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.