Darling Doctor Leli
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.