After her 8-year ban ends, Barbara Dreaver steps foot in Fiji anxiously wondering if she'll be visiting a detention centre again

After eight long years of being banned from Fiji, the road back was never going to be easy.

And so it was that an hour out of Nadi the plane I was happily flying in on developed a minor technical fault and had to return to Auckland.

But a few hours later the wheels finally touched down on Fiji soil replacing frustration with anxiety.

Was being locked up in a detention centre like the last time on the cards?

Our Pacific Correspondent Barbara Dreaver is back in Fiji, eight years after being blacklisted.
Our Pacific Correspondent Barbara Dreaver is back in Fiji, eight years after being blacklisted. Source: 1 NEWS

But no. The Immigration Officer stamped my passport – though firmly crossing out the four-month visa and replacing it with 14 days.

But that's OK I'll take it. Two weeks is better than no weeks to be able to do my job.

Which isn’t too much to ask in a supposedly democratic country – freedom of speech and all that.

After all there’s been an election since I was last here. And the guy that led the armed military coup is now a popular democratically elected leader, but that's Fiji for you.

Fiji is and always has been a complicated weave of history, politics, family and village dynamics and relationships.

I often think of it as an onion. Take one layer off, there's another underneath.

I learnt long ago that predictions here are a dangerous game, the unexpected often the norm.

This 2008 ONE News story highlighted poverty in a Fijian village. Source: 1 NEWS

But what is clear is that two major events this year have made a significant difference – a sport and a national disaster.

The impact of the Fiji Sevens Olympic gold medal win in Rio can't be underestimated.

For once everyone was united, people wildly proud of their win and so they should be.

In a country that has always been rugby mad, every single rugby field we pass after 5pm is jam packed with rugby players.

Secondly, Cyclone Winston - which killed 44 people and cost the country $1.3 billion - has brought people together in the face of adversity.

It's also what’s made the difference with New Zealand's fractured relationship with Fiji - when the going gets tough, neighbours help out neighbours and that's exactly what's happened.

Make no mistake the situation is far from ideal here in terms of human rights abuses in particular.

But there's also no doubt there have been changes – some of them hard won.

My job in any country is to question to challenge. That won't change.

Telling people's stories - it's great to be able to do that again in Fiji.

Barbara Dreaver talks to Breakfast live from Fiji, having been allowed back into the country. Source: Breakfast