Growing Gratitude

Book Credit - Blossom by Janine Brown

Book Credit – Blossom by Janine Brown

Lately I’ve been reading this discussion thread about daily gratitude.

It’s on a bodybuilding forum; so amongst the hardened personalities and the expected levels of discontent that inspires an individual to strive for more, it’s like a flower blossoming through cracked cement.

Despite watching the thread grow, its only been in the last few days that I’ve started to sprinkle my own thoughts; and it was only today that I realised why.

The ‘best’ things in life are the things we overlook while we’re looking for ‘better’

I got distracted by desire; fixated on fantasy; sold on a solution. I fell into the trap of living for duty and forgetting the beauty. Sure, I’ve got problems and  areas in my life that need improving; but for every battle lost, there is a blessing won. The purpose of expressing gratitude is to take the moment to allow ourselves to acknowledge and appreciate these blessings, thus truly experiencing them.

It sounds simple; but comparison is corrosive, and it’s eating away at our experiences.  This is what I referred to as being ‘sold on a solution’: the idea that happiness has to be hunted, as it lies hidden further ahead in the oasis of an ideal opportunity.

Just fill in this blank: I’ll be happy when……… You’ll realise that you said it before and you’re saying it again.

2,500 years ago, Buddha stated that our desires can be endless. In this day and age, we need a new word with more depth. I don’t want to blame social media, consumerism, or reality tv; I just want to be a happier person. I also don’t want to discount the value that desire and ambition has.

The solution?

Realise that as we are the authors of our lives, we are also the gardeners of our thoughts. It’s up to us to prune our pessimism and create conditions where our better feelings can flourish. Buddha also discussed the truth of impermanence: the opportunity to experience happiness is withering away as we do. So why delay? The willingness to wait is as pervasive as weeds.

It makes sense to me, but don’t be sold so easily. Practice this daily habit of harvesting happiness and maybe you’ll also find gratefulness in the few grains you’ve got.

Eye Wonder What’s Next?

Free Image Credit: http://wallpaperswa.com

Free Image Credit: http://wallpaperswa.com

Today I had the chance to represent the volunteer organisation that sent me to Tonga. I was one of the two people manning their booth at a university careers fair.

Over the course of 4 hours, I was approached by a large number of students who had an even larger number of questions. Considering I’m still adjusting after my return, it was so strange to now be the one answering questions. The one who has taken the leap into the unknown and survived. And truth be told, even though I did, I’m still the same one who can’t see himself doing something so drastic.

However, what I definitely did see today, was this look. This certain sparkle in the eyes of those I spoke too. A mix of vacancy and attentiveness. It wasn’t just a response to any of my stories; it was them getting lost in their own. Lost in a place they knew of, but hadn’t really thought of until this moment – like the dark side of the moon. Lost in the pages of a book – of which its contents are completely unknown. It was the look of being lost in wonder.

I can only imagine I had the same expression the day I discovered the program. But after today, I know what I have to do: get lost. I need to find something that makes me wonder once again. That which will excite me and give me the energy to leap into something that -while not as drastic – is at least different to where I’m currently heading.

The cliché advice is to look into one’s heart; but I’ll add, check your eyes too.

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).

Heart Shaped Rocks

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I’m surrounded, but the one I want seems so hard to find.

Yet I keep looking, amongst the wrong, the close, and the not quite.

Because I’m after perfect, the one worth my time.

Not that I’m picky or a perfectionist…

I just seek to thank you for the moments you were gone…

It was these moments that kept me alive.

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.

A Letter from Luke

Note from Luke

Meeting Luke was a reminder about how even the most straight forward of roads have their forks. As we have choices, which are also – not as straight forward.

After placing my fork and knife down, I planned to just go home after dinner. As I was walking back, I decided to deliberately pass closer by to a group of guys seated by the beach. Maybe I just wanted a proper conversation. Another chance after the dinner I had just sat awkwardly through.

A timid and tentative “What’s up guys” was replied with a confident “Yo Boy.”

That’s how easy it is for a fork to appear.

It turns out I knew just one of the guys, and it wasn’t long before I knew them all pretty well. Well, at least it feels intimate when you’re stumbling home drunk and sharing a cigarette.

I did think about the important Teacher’s March I had to participate in the next day – but I also thought about the other things on my mind.  Specifics aside, there was regret, worry, fear, and doubt. The typical shit. I thought a drink or two would help ease me up.

And that’s how easy it is to take the wrong turn.

The rest is a blur. I remember offering my couch to Luke, who I had just met that night. I can’t remember what we spoke about exactly, but I’m sure it was the kind of conversation I wanted to have because I do remember singing this

“I never conquered, rarely came
16 just held such better days
Days when I still felt alive
We couldn’t wait to get outside
The world was wide, too late to try
The tour was over we’d survived
I couldn’t wait till I got home
To pass the time in my room alone”

(Adam’s Song -Blink 182)

Before we could make it through the whole song, my head went from banging to hanging – over the toilet. I threw up – several times, before passing out. In the morning Luke was gone but this note was left in my journal.

He had gone his separate way, and I was left to decide which way I was going to go. What choice I was going to make: to suck it up and go to the March, or to stay home. However, it was obvious I had already made my decision last night. I was in absolutely no condition to go anywhere, let alone, move much. I missed the March. I fucked up. In more ways than one, I really felt like shit.

Despite the hangover, I experienced a sense of clarity regarding the next choice I had to make. Since I valued honest conversations, it was time I had one with my supervisor. Someone I knew well. Someone I had also lied to; stating food poison as the reason I was sick.

The irony is, I’m not only back on the right track, I’m further along it. The conversation gave me a chance to be honest about a lot of things. It really improved our relationship.

Of course, my decision to get drunk could have easily been followed by a worse one to lie about it – but it wasn’t. Of course, I could have also gone to the march and still had that conversation I needed to have – but – I didn’t.

Life is never that straight forward.

Perhaps that’s the blessing in the way we encounter and make choices. At least I learned, in this occasion, sometimes the only way we can make that right turn is by making, what appears to be, a wrong one first.

5 Months Update

Photo on 1-07-14 at 12.01 AM

The children of Tonga are learning that Santa Clause may in fact be a Fijian Indian looking guy who sounds like Steve Irwin, and on a bike too suave to be bought locally, he randomly pulls up at street corner stores and buys all the kids in line a chocolate bar. He then rides off without saying no more than a grin.

The man of mystery is of course me. What I’ve described is all part of my discovery of how much further money can go in other countries. Not through the weakness of their currency, but through the strength of my generosity.

A another deed was when a student who works at the school restaurant had her husband attending a dinner to celebrate his birthday. I had already agreed to pay for the cake she was planning to surprise him with. Unfortunately, at the dinner they hadn’t prepared the icing. She was devastated, but I took a photo of them, and surprised her with a framed family photo the next day. When I arrived 5 months ago, lost in town, she gave me directions and paid my bus fair, so I was determined to return the kindness.

The whole ordeal cost no more than $15 Australian Dollars, lunch back home, but here it led to a feeling more fulfilling than a full stomach. Of course buying someone lunch back home would still be kind, but along side the volunteering I was doing here and there, previously without a job, that would be the limit of my capabilities. It’s great to be in a position here where it’s so easy to go above and beyond for others. Even with out the beard and belly, the joy I can bring makes me feel a bit santa-ish.

Other involvements in the community include spending Saturday mornings reading and playing with the local children at Kids Klub. It reminds me of the Wonder Factory at the Childrens’ Hospital in Australia, but with the exception of the Playsations, Xbox’s , Wiis, and hundreds of board games and toys. That doesn’t mean the kids in Tonga don’t laugh just a loud or smile as sincerely. I’m really enjoying it, though it’s a challenge explaining how I’m Australian… but don’t look like the others.

Through my involvement in the ICON youth group, I got to participate in a charity day, venturing to some eye opening areas of the country. Regardless of the surroundings, and the fact I was in a traditional Tongan outfit, I still took the chance to break out into a dance when Justin Bieber – Baby came blaring out of one of the teenager’s phones. It seems we all can fit music and dance into our lives. This was another of the many experiences I’ve had here that convince me it’s a language of its own. Commonly understood, and uniting people regardless of their origins or differences.

I wrote more about that specific experience here. Meanwhile, this month allowed me the chance to personally get closer to ICON’s members. I learned about the difference that the group had made in their lives. Giving them a creative outlet and steering them off the path of alcohol and drugs, which is unfortunately so accessible and temping when unemployment is common, and opportunities sparse. To a degree I could definitely relate, dancing and music didn’t save me from anything, but certainly gave me a lot more to look forward too.

In the context of work and my actual volunteer assignment, there has also been revelations. I created a new revenue stream and learning experience at my school, successfully organising a student-run tour for the guests of a visiting P&O cruise ship. There was also a promising phone call from a CEO, and the start of a relationship with a Marketing Manager whose working experiencing spans the same amount of years that I’ve been alive.

However, things weren’t always so pleasant. I’ve made the mistake in the past of not voicing my concerns to my employers, but with the sacrifices and investments I’ve made, I found it crucial to speak up when I felt my assignment wasn’t progressing as successfully as it could. It wasn’t easy, but the outcome as worth it. Adjustments have been made, and feeling more supported, I’m really excited about what I can accomplish during the final half of my assignment.

I plan to aim high, but the expectations I put on myself, and the attachments I form to specific outcomes,  have unfortunately been at times, a burden, my downfall, and a source of unneeded stress. The stress is a slippery slope, and before long, I’m nervously anticipating where I’ll end up after this, and questioning if I was even correct in my decision to come here. Once I’ve slid all the way to the bottom, I’m almost certain of my failure based on a past that I’m not always proud of.

Helping me climb my way back to the top were the authors Kamal Ravikant – Love Yourself Like Your Life Depends On It and Brene Brown – Gifts Of Imperfection with  quotes like these and  plenty of more practical advice in their respective books..

 “The key, at least for me, has been to let go. Let go of the ego, let go of attachments, leg go of who I think I should be, who others think I should be. And as I do that, the real me emerges, far far better than the Kamal I projected to the world. There is a strength in this vulnerability that cannot be described, only experience.” – Kamal Ravikant

“Faith is a place of mystery where we find the courage to believe in what we cannot see and the strength to let go of our fear of uncertainty” – Brene Brown

 

After the books are closed, if I’m still not close enough to where I want to be, I can always count on the outreached hands of my friends. They digitally cross the distance between us through phone calls, Skype video calls, emails and the occasional Facebook comments. Of course I’ve also been lucky to meet some great people during my time here. Overall, the acquisition of new friends and the separation from existing ones has shown me how crucial the right kind of company and support is. No matter where you are in the world.

That’s pretty much it for me. Between chilling by the water, playing ultimate frisbee, getting chased by dogs, writing the best wedding speech ever, and planning my holiday to Fiji, I’m getting excited to start my next special project since finishing my ebook. This one definitely won’t come as quickly or easy, as its already been a goal for almost 3 years now. Frustrated and close to giving up on it already, a quote by Layne Norton in his video blog on Happiness and Accomplishments, got me to reconsider, so stay tuned.

“What does quitting do for you? You have a goal but you say it’s too hard or it’s taking too long, so you decide to quit. Do you suddenly magically not want that thing anymore? Of course not” – Layne Norton

For the Boy Under the Bridge, I’ve personally received praise from an author I look up to, had another author post a photo of my book on Facebook to an audience of over 100K, I painted and branded a bin that will be placed in a popular waterfront area, I’ve had more people connect with me on forums, and I’ve even had a skype call with my first ever proper fan from across the other side of the world! She’s quite a number, but I heard staying single is better for sales. I’m also working on a new type of content, so once again, stayed tuned.

At 11.55pm there is 5 minutes until June 2014 is over. I’m sitting in a backyard club house creatively constructed out of an array of materials. It’s holding around 20 Tongan guys, some drinking a traditional drink called Kava, the rest playing the not so traditional game of Jenga which I brought over from Australia. With a laptop full of music, Im also acting as the DJ while I’m typing away. Someone requests Audio Slave, I put on “Like a Stone” and together we all start to sing…

In your house I long to be;
Room by room patiently,
I’ll wait for you there like a stone.
I’ll wait for you there alone.

 

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 difference between the sunset & a screen..

 

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This photo was taken down at the wharf where I spend most of my afternoons. If not because of the children playing (without an iPad to be seen) it’s because of the sunset.

It dawned on me one day, that over four months, I had lost track of the amount of sunsets I had seen watched, but experience felt just as enriching as the first ‘episode’

The proportion that the colours blend, the shape the clouds take, and the directions the sun’s rays go, will always be unique, and I know I’ll never see a repeat.

Identity

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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