Somethings To Say, Before the Sun Sets

Last sunset

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


1) HAPPINESS IS AN OUTLOOK

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

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

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

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

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


2) THE SLOWER YOU GO, THE MORE YOU SEE

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

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


3) FAITH HAS ITS PLACE

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

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

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

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

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


4) TALENT CAN FLOURISH ANYWHERE

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

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

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


5) WE’RE ALL UNDER THE SAME STARS

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

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

This is a great video on the topic.


6) TIME FLIES

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

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

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

we all stand to miss something by standing around.

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


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

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

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

Challenges in Coming Home

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The technical term is “reverse culture shock.”

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

Used Yet Unutilised

 

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While in Tonga I had the chance to meet some very creative and even more resourceful artists. Despite a lack of supplies – due to costs or products simply not being available in the country – they had still managed to create a range of diverse and interesting pieces out of what’s considered basics: black ink, clay, charcoal, grey pencils etc. Often mixing traditional concepts with contemporary styles. It got me thinking about, not only what art is, but what’s required to create it.

So I set off to make something of my own.

I identified used phone recharge cards as my material. They came in an array of colours and were in absolute abundance, found simply littered and discarded everywhere. I only had to pick them up as I went along. Even my short two minute walk home after work would me provide me with at least twenty cards. Despite the strange looks being a foreigner picking up rubbish, it just became second nature.

I never thought about what I was going to make until I actually started sticking cards on the wall – which was on the day I was  moving out of that house and leaving the country. I’m not sure how that part of ‘art’ works or what comes first: the vague idea or the visual piece…

But I guess I knew that regardless if I was going to be leaving something beautiful on the wall, at least I was helping to leave the country that way.

 

 

 

 

A View of Vuna (GoPro Video)

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I’m excited to present my first ever video project!

Having spent several months in Tonga, riding my bike down the same major road each day, I really wanted to make a video to capture the trip (and a few other things). Of course, this was no more than an idea. Which means, it was  post-it note stuck on my bedroom wall…

Then, I was pushed by a gust of inspiration after attending a local film festival and seeing some of the work done by several new film makers. I hadn’t used a GoPro before, done any video editing, or even know what I would film – but I just went for it.

Once I started, the pieces seemed to fall into place as what was once a vision, started to take place in front of me – looking far better than I imagined it. There was minimal sleep, eating, and doing of anything else until I was done. But I absolutely enjoyed putting it together, and I hope you feel the same about watching it.

Enjoy.

Boy

 

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

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.

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.

5 Months Update

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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.

 

Helping Hands, Hindered Feet

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Today was a day that I know will stay with me for a long time. But I hope it says with me forever.

Joining the ICON youth group on their charity day, I got to see parts of Tonga that I potentially would have missed otherwise. I would have returned to Australia with a checklist consisting of all the ‘sights and scenes’, but void of the vital experience which is understanding what life is like for the people behind a country’s curtains.

This is especially important in developing countries, as with the spotlight kept on glamourised tourist attractions, there is a large portion of people and areas also in need of attention, that remain unfortunately unseen. From experience, I can say that my original google image search of Tonga presented a different reality to what I’ve encountered since my arrival.

And since my arrival, today brought me closer to a sad truth. It’s the circumstances and conditions that many people find themselves in. I won’t dedicate this post to identifying the political, economical, and cultural reasons of why, I’ll just describe what was.

There were a lot of tears and emotional stories, but all sadness subsided in the wake of the gratitude that was shown for the single bags of groceries we were donating. Gratitude that I had never shown when I would push a trolley full of them to my car each weekend.

Amongst the rust and dismantling housing, I discovered that there are some things that better stand the tests of time. Faith in God, music, laughter, the support of those close to you, and a genuine appreciation for the little things, when you have very little at all to begin with.

As an individual, I can do my part to help because of organisations like ICON Tonga and my Australian Volunteer program, that seek to unite individuals to address bigger issues. However, making a start can be as simple as showing more appreciation in our daily lives at home, and a deeper interest in the countries we visit while traveling.

I learned that to lend a helping hand, you don’t have to reach out too far, and you certainly don’t need to be holding much.

 

 

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.