Somethings To Say, Before the Sun Sets

Last sunset

So, I’m home. My one year work assignment in Tonga has come to an end. I made several monthly posts during my experience, but feel I should do one last post to properly see this chapter of my life closed. (You can read all the posts I wrote while away here)

If you haven’t been following my story, here is the gist of it: I moved into a new place, started a new job, hated it, but I went through the motions of working and saving. I booked a 1 month holiday to the USA, but eventually got fired first. I tried finding a job I’d actually enjoy, came very close in a few interviews, discovered an international development / capacity building program, thought why not, applied, got accepted, refunded my planned holiday, moved out, and then spent 2014 overseas.

I was as shocked as everyone else. Having spent my whole life in the one city, it’s something I never considered or saw coming… which was why I believed it was so important to ‘just go with it’ before it got away.

Since leaving childhood, I’ve learned that card tricks, control, and certainty are all illusions.

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It turned out that what appeared to be a sunny tropical island was actually the furtherest from my comfort zone that I’ve ever been.

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I’ve heard it before; you’ve heard it before: sometimes, you’ve got to get uncomfortable. I get it now, I really do. Once we’re past puberty, the only growth we get is voluntary (with the exception of toenails and unwanted hairs.) It’s also excluding physical workouts. I’ve done a lot of those. Lifting twice your bodyweight is uncomfortable, but there is still an element of control: we know we’ll either be successful in the lift or we won’t – and we’re familiar with both outcomes either way.

Real growth is more than just physical; it’s a deeper change than that. And really being uncomfortable means giving up all perceived control and certainty over the situation. Simply put, it means not knowing.

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There was a lot I didn’t know: Where I’d live, what work would be like, who my friends would be, what I’d eat, and what I’d spend my spare time doing. These are all common questions to which I now know the answers; but what really makes going away such an experience is the things that you learn … that you didn’t expect or know you needed to learn.

There was a lot that happened over the year; there is a lot to write about, and there is a lot I already did write about.  Looking back, here are the main things I want you to know… and that I want myself to remember.


1) HAPPINESS IS AN OUTLOOK

I arrived in Tonga feeling sorry for people, but I returned home feeling sorry for myself. I realised I had been sold a dream. I had been told by a combination of my peers, upbringing, and culture – that there were set requirements for being happy. There aren’t. Despite being classed as a ‘developing country,’ people in Tonga smiled, laughed and seemed openly happier. How? Isn’t that the point of all the luxuries and privileges of the the western world? Well, I learned that it’s all about perception.

You can’t enjoy the taste of what you’ve got when you’re sniffing the fumes of what you don’t have.

I coined the above term, but I’m just as guilty of the offence as anyone else. With less disparity between wealth and status, and hardly any mass advertising, people in Tonga can devote their full attention to what they do have – and tend to be happier as the result.

I’d be lying to claim I’ve dropped all my desires since coming back to the western world. Desire and ambition definitely has its place. But given what I’ve learned, I’m definitely trying to remember that

there’s satisfaction in simplicity, and a blessing behind every breath.


2) THE SLOWER YOU GO, THE MORE YOU SEE

Tonga has Tonga Time, Fiji has Fiji Time, and so on. It’s a fact; time moves slower in the South Pacific. As a ‘city rat,’ getting used to a slower pace of life definitely required some adjusting. There were also withdrawals from what I call ‘stimulation addiction,’ to which mobile phones and modern technology are the most common perpetrating paraphernalia. With less internet access, less happening in my environment, and overall, less urgency – I eventually found myself slowing down. And that’s when it happened.

I started to notice more things – rather peculiar things: the positions of the stars, the sound of the sea, the weight of the breeze, the variations of trees and flowers, the way animals behaved, and many other minute details. Of course, in the west, this approach would result in a lot of missed busses, pissed of people, and possibly accusations of staring in public. It’s also not humanly possible or healthy to consciously process everything; but it is worth paying a little bit more attention every now and then. You never know what you may notice.


3) FAITH HAS ITS PLACE

I’ve never been religious. Sure, kinda Buddhist and strangely spiritual; but not religious.  I’ve always respected peoples’ rights to make their own decisions; but it wasn’t until going to Tonga that I actually began to understand why some people choose to believe.

I met people who lived in tin sheds and without access to basic necessities – yet they clutched their bibles as if it was their most vital resource. I met youths who were surround by bad influences and dangerous temptations – yet God was an authority figure they wouldn’t dare to disobey. I met people who made massive sacrifices in their own lives in order to help others – yet they were modest in their contributions and efforts, acknowledging Jesus as their inspiration and mentor.

Across these different circumstances, there was the one how – and the one why: God.

I’ve read The God Delusion, find Sam Harris fascinating, and am aware of the ways religion is exploited as a tool of manipulation – but I can’t disregard the way that religion and faith has proved to be a solid foundation in lives that are otherwise crumbling; the way way it provides clarity to those conflicted between choices; and they way it widely opens the hearts of those in the position to help others.

Religion doesn’t have a place in my life, and it may not have one in yours; but there’s no doubting it has its place in the world. 


4) TALENT CAN FLOURISH ANYWHERE

I had the privilege of meeting some amazingly talented individuals. At 17yrs of age, Paul is a perfect example. This video showcases his talent as a self-taught dancer and choreographer. And he certainly isn’t the only example. It seemed that Tongans had the natural ability to dance, sing, draw, and play sport. This is without the many learning opportunities and resources available in the west. I mean, despite having access to dance schools, video tutorials, and large body-sized mirrors, I definitely got put in my place by the dancers I met in Tonga. Here is a recent video of all of them in action.

Another example is a young woman who went from driving around in a car without windows to modelling in Europe, living a life she didn’t even dream about before. I’m sure there are similar stories emerging from other parts of the world. I’ve also seen similar things on Youtube, but there was something different about encountering this phenomenon in person.

Needless to say, as a person who tends to be quick to place limitations on himself, I left feeling inspired, now knowing what can be achieved with not much more than just passion and dedication.


5) WE’RE ALL UNDER THE SAME STARS

As this was my first extended period of time spent in another culture, I noticed a lot of differences. After enough time, I noticed many underlying similarities: Children cry when they fall over, people smile when they see each other, women like dressing up, and guys give each other crap because they care.

On a deeper level, I realised how we all just want to feel safe, to belong, to care for those close to us, and to feel loved ourselves.  We go about it in different ways, but our motives are the same, as with the emotions we feel. Different continents, countries and cultures don’t change the fact that we’re all people, trying to get by on the sample planet, under the same stars.

This is a great video on the topic.


6) TIME FLIES

I was packing my suitcase to leave, and then unpacking it – what felt like – shortly after. In reality, a whole year had passed. Just like that. I regret the time I initially wasted on deliberating on wether my decision to come to Tonga was the right thing to do because…

time doesn’t cease or slow for our uncertainty; it goes on, taking with it, another opportunity.

We all worry and wonder at times, but it’s important to remember that we won’t be where we are for long, and that we won’t be around for long either.  This fact will motive us all in different ways, but..

we all stand to miss something by standing around.

I was on a tiny island where I felt time moved so slowly, but eventually, it was up. I’ve come home to find people getting married and having children, and myself, once again, at a crossroads. I don’t know what’s next, but I know it will be over before I know it.


I’ve got one years worth of daily journal entries, so I’m sure there is more I could add, but I’m happy to close it off here. The experience taught me a lot, I saw another country but also another side to myself. It stretched my imagination and also made me that much more sturdy, mentally. It’s given me a lot to think about, write about, and share.

To you, the reader: I hope you’ve enjoyed this insight into my adventure. Maybe you’ll look at your own life differently… or like I did, have the courage to change yours drasictally.

To Tonga:  malo (thank you) and hopefully toki sio (see you later).

Challenges in Coming Home

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Men dream more about coming home than they do about leaving – The Alchemist

I still remember being in the kitchen with my house mate, casually dicing ingredients of our dinner, when he cut through the silence… rather bluntly.

“You don’t want to go, do you?” He cared not about offending me, certain in the fact that he knew me. A sign of true friendship.

“Of course not,” I replied. Relieved to let out some honesty like the kettle and its steam. I wanted to stay. I didn’t always like what I had, where I was; but I felt safe in the familiar.

After an initial culture shock, Tonga – where I spent 2014 – also became familiar. It was only when I returned home to Australia, that I realised that Tonga, once dreaded and unknown, had also become a place I felt safe.

The year away presented me with so many different experiences: Good times, bad times, better days and worse ones. One thing that kept me going was knowing that I was coming home. So why aren’t things as great as I envisioned?

It’s explained online that some  of the negative experiences of returning home may include:

• Feeling like family and friends don’t understand how you’ve changed and have tired of listening to your stories
• Feeling like you don’t have anything in common with your friends anymore
• Rejection of your own culture, particularly consumerism and affluence
• Constantly comparing practices in Australia with those in your Host Country
• Uncertainty about the future
• Difficulty making decisions
• Feeling misunderstood
• Boredom
• Loss of identity
• Feeling overwhelmed or disorientated

The technical term is “reverse culture shock.”

The most shocking – rather scary – thing to me is how easy it is to fall back into old routines; to be the same old person. Forgetting all those promises I made about changing as the sun would set over the ocean – a shared treasure in Tonga, but a luxury here, reserved for those with water-front homes.

And here I am back in the suburbs, surrounded by things I now know I don’t need, while uncertain about what I need the most. I’m making changes though: no longer going to the gym as much, focusing on development, speaking to a psychologist, spending less time with certain friends, spending more time with my family. So it’s definitely been good to be back – but not as great as I thought it would be.

I guess the truth is that we can’t run – from ourselves or from our responsibilities. Sure, I’ve come back – but with all intentions of going forwards.

 

 

 

 

Month 10 in Tonga

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Rather than tasting the batter, let me first describe how I beat this post out.

  1. I flip open my journal (not to be confused with a diary).
  2. I find the start of the month just past, and read my way to the current day.
  3. I make all sorts of facial expressions and sounds (not to be confused with my coming toilet break).
  4. I experience an array of thoughts flavoured from, “I’ll always remember that” to “f*** that sucked.”
  5. I close the lock on my journal with its matching glittering plastic pink key, snort four crushed up valium tablets and fall asleep to Jamie Oliver’s audio cookbook (not to be confused with a serious statement).

But on a serious note, the process can either be hectic, easy, or a well-suited challenge. But I still do it, regardless. I do it because, to understand the world, you have to first understand the filter which you perceive it through: yourself. I do it because, when all I see is pieces, writing helps me put the puzzle together – to form and gain clarity on the bigger picture – which is my life.

As Hemingway said, “Writing is a lonely existence.” So as much as I would like company, it’s not expected. But when I come back to this page in a few months, finding another set of fingerprints in the digital dust, and maybe a kindly left comment, certainly wouldn’t deter me from the habit.

So, let’s get into the month, starting with the little things.

I rode close to 50km on a trip (a lot for me). I volunteered at Tonga’s only international school, answering the many questions eight-year-olds have. I organised a fashion show for my institute’s students at a popular local bar. And I also joined another fashion committee which is hosting an upcoming show. I’m not particularly a ‘fashion’ person, but I’ve enjoyed the insight into their challenge of introducing contemporary clothes into traditionally conservative culture. To illustrate, one of the girls had her family say that they felt ashamed after seeing a photo of her posing in a bikini on a beach.

I had an experience of freakish serendipity. I went to the local flea market and just happened to find the exact book I was looking to download a few days ago; a book of famous poems, which I also wanted; and a jumper of a favourite band, where I only needed something to keep me warm in my upcoming trip to New Zealand.

I got a few postcards from home and had a great Skype call with someone I hadn’t seen in over 1 year. Someone who I only met in person once before I left for Tonga. Someone who I only met because of this blog. It was great to hear about his travels to Asia and tell him about my journey so far. Both experiences reminding me of the value and importance of longstanding relationships as well as like-minded company.

Now, the bigger things.

I had an early farewell at the technical institute where I volunteer, crying more than they did. I’m not sure why. Possibly from a volatile mixture of emotions, from missing people back home, the anxiety of returning, to my own doubt in my effectiveness of being here. So when a particular teacher said that I’ve made a “dream come true” for them by organising their cruise ship tours, it was enough to catch my manly mannerisms off guard, and to tip the ‘tea’rs that I knew were filling, but I was trying not to spill.

The farewell also helped me accept that I won’t have the same kind of impact as some of the other volunteers, it still doesn’t take away from the fact that I’ve had an impact.

Now, the biggest thing.

I finally completed by first video project! After standing at the cliff for a while, eyes shut, using my imagination to visualise the possibility of what I could create – I dove… well, I was pushed. Attending a recent community film festival where new video makers were showing   their creations, was the push I needed. It’s true what they say about inspiration: it’s contagious.

There’s also a truth about the creative process: its possessive. In his book The War of Art, Steven Pressfield explores the Ancient Greek myth of The Muses. In summary, there were nine daughters of Zeus who each governed a specific creative art form. And when a mortal set out to create something in one of these forms, he would be guided and inspired by its Muse. Truth aside,  I think it’s beautiful. It also reflects my experience of writing my ebook so I was glad to be under a kind of ‘creative spell’ once again.

“The Muse takes note of our dedication. She approves. We have earned favor in her sight. When we sit down and work, we become like a magnetized rod that attracts iron filings. Ideas come. Insights accrete.” – Steven Pressfield

Once I just started my video project – even without a set plan – everything just fell into place. Editing and filming over 3 days, I couldn’t slow down nor stop until I had finished it. And finished it I did.

Like the short films I had watched at the festival I attended, my goal was to capture and share a certain unseen side of Tonga. I also chose a subject that really resonated with me personally – and I did it in a way that reflected my personality. The feedback has been great: many current volunteers have used it to show their friends and families back home what Tonga is like; the soon to arrive volunteers have been thankful for a chance to see what their new home is going to be like; and other people around the world now know about this tiny island they never knew exited. My favourite remark however, was, “I can’t help but smiling the whole way through it.” As such was my goal..

“Creative work is not a selfish act or a bid for attention on the part of the actor. It’s a gift to the world and every being in it.” – Steven Pressfield

Then came the worst thing: man down.

Out of nowhere, my enthusiasm’s gone – like someone tripped on the cord, pulling it out and taking all my energy with it. Everything’s a drag, I even consider deleting this blog. I won’t elaborate like I did in this post – but this particular time, it was bad enough for me to seriously consider how these seasonal states effect the quality of my life, what triggers them, and most importantly, what I’m going to do about them when I return home.

“You loathe yourself, and yet you’re consumed by grandiose ideas you have about your own importance. You’re up too high and down too low. Neither is a place where you’ll get any work done.” – Cheryl Strayed

I guess, there is a lot on my mind. There are a lot of forks in the road, and the uncertainty is as threatening as a knife.  But to quote Strayed again, “Self-pity is a dead-end road.” So here is something more optimistic out of my own mouth..

“Life may not be a piece of cake, but you’ve still got to bare your teeth and take a bite.”

So I’m going to spend my last 2 months here chewing: doing what I have to do. There are also still many experiences to taste: people to meet, things to learn, sights to snorkel, coconuts to drink.

– Boy out.

PS – Neat song

Month 9 In Tonga: I’m not out of lives yet.

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“You’ve got to lick it before you stick it.”

9 Months ago during my cultural sensitivity training, this is the last line I would have expected to hear in public… let alone sung by a 6 foot solidly built drag queen. Along with a group of young guys flexing and strutting around, that’s exactly what happened at the Mr Maka event I attend this month.

It wasn’t exactly my cup of tea (because I’m used to being the kettle, don’t call me black), but I’m just glad that there are still a few surprises to be had here in Tonga. Even after all this time.

Variety keeps this interesting. Like my two new housemates. Each with their own reasons for being here, plans of where they want to go, and what I enjoy the most, stories about where they’ve come from and been. In the many forms its been delivered, variety is one of the reasons I decided to spend this year away.

However, I’m discovering that even clear blue skies and soft sand can start to feel as monotonous as the cement footpath that leads in and out of the place I used to call home. But after having to regularly step over shards of broken bottles and run from unrestrained dogs; I’m missing that footpath more and more each day.

I guess this is what they refer to as “knowing what you got once it’s gone.” Likewise, a friend who is volunteering here from France, recently confessed her new found appreciation of “technology.” Specifically, “must-haves” such as microwaves and washing machines. Suddenly, something like the I-Watch seems far too superfluous to make a sound in such a conversation.

Appreciation: another reason I decided to spend this year away.

Out of all the things I’ve learned to appreciate more, my friends are definitely one of them. Especially since having my first ever birthday away from home. It gave me the comforting assurance that I’ve made enough of an impression in some people’s lives that 9 months of solid absence couldn’t render me forgotten…

Or maybe it’s my turn to be thankful of technology and the reminders Facebook issued on birthday. People did still care enough to write on my wall or send me a message. Who knows, maybe their few seconds of attention and semi-sentence comments were otherwise going to a meme or pet photo.  Knowing I’m getting old, but that I can still can hold my own against a kitten, does make me feel kind of good.

Of course, as I replied to my well-wishes – just like when blowing out candles on a cake – I had to keep face. I’m expected to grin; not complain. But I assume you’re reading this, not for pleasantries, but for truth (if you’re after half-naked photos – they’re in my ebook). So here it is: The month has been kind of shitty: Numerous plans to camp got postponed due to bad weather; I got quite sick again, making it my third of fourth time this year; And I’m coming to terms with the fact that I didn’t exactly save the world or change the country by being here.

Then again: I got given a surprise birthday cake at work, and a farewell by the youth group I’ve been involved with; I was able to organise another successful tour with P&O Cruises, as well as a Pink October Dinner; and going out on Halloween with my face painted was fun too. So I guess it’s all “sai pai” ( good in Tongan). Nothing is guaranteed or promised in life anyways. Even if you are living on a tropical island, you can’t expect things to always be sunshine and rainbows.

As per every birthday, my self-appointed inner critic also did appear for his usual review: “At this age I expected you to be doing X, have Y, be married to Z with so many children that you have to name them numerically.” I’ve learned by now, what screws us up most in life is this voice and the accompanying pictures in our heads of how things are “supposed to be.” Thankfully, from this whole experience, I’ve learned how to better focus on how things actually are.

I was also busy being bewildered by another thought: Exactly one year ago on my last birthday, when I got offered this position, the daunting “unknown” was where I currently am. Now the same place I didn’t want to leave… has got me anxious. Whoah, that’s a trip out.

What will I do? Where will I live? Will everyone be the same? What will I eat ? … Butter chicken, nan bread, steak, cottage cheese with blue berries, brown rice and tuna, kangaroo burgers. God I love having a short attention span sometimes.

Well put by a friend back home:

“Don’t worry about coming home, it can’t compare to what you’ve had to do over the last year.”

I know this is the last part of my adventure. This year has been less about what I’ve accomplished and more about what I’ve learned; especially about myself. Answering the big question of, “was it worth it?” depends on what’s valued; which I’ve also now got answers for. It also depends on, not only what’s learned here; but what’s lived when I return… so maybe things are still far from over. Maybe this isn’t the adventure; life is.

True Tourists

There’s many differences between living in a country – and visiting. Between the responsibility of being a host – and the privilege of being a guest.

Somewhere during the past 9 months while I’ve been in Tonga, I crossed the line.

A line, not drawn out in the sand. A line, not specified by small print. Just a feeling that I’m closer to the community that I’m surrounded by, and less of an “outsider.” A change in position is a change in perception; I now notice others more evidently where I once saw myself: as a new person – in a new country.

I know what it’s like to be in their shoes. Not in the same way that someone in Tonga knows what it’s like to be in mine – because he or she is wearing them! It’s because, out of a nature that is more caring than criminal, I always try to be welcoming towards new faces.

Some of these new faces are tourists. Sure, I’ve encountered some that conform to the negative stereotype of being obnoxious and overly demanding. But I’ve also discovered that while a group of people can share a common destination, their individual motives for being there and their interpretations of their surroundings can be in fact, polar opposites.  This is why I’ve coined the term “true-rists” to describe and rightfully distinguish the types of people that I’ve had the pleasure of meeting through the tours I’ve organised at the school where I volunteer.

With countless other heavily promoted alternatives available, and less than a whole day to spend in the country; they trusted their time and money would be best spent with the students of a local school. Students, who weren’t interested in their visitors’ wallets being open – only their minds and hearts, so they could share their stories and home, but feel appreciated and comfortable in doing so.

And that’s what happened. The “true-rists” were so grateful of every gesture of hospitality, no matter how small. Understanding that any expectations from the western world have to be left at door (or on the boat they got off). And of greater value than money – they offered genuine interest, generous comments, and constructive feedback to the students – which is invaluable to their development.

The tours gave the “true-rists” and the school’s students a chance to learn more about one another: Why they are both here today and where they come from. In my own travels, I’ve learned that’s what makes a country unique and travelling worthwhile – people.

Even interested in me – the outsider distanced by his skin tone and accent – they praised me for my efforts and for facilitating the day’s activities. Nearing the end of my volunteer assignment, I really appreciated the assurance. The gentleman pictured also gave me a kind reminder that I should “look in the mirror every morning and remember that I deserve to be successful and happy.”

Well, I know in the future, in someway, I’ll at least be thinking about Tonga everyday. And I honestly believe these wonderful people now have a reason to do the same. The people of Tonga have been good to me, so I hope the future only brings them more visitors who know how to be as equally kind and appreciative in return.

Month 8 – Whales & What’s up

whale1 It’s another slow Sunday. In contrast to city life, on my tiny island home, I’m content and configured to island time. I’m lying on a park bench with my attention divided between the screen of my Kindle and and the serenity of an ocean view. I’m loving it.

I’ll restore the romance in that antiquated term by adding that its been 8 months and this backdrop hasn’t lost a drop of beauty since I first cast my eyes over it. I just remembered, I also haven’t had Mcdonalds in a while… Bloody Marketers.

Back on the topic of things that drop, there is also a coconut tree directly above me. I wonder. Sure, coconuts fall, but how often? I laugh. Returning home because a coconut fell on my face – not head, seems like something that would happen – particularly to me.

Before I can decide to move, I’ve got company. An elderly man takes a seat and starts speaking in Chinese (his nationality). Eventually, he points to my Kindle and motions holding it to his head like a telephone. I say ‘ no understand’ in Tongan, and out of politeness, throw in the only Chinese word I know, “Ni hao,” (hello) at the end. He laughs and walks off. I laugh. Then I wonder.

I guess, he was just.. taking a chance. He knew what we wanted, and went for it.

Considering where I am, I should know about them too. Considering I’m also now nearing the last quarter of my trip, by now, I should also know if this chance was worth taking. But here’s some truth about this whole volunteer thing (and other things) for anyone who’s interested.

The higher your hopes and expectations, the harder they can fall. And like coconuts, there is definite potential for people to get hurt in the process … well, emotionally. Although being “that guy” under a fallen coconut would be an equally felt by one’s ego.

Anyways, regarding my own contrasting experiences and expectations, I’ve been icing the slap to the face that reality gave me with this thoughts like this..

“Your action creates ripples in a pond – even if you never get to see them reach the shore” – James Clear

I’d be selling myself short, and acting overly greedy, to expect such an ongoing and complex process such as capacity building, to unfold to my short schedule. A better 2014 for my host organisation means a better 2015 and so on. Or because of the many factors out of my control, things could get worse.

However, I do like to imagine, that sometime in the future, I’ll be enjoying the fresh taste of a Big Mac made with two 100% Aussie beef patties, crisp iceberg lettuce, signature sauce, melting cheese, onions and pickles, while my host organisation is still savouring the results of my earlier efforts.

Who knows. Outside of work, at least I know I’ll be returning with some good memories.

New to add, and a definite highlight, was swimming with humpback whales in Eua; one of Tonga’s smaller islands. To use another one of “those terms” – it was breathtaking. But what specific said at time was ‘holy s***”

There’s simply no time to be articulate when something that weighs 20 tonnes breaks out of the water and gets airborne in front of you. The whole island, estimated to be 40 million years old, was a testament to the untouched beauty that remains hidden around our natural world.

The weekend trip also gave me the chance to meet several other passing tourists. Fires were lit, marshmallows were melted, and stories were shared. I particularly liked hearing how Wolfgang, our strongly accented German host, ended up in Tonga and built the entire lodge we were staying at, practically by hand! Pictures attached.

As always, stories from home also found their way to me. Well, directly via technology. That reminds me, I wonder where that “message in a bottle” with my blog address ended up… On one same day, one friend was exuberant that he progressed to a new job, while another shared the sad news that her dog unfortunately died.

Amongst my wishes that I was in a better position to celebrate and consult,  I was starkly reminded that time is indeed passing by like the clouds above – and that life itself, can be as capricious as the waters that surround. Even when it feels like I’m treading water, I try to create a splash and have some fun.

Right now, this means trying to absorb more of the culture before I leave the country – And less of the sun… I used to think only white people got singlet tans.

One way is by spending more time with the students who attend the Institute where I work. Their recent camp weekend brought back memories of my own school trip, which now, was almost a decade ago!

They may have occurred in different times, countries and cultures, but essentially, they were both about a group of friends just enjoying each other’s company. But in my Togan experience, It was especially warming to see how the students made do with just their own drama performances for entertainment, and not much more than blankets on the floor for comfort.

On the side, some good things have also been personally happening for me.  A new friend happens to also be a journalist and book editor, and she’s willing to help me get my own book ready for Amazon’s Kindle store. I hopefully will also be collaborating with some students on a song to preform at their graduation ceremony. To warm my vocals up, I recently re-recorded this old classic track. Check it out.

“Time you enjoyed wasting was not wasted time” – John Lennon

My birthday nears in 27 days and once again I’m wondering about the person I should be. A parent? Married? Wealthy?  Bearded ? Age is in your attitude. The ‘older’ friends I’ve made on my trip, are proof and truth behind that statement. Even though there is a single grey hair above my left ear,  my armpits are still as smooth as the one liners I’ll be dropping on Tinder.

On a serious note, I really am looking forward to some of the conversations I’ll have and people I’ll see when I’m back. (If you read this and smile, congrats that’s you)

Of course, that’s if a whale doesn’t first swallow me. Seems like another one of those things that would happen – just to me.

No Ragrets

He’s High On Life (Yasmin)

Yasmin
We all know that person with that extra bit of buzz and bounce. “High on life” they call it.

Sometimes we’re that person. Maybe we just started a new diet, are going on a deeply desired second date, or in our naivety, accepted candy from a friendly stranger at a party. It’s all good. I’m sure he seemed cool enough.

Yasmin is one guy that is always cool, chill and cheerful.

I’ll admit I don’t know much about him, but I know what I can expect. Sometimes when we’re meeting new people, that’s enough to win us over. I can expect him to smile, laugh, and dance. Almost like he’s infected.

Character is contagious. But in a good way, because I definitely feel that little bit higher when I’m around him.

7 Months Tonga Update

 

Screen Shot 2014-08-13 at 10.57.22 PM

“A land where sure, people don’t care much for rubbish,
but just like coconut, if you fall..
you can always count on someone picking you up”

It wasn’t the most moving line, but it got some laughs. I wrote my full piece 30 minutes before the Pacific Verse spoken word event took place. I didn’t want the chance to go a drift with the many clouds that pass this little island daily (was that better?). Along with preforming my first live song, Tonga has presented me with a few opportunities to try new things – but it’s certain people who’ve really given me the encouragement and inspiration to do so.

Lee was one of them. She’s the fantastic and talented musician who organised this event. Making the journey from Hawaii, she came to open a new expressive outlet and program for the Tongan youth. Just like they do at other forms of art, they excelled. I was impressed  by the raw feelings and simple, yet moving, metaphors used. Most notably, the fact they were using a secondary language.

What I took away, was that we all start somewhere, and talent doesn’t negate truth. There is a deeper reason why we do what we do. To express – not just impress. I’m definitely going to keep sharpening my tall until it’s sharp enough to leave an ent (I’m either getting better or worse at this).  I’d also like to pay my respects to the late Robbin Williams with this quote from his character Mr Keating from Dead Poets Society

We don’t read and write poetry because it’s cute. We read and write poetry because we are members of the human race. And the human race is filled with passion…

 

His passing was truly tragic. It’s almost unfathomable how someone with a life that I’m sure many others adore, could succumb to the pressure to permanently leave it. I assume, that means, despite how ‘good’ things appeared from the outside, there was an inner world that was much worse.  No one wants to see a hero fall or a leader lose their way. But it’s a reminder of the common humanity and frailty that unities us – regardless of statuses held or lifestyles lived.

In my inner world, there’s been clouds of worry brewing. I’m nearing the end of my assignment, and the return to the life I left – which is what I came here to change – for the better. The task of job hunting is a narrow tightrope / ledge to walk. At times it definitely effects my ability to ‘just enjoy the view’ while I’m here.  Especially in comparison to volunteers who have their old jobs to return to.

An approaching birthday doesn’t help. I know from yours truly, I’ll get an another spot-the-difference mental image between ‘where I should be at this stage’ and ‘where I actually am’. Totally unwanted like a pair of two left-handed oven mitts knitted by grandma.

“I ain’t never found no place for me to fit. Seem like all I do is start over. It ain’t nothing to find no starting place in the world. You just start from where you find yourself.” – August Wilson

 

When I’m bothered, I just take a honest look at what I’m concerned about. Worst case, I return to Australia with no job and keep looking. I go back to living with my supportive parents and try to convince girls on Tinder about how cool that is, especially since the bedroom I grew up in is now painted pink. Or maybe I can share an oven mitt.

The truth is that there is no escape from uncertainty. I can just do what I can. Even if it’s organising a promotion with a telecommunications provider, but having them send out the incorrect message. Organising training workshops, but technology failing. People not returning phone calls or having no interest in your cause.

There is a strategy called working your circle of influence. Identifying what’s in your control   and making it the centre of your focus, worrying less about what’s outside of it. I bought ice-cream cones for a group of students and walked them to the bus-stop. I invited a teacher and his younger sister over for a movie night. Shouted the pizza for a friend who just left for a 3 month scholarship in Fiji. Rewrote parts of my book. Started going to the gym and eating healthier. Tried dance classes, martial arts, running group, playing touch, trivia. Amongst the clouds, these things are rays of light.

We’ll just have to see how the ‘wether’ goes. I try to avoid a centre of the world mentality by extending my sense of self and seeing how well it’s really going. I mean, I got friends and family doing great back home. Just an example. Today I hit 5 years officially single – but a friend who had a relationship end at the same time, just recently got engaged.  He organised to pose for charactertures, but he had the artist draw him proposing, which he did once the finished artwork was revealed. The story made me smile.  After I congratulated him, he shared this little gem

“Call me a hippy, but I honestly think you find someone when the world thinks you’re ready”

 

I’d like to think there is a time and place for everything else too. Please, do call me a hippy.

Well that’s that. This weekend brought a sport day at school and an anti bullying concert in town at night. Once again, I’m blown away by the energy and laughter Tongans bring to make ordinary events so much more of an occasion. All you need is music and colour and you’ve got yourself some fun. Apart from that, I’m locked away in my room again. My new housemate asked me what I’m up to. It’s a secret and I can’t tell you either. But I will on… 27/10/2014 

 

 

 

6 Months – Halfway Home

sink or swim

“It’s good to be home.”

I said it without much thought.

“….You just called Tonga home,”

proclaimed my friend with more enthusiasm than I could muster at the moment. Afterall, I had just stepped off an airplane, returning from holidays, and coming down in more ways than one…

We quickly moved on to discuss my two weeks in Fiji, but I suddenly found myself with the energy to entertain the topic in my thoughts.

I guess I had finally hit that point where I felt ‘that’ comfortable. Or maybe it was my recent experience away, that through the contrast, had made me appreciate and acknowledge the greenness of this island’s grass. This would be in the same way that living in Tonga has made me more aware of all the comforts and opportunities I had previously been living amongst… for basically my entire life.

This seems to be the best way to learn, which is kind of a shame, but I still take strides in counting my blessings and knowing what i’ve got, before it’s gone. Since I’ve been in Tonga, I’ve been listing 3 or more good things everyday. I call it the 3 dot formula. Try three. It helps. I can attest to that. But I’m sure there is a doctor saying the same thing about apples, and a dentist about flossing. But i’m hoping you can fit it in into your schedule.

The holiday was enjoyable for the most part. It could have gone better in some areas, i.e. getting sick, transport not showing up, the festival  I planed to attend being postponed, but I still enjoyed myself. Like Tonga, Fiji is also an island , but a much much larger one, so the sight of skyscrapers, mountain silhouettes and different cultures was a refreshing change of scenery. The taste of butter chicken and nan bread was like sex in my mouth, almost making up for the sex I’m not getting with the rest of my body. I saw many new faces, heard an interesting array of stories, and told mine on many occasions with pride (note to self – design business cards with my blog address.)

It was also my first ever experience travelling completely alone ( I came to Tonga with other volunteers). I can say that I enjoy the spontaneity and novelty of being forced to make new friends wherever you go. At times I can get nervous about approaches, but I learned it’s always worthwhile to take the chance at a conversation as you never know how much further it can go. In Nadi, three girls I spoke to turned out to actually be from Brisbane, and also friendly enough to invite me to various events and sights. In Pacific Harbour, through two people at my hostel, I got to attend a nearby house get together with a group of dive students from the USA who introduced me to the term of ‘YOFO’ – you only Fiji once. I took it to heart, heading out with them to a full moon party on a beach despite my antibiotic prescription and worsening sore throat.

Then there were the people I didn’t want to spend time with. But when you’re backpacking, you’re playing a lottery with the 8 kinds of people you’ll be sharing an undersized room with. I won’t complain about the smell, mess, noises, state of the bathroom, and just remind myself in general, to put equal consideration into the pros and cons of my decisions. At $20 a night, you get what you pay for.

Towards the end as I felt I had done my share of partying, pigging out, smoking and drinking, I came to understand that there are different types of travellers. You can share a destination, but be under the directions of different desires and intuitions. I can’t wait to travel again, but also make different choices about what I’m there to do.

From there I returned to Tonga to find the once noticeable presence of my housemates replaced by silence. The house was empty, but my mind was full. The realisation that I was half way through my assignment was setting in. That I wouldn’t get another chance at this, so regardless of the fear of uncertainty and failure, I have to give it everything. At that moment, I felt it. Lighter. Liberated.

I spent so long questioning if I had made the right choice by coming here and worrying if I will be able to handle it and have a worthy impact.  Then I finally accepted that I had already made the choice. Right or wrong, the decision’s made. We can carry an amazing amount of luggage in our heads. Weight you can only comprehend by dumping it.

Stress is resistance to what is. I’m here, so, so should my focus be –  you know, that present moment stuff. Thoughts about what I gave up to be here or alternative choices I could have made are the furtherest thing from productive. I’m better off spending my time trying to simultaneously chase the two chickens that live in my yard so I can milk them. Regarding the impact I have, well Kamal Ravikant sums it up when he speaks about effort in his book Live Your Truth ( great book, greater guy for returning my email)

“If there is one lesson I’ve learned from failure and success, it’s this. I am not the outcome. I am never the result. I am only the effort.”

So here I am, digging my teeth into things and enjoying the surprising taste of the successes I’ve been having.

I’ll move on to another quote, this time directed at me. It’s from a doctor I visited in Fiji,

“I’ve only just met you, but I can tell you’re missing a sparkle    in your eyes”

And that’s definitely true. Or was. The last six months were not exactly easy. Sure, I’ve survived so far, but rather, I want to leave here being proud that I thrived. Regardless of specific circumstances, there is an honest conversation we can have with ourselves. It’s about effort and the question of wether we can be and do more. If we don’t, then perhaps it just becomes a regrettable story that our eyes tell.

Sure, I’m physically on the flattest island in the South Pacific, but mentally I’m climbing mountains. Down here is my life, but somewhere up there is the peak of my potential – and I’m dying to see how the view looks.

Omitting the oxygen tank, for supplies, I’ve got a large whiteboard detailing the list of personal and professional objectives I want to hit, a bookmark for James Altucher’s blog,  a diet and exercise plan to regain the physical, and mental, strength i’ve lost, enough green tea to fuel 100 meditation sessions (thanks for the care package Sarah), the support of new and old friends, and overall, a renewed sense of passion. In fact, I’m hoping that in my upcoming visit, the dentist tells me that he can

smell the purpose in my breath.’ 

When we face challenges, our options aren’t just sink or swim. I’m done treading water here, and I’m ready to climb to new heights.

See you up there.

My Mate Mary

mary n me

Mary is someone’s mum, someone’s grandmother, but she’s my mate.

She taught me a lot of things  by generously sharing her wisdom and experience. Indirectly however, it  was that people come from many different walks and directions in life, but mutual and meaningful ground can be found in the circumstances of crossing paths. Here you can plant the seed for what can blossom into a fruitful relationship. That’s what we did.

Out of the group of mostly younger volunteers, admittedly, the ‘grandma’ of the group wouldn’t have been my first pick for a compatible friendship – but while I was showing naivety, she was showing an interest. An interest in getting to know me & how my experience as a fellow volunteer was coming along. Luckily, I knew already that you should never close the door on an open ear.

From there I had the pleasure of meeting Mary for regular catchups. She was never motherly in any way, and I felt as comfortable in her company as I would with any of my friends back home. We were just two different people going through the same thing. Both willing to share, both willing to listen. We didn’t have the solutions for the difficulties we each faced, but we had support in each other. Sometimes that’s all you need.

Occasionally, a reference would be made to something “X amount of years ago” that I couldn’t relate to, because, well, I wasn’t alive then. We’d laugh, and I’d pull my chair in to listen more closely.  A prime example, I left home in my early 20’s,  but as Mary did, there was a time when it was expected that youths would do the same in their early to mid teens. Having a family and house by the time they were my current age!

From leaving home at 15, she went on to enter the workforce, to then return to pursue further education, to then spend many years as  devoted teacher, eventually volunteering in Cambodia for a year. This is just a paragraph from an extensive story. A story about a woman who cares for those around her, but cares for herself – enough to live life on her terms. A story that has many more chapters to come…

As she boards her plane to head back to Australia, I’m grateful for the opportunity to have gotten to know Mary – my ‘more grown up’ mate. She is a testament to the fact that you are as only as young as you feel. The rocking chair ain’t rocking yet, so keep rocking Mary.