TRASH INTO CASH
By JOHN MITCHELL Photos by JONE LUVENITOGA Ten years ago, Matelita Nagatalevu, walked the corridors of Parliament as Secretary to the Senate, the then Upper House of Fiji’s bicameral legislature. Today, happily retired yet still very active and busy, she lives away from the public eye in a family-filled abode in Vatuwaqa. Her work life may have been both challenging and satisfying, but retirement, she says, has its own brand of ups and downs that must be expected and weathered. Occasionally she is hired as a rapporteur for important local and overseas meetings. With a typing speed of 140 words per minute, you understand why she is a top choice for high-level note taking jobs. When not engaged in freelance assignments she spends most time reading, also volunteering for her church and working on income generation activities. “Before, work dictated what I did. As soon as I woke up, there was something to do and it was always busy until it was time to sleep,” Nagatalevu said. “In a sense I don’t think I’ll ever get the opportunity to rest and relax entirely. Now I do freelance work for a few weeks then take a break, then work again when something comes up.” The last time Nagatalevu worked fulltime was before the coup of 2006, when she was the Secretary to Parliamentary sector committees. “I sometimes miss those hectic days because of the many friendships and professional relationships I made with people. It was always exciting to meet a new lot of politicians after the elections, the new Speaker and President of the Senate,” Nagatalevu said. “I liked every person who ascended to the position of the Speaker of the House of Representatives or President of the Senate. They were all different because they came from different backgrounds and they were all nice people. When I look back on my life, I feel I’ve had a remarkable career. I never dreamed it would turn out the way it did. Nagatalevu, the eldest of three siblings, attended primary school in Rewa near her village of Vutia and later Lelean Memorial School before pursuing further education in secretarial studies at the then Derrick Institute. Her parents were both civil servants. They were transferred to various parts of the country while Nagatalevu was brought up in the village by her aunt. “My mum was a nurse and dad was a policeman so being the disciplinarian that he was, he insisted that I studied hard and took clerical studies at Derrick. I respected and followed his decision and have never regretted following his dreams.” Nagatalevu’s obedience ultimately led her to the corridors of Parliament, where she worked for 30 years before retiring. Today, one of Nagatalevu’s leisure activities is weaving coin purses, pencil cases and bags using colourful combinations of used snack wrappers. She does it to keep her occupied, earn a few dollars and exercise her creative mind. “It’s a great way to reduce, recyle and reuse. Plastics are harzardous to the environment so being involved in something like this helps tackle our rubbish disposal problems and at the same time I can earn a few dollars on the side.” “My clients are mostly friends and members of my church. My purses cost between $5 and $10 and that’s enough for me.”
Nagatalevu (standing) demonstrates how to sew her bag linings to her sister, Vini Bale.