They re­ally don’t know what to think and of course they can’t tell me off be­cause I am al­ready a doc­tor and I can fend for my­self.” Dr Leli said he had this fem­i­nine side with him since he was young and he never hid it, but his fa­ther was so strict that he con­tin­ued to wear nor­mal men’s clothes. “grow­ing up with my fa­ther dur­ing those days – ooohh my God it was hell. I used to call him Mafatu,” Dr Leli said. Dr Leli de­scribed a child­hood in­ci­dent where he and one of his gay cousins (Emori, who served us tea dur­ing Dr Leli’s interview) were re­turn­ing from school dancing the bhangra – an Indian dance in which the dancers twirl and beat their sticks to­gether in mid-air. “We had watched the bhangra from school and on our way home, we each got two sticks and were twirling and beat­ing our sticks. We were do­ing this even af­ter we had reached home not know­ing Mafatu had his eyes on me like a hawk,” Dr Leli said. “I was still twirling with my back to­wards the bath­room where our wash­ing board was stored. When I twirled to face Emori he had dis­ap­peared. In­stead I felt our wash­ing board land on my back – of course Emori had dis­ap­peared at the sight of Mafatu without even warn­ing me.” Tear­fully Dr Leli said de­spite his fa­ther’s views, he will give Mafatu the re­spect due to him as a fa­ther. “I don’t blame him re­ally. I know he tried and he is still try­ing to ac­cept me for who I am now and what I have be­come. But some­times it is hard be­cause when I go to visit my par­ents at our farm in Ba and we get to sit around the din­ing ta­ble for fam­ily meals, there is an awk­ward si­lence be­tween my fa­ther and I,” Dr Leli said. “I hope and pray that one day this awk­ward­ness will dis­ap­pear and I get to have my fa­ther back, be­cause I can’t turn back time and I can’t change who I have be­come,” Dr Leli said.

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