The stark reality

Napolioni Raqitawa, 62, pictured at the Nasali Landing says despite COVID-19 restrictions having a tremendous impact on his water taxi business he would hold on as long as he could until things return to normal. Picture: UNAISI RATUBALAVU

What used to be $70 income a day, water taxi operator Napolioni Raqitawa, 62, now struggles with budgeting $10 or $20 a day to feed three adults in his household.

Since the COVID-19 restrictions slowed his business, Raqitawa of Nukutubu Village is faced with a daunting thought to either continue his business of 22 years or spend his time better and plant food on the farm.

However, he can’t just get up and put his business on hold because a lot of families rely heavily on his water taxi business to cart them to and fro the supermarkets and stores to buy food or to work.

Raqitawa said the number of passengers who continue to travel, either for shopping or work, had reduced tremendously.

He said his business was a vital link for about 3000 villagers within the Nasali Landing in Rewa. Water taxi operators also greatly rely on these customers.

On a normal day he would usually start work at 5am to pick up passengers travelling from the villages to the landing. Peak hours were between 5am and 7:45am.

His passengers are working-class and schoolchildren. By 7:30am he is back at home resting or at his farm.

Raqitawa says he would return to the landing at about 2pm for pick-up and continues working until 7pm.

Raqitawa is one of the oldest water taxi operators based at the landing. He shares the base with about 20 other operators all of whom provide services to about eight villages.

“With the licence I have, I operate from the farthest village in Nukui, Laucala Island and all these villages along the Rewa riverbank,” he said.

“My passengers are mostly villagers living in Nukui, Vunuku, Nabua, Vutia, Narocivo, Lokia, Naililili, Tavuya and Nasigatoka.

“The maximum number of passengers I can carry is seven people. I have to carry life jackets as well and renew my boat master’s licence every five years.

“CTL is another licence I have to renew every year as this is the licence to travel the routes that I service. For boat survey, this is done every six months,” Raqitawa explained.

“So it took me a fair good amount of money and time spent to get to where I am today. Before this COVID-19 second wave hit Fiji, I was earning about $70 a day.

But now, business is really down. “A lot of people are staying at home and only a few are travelling, however, I do understand how much worse things could get if this virus continues to spread those restrictions are safety measures for us.

“Now with movement restricted due to a possible nationwide threat, I earn around $10 or $20 in a day. I hope things will return to some normalcy soon because a lot of people are feeling hardship.

“Right now I’m just focusing on feeding my family and holding on as long as I can.”

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