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.

Sunset. Someone. Someday

 

Something Sunset

Sunset. Someone. Someday 

It’s hard to leave that someone.
It’s harder to say goodnight.
The something about the sunset,
is the same thing in their eyes.

Promise.

There is a promise of another date,
but never guarantee of another day.
The same direction to take but in a different way.
A choice to be better or refusal to stay the same,
the only promise we can make is that at least one novelty will stay.

Potential.

Weeping clouds and different shades of blue,
colours blend the same way as the truth.
Well spent or hardly used,
today never parts with a clue
of how tonight will be coloured without you.

 

Identity

DSC00624

 

Having a sense of identity.

These are a group of youths that know it means more than having a social media profile. Through an 8 week program founded on religion, creativity and expression, they learned to recognise their their worth, values, and direction in life.

In a culture where obedience and social hierarchies are heavily engrained, what may be considered common thought in the west, is a change facing several challenges in Tonga. Luckily, the leaders of the ICON Youth Group have the commitment and courage to take them on.

I had the chance to observe these weekly workshops take place. Being older, I was also able to share some of my own experiences, but I definitely learned more than I could contribute.

I learned that no matter where you grow up in the world,  a big city, or small country, being young is still a strenuous journey marked with many cross roads. Right turns and wrong decisions are everywhere, which is why it’s important that youth programs and other initiatives are just as widely available, and recognised for the directions they provide.

The workshops all led into a final exhibition that I also had the privilege to attend. This was the chance for the youths to preform individually and as a group, addressing the question of ‘Who Am I”.

Individually they where from different backgrounds and had different interests, but what brought them together was their desire to express themselves in a positive way. Through outlets ranging from dance, fashion, singing, rap, music, art, to drama, they provided their answers and were well applauded.

In response, the crowd was reminded that the exhibition wasn’t just for entertainment, it was to deliver a message.

What I’m taking away is the importance of pursuing positive things you’re passionate about, if not for where they will take you, then for how they make you feel. It can mean the difference between a right turn and wrong decision, something that we never get too old to make.

So here I am writing and sharing my experiences, thoughts and ambitions, because regardless if it gets read, it’s who I am.

Malo

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.

 

The First Month

DSC00231

The threat of a passing cyclone proves that it’s not always a topical paradise, but one month has passed here in Tonga.

It’s gone quick, but it hasn’t gone easy, so I applaud myself for adjusting. As the truth is, within a few days I was questioning what I was doing here . I quickly found my answers in earlier blog and journal entires. Three months ago I had  written,

” I want to let go of my comforts and all that defines me. Journey to the other side of the mountain, to in the darkness, see my home under the light that reveals all its really worth”

Since being here I’ve found even more answers. It’s an unfortunate reality but parts of the world don’t have anywhere near the same opportunities and resources Australia has. They need as much help as they can get, and that’s what I’m here to do.  Applying for the program, I was aware of the need, but it was only upon arriving, did a sentence to read on my job description become a reality to experience.

Starting work increased the intensity of the experience. It’s difficult to believe that in this day and age, a college is just only getting connected to the Internet and still relying on blackboards and chalk. It was difficult at first, until I changed my focus from what needs to be done, to what I could do. In my workplace and beyond in the community, I had to come to terms with the fact I am just one person. Sure, full of high hopes having signed up to the program and wanting to change the world, but I’m still only one person.

I started to understand the concepts of capacity building and sustainable development, and how the actions of individuals collectively make an impact overtime. I’ve met many other volunteers from other countries and learned that the desire to make the world a better place is universally understood without translation.

As much as I’m here to give, I’m realising how much there is to also personally gain. At first I felt a sense of pity for all the ‘things’  they didn’t have here. Then I realised I’m surround by music, community, culture, connection, family, nature, love and laughter. Sure, they move at a slower pace, but it gives them more time to smile which seems to be something that back home, people can’t find the time to do. Even with my ‘things’, I don’t smile as much as I should, so maybe I’m the one that should be pitied.

It’s true I miss certain people and activities, but you only know what you got when its gone. Or in my case, temporarily gone. So I’m glad I’m getting this perspective and insight at an early age so upon returning, I’ll be able to hopefully live life as a more grateful person. I see how the life we live is in a certain paradox. The more we develop, the more we demand. But that’s a post for another time.

There is no bridge,I spend time by the wharf and water. In the afternoon I’m surrounded by children, teenagers and the sound of laughter with no iPads in sight.  I question what happiness really is and gaze off into the endless stretching ocean, occasionally thinking about the people it’s separating me from, and if I’ll return the same person. At night I stare at the sky, introducing myself to stars I have never seen before. In just one month, being here has already shown me there is so much more to see in the night sky, and even more in life.

Sail Away

I set sail to see you again

asking you to stay while I left.

I bartered being close and oblivious

to feel far and missed.

Ungratefulness fuels the ambitious

who never slow in sought of the their prize.

If they slow their decision

they would know they have already arrived.

Welcome Home

house

Home

Home. Four simple letters and perhaps for the purpose that it’s a word so essential to our earliest and deepest expressions. Any disgruntled child can often be heard screaming that they want to go there.

As we get older we may find ourselves doing the screaming as we detest the very same place. But once the storm of unbalanced hormones and teenage angst settles, as adults we hopefully look at home in a favourable light. Associating it with positive memories, love, comfort and safety.

Eventually we realise that the same wind that blew through the backyard where we played, can take us anywhere in the world.

We fly the nest.

This is when the word we learned at such an early age gets redefined. This happens at different times, some spread their swings much sooner than others.

Since taking flight, I’ve landed in three different locations, enjoying the comfort and company of those heading in the same direction. Never too far from my first home however, I never had a problem settling in.

Then came my latest and furtherest journey, which once again redefined the word I thought I knew. I’m overseas on an volunteer assignment in a developing country which means a very different environment .

As I first struggled to settle in while in temporary accommodation, things turned around once I found a room to call my own, with similar people, and the chance to do the things , that while simple and a few, are the foundation of an enjoyable day. Writing, meditation, dancing, listening to music, exercise, endless joking etc.

So home isn’t the place you grew up. Home isn’t the place you’re currently located or where your stuff is. Home is where ever and when ever it is that you feel at the most, yourself.

Into The Wild

waves

Into the wild. Against the stream. The road less taken. No matter what I refer to my decision to venture overseas as, it can’t be made any less mind opening, challenging and life changing.

I recall the times I sat in my office looking outside at the sun. Feeling the agitation in my restlessness. Wishing my day allowed more time for nature.

I recall the times I would feel under appreciated for how hard I was trying. Early mornings, late nights, the contribution of ideas were often unnoticed.

I recall the times that what I did accomplish at my job, wasn’t anything I felt proud to tell others about. From early childhood I had a fascination with heroes. As I grew older I learned you don’t need a cape or physical strength to make that difference.

I recall the times I consoled myself by remembering that there are others worse off than me. This made me feel obligated to do something where I could, and when I did, I enjoyed it. From working with youth organisations and at a hospital.

I recall the times, even with the things I had, my life had felt like it was taking place in a snow globe, without the snow.

Growing up in the same area for my whole life, although a place of enormous privilege in contrast to where I am now, in ways, such as through the lack of variety, it was becoming a prison.

Largely inspired by buddhism, I always appreciated Buddha’s decisions to live a life void the pleasures he once knew and took for granted. Having both parents come from less developed countries, as much as I was told that I have a good life, I never understood life being any different given I was born into a country privilege such as Australia.

Similarly inspiring was  Christopher Mc Candles and the movie/book Into  The Wild which details his decision to escape modern / routine life and live amongst nature.

I don’t claim to be saint, I love the indulge, but I also have an interest in personal and spiritual development. For this reason I could relate to the decision made by both Mc Candles and Buddha and often fantasised about ‘escaping’.

It may just be part of the human condition, but even with a daily practice which involved expressing gratitude through my writing, I still felt like I was sleep walking at times. Going through life on auto pilot, missing the beauty in the everyday and everything.

With the diverse and ‘out there’ personality I had, my working life was also rather bland in comparision.  Being unemployed, running out of funds, I was also running out of options. The burden on my shoulder to be ‘successful’ was gaining weight and I was losing sleep. It was a rough period of my life.

On my last birthday in October , almost handed by fate, I was given the opportunity to take a role in Tonga through a Government funded program.  There certainly was a debate wether to accept the position, but quoting the last words I said to my mother before leaving, I knew in more ways than one, “this will be good for me”.

I was familiar with the saying “there is no growth in your comfort zone, and no comfort in your growth zone”.

So here I am, uncomfortable. Very. The mattress is sinking as I sleep, the showers provide no more than single drops of water at a time. The food is heavily starch based, processed and fried. Making the 50% obesity rate expected, but still extremely saddening to see.The sun burns and the insects bite. Time seems to be moving at a frustratingly slow pace, and the condition of standard infrastructure and facilities is a reminder of what a developing country is.

But in contrast to someone who has known these conditions all their life as home and feels rather happy in them. I’m already feeling the change.

I’m already gaining an appreciation of what I do have back home. What and who is the most important to me.  I also feel without my environment, I’ll find out which aspects of my character and personality are internally based rather than dependent of where I am, what I have, or who I am with.

I feel my mind opening to accept other cultures and ways of life. The youth I know back home have iPads and Facebook accounts. Here I’ve met kids who are happy spending their leisure time doing flips off jetties. Families don’t work overtime, they spend time how they wish, because that’s how life is. Having grown up in a large city, I don’t think I’ll ever lose my ‘rat race’ and growth orientated mentality, but I hope to loosen up and remodel my concept of ‘happiness’.

Lastly, I sought to put my name onto something I could not only be proud of, but that would open career opportunities for me based around positive contributions and social / developmental change.

This blog has allowed me to take that responsibility on in my personal life, but work wise, there is an educational organisation here that has asked for someone with my skill-set, so I will do my best to improve their capacity and contribute.

The pacific islands are known as holiday locations, and i’ll certainly get the escape from my familiar town and regular routine.  However, beyond the blue sky and beach, lies a series of challenges. Making new friends, new hobbies, new foods, learning a new language, new customs, basically living a new life without the support of friends and family which I honestly feel I’ve leant on too much at times.

The strength of a species is found in its ability to adapt so that is what I’ll have to do, and find out how strong I am in the process.

A Decision Made by Me

decision

A decision may be a case of yes or no. A decision may be a case of where to live, who to date, where to work, what to eat, when to quit. The list is endless.

Faced with making a tough call, seeking advice is way to gain clarity, and often our first resort when we feel like we are getting further lost in our own thoughts. However, who to consult, is an important decision in itself.

I’ve been given a rare opportunity to take what I believe is the biggest risk of my twenty six years breathing. A chance to live and work overseas in a developing country, for a good cause, but unpaid beyond the coverage of all my expenses. Most of the people I have consulted have mind up their mind right there at ‘unpaid’.

One of my favourite quotes from Oscar Wilde speaks about people knowing the price of everything and the value of nothing. That’s exactly how I felt in my conversations with my family and some of my friends.  When asking someone to help you make a decision, you have to ask yourself if they are simply going to be making the same decision for themselves. Or do they know you well enough to help make it for you.

For those who know me, they know the last few years of my working life have been an ongoing battle with a feeling of emptiness and running a daily treadmill. A lack of respect and no clear directions or sight of a horizon.  They would know the stain of certain memories can be around all around this city I’ve always known as home. They would know the last four months unemployed have left me doubting my worth at times but also fueled me desire to have my life/ career, accomplish something.

They may not know that I’ve always been afraid of what I don’t know. Past events have slowly eroded my self-esteem where a change in the wind’s direction has sent me on a path of self-discovery that has made my identity , values and desires more clear to me than ever before.

These are the things I see over the horizon overseas, along with the person I want to be, and I know I will come back as. A change that those who  really do know me, will notice.

Make sure others are not making your decisions for themselves.