Sunday, November 15, 2009

Poverty is Relative

How come so soon after having returned from a developing country, where people seem to live on so little, I am back to whingeing about being poor?

I was having a little moment this morning of browsing possible holidays for a couple of weeks over January. I don't want much, just a road trip around Tassie or maybe campervanning around NZ on the cheap - but we just can't afford it. So I'm feeling sorry for myself because we are a single-income household and can't afford to go somewhere good over the Christmas holiday break. Boo hoo, poor me.

I know there are people out there who don't have enough to eat. I know there are people, even in our supposedly wealthy country, who can't afford a meal or shelter for themselves. I know how fucking lucky I am, I really do. We may be a single income household for the moment but it won't last forever (I hope!), and in the meantime we can afford our rent and the bills, with enough left over for a nice bottle of wine every now and then. We, unlike many people, are not in any debt - no compulsory mortgage, loan or credit card repayments. Not only do we manage to make ends meet, but we are comfotable without luxury.

So why, oh why do I feel so damn sorry for myself because I can't afford a summer holiday?

Wednesday, November 11, 2009


I'm trying to find a decent second-hand car. It's harder than I thought it would be, and I didn't expect it to be easy! I could spend the rest of this post giving the reasons why, and telling you how, it's been a pain, but I can't be assed, it's just too depressing.

My dad drove down from Singleton - a 6-hour drive -to help me look around, so I took the day off work and off we went. Part of me feels lame for needing my dad to help me out like this, but realistically I know that that older male presence carries weight. I had one bloke at a dealership (Geez I hate used car dealerships!) talking to me in baby talk before he saw I was accompanied by a man the same age as him. "We don't have any ummm cars, we've solded all the ummm cars alweady". Set my teeth on edges and made me want to tell him to fuck off then and there. We stood through the sales prattle, though. He had gone to all the trouble to peel his arse off his vinyl chair in his air-conditioned office after all, it seemed the least we could do.

I wish I didn't need a car. Mostly I ride my bike around, but there's times when you need a car - like lugging bales of pea straw or large pots from the garden centre, for example. And I can't help it, I love the freedom of just being able to go off for the weekend (or longer) on a camping adventure.

My other set of wheels is an old Raleigh mock-mountain bike. I say "mock" because it has a little sticker that reads THIS BICYCLE IS NOT DESIGNED FOR OFF-ROAD USE. Not that it's stopped me or the bike - we've done the Gibb River Road in WA together! My bike and I go way back - way back to the Year 2000, anyway. It was my main form of transport for a couple of years, until I got hit by a car in Sydney late 2002, after that I didn't ride much anymore. Not until I got to Tonga, and now I'm back on board in full swing - I even have lycra shorts!

I'm also contemplating a new set of different wheels - a pair of roller-skates! I'd like to give roller derby a go, but until I can stump up enough cash for a decent set of indoor quad skates I think I'll be stuck with the old Starfire 500's, the "artistic" white boot skate, complete with heel and glittery red wheels! I gave them a go last weekend, around Centennial Park with a friend, and geez it was fun! That night I went to sleep with the feel of tarmac rolling by under my feet.

So I guess I can make do with the wheels I've got - both 2-wheeled and 8-wheeled varieties - until something comes up that fits the bill with 4 wheels.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Little Blog Lost

This blog never started as a travel blog, though it seemed to hit its stride while I was in Tonga. Now that I'm back, the last three months of silence seem to speak for themselves. But unlike some of my fellow bloggers, I had no plans to retire She Who Hesitates is Lost upon my return. It's just been finding stuff that's interesting enough to blog about that's been the problem!

Last night I had a bit of a rant to C about how much bullshit I sometimes feel surrounded by. Like, yesterday I actually had a conversation with a group of intelligent, articulate women about SHAMPOOING HAIR! That's right - we talked about how often one should or shouldn't wash hair, how to manage that greasy feeling, and blah blah blah. For real.

I'm not much of a conspiracy theorest, but sometimes I think that getting women (ok, a lot of men feel like this too these days, with the advent of metrosexual expectations and - hey! - the identification of another ready market) to spend time obsessing about appearance and other superficialities is a good way to distract us all from getting on with living and actually achieveing anything worthwhile. Because - newsflash! - deciding whether to wash every day or every second day is NOT living.

I have been shocked to suddenly wake up and see what I'm surrounded by. It seems insecurity is the new normal - when did that happen? Why do so many girls love the Twilight books? Is it because the protagonist is so fucked up and insecure that they finally have a 'heroine' they can identify with? When did we stop wanting to identify with strong female characters, and start buying books by the truckload about whiny insecure bitches who spend MONTHS of their lives obsessing over a guy who left them, because - in their mind - they were not good enough? STFU Bella, I'm talking 'bout you!

For the record, I enjoyed reading the series, but I did spend a lot of the time I did so wishing I could shake the stupid right out of Bella's head. For what it's worth, I was so glad when in Book 4 (spoiler alert!) she finally becomes a vampire so she can stop whingeing about how she's not worthy. Girls, this is NOT a lesson you should be learning! Oh, and every time a vampire sparkles, God kills a puppy!

Friday, July 24, 2009

Tonga: A Post-Script

I just wanted to do a final (? Maybe not!) post on Tonga, now that I've been back for a while - 2 1/2 months, in fact!

It's funy some of the things that have changed. I find myself feeling restless to explore more of Australia, but the urge to go overseas is pretty non-existant.

I miss the warmth and friendliness of a non-western culture - now, if I smile at someone on the street and they smile back, I feel like we are co-conspirators in some kind of subversive plot to spread cheer throughout the globe!

I'm still riding my bike to and from work, though my 3 minute cycle has been extended to almost half an hour! Still, there's no wet season to worry about, and it's a great way to start and finish the working day!

I hate working full-time. I did some work for an organisation where I was only doing 6 hours a day, and it was perfect. It felt like I was working to live, not living to work. Now, it's like from the moment I wak up until a good 12 hours later my mind is somehow interacting with"work". There has to be a better way...

I no longer identify so much through my work. I used to find a lot of fulfilment in what I did, but now it seems a bit superficial and mindless. Now, even working as a curator I feel like a drone.

I want to make some radical changes in my life, but I'm still musing about what these might be. But I feel like the stuntedness of a life in suburbia has had it's day, and I'm looking for something more. I'll keep you posted - hopefully the ennui of everyday life won't make me forget...

Thursday, June 04, 2009

Same shape, different fit...

Returning to a past life is not something I am used to doing. All my previous adventures - travelling around Oz, going to Europe, even both times I've finished uni - I always move on to the next adventure, whether that be a new city, a new job, another journey. It's always been a new phase, represented by a new situation and circumstances.

So coming back to the life I left behind is a whole new realm of experience for me. And it's weird, because even though the gap I left in this life looks like me, it doesn't feel like me in some really small and subtle ways. So subtle, in fact, that I'm struggling to put my finger on HOW it feels different.

And trying to express all this to my partner - my husband - is the first time that I've felt like we're not on the same page. He's trying to get me, but I don't think it's something you can "get" if you haven't experienced it yourself. Not that it's a massive issue, but it is an issue nonetheless.

I hadn't anticipated re-settlement being quite! I guess I never really gave it any thought at all, had no pre-conceived notions about what it would be like. If I ever thought about it all it would have been in the context of longing, and my imagined relief at being home (obviously visualised when times were tough!).

Not that I'm complaining, I hasten to add! And I'm sure once I hit gainful employment I'll have far less time for such navel-gazing - so bring forth the Dream Job!

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Wine o'clock

So, here I am, back home in Oz. It's 5:30pm on a Saturday evening, and rather cold outside. I have zero plans for the night, except maybe watching a DVD with my husband. He's currently visiting his mother and sister, so I've settled down with a lovely local sauvignon blanc and a spot of goat's cheese: some goat's camembert, and some chevre.

OH MY FREAKIN' GOD, could this scene BE any different to my past life in Tonga??? Nice wine? Cheese - GOAT'S cheese, nonetheless! Cold weather! A Husband!

I have been back for a grand total of 3 weeks and 2 days now, and it really does feel like the whole Tonga thing was in the distant past! But because I have nothing really to focus on here, it's sort of like part of me is dissipating, and I'm watching it go, turn to smokey wisps and vanish. It's perhaps not as maudlin as that made it sound, either. I don't feel melancholy, nor do I bitterly miss Tonga.

I'm really enjoying not working, though the money is starting to run out. Clinton and I took a mini-road trip to Echuca, to see a small exhibition I curated before I left but never got a chance to see. It was great to explore another little bit of Oz, but perhaps I don't have the bank funds to be enjoying $100 dinners at top quality restuarants!

While I want to get a job to give me something to focus on (and a much-needed income!), I'm also really enjoying not working. And when I look at all the things I'd like to do in the future (preferably in the before-kids future, and yes that's what happens when you get married, people, you start looking at life in terms of what you can factor in before you have to squeeze out a few young 'uns!) I cannot aee that there's any time for focusing on a career - like, how will I take a road trip for a year or so with Big C if I have to work, or spend a winter in the Yukon watching the Aurora Borealis over the sky every night?

Working's for chumps it seems to me, however I'm also afflicted by a desire to achieve somthing in my work life, and to be satisfied by what I do. I simply can't do a shit-kicking job in between advetures, sadly, as job satisfaction is also important to me. Dammit, how can we squeeze all the living that needs to be fone out of life, and while we're still young enough to enjoy it??

Anyway, I'm more than halfway through my bottle of wine, and C will be home soon, so I think I'll go take a look at what's for dinner. We went to the Farmer's Market today, and are fully stocked up on every organic winter veggie you could imagine! Mind you, if I was in Tonga right now it may have been something from the freezer for dinner...

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Home again, home again...

Being back in Oz for good feels strange by it's very normalcy. It feels like things should be different, but they are so much the same that it's easy to believe that none of the last 10 months even happened.

I am finding it a bit difficult to talk to people about my experience - when they ask "How was Tonga?" I feel obliged to just say "Yeah, good..." and then let them talk about their own stuff. Luckily most people (myself usually included!) are more than happy to talk about what's going on with them, so I haven't been probed too deeply!

Guess I'll just process it in my own time.

There's lots of great aspects to being back. I'm enjoying being back in my home, with my husband and our menagerie. It's been great getting stuck into the veggie patch, and seeing how all the plants have grown. Not working is also really nice - I could totally get used to that! I'm loving cooking in my own kitchen, loving having access to awesome ingredients like goat's cheese and sheep's milk yogurt, and grabbing a soy flat white from the local cafe every morning!

But I do feel like this is a sort of limbo period. Or maybe transitional is a better term to describe it. And there's not many times in life when you're consciously in transition - most times it's something you look back on and recognize in retrospect, rather than as it's occuring around and within you.

I'm really interested to see how this is going to play out, actually!

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Last post from Tonga...

To conclude my blogging in Tonga, I'd like to leave you with my list of all the things I'll miss about this place. I daresay a few more will crop up once I get home.

Things I will Miss about Tonga:

* Riding everywhere on my bike (yes, I know I will have the best intentions of doing this once I get home, but give me an early start on a mid-winter morning in Canberra, and I doubt it very much!)

* The great connections and friendships I have made here, with both my workmates and other volunteers, many of whom I may never see again

* The staff of the Friends cafe all knowing my name, and their beautiful beaming smiles when they greet me

* Tonga Time

* Wearing thongs to work...also not having to worry too much about how I look (as long as shoulders and knees are covered, of course!). Not spending 20 mins standing in front of my wardrobe moaning that I “Have Nothing to Wear” – which is ironic, because I have 4 or 5 times as many clothes back home as I do here!

* The amazing snorkelling – and doing laps of the harbour to keep fit!

* Proximity to the beach; a half hour bike or boat ride is way better than a 2-hour car trip from Canberra!

* The warm weather

* The humidity making my hair and skin (aside from eczema, of course!) look fabulous!

* The sense of warmth and community that envelops so much of what Tonga is all about. This includes the fact that there is very little homelessness, or institutionalisation.

* Blogging – let’s face it, life back home ain’t THAT interesting!

* The view from work...when I go across the road to the waterfront to eat my lunch, and gaze out at the epitome of a tropical paradise – clear blue water, islands and palm trees. So, so beautiful!

*The cute little jumping spiders and geckos (not to be mistaken with the giant huntsman-type spiders or Giant Geckos of Fafa island!)

* Having as much water as you could possibly use, and more! No water restrictions here, where rain is measured in inches rather than mls

* Fish and chips – especially from Cottage Breeze, picnic-style on the waterfront!

* Faikakai – a delicious desert made from manioke flour in a sweet coconut milk sauce – mmmmm...

* Fresh young coconuts to eat and drink, freely available from any tree handy

* Being warm

*The amazing and random things that you just don’t get in Oz – like volcanoes and earthquakes!

* and finally, one of the surprise perks of living in Tonga was people not batting an eyelid at my name (Isa being a common shortening of the name Luisa), a first ever experience for me!

It has been a dynamite 10 months, that's for sure! Thanks for reading - 'ofa atu!

Saturday, May 02, 2009

My Big Fat Tongan Wedding!

Last night was my official farewell from work, and though they'd told me they were planning "something special", I had NO IDEA it was going to be a Tongan wedding ceremony for me and Clinton!

The effort the staff went to was tremendous - we had a beautifully decorated arch under a tree, and all the chairs were decorated with greenery and ribbons. Clinton and I were dressed in traditional ta'ovala (woven waist mats) for the ceremony - the one I was wearing was so fine it was like cloth, though it was a family heirloom, and apparently worth between 5-6,000 pa'anga!

Though it wasn't a full wedding ceremony (more like a renewal of vows...a mere 3 weeks after we uttered the first ones!), we had the "do you Clinton, take Isa, to love and to cherish..." bit in Tongan, and we said our "I do's" in Tongan as well. This was followed by a short traditional marriage kava ceremony, which now means we are legitimately married in Tonga! Apparently the moment when you drink the kava is when you seal the marriage covenant. So there you go! We are now legally married in Australia AND Tonga!

It was such a cool and awesome thing to do, and I am so touched that my colleagues went to all that effort just for us! I remember when I started at the TVB, and the previous volunteer had left, and all my colleagues talked about was her, and how great she was - I was convinced they'd never take me to their bosom the way they'd embraced her - but now look at me! Married in the Church of the Tonga Visitors Bureau, presided over by Pastor Willy, the Minister of Tourism's driver!

Yesterday was a big day for more reasons than just my second wedding, though - I completed and handed in my AYAD primary assignment, a document outlining some interpretive guidelines to get Tonga on the path to a more consistent, visitor-friendly approach to heritage interpretation. Realistically, this document could be put in a drawer and never looked at again. But I think that unlike the consultants who come here for a few weeks, write up their reports and then leave, I have spent a good deal of time getting aquainted with how they do things here. That report may have taken only a fortnight or so to write back home, but over here, it's taken me the whole duration of my assignment to finally comprehend HOW I can best be of assistance, and to understand the reasons behind why things are as they are - and not to try and change it, but to work with it.

I can't deny I am proud of the outcome of my project. And even if it never gets used, I'm proud of my achievement in having completed it. It's a great experience.

Yep, these last days in Tonga find me feeling very positive about my time here, and also positive about going home. It's a great place to be!

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Things I WON'T miss about Tonga!

In starting my list of Things I Won't Miss and Things I Will Miss I discovered that there's far more of the latter than the former! But for today, I'm trying to think positive about going home...two weeks today until I leave! So here's the list of Things I Won't Miss About Tonga - stay tuned for all the good stuff that I will miss coming soon!

Things I won’t miss:
*The toilet paper ration in the work toilets...actually, I will not miss ANYTHING to do with the work toilet!

*The tuneless humming of my colleague – who knew that not all Tongans could sing? Also under this category is regular assaults by the musically dubious efforts of Akon, Rhiannon and the like.

*Spraying myself with DEET-riddled repellent to avoid dengue-carrying mosquitoes (as well as the constant Fear of Getting Dengue!)

*Share-housing - can't wait for the days of wet bathmats, dirty dishes, waiting to use the toilet and trying to find enough room in the fridge to be OVER!

*Having to avoid eating in front of my workmates when I don’t have enough to share with them...I really do look forward to being able to eat at my desk once more!

*Clothes going mouldy simply from being in the cupboard

*The dreadful eczema I have had to endure the whole time I have been here

*The otherness that comes with being a Palangi in Tonga, and the fact that everyone pretty much knows who you are, even if you don’t know them; being anonymous can be really liberating!

*Being apart from my partner (though technically this is no longer an issue, as he's here now!)

*The big scary huntsman-style spiders, and the mice and cockroaches that live, shit, and lay eggs in my kitchen

*Having to do my laundry in a twin-tub – this process means you cannot leave the machine for more than 15 minutes at a time, and involves numerous fillings, emptyings, and removals for spinning, drying, etc (though I shouldn't whinge too much, as one of the Peace Corp I know has to wash her clothes on a wash-board!)

*The constant smell of burning plastic...or any of the smells really. The two smells I associate most closely with this place are this sickly sweet orchid that goes in all the leis, and a fecund sort of smell that reminds me too much of human faeces

*Hit-and-miss, unreliable internet (go to the head of the list, you!)

*Random people wandering around in our yard and trying to pick the locks on our doors, as well as all the assholes that kept pissing on our gate lock

*My colleagues screaming at each other across the office coz they’re too lazy to go across the room – not fighting, just communicating! Makes it hard to get work done, on those odd occasions when I need to do work!

*Getting confused at hearing people calling out “Isa”! and not referring to me - it's the common shortening of the name Luisa over here, and something that I am so not used to!

*These awful, awful desk chairs, that have nails/screws sticking into them so that if you shift around on that bit with a bit too much of your bodyweight, you get stabbed through the fabric – ouch!

*The sound of people hocking gollies. Intellectually, I understand that it’s mere enculturation that makes me find this sound (and the act of then spitting them out!) so disgusting, but I can’t help it – it makes my gorge rise!

Monday, April 20, 2009

Isa got MARRIED!

When I first started at the TVB last July I had a few days cross-over with the previous AYAD, and was able to attend her farewell feast put on by work. During his speech, the Director remarked that the AYAD had come to the TVB single, and it was a shame she was leaving it that way as well. Well, not so me! I never thought when I started this AYAD experience that one of the big changes I would encounter would be to my marital status! But it's true, I'm a "married woman" now!

Not only that, but I'm into my last fortnight at the TVB, and the Tongan adventure is fast coming to an end. These last few weeks I guess are all about blending one ending - Tonga and my life here - with a new beginning, that of my mariage to Clinton.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Seriously fed up with ASSHOLES!

Ok, so the last few weeks in Tonga have been fantastic - knowing that I'm leaving soon has made me want to savour every bit of this place that I can... except ONE particular aspect, that has given me the raging SHITS.

Upon my return from Australia, my flatmate had pretty much moved her Tongan boyfriend into our house, without even asking me if this was ok. Whatever, I'm leaving in a matter of weeks, and at least now we're splitting bills and rent 3 ways (as opposed to when he wasn't officially living there, just staying over every single night and every single day...).

However, Tonga is a very conservative country. You've heard some of the dramas caused by the inter-racial relationship, ie getting kicked out of our house last year, etc. Now that my flatmate and her boyfriend are very obviously "living in sin", our neighbourhood is expressing it's disdain. This is being done through actions such as wandering around our yard and peering into bedroom windows at night, breaking locks on our gate and door, and urinating on the combination lock of our gate. These things have happened at least 3-4 times a week since he moved in, and I have had an absolute GUTFUL. Especially as, being the first one to leave the house, I am the one cleaning the urine off the lock every morning!

It's fine for the neighbours to make use of having a Tongan living there to demand we refill their water bottles, and let them help themselves to our breadfruit and banana trees, but they're still going to be assholes and piss on our gate! Ok, so it's probably not the SAME people, but still, they are pretty much sanctioning these actions by not intervening with those who are committing them, as everyone knows what's going on at any given moment in the neighbourhood.

I didn't come to Tonga to offend the locals, or to cause any trouble. I'm not stealing anybody's job, or appropriating their culture. I'm not even (currently) living in sin! In fact, I am pretty much a bystander as to the main reason for this victimisation, but it affects me nonetheless. If I wasn't going to be leaving the country for good in little more than a month I would seriously move out. As it was, at 5:30 am this morning when some neighbourhood kid jumped into our backyard and unplugged our water pump, I was very seriously thinking about just throwing in the towel and trying to find a short-term rental.

The thing is, this place is so close to town, so will be convenient for Clinton (who has no bike) when he's here. I've also moved house FIVE TIMES since arriving last July, I really DON'T want to do it again! I guess I'm just going to have to put up with it, and add it to my list of "Things I Won't Miss About Tonga" (I've been working on that, and a "Things I Will Miss About Tonga" list, as a way of concreting the reality of leaving and apreciating this place while I still can!).

I know it's just a few neighbourhood troublemakers, and doesn't refelect the animosity of the whole community, but it still leaves me feeling irritated and disappointed. My advice to future AYADs would be - DON'T live with a couple who are overtly flaunting all the local social conventions! It's just not worth it, for your own peace of mind.

Monday, March 23, 2009


(BTW< I didn't make up that title myself, some official in Tonga decided to spend a bazillion dollars hiring Satchi & Satchi to come up with a snappy title for the nation, and that's what they got!)

You know, some of the most incredible things I've experienced in Tonga have been the most unexpected things. Sure, you expect that the locals will be lovely, and the beaches pristine, and the awesome coral gardens will provide fabulous snorkelling... but volcanoes popping up in the middle of the ocean? Wasn't really on my list of expectations!

Last Friday I was fortunate to be on the inaugural scenic flight to the Hunga Volcano, along with 5 other people, and this is what I saw!

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Recent Eruptions

Because Tonga is located on the edge of a tectonic plate it does get frequent earthquakes, though they are usually tremore and nothing to worry about. However, Tonga is also located on what is known as the Pacific Ring of Fire (cool name, I know!), which is basically a massive area of submarine volcanic activity.

A couple of days ago, a new eruption occured from the Hunga caldera, which has not erupted since 1988. You can see the plume of smoke from the waterfront road here in Nuku'alofa.

Tonga is amazing for this kind of stuff - new islands appear, hang around for a bit, and then are pulled back into the ocean never to be seen again. It's quite eerie in a way, especially having come from a country which has been solid, virtually unchanged land mass for millenia!
Thanks to whoever posted these pics of the Hunga erruption - taken on a flight south to Tongatapu from Vava'u!

Thursday, March 12, 2009

3 weeks to go...

It's 3 weeks to go until I will no longer apart from Clinton. I won't be finishing up in Tonga until May, but after the wedding we'll be returning to Tonga together for 3 1/2 weeks, and won't need to be parted again.

The psychological advantage that knowing this gives to this last small gap of time is so marked - it's like now I can just sit back and relax, and just enjoy what I have here. It makes me realise how much of an effect being apart from my partner has had on my experience here. Don't get me wrong, I have had periods of loving it here, but there is always a part of me that wishes C was here with me, or I was there with him.

The first 4 months were easy, it was a new place, I had no association of him being here, and I was loving everything (except the skin diseases!). Then he came for a visit, and it brought the realisation that even Tonga was better with C in it! After that the missing and the yearning started in earnest, and the past 4 months have been a lot more challenging.

Still, I have really appreciated this time, my own journey, my own experience. I am, however, looking forward to sharing my last weeks in Tonga with Clinton. I think it will be a really positive way to end my time here, and a nice way to meld my Tongan AYAD experience, with my life with Clinton, and the start of our marriage.

The last trip home (the birthday surprise that turned into dengue) also made me feel that I am ready to return. At Christmas, I felt very iffy about the whole thing, and being home made me want to cling tighter to Tonga. But now I feel much more ready. Not hanging out for it, just mentally and emotionally ready to deal with that change. But for the present I am really happy being in Tonga, living in the present and enjoying everything this country has to offer.

Saturday, March 07, 2009

Cultural Differences

You know how in Australia, if someone tells you that you look like you've lost weight it's a compliment?

Here in Tonga it's a sign of concern - because surely no-one would WILLINGLY lose weight, so obviously you must have been sick or something!

I find this small difference a very refreshing change!

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Consume and dispose

One thing I have really noticed since being back is how consumption-oriented Australians are. We are trained from a very early age to buy buy buy, and simultaneously to dispose of anything that is broken, or out of fashion by more than 2 seconds. Where have all the electrical repair shops gone? They've been wiped out as people move from a "get it fixed" mentality to a "let's just buy a new one" way of thinking. And Kevin Rudd is willing to hand out $950 to each and every one of us, so we can go and do a bit of spending with govt money (wait, isn't that just our taxes?) to kick-start the economy.

I wonder if it's just me who thinks this is a crazy, unsustainable way of operating. If the economy is reliant on this constant consumption, how are we going to deal with the increasing scarcity of resources? because that, my friends, is the reality of the future. There's a limit to how much consuming we can all do, when that which we are consuming is only available in finite quantities.

But then never mind, because you can just go and buy yourself a new outfit, or a new DVD player, and get another polystyrene cup of take-away coffee, because we're all too busy spending to think about it. And the Economy is the new God, to whome we are all slaves for the Greater Good of Humanity, and someone else will take care of things.

The idea that happiness is a warm credit card and the notion of "retail therapy" are both highly profitable ideals of the post-industrial age. Because if you feel bad, BUY something. If there's an emptiness in your life, go SPEND SOME MONEY, and surely - SURELY - you will feel better! People who think of themselves as ethical beings still don't think twice about purchasing an $8 skirt from Valley Girl that was made in a sweat shop in China, or about updating their wardrobe every "season".

Being in Tonga has helped me to see this far more clearly than ever before. When there is nothing to consume but food, you develop a society somewhat different to our own. Emphasis on family helps fill the void that we Westerners try to plug with designer bags and designer kitchens. Don't get me wrong, I'm not idealising the Tongan way - in fact there is no way I could live like that forever, simply because I haven't been brought up to accept it. I have been brought up to believe that I'm an INDIVIDUAL, the most powerful unit of being in the world, and that it is my basic human right to be happy. The idea of subjugating my own desires for the benefit of the community wouldn't even occur to me - that would be a violation of my Rights as an Individual!

But somewhere, somehow, I hope to bring a less consumption-oriented way of being into my life when I return home for good. I'm lucky to have a partner who has similar ideals, so we'll see how we can work this out in the future...

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Home Sick

On 12 February I flew into Australia to surprise Clinton for his birthday on what was meant to be a quick, 10-day visit. Well, you know what they say - if you want to make the Gods laugh, tell them your plans! Four days after I arrived I came down with the symptoms of dengue - aching bones, constant low-grade fever, eyeballs painful in my head, diarhea and a headache. Oh joy!

So here I am, still in Oz! The doctor ordered blood tests, but the results don't arrive for a week, and he advised against returning to Tonga until I have a complete diagnosis. Today I am feeling much better, but let me tell you, it hasn't been much fun for the past 10 or so days! All I can say is that I hope it really IS dengue, because I never want to feel that shit again in my life!

Meanwhile, I'm stranded in a land of soy coffees and goat's cheese, unable to enjoy any of it because my diet consists of nothing more adventurous than boiled rice and toast! Talk about irony...

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Making Peace

I know I haven't blogged in a while (well for me, anyway!), and it's been an interesting couple of weeks. Not just because my mother is here for a visit and we have managed to go 8 days so far without killing each other (which of course is a miracle in itself, especially when we had to share a bed for 5 nights!), but because somehow, somewhere along the way, I seem to have made my peace with Tonga.

I think part of it is through spending time with like-minded people and talking about things OTHER than Tonga (we have recently formed a book club of sorts), part of it is reading a bit more about Tonga - so, gaining an intellectual, big-picture appreciation for the place, rather than the niggledy, annoying things about workmates and colleagues! And also restarting language classes has made me feel much more positive about being here.
I have also decided that I will be leaving in May. This will make it around 10 months, rather than the 12 I signed up for, but in thinking about it, my marriage is more important to me than sitting at a desk kicking my heels, and I'd like to start married life WITH Clinton, rather than apart from him! So my plan now is to go home and get married in April, return to Tonga with Clinton for a honeymoon/tying things up for a period of up to 30 days (the time he can stay without applying for a Visa), and then head home together, to start our married life.

Anyway, this combination of occurences has served to make me feel far more positive about Tonga, and has allowed me to enjoy being here. I have accepted that there are massive cultural differences in my approach to heritage vs the Tongan way of thinking, and have also accepted that, quite simply, I can only do what I can, and it is not my responsibility to save every heritage site from deterioration or disinterest. If the Tongan government wishes to pursue the cultural tourism market, then the issue of the general disinterest among Tongans in pre-Christian heritage needs to be addressed, but it won't be by me.

Suffice to say, I feel that I have made my peace with Tonga, and that is a good place to be right now. All that remains is to relax and enjoy my last months here as much as possible. I really HAVE been presented with an incredible opportunity in coming here, and I'd like to make the most of it.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Outside a Foreign Culture

The longer I stay in Tonga the more I feel my own foreign-ness.

The first three months, I did what every other person on holidays does - I "fell in love with the place!" Does that sound familiar? A superficial understanding of the culture, the novelty and excitement of The New, it all contributed to the love I felt for Tonga.

As the months since then have passed, and my understanding of the complexities of Tongan culture has grown, I feel more and more unrelated to this place, and less and less love for it. Because it is not my home, and it is not my culture, and I am a foreigner here. That doesn't mean I can't appreciate it for what it is, because I do. But I cannot love it, because that kind of love is blind and uncritical, and I lack the time (and, in all honesty, the inclination) to develop a greater depth of love.

I am too enculturated elsewhere. I can critique my own culture, but any other culture I merely criticise. You have to really comprehend it - what lies behind it - to critique something, and I think that's impossible for a culture you have never lived. Everything else, then, is just criticism.

Perhaps this is my way of dealing with all the frustration of my work, of being apart from my partner, of being thus isolated - to just distance myself from the culture. Maybe it's a cop out. Or perhaps, in getting to know Tonga, I have fallen out of love with it.

If only all romances could end with such clarity!

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Still Wondering...

On Mu'a, the ancient capital city of Tonga in the 14th century: "Some...sites are in a pitiful state of dilapidation. The site is utilised as an extension of the backyard to store rubbish, build a pit latrine etc. ... [It is necessary to] devise a program of public education, in order to stop the use of the langi (ancient royal burial tombs) and other sites as welcomed extensions of the backyards of the people. ...An explanatory trail has been planned for the area and has been funded by the Australian Government."

On the Ha'amonga a 'Maui: "An explanatory trail has been planned for the area and has been funded by the Australian Government."

Sia heu Lupe: "The slopes of the site have been planted with bananas, the top of the site bears some pawpaw trees. ... Gardening on the site will increase the erosion."

19th century fortification: "Continuous building activity and levelling of depressions will continue to obliterate the ditch system. ... Archaeological Importance - Very Important. ... If possible filling in of the fortification should be prohibited..."

The list (dating from 20 years ago) goes on. After starting several paragraphs and deleting them (so as not to be accused of inflammatory commentary) all I can legitimately write about is my own frustration with the fact that I have been enculturated to perceive the material remnants of history as being important. That is my own cultural bias, and it is fueled by the fact that it is the industry in which I work. And, in this particular instance, I feel somewhat righteous in my frustration, because I was brought here specifically to interpret these historical remnants, in order to promote cultural tourism to Tonga.

But at the end of the day, I must constantly remind myself that if the Tongan people, who legitimately own this heritage, don't mind its destruction, then why should I? (And through gritted teeth I reply that it's because it is what I do).


Friday, January 16, 2009

Sometimes I Wonder Why I'm Here...

I am currently flicking through Appendix no.2 of a report written 22 years ago, by a consultant archaeologist on the "Improvements of Tourist Attractions, Notably Historic and Archaeological Sites Within The Kingdom of Tonga". This report is an excellent appraisal of the work needed to, well, as the title suggests, to improve (while also preserving) some of the unique heritage of Tonga.

The author, Dr Dirk Spennemann, quotes frequently from a previous piece of archaeological research on the sites dating from 1929. So these archaeological sites are not unknown, and have, presumably, been on the radar for "improvement" for many years. Meanwhile, I am supposed to be involved in doing Heritage Site Development plans, which will supposedly be enacted by some NZAid funding, in some unforeseeable future. What I want to know is, WHY? Spennemann did the work over 20 years ago, and NOTHING came of it. He sets out why each individual site is important, how to further develop it, and how to make it accessible to tourists. This resource has been available since 1987, and I do not need to reinvent the wheel.

It would possibly be slightly better if the TVB retained a complete copy of Spennemann's report, instead of just the second appendix (which does not include any of the sites on the main island on which I am based), and which doesn't look like it's ever been read anyway.

And in the intervening years, how much of this heritage has been lost or destroyed? And even if I do create my own set of paperwork, talking about interpretation possibilities and prevention of further destruction to sites, what will come of it? I am fairly (cynically) sure nothing at all.

All I can say is that I am glad it is not MY cultural heritage that is being eroded by cyclones and eaten by moths.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

My Little Gecko

There's a little gecko who lives in my room. When I'm in bed reading, he comes and hangs out on the wall next to my bed, snapping up any bugs that are attracted by the light.

Lately, he's been joined by a second gecko. I don't know if it's a female, or a young one, but it's smaller and more timid than My Little Gecko. I haven't been able to get any pics of her yet, she's too fast. But sometimes they both come, one on the bedside table and the other on the wall, and they just look at me. I wonder how I feature in their own mythology, if at all?
This is the closest thing I have to animal companionship in Tonga.

Friday, January 09, 2009

Coming Back to Earth

So, I'm back in the Tong. And I really DON'T want to be here right now.

Having seen my home, and now returned here, I feel so deeply all that I have given up to be here. And the lack of work CONTINUES. I have set myself the goal of getting it sorted by the end of the month. If, in fact, there is no work for me, or if I am expected to wait an inordinately long time in the expectation of work, I am going to pack myself up and go home.

Perhaps I'll feel different next week, when the immediacy of my home environment has faded into the tropical humidity. But I doubt it. After all, my main reason in coming here was for the work. All the other perks, of volunteering, of living and working overseas, they are not enough on their own, there has to be a function and a purpose for me being here.

My boss - the primary instigator of all the tasks I have accomplished since my arrival - has been sacked, so the future really is uncertain. There is no point in me staying here if there is nothing for me to do. If, on the other hand, there IS something for me to do, then I'll accept that I need to stay longer, and be away from my lover and my home, much as it's paining me right now.

I did sign up for 12 months, I knew there were going to be challenges, etc etc, yes yes I know! And I have invoked the Power of the ICM to assist me, so I am doing all I can to push on.

Though the way I feel right now, I'd almost prefer the no-work-and-go-home option.