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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.

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