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).

It’s going to be all ripe

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The post that started this blog had something to do with a banana.

I was sitting on a park bench during my lunch break, sunny as it’s ever been, yet as grey as I’ve ever felt. Tears rolled off my cheeks as I stared into emptiness, weighed down by a sense of hopelessness. Dramatic or truthful, the feeling was real – real enough for me to seek professional help for the first time.

I did a few sessions with a psychologist which consisted of breathing and visualisation exercises. What scared me the most was the future and the uncertainty surrounding it – but for some reason I clearly saw myself overseas working with a group of youths. Somehow, I was right. I was offered a one-year position at an educational institute in Tonga a few months later. While it was a wonderful and unexpected opportunity and experience, it eventually passed.

1.5 years later, I’m again in the same boat, on the same bench.. scared, doubting myself, comparing myself to others or how ‘it should be’: all the same shit.

But this time I have a sense of optimism that I didn’t have before. I know such sharp variations in feelings and experiences are as commonly experienced as the heat of summer and the chills of winter. Like a loose leaf, this realisation that “I’m not the only one” fell upon me while sitting in the waiting room before my first psychologist appointment in 2013. The fact was always there, I just hadn’t noticed.

This time, I also have a sense of confidence in myself and in the world that I didn’t have before. I’ve made it through many tough times and I will do so again. My recent travels have allowed me to see more of the world and understand how vast life and its possibilities can be.

Looking back, I understand how tunnel vision can be exceptionally dangerous – especially when we think of any light at the end as an oncoming train. A correction of our own train of thought can allow us to rather see it as an opportunity – and to notice all the wonderful things we’re passing on a second-to-second basis. These things are unfortunately often hidden behind walls that we’ve built or had built around us – but thankfully, they’re also walls that can break, and there are a range of tools to help us do the job.

I guess the whole point of this post is just share one simple thing that I’ve learned since I first accepted something wasn’t right:

We’re all in our own cages, tunnels, cells. Regardless what the circumstance that makes us feel like a prisoner is, getting out all starts with the same thing… thinking knowing that it’s going to be all ripe right.

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

Lessons from Louie

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Louis CK is undoubtedly my favourite comedian.

Given today’s talent, that’s quite an accomplishment, as the size of a crowd trying to get on stage can be just as large as the one that’s in the audience. However, there are still a few ways for an individual comedian stand out from the rest.

Most commonly, it’s through their unique delivery, facial expressions, or the relatable nature of the jokes they make — things related to comedy. But how Louie particularly wins me over is through his honesty, rawness, and bravery.

In his self-titled TV series, “Louie”, he plays himself living his actual personal life as a comedian, single parent, and a decent guy just trying to get by and navigate his way through the franticness of New York. And no matter what’s going on or what he’s going through, he manages to be exceptionally funny through all of it.

This concept has sustained three enjoyable seasons. So it was unexpected to find that the latest fourth season of Louie wasn’t as funny — and even more unexpected when I found it to my favourite season yet.

It was because Louie did something, which for a comedian, is definitely different. He changed his winning formula. He fixed what wasn’t broken; he tried being less funny.

There were several episodes presented with little to no humour. I felt that this approach made the show more serious and confronting at times, but also more demanding of my attention and deliberation because it was easier to relate to Louie. As a result, I became more invested and interested in seeing this particular season through.

As I reached the final episode, I felt that, despite being a comedy, the season was surprisingly deeply moving. There were also a few issues brought up, that I’d definitely consider important, if not, life lessons. So if you’re not a Louie fan, here is what you missed:

1) Sex Doesn’t Mean Seriousness

Louie meets Amia, a Hungarian women who’s temporarily visiting the US. She can’t speak English, but through their own methods of communication — chemistry develops. After a few dates, Louie starts to feel strongly about her, but is convinced by others that his feelings are not valid unless they’re having sex. So they do. Rather than bringing them closer, it only creates more distance and confusion.

This plot reminded me of the first time I had sex without any similar pre-established conditions. Particularly about how naive I was at the time — and disappointed afterwards. I thought it meant far more than she did. Actions don’t always speak louder than words, because there are some words that just have to be said. This is what Louie and Amia eventually do through a translator, and the outcome is far more meaningful.

2) Love is Pain

Once Amia leaves, Louie finds himself depressed. He knew the hurt was inevitable. He knew the company wasn’t going to last, but he still wanted it so badly. Why? I know because I was in a similar position earlier this year. Except, I was the one leaving.

As the date of my departure neared, the girl of my interest became less and less willing to spend time with me. Maybe she knew something that I didn’t — or that I just didn’t want to think about — which was the risk of getting attached and therefore, hurt. In his show, Louie is a lonely guy. In real life, I’m that guy too. So speaking for myself, I know how it feels to just want someone’s company — regardless of the conditions, such as that it’s not for long.

When Louie consults the unwelcoming-but-wise doctor that lives in his apartment block, he gets the following advice: “Love is the pain. It’s when you’re apart from someone, and you’re hurting, that you know how truly deeply you really were in love. You know that what you had was real.” The doctor goes on, “You lucky son of a b****, I haven’t had my heart broken in years.” It’s something to think about. It helped Louie, and there’s certainly times, we can all feel as low or lonely.

3) With Parenting, Less can be More

There is one episode where Louie catches his eldest daughter smoking a joint. When she asks about the “big lecture” she is going to get, the extent of his response is, “Just know that I’m here for you.” Relating to my own experiences as a teenager, feeling constantly confronted and criticised definitely doesn’t help a young person understand the things they need to. But knowing that their parents are someone they can just talk to — does.

4) Responsibility is Important

In a flash-back episode, a younger Louie steals $2000 worth of equipment from his school. A younger me did that same amount worth in damage to my own school during a mindless act of vandalism. Like Louie, I also thought I was safely protected by my age. I learned that once you cross “the line” — you aren’t. Sure, age limits expectations, but more importantly, actions still carry consequences.

Being responsible also isn’t just a matter of being caught; it’s owning what you did. The investigation gets dropped but Louie still chooses to confesses to his teacher. It’s clear that decisions like these helped mold Louie’s main character into the respectable adult that he is. This episode is a reminder that being a good person is part of the process of being committed to becoming a better one as we work through our mistakes.

5) Success isn’t about being Special

When Louie finds himself envious of his friend’s recent success and doubting his own abilities, his girlfriend Pamela offers this advice: “None of you guys are special or magical. Some of you are luckier, and some of you work harder than others. But you’re all just guys.” Things don’t get much more truthful than that.

And that’s it.

TV shows make for great escapism and entertainment, but Louie proves that even through a comedy based on another person’s experiences, you can learn things too: about life, and about yourself. Even if you’re not a Louis CK fan, I hope this post encourages you to at least think about what you’re getting out of your favourite show (not to devalue the broadsword training Game of Thrones provides).

Meditation. My thoughts.

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It’s like house keeping. Best done daily so things don’t get too messy.

I start by following my breath. Closing my eyes to focus more on the internal environment. Then I let go. I fall. But without the fear…

I reach out for the textures of my fears and anxieties. I can’t find or feel them in this way because they aren’t real.

But I hear a sound. The beating of my heart is more than a reminder of its existence. It says something about my existence. That I’m human, which means I can love. It also means I am loved, because I’m already a miracle. One of such complexity could not be created without the care and appreciation that is love.

I am miracle. I deserve to be here. I whisper it into the breeze hoping it’s caught by the loved ones crossing my mind. I can take comfort in that fact, or contemplate out how miraculous the life I’m in, can be.

This is where illusions are replaced by visions. Illusions are clouds of fear. Visions sparkle with clarity. Made of the same elements of dreams.

This is when the deepest parts of me gets the chance to speak. The voice echoing up to my awareness. These parts are not the biology that make our hearts beat, rather the spirituality we call upon when our biology may fail us.

These instructions are read now, but felt when carried out. As essentially you’re blind, but somehow travel great distances. Even fly. You start by falling, then you’re light enough to elevate..to escape.

Just make sure to return. It’s now time to clean up your life.

 

 

6 Months – Halfway Home

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“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.

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