Where the heart is

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The heart is where home is. That’s why it hurt so much to leave.

As nice as it was to see everyone and everything that was familiar, I was reminded about how much I have, and will, miss as time goes on.

As the birthday boy and the one visiting town, I had much to share. But there is a downside to being on the move. When everything is new, nothing has the chance to grow old. There are some things that only get better with time. Some of them we eat, like wine and cheese; others we experience, like relationships.

I’ve relocated my life twice. On both occasions I believed it was in the best interest of my personal development.  I’ve become a better person, but I need to share that…  like cake batter – another thing that’s eaten.

A few friends expressed their interest in taking similar steps. I responded by reminding them how great it is where they already are.

Then, alone last night, it dawned on me. Perhaps all this fondness I feel in my heart has something to do with the distance I’ve travelled. In that case, the hurt is worth it. If you’re reading this, go.

Home is where the heart is. That means it’s a feeling, not a place.

 It’s a feeling of comfort, belonging, and most importantly contentment – not wanting to be anywhere else. When we fall out of love with the place where we are, we are no longer at home.

Adjusting is another thing that takes time. However, if it turns out I move back, there will definitely be no regrets about leaving. Leaving home just might be the only way find it… And in some cases, it means finding out you didn’t have to leave, but it’s for the best that you did.

 

T.I.A

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“This is ass,” he would often say.

Each time in reference to something different – usually an unpleasant situation or outcome. A classic was bad food tasting ‘like ass’. Even better was his facial expression: anger mixed with a slight, but undeniable, presence of amusement.

Eventually, I got it. Sometimes, shit just happens.

I even stopped wtifully questioning how he even knew what ass tastes like. Hang around someone enough, and soon enough, their strange becomes your standard.

He was my housemate. Then, as we became separated by the ocean, and now state lines, we’re back to being just mates… But we’re better mates than ever.

On a day like today – where I woke up late, made mistakes at work, forgot my gym clothes, managed to pee on my leg, got drenched walking to the bus stop, and can hear the sound of hail pelting my car outside – I unfortunately don’t have my mate here.

But I’ve still got that sense of humour he shared with me. Just enough of it to be able to smirk through my sadness and say myself, “this is so ass”.

Keep keeping on.

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.

 

 

 

 

What my ‘Chris-tea-mas’ Tree Means…

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The inside jokes we have with our friends are like seeds.

They start of small, but with enough attention, they can can grow into much more.

Almost 1 year ago now, when I was living with a few friends, a seed was planted. I had been throwing tea bags into our backyard under the assumption they would decompose. While mowing the lawn, my housemate would come across them — confused and under the assumption it was our neighbours’ doing. Then one day when he vented his frustration about our neighbours’ alleged littering, the truth came out — and an inside joke sprouted.

As you can see by the screenshots below, other friends also used their wit to water what we had growing. While overseas, it inspired me with an idea of how to give life to an otherwise barren tree. Not only that. I was keeping a joke, a special bond, alive.

Each morning as I would sit outside in the sun sipping my green, I would think about the people who bring a similar kind of warmth to my life. I’d hang up my used teabags and string them together the same way my relationship with them is strung together by a series of individual events and encounters. Despite the strange looks my new neighbours were giving me, I’d smile to myself.

The jokes we have might seem simple and frivolous; but with enough care, all together, they can make something really beautiful… at least in our own eyes.

 

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.

4 Months Update

4 months

EDIT – I was in a good mood writing this, then someone stole my shoes.

The month of May started with a visit to the Land Bridge. A popular scenic site which consists of a massive cliff face and essentially – a dead end. As the end of the island and country, it’s as far as you can go without changing your means of transportation. The appeal wasn’t just in the view, but in the view point it gave me. I was reminded that I’m just on this block of land in the ocean. Across the vast openness I stared into, were my friends and family on another block. Even further were other people I know in other locations around the world, all carrying on with their individual lives. Almost half the year is up, and life goes on.

Equally humbling was a camping trip at H`aatafu. A western beach on the island which gives a picture perfect view of the sunset, as well as of the night sky. Losing count of the shooting stars I saw, watching the fire dance with the wind, and hearing nothing but the waves slowing playing drums with the shore, I remember thinking to myself “this is what I came here”

Of course, I also have objectives regarding the development of my host organisation and the country. From my original notion of ‘saving the world’, I’ve become more realistic about the challenges and circumstances I’m working with, which has allowed me to see results unfold, not just envision them. An example being in the mentality and motivation of my counterpart.

As a volunteer, I’m understandably enthusiastic and egear to work, but she is just a person with a job, bills to pay, a child to feed, and other things on her mind. Realising this, I had a private discussion with her and stated that I’m aware I’m increasing her workload, but I want her to personally see the value of what I’m doing. The result was the development of a training / certificate system, clearly defining the addition skills and responsibilities she is learning, as well as providing her with a sense of accomplishment – and evidence to request a raise or promotion which I know she wants.

Having passed the period of ‘learning the ropes’, I felt confident to meet with various radio and tv media contacts, and even put forward a proposal to the ANZ and Westpac banks. Initially worried about the lack of work and direction from my supervisor, I’ve realised I have the opportunity to identify existing gaps and create new opportunities.It is what you make of it. I’m definitely seeing the value in my assignment career wise, and am looking forward to seeing what I can accomplish.

I will remember however, there are forces out of my control, and I very well may not be able to accomplish everything I set out to. I’ve had this conversation with some volunteers who face this grim realisation when they return to the country to find their plans and initiatives not being followed.

I’ve found comfort and confidence in the words of Gordon – a previous volunteer who advised that I just “wake up each day and ask yourself what you can give”. Be it by helping someone write a resume, helping teachers use proper english to write exams, or making ID cards for the students, I’m staying optimistic and open minded, remembering it’s not just your accomplishments that count, but you’re attitude.

Socially, things are always great. I had the chance to attend cultural / religious events, an abstract art exhibition, a youth dance / drama performance, drop some freestyle raps in public cypher, and learn that this small island does hide a lot of talented and passionate people. One of the people I did enjoy the company of, was a housemate who has now left.

It is strange how this program serves as a crossroads of sorts, a transitional period where you get to meet and know people from very different walks of life, before suddenly they are gone and most likely never to cross your path again. But I know that as technology keeps me in contact with those back home, it can do the same with anyone I meet here who returns to theirs.

Speaking of which, a thanks to those who have kept in contact, even if it is the odd message now and then. If that isn’t you, well thanks either way for reading this blog post. I’m writing these for more or less, my own benefit. It would be great to look back next year and see how much I have grown and learned.

Of course, it’s also for the benefit for anyone who finds themselves in the position I was in 1 year ago – needing a job, a break, a change of scenery, and undecided about the direction I want to take in my work. There is a road less travelled, and as a good mate said in a Skype call yesterday – I’ve taken it. I’m also just as uncertain and interested as anyone else to see where it leads… Stay tuned.

The Boy turns 1

 

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When I opened my blog 1 year ago, I adopted an anonymous identity and opened an expressive outlet. I wanted to figure out the puzzle life is, and with all the peaks and valleys, I wanted to know the destination of the journey it was becoming. I’d been writing in my own journals for a few years, and figured going online would give others the chance to chip into the conversation of one. Honestly speaking, In the back of my mind, I felt nobody would care too much about what a ‘nobody’ has to say.

I chuckled to myself as I wondered “let’s see how long this lasts”. Well, it has lasted. When I got my first comment and had my first conversation with a random girl from the UK, I started to think differently about the potential of this hobby that was originally just for my own benefit and enjoyment.

Oddly, she cared about the 40 simple things that I enjoyed. Another person from Melbourne took a keen interest in the 13 lessons 2013 taught me, sharing her own experiences. In between, I’ve had many other comments, emails and private messages from other people from around the world. Most notable is a friend from Hawaii, who shares my middle name, and took an interest in my life because I remind him of a younger version of himself. If you’re worried I’m talking to weirdos of the internet, well I’ve even met someone very like minded in Brisbane before I took of for Tonga and he went his way to Cambodia.

Once I hit 100 posts, I had the idea of taking my favourite 5 and putting them into an ‘ebook’.  But I had come so far, I felt I had keep going in that direction. I had an idea come to me, and I felt I could do better than just writing a typical book. With a lot of hard work, my ebook Living in Cream was completed in April 1st this year. I felt so proud of myself, that the responses to come wouldn’t matter. But once again, its been great to hear from people I know, and many I don’t. In as many ways technology can push people apart, it can bring us together.

I was initially worried about running out of content, but it’s when I run out of days, that I’ll run out of pages. Writing has truly changed my life, and allowed me to help others in the same way, in turn, adding more value to my life.

I’m far from ‘viral’ or making any sort of living of this. Many may wonder why I bother (..maybe the same kind of people that spend their time sharing memes). I’ve often wondered that, but every now and then I get reminded why. Beyond website visitors and Facebook likes, there is something real that you can’t quantify, but you know it when you feel it.  Writing has helped me to find it. I encourage you to do whatever it is that helps you do the same.

We don’t become somebody. We are somebody. We all have a story, and you’ll be surprised who listens when you find the courage to share yours. We’re all in this journey together, and you’ll be surprised at who is heading in your direction. Regardless if you ‘make it’ to the destination, you’ll be glad to have those people by your side.

It’s not the destination, it’s not just the journey, it’s the company.

I’m just getting started, but thank you for the support.

websitehttp://www.boyunderthebridge.com

ebook – http://eepurl.com/RxP5f

3 Months Update

DSC00532Three months

In addition to my first feelings of home sickness, my third month away saw the inventible decline in the novelty of my experience. Situations such as when I found myself far from home at midnight with a flat tyre, or bed ridden and immobile for three days due to a virus, certainly didn’t slow things down. But it was once this novelty had started the wear off, that I got to see things for what they really are. Not what Google Images and the tourist brochures showed.

Doing something like this, sure, there are inconveniences and challenges, but there are also people willing to help every step of the way. Having my boss call to check on me every morning, another volunteer cooking me dinner and others always offering a hand, the concern shown was genuinely touching. My Host Organisation / co-workers made me realise that my assignment objectives are secondary to my wellbeing, and I should hold nothing in greater importance of theirs.

In my other twenty seven days of better health, there were some great times. Including the incident which led to my illness. It started with an early dawn Anzac Service followed by breakfast at the NZ High Commission residence. Then to celebrate the birthday of one of the Tongan teachers I work with, the night was spent camping on an isolated beach, by a fire and under the stars.

The scenery was beautiful, but my personal highlight was joining another volunteer on a walk to check out the surrounding areas, only to take a seat in the sand and have a conversation that saw five hours pass seamlessly. The others were relieved that we had not gone missing, I was relieved that even miles away from home, there were still people I could really relate to.  It’s just a matter of being open and welcoming. Since then I’ve met more Tongans ( including a group that rap and sing)  and even volunteers from other countries such as American Peace Core Unit.

Through technology, I also got the chance to talk to those I am miles away from. Two separate videos calls made a difference to this month that is pretty hard to capture with words. But I’ll say that the contrast of having people in your life and then suddenly removed, makes you realise a lot of things you otherwise would not notice. It’s true, every experience exists through contrast. There is also that saying about only knowing what you got when it’s gone, so I can’t help but sometimes  wonder about the kind of difference that people notice since I’ve been gone.

Either way, life goes on. One mate heads overseas to Europe for 5 weeks today, another moved into a new place, another is busy studying. Had things gone to my original plan, I would have gone on a contiki tour of the USA instead. Spending and consuming, rather than volunteering and giving here in Tonga. As upsetting as it was to cancel my trip, I was hoping I would one day get the chance to say this – “I’m glad it didn’t work out” I can also say that while I was originally hoping to land an assignment in a more prestegious or larger country, “I’m glad I’m here” 

Spending the hours that I do by the waves and the water, you learn things. Not just from my books – such as,  sometimes you just got to go with it. This applies to the times I find myself trying to decide on my next move, will I head to Asia for another assignment, will I return home to work, another state, or will I look to further my education and return to study. Just going with it for now.

 

2 months

 

2 Months Title

Its been 2 months since I’ve had a can of tuna. Perhaps the triviality of this detail is worth reconsideration after I assert that had I still been at home, I would have consumed no less than 120 tins over the same period. With hopefully less ‘ass’,  I can assure everyone, the dolphins and sea cucumbers aren’t the only ones benefiting from my departure.

I’ve changed. Growing up? Well, I’ve just let pictures of myself half clothed and covered in ice cream, loose on the internet. I’m not expecting to go Kim Kardasian viral, but rather like her chances of being elected the president of the National Girls Scouts Association, I just know I’m not getting them back (that’s  a lot of ass in that sentence).

As evident from the completion of the book that is accompanying the mentioned photos, I’ll just say that I’m definitely ‘growing’. Behind my piece of work that possibly makes no sense, is a newly polished set of skills and abilities that turned a concept into reality. The saying that, “It’s not what you get from reaching your goals, it’s what you become”, suddenly has application in my life. Regardless if it leads where I want it to, I already have reasons to be proud of my accomplishment.

I also got to better understand the concept of the creative process. Artists and authors alike, have described it to be an almost out of body, possessive, and even spiritual process. It may have been the fact that I was forgetting to eat, and refusing myself the right to sleep or take breaks, but while typing through the night, I often felt a slight sense of detachment, as if a witness to what was unfolding. It could have just been sleep deprivation, but at least the mosquitoes joyfully draining my blood can vouch I was definitely to some degree, ‘somewhere else’.

Now, proving that I did in fact leave my room, are some other updates on my experience.

My tropical island fantasy has encountered an altercation with the reality of the ‘rain season’. Add in the noisy neighbours, church bells, roosters, dogs, and the mosquitoes, and it’s easy to make an island out of a molehill. My rescue was a revised mindset, courtesy of the advice that, ” not everything happens to you, somethings just happen”. Definitely true.

Regardless where you go in the world, its remarkably easy to get stuck in the mindset that you are still the centre of it, forgetting it doesn’t revolve around you, it revolves even without you. Sometimes you just gota dealwithit.jpg, through being both proactive, patient and practical as the situation requires.

The piece of foam blocking the gap under my door, labeled in felt pen, “Anti-Cockroach Defence System” isn’t my only accomplishment.  Challenges in lifestyle, culture, and also work, have equally facilitated my development of these characteristics.

Having been introduced to my workplace, colleagues, residence, and social circle, my goal for this month was to fit in and form a routine. Now spraying myself with a combination of insect repellent and deodorant, reading at  wharf, playing jenga with students at lunch, and cake and ice cream catch ups at Lynda’s Cafe on the weekend, are all part of a normal week.

I’m mostly happy I’ve got to integrate with the community more. I’ve joined a youth group, dance group, and even hang out with a group of artists who spend their nights drawing and listening to heavy metal in their clubhouse. They’ve given me the nickname of “Groupie” which is what my last name translates to in Tongan. Given that other volunteers ended up with “Naked” and “Mentally Stupid”,  I’m rather grateful.

Through my integration into the community, the culture shock I originally experienced has started to subside. In addition to the natural process of habituation, as the influence of the west becomes more apparent,  i’m starting to feel more at home. However, with these western ideals and ambitions, the country’s youth are clearly at a crossroads with the directions that the older and more traditional generations are providing.  My conversations with other volunteers who have traveled indicate that it’s a common situation all around the world.

Despite the size and location of their island, far from isolated, Tongans definitely have a keen interest in these situations and the rest of the world. There are even more Tongans living outside of the country than in it! This statistic is open to interpretation, but i’ve arrived at the belief that ‘it is what it is’. I’m also proud to be working in the education sector, helping more people in the country have access to these opportunities. Due to difficulties in finding work in Australia, I sought opportunities outside my home country, so I’m nothing but understanding of anyone who shares a similar mentality.

Speaking of shared mentalities, under the obvious differences in religious beliefs, family dynamics, and social structures, I’ve discovered that as humans, everyone just wants to fit in, be a part of something bigger than themselves, and give and receive love. Sounds simple, but it’s  certainly more complicated where I’m from. Perhaps a conversation for another time.

As for now, I’m off to bed. I’d like to also say thanks for reading. Another discovery I’ve made, is that no matter where you go and who you meet, you can’t replace where you’re from and who you know.

But just saying, if you don’t read my book, you’ll be replaced — > http://eepurl.com/RxP5f

Goodnight