At Auckland International Airport I'm surrounded by Fiji bound passengers. Anxious Indians clutch their luggage; hug their children and farewell relatives. They're going home - to Fiji. I'm going to Fiji. The difference is that they must. But me? They ask why? I realise that many of these are people who, having no choice, are being sucked back into the centre of a hurricane.
As I board my Air Pacific flight, I’m greeted with the usual broad smiles and 'bula vinaka'. It's a welcome that makes you wonder why it is that Air New Zealand cabin staff give you such antiseptic smiles.
The flight is uneventful but the exhilaration of boyhood trips to Fiji as part of the McBride family is gone. Around me eyes avoid contact and there's a pervasive air of sadness, of unease, of people wondering what lies ahead.
At Nausori Airport I too, wonder. Will the bags be searched again as comprehensively as they were in Nadi? But at this airport a Fijian immigration officers welcomes me and asks in a self-conscious, self-effacing tone: "What is the purpose of your visit Sir?"
I say rather self-importantly, "I teach at the Auckland Law School. I am keen to strengthen the links between the School and the lawyers of Fiji, and the people at the University of the South Pacific".
It's all true. What other reason would I come here? I'm someone who has been before – many times in fact - who had regarded Fiji as the jewel, or perhaps in the current climate in New Zealand, one of the jewels of the South Pacific.
News of the coup left me feeling sad and bewildered, yet not completely surprised, having come to Fiji pre-Independence and felt the tension, the division, and the lack of contact between the Fijian and Indian people of the country. It's just a bad dream I thought had disappeared and has now come back to haunt me.
Leaving the terminal still feels like the old Fiji - taxi drivers competing with one another for your fare, my bags being grabbed and suddenly thrust in the back of a rusty Holden. My driver seems affable but he too wonders why I've come. "Business" I tell him.
We drive speed along dark roads, no street lights - the occasional figure - all Fijians. No Indian is to be seen. Occasionally we pass a beacon of some kind - a light and underneath it a solitary soldier. It brings back memories of posters of World War II. 'Douse the light, protect the land and give no comfort to the enemy'. Occasionally we pass small groups of soldiers, two or three guarding what appear to be sensitive installations, for example electricity sub-stations. It all seems far removed from what I remember Fiji to be about.
We pass shops that are all shuttered up. Two men are spread-eagled against the wall with soldiers giving them a pretty good 'once-over'. The streets are deserted - well almost. Only the occasional, apparently drunk and quite exuberant Fijian is to be seen - still not an Indian in sight.
My driver wants to talk about the coup - I avoid responding. "I am here on business" I say and talk about trade, tourism, and Argentina's rugby victory over Fiji. "What are the prospects against the All Blacks?" He responds with chatter of his four years in New Zealand. I don't ask him why he returned. He doesn't pursue the question about why I am in Fiji.
We arrive at a hotel. It looks unwelcoming. We drive to another, passing a night club where stands a solitary prostitute. Her smile is the smile of apprehension. My response is that of one who has spent the previous week at an international medico-medical conference where the obsession is AIDS, AIDS, and more AIDS. I wonder what all this is doing for her business.
We arrive at another hotel not long before midnight. The welcome is very low key. Am I the only guest checking in? Everyone wonders where the tourists are. In the lobby a man and woman battle to carry my bags. It's done with much good humour and in the end resolved when one carries one and one the other. A quick drink and I'm asleep before I know it. Tomorrow I know I have to move quickly.
This was Fiji in May 1987- not December 2006 after the fourth coup. It's same script with different actors - a real-life replay of Groundhog Day. Tim McBride was the first private lawyer to get into the country after the May '87 coup and met with deposed PM Dr Timoci Bavadra and cabinet colleagues; together with bewildered judges, bossy diplomats, and touchingly naïve lawyers wedded to the supremacy of the rule of law.
"I felt so distressed about it I couldn't sleep. I just had to go there and see for myself. I just jumped on the first plane and went" he recalls.
This is the first published extract from the diary he wrote at the time about that journey. It's part personal - for the trip is also a return to the playground of his childhood - but it's also much more. In its pages the law lecturer and civil rights advocate comes face to face with the reality that despite legal abstracts and constitutions, power does grow from the barrel of a gun.