Where the heart is

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Artificial & Anxious

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Grass can be fake, but it’s no substitute for the real thing. You definitely notice something’s off.

People can act fake. You can fool others, but certainly not yourself. There’s still going to be that ‘something’.

While I find it easy to present the image of being well-maintained and vibrant, others often find it difficult to get to the truth behind the weeds of my whimsical nature. So here’s something I hope you can grasp:

I don’t feel that great.

Today marks one month since I left. Emphasis on ‘I’. I chose this for myself, so I can’t complain. Even if I didn’t chose everything else: being overwhelmed; the homesickness; the unfamiliarity to everyone, everything; and the emotional toll that not having a place to call home for a month takes.

I don’t feel very organic either.

Not many people know what’s below the surface. I worry that piling it all on others would mean losing them. So I’m under the pile, hoping for a hand to pull me out or pass me a ‘shovel’ in the form of a solution. I’d even be grateful to be swept the remaining shards of support from some sold-out saying.

That’s because I’m willing to dig my way out.  Like a prize-winning patch, getting the grass to be greener where you stand requires work. It requires a routine. That means attending to pervasive emotions so they don’t get out of hand.

I spend my weeks working with wellbeing and mental health content. I know the tools, I know the techniques; I know I wasn’t using them.

 Emphasis on ‘wasn’t’.

Since finding somewhere I feel comfortable in calling home, I’ve taken steps to start laying a proper foundation, sprinkling the right mix of habits and hope. With patience, effort, and self-care, like a flower finding its way through the pavement, I know beauty can blossom from what appears broken.

I feel better  – especially after writing and a much-needed phone call.

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.

 

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.

Sunset. Someone. Someday

 

Something Sunset

Sunset. Someone. Someday 

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

Promise.

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

Potential.

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

 

The First Month

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Welcome Home

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Home

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

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

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

We fly the nest.

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

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

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

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

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

The Teacher Life Is

 

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“Please do not make Tonga a means to an end, a sentence of sorts until its all over with and you can return to your homeland. Australia felt like a prison before and now it seems like a comfortable prison you want to go back too. Enjoy Tonga , its people for as “under privileged” as it may seem. It is now your teacher, a life teacher. Australia is now more beautiful than ever. Tonga has shown you this. Give thanks and gratitude for all new perceptions. “

A message from my older brother in of sorts from Hawaii. Jay’s advice rang true. Stronger than the church bells which woke me at 4.30 am, adding to the list of reasons of why I was wishing I was still at home.

Hearing the term ‘life  teacher’ invited me to reflect on the periods in my life where I actually had teachers, and how the different types would change how lessons were learnt, if at all.

I was terrible student at times but an excellent clown, unable to resist distractions, or becoming one myself. The times where I learned the most, and reformed my act, was due to the  strictness and discipline of certain teachers. If I felt the consequences were real, then so would be my response.

Thus, this is the teacher life has become. Watching me journey from primary to university education, it has had the time to prepare a curriculum destined to lead me over the rift in one’s development that the end of scheduled education creates, and towards my full potential.

The destain I once expressed towards my teachers eventually turned to gratitude as the value of their lessons was realised.  However, as an older student off ‘life’,  certain expectations are a prerequisite of the class. Specifically an appreciation of any discomfort and challenge that is realistically within my capabilities to overcome. These circumstances are reflective of a well devised lesson and an even accomplished teacher.

For some life is too easy, or too hard. Both prevent what is referred to as the only progress that counts. That of the  internal, our self-esteem. The acceptance, confidence and understanding in one’s abilities. Without it, even if your external progress is a high paying job or  a celebrity lifestyle, it’s almost impossible to be satisfied and happy.

So here I am, thankful. Thankful for the perception on my life back home that the harsh contrasts has given me. Thankful that while working in a unfamiliar market may prove challenging, I have an excellent support network to provide me with resources and confidence.

Thankful for all the challenges I’ve overcome in the past, and the lessons I’ve learned from them. Also of course,  thankful for the lessons I know I’m going to learn.