Where I explain how I have been busy…

I haven’t posted anything in forever.

I have been busy.

I have “gone back to school” thanks to Coursera.org -currently starting course 4/5 in a Photography Specialisation with the Michigan State University (for the 5th time because… see second half of the post), I have also finished a course in “Indigenous Canada” with the University of Alberta. Ways to learn a lot and keep the mind in shape!

I have been taking photos (as suggested in above the paragraph). A lot. I took part in the 24HourProject and loved it (should upload some photos here…).

I have been crazy getting everything ready for the Tongan delegation to the Pūtahi Pacific artist gathering in Tahiti, then attending the art workshop, meeting amazing people from across the Pacific, developing a better understanding of the diverse cultures of this beautiful “liquid continent” (to quote my linguistics Prof L-J. Calvet, when referring to the Mediterranean Sea), learning of the culture, society and local variety of French language spoken in Tahiti (nothing will top “servitude privée” ever. It translates to “private servitude” but it means “private back street”!). Then organising all the details for my friend’s exhibition in Auckland (want to know more?)

I have been busy organising this year’s Nuku’alofa Film Festival activities, including a screening of last year’s entries in Vava’u in August (didn’t attend because… -see next paragraph), kickstarting a FilmFreeWay page for submissions and a website to complement our Facebook and Twitter accounts. Then I have been crazy busy reviewing the submissions and finally announcing the international selection, only waiting for the local ones to come in before this year’s event on 19 and 20 October… I’ve also successfully submitted a paper to talk about it at the Pacific Arts Association conference in November, so I should be in Samoa for my birthday… And of course raising funds for all of this to happen is keeping me -and not just me- busy and crazy.

I have been busy with my semi-freelance job, and I have got a very unexpected new job, that I was supposed to start the day after I came back from Tahiti: teaching French in Tonga High School for one year, because [long story]. Fun fact: the job includes taking over (a diminished version of) the Alliance française and its classes. The very cultural centre I came to open 4.5 years ago, and left when my volunteer assignment ran out 2.5 years ago. But eh, this is Tonga so I still haven’t started 2.5 months later -fingers crossed, things seem to be moving this week though. [update: I am starting on Monday!]

But more than that, I have also been (way too) busy fighting depression. Trying to move on. Old crap I’m trying to work on, only to discover all the many ways it has affected me although I never thought certain annoying aspects of me had any specific cause. Fool me. The Tahiti adventure helped a bit, with the amazing human beings I met and worked with in a creative environment, but it’s still not easy to get out of bed and do anything at all some days. I’ve managed to put the darkest thoughts at bay, and I am handling the PTSD tidbits better, so that’s a big step. Also, I have a great team of friends around me, who don’t always realise they may double as analysts…

In case you were wondering: no, living on a small Polynesian island does not mean living in absolute happiness and being lazily nursing a cocktail on the beach. There is happiness and there is leisure time, but more than anything, there is life and where there is life, there is being busy and dealing with stuff and people. For the best, and for all the rest of the spectrum.

I like being busy though, especially with good and positive acts and thoughts. That’s why I’ve been rekindling with reading more, and books that make me happy (ASOIAF series, Discworld series and Daniel Pennac in particular). I’m already thinking of the steak tartare I’ll eat once in Paris for Christmas. And of the new babies I am to meet in France -it seems that while I am busy doing stuff here, quite a few of the people I love across the world are busy becoming mothers. Babies are cute, and cute is good for the soul! Or so I want to believe.


Where I found(-ed) a family in Tonga, and why a group called Seleka is so important to many -not just me

When you come to a new country where you know literally no-one, you need to make friends unless you are perfectly asocial or possibly a sociopath. Typically, friends and family are two different groups of people, but when you live 18,500 km from your actual relatives, some friends become family. “Brothers” and “sisters” are the most common additions to the family circle, even at “home”: we all have that kind of friend that’s a sibling from another mother, right?

Well, in Tonga I took things to another level. Or maybe things took me to another level. I now have 4 sons, 1 daughter, 1 grand-daughter and a mother. I also have an angel- not too sure where to fit “angel” in my family tree though-… and a Tongan French baby whom I didn’t make, but she’s French.

The first son happened sometime mid-2013, during a role play where this student and friend of mine had decided he’d be a small child. When another student asked him where were his parents as part of the game, he realised he hadn’t planned for that, and finally pointed at me. It was funny, and it stuck. When he married last year, I got a lovely daughter-in-law who is as committed to being part of the positive change in Tonga as he is.

The daughter happened shortly after. She was this beautiful, cheeky, sassy close young girl friend of mine, who started calling me mother when she saw I was caring and looking after her in all her naughty awesomeness. Not that she can’t look after herself, she does that very well on her own. But extra loving can’t be too much. Especially since she became the mother of a little girl, who of course is my grand-daughter and to whom she gives all she can, raising a member of the new generation of creative Tongans.

The Tongan French baby is my close friends’ daughter. She has been perfect since the day she was born, in October 2015. Her name is French, her first word when she was two months old was “oui”, and she used to love when I sang La Bohême to her when she was little, so in sum, she is obviously French. I found out recently that her mother’s aunty always asked her where I was when she sees her, referring to me as her “French mother”(I guess I’m a little part of the whole family…) I love Baby and how she’s so proud of having teeth. She’s incredibly fabulous.

Now that we know that I have friends outside of it, let me introduce Seleka so you can meet the rest of the family:

Continue reading Where I found(-ed) a family in Tonga, and why a group called Seleka is so important to many -not just me

Where the most trying moment for my conscience comes every Sunday in Tonga

The inner trials of life abroad: when your adopted culture couldn’t care less about what the first article of your nation’s Constitution reads. And it’s your business to accept it and adapt. No one else’s.

Pictured above, the Royal Tombs – and this sign: “forbidden to eat curry”. In my very first days in Tonga, it taught me two essential words: ‘tapu’ as ‘forbidden’ and ‘kale’ as ‘curry’. For those who wonder: I knew ‘kai’ already. It is the same word across the Polynesian world. Isn’t it beautiful? (hint: check this BBC article). It took me a few more days to discover what the Tongans refer to as “curry”. Definitely not something resembling a South Asian dish. Kale moa (chicken curry) is the cheapest dish available in the kingdom, making it a favourite take away order at nearby 24/6 budget restaurant Talahiva.

One thing leading to another, this sign has always given me the awkward feeling that the poorer eaters were directly targeted by the very particular restriction of this order. This misled feeling likely has everything to do with the excessively specific wording of the prohibition. Needless to say no food at all is permitted on the highly tapu (‘taboo/ sacred’) Royal Tombs ground. Actually, nothing and no one apart from the very few designated caretakers of the tombs is allowed there. A matter of respect to the revered passed kings and queen resting there.

This is but one tiny sample of what is tapu in Tonga. A lot of things are tapu, but let’s stick to what has immediate effects on my experience of what could otherwise be a nice, peaceful Sunday evening in the centre of Nuku’alofa: it is a noisy, boisterous evening. Continue reading Where the most trying moment for my conscience comes every Sunday in Tonga

Where luck is not what took me to the tropics – or what keeps me there

A brief account of how I came to Tonga three years ago, and the effect hearing “I’m so jealous!” has on me -and others who know what it’s like to make choices that are not conventional.

A few of my friends have told me to blog, implying that my life could be so interesting that people could actually want to read about it. I suppose that’s a compliment? So well, I ended up thinking “why not, let’s do this thing” but maybe not for the reasons they thought.

As it turns out, I live in the South Pacific. In Tonga to be less general. In Nuku’alofa, to be specific. That may be a hint as to why people think my life is wonderful… I don’t know, I find it quite normal. But I only assume it’s fair enough I find my own life normal. Right?

People overseas and visitors from overseas alike have told me repeatedly how lucky I was Continue reading Where luck is not what took me to the tropics – or what keeps me there