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Month 9 In Tonga: I’m not out of lives yet.

“You’ve got to lick it before you stick it.”

9 Months ago during my cultural sensitivity training, this is the last line I would have expected to hear in public… let alone sung by a 6 foot solidly built drag queen. Along with a group of young guys flexing and strutting around, that’s exactly what happened at the Mr Maka event I attend this month.

It wasn’t exactly my cup of tea (because I’m used to being the kettle, don’t call me black), but I’m just glad that there are still a few surprises to be had here in Tonga. Even after all this time.

Variety keeps this interesting. Like my two new housemates. Each with their own reasons for being here, plans of where they want to go, and what I enjoy the most, stories about where they’ve come from and been. In the many forms its been delivered, variety is one of the reasons I decided to spend this year away.

However, I’m discovering that even clear blue skies and soft sand can start to feel as monotonous as the cement footpath that leads in and out of the place I used to call home. But after having to regularly step over shards of broken bottles and run from unrestrained dogs; I’m missing that footpath more and more each day.

I guess this is what they refer to as “knowing what you got once it’s gone.” Likewise, a friend who is volunteering here from France, recently confessed her new found appreciation of “technology.” Specifically, “must-haves” such as microwaves and washing machines. Suddenly, something like the I-Watch seems far too superfluous to make a sound in such a conversation.

Appreciation: another reason I decided to spend this year away.

Out of all the things I’ve learned to appreciate more, my friends are definitely one of them. Especially since having my first ever birthday away from home. It gave me the comforting assurance that I’ve made enough of an impression in some people’s lives that 9 months of solid absence couldn’t render me forgotten…

Or maybe it’s my turn to be thankful of technology and the reminders Facebook issued on birthday. People did still care enough to write on my wall or send me a message. Who knows, maybe their few seconds of attention and semi-sentence comments were otherwise going to a meme or pet photo.  Knowing I’m getting old, but that I can still can hold my own against a kitten, does make me feel kind of good.

Of course, as I replied to my well-wishes – just like when blowing out candles on a cake – I had to keep face. I’m expected to grin; not complain. But I assume you’re reading this, not for pleasantries, but for truth (if you’re after half-naked photos – they’re in my ebook). So here it is: The month has been kind of shitty: Numerous plans to camp got postponed due to bad weather; I got quite sick again, making it my third of fourth time this year; And I’m coming to terms with the fact that I didn’t exactly save the world or change the country by being here.

Then again: I got given a surprise birthday cake at work, and a farewell by the youth group I’ve been involved with; I was able to organise another successful tour with P&O Cruises, as well as a Pink October Dinner; and going out on Halloween with my face painted was fun too. So I guess it’s all “sai pai” ( good in Tongan). Nothing is guaranteed or promised in life anyways. Even if you are living on a tropical island, you can’t expect things to always be sunshine and rainbows.

As per every birthday, my self-appointed inner critic also did appear for his usual review: “At this age I expected you to be doing X, have Y, be married to Z with so many children that you have to name them numerically.” I’ve learned by now, what screws us up most in life is this voice and the accompanying pictures in our heads of how things are “supposed to be.” Thankfully, from this whole experience, I’ve learned how to better focus on how things actually are.

I was also busy being bewildered by another thought: Exactly one year ago on my last birthday, when I got offered this position, the daunting “unknown” was where I currently am. Now the same place I didn’t want to leave… has got me anxious. Whoah, that’s a trip out.

What will I do? Where will I live? Will everyone be the same? What will I eat ? … Butter chicken, nan bread, steak, cottage cheese with blue berries, brown rice and tuna, kangaroo burgers. God I love having a short attention span sometimes.

Well put by a friend back home:

“Don’t worry about coming home, it can’t compare to what you’ve had to do over the last year.” – Jamie

I know this is the last part of my adventure. This year has been less about what I’ve accomplished and more about what I’ve learned; especially about myself. Answering the big question of, “was it worth it?” depends on what’s valued; which I’ve also now got answers for. It also depends on, not only what’s learned here; but what’s lived when I return… so maybe things are still far from over. Maybe this isn’t the adventure; life is.

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