Cyclone Gita hit Tonga -and we need a lot of help to help the community

Want to help us? Here’s the link to the Youcaring fundraiser!

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Before
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After

Cyclone Gita hit Tonga in the middle of the night last Monday 12th February as a category 4/5 tropical cyclone. One week later, while the whole nation is still hard at work cleaning and fixing what can be fixed already, we at Seleka feel we need to reach out to the wide world to help us rebuild our “art and community centre”.  Gita’s powerful force tragically destroyed all that we had established and given that the  arts and culture are not a priority in the midst of so much destruction of family homes it is understandable that the international aid for Tonga will be focused on more immediate concerns for our displaced families. However we believe we should get back to work as soon as possible as the young people who used to attend our premises may soon feel isolated and idle.

For those of you who don’t know Seleka, here’s a shortcut version of what it is: originally founded as an art group by Tongan visual artist Tevita Latu so he could practice his art and train the local youth to it in 2008, it has become an all inclusive solid community of mostly young Tongans ready to involve themselves in any creative movement and in any community work. Through these endeavours these young people learn to become responsible members of the society and respectful, tolerant individuals. It has also been a halfway house for many at a point in their lives, and a social support group for all those in need until they themselves get better, and then can turn  to help help others. It is  undoubtedly a non-judgemental, caring environment -Seleka is here for all. As one of the young members said yesterday “Selekarians come in many different forms, but none of them is money”. And this is where we need your help.

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What it used to look like inside

Our venue was entirely wiped out. What could be salvaged of it was used to provide emergency material to fix homes in the vicinity. The members were sent in groups to help neighbours in need one after the other. Even members whose homes had been severely damaged were willing to help around, because this is the real Seleka spirit. When we talked yesterday, the member whose family home has sustained the most damage (roof and a wall entirely gone) is the one who brought up that the volunteer work in the community is what makes Seleka important to him, besides helping each other in learning from each other within the group. Another very young member and promising artist raised the point that Seleka has given him the opportunity to discover contemporary art, train in it and become good enough so he could sell artwork and earn money he’s proud of to contribute to his family. Valorising the youth through community work and self-development on all fronts: the Seleka spirit, even if it may require tricking them into doing something useful with their lives at times.

This article should be kept short and go to the point but here are a few links to read or hear more about the group in general, and its art actions, in and out of Tonga:

The group’s Facebook page

the group’s Twitter account

A radio interview about Seleka on Radio New Zealand
An article from this blog with a lot about the social aspect of Seleka
An article published in the Pacific Arts Association – Tonga 2015 conference publication: “Trading Traditions: the role of the arts in the Pacific’s expansive exchange networks”
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Sam Neill came to hang out at Seleka with us and the Onion Squad in October last year and shot for the Foxtel UNCHARTERED documentary series

What we want for this new building is to be stronger than the previous one -unsurprisingly- and bigger to be even more inclusive. Here’s a non-exhaustive list of what we’ve been doing and hosting in the old building and garden, and what we want to add to the list:

  • the Seleka art studio for painting and drawing practice and classes (certifications available since 2017 throught the Tongan International Academy), as well as art books and documentary screenings for exploration and resources.
  • art exhibitions for the students and master, attractive to the whole local community
  • live music rehearsals
  • Pacific Verse workshops (with Lee Kava) for verbal and musical free expression
  • dance practice (especially for the Onion Squad -local hip hop group)
  • artist residences, camps for artists
  • film making
  • facilitation of workshops for a range of local communities (art, art therapy and community awareness)
  • Havelu village local group meetings (ex: the Women Development Group)
  • safe and comfortable halfway house for youth in need of support (family problems, incoming recruits from outer islands etc.)
  • climate refuge for local families
  • community food garden

We are still working out a definite plan and budget, but we know that we need a minimum of 28.000 Tongan pa’anga (10,400 euros or USD13,000 or AUD16,000 or NZD17,600 or £9,100) to claim land on the lagoon to extend the land that was just given to us, build an access road and a basic but STRONG building and dependent lavatory with power supply. Any money on top of that amount would surely be put to good use to improve the new structure and if there’s a lot of money left, we could buy a truck to get ourselves and our supplies to less mobile communities (such as the psychiatric ward of the hospital, with whom we’ve already done some work).

We do not have a proper plan for rewards except eternal thanks and we’d happily make art works available to our big supporters when we’re ready to get back to work. Do get in touch for info or request, we’re here to help you help us -we’re more used to being here to help others, so these are special times but we’ll do our best!

So if you want to help, the link to the fundraiser is here. You may not be able to give us coin, but no doubt you can share the link on your social media, hit us on Facebook and spread the love!

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On the plus side, since the destruction we can really enjoy the view over Fanga’uta lagoon

Where it’s too hot to think today, but…

When you randomly happen to share your art projects on a hot Sunday, and feel like they’re getting more real by the minute. If any of my readers should be interested to know more, get involved (if in Tonga) or help fund raise (anywhere on earth), leave a comment and I’ll get back to you asap! Feel free to share if you like what you read 🙂

It’s also ok to comment about the weather, or just to say something nice about my lovely broken English with a French accent: It’s too hot to get it checked today!

Prologue

Today is Sunday. It was so hot when I woke up at 7.30 that I couldn’t bear to read in bed for long. Although I do love to read the news in bed, especially in these troubled days in politics (French alert: this weekend we’re voting in the first round of the left wing Primary for our upcoming presidential election). I eventually steered up to turn the fan on, and went back to reading in bed.

But it proved insufficient, and I did what I never do on Sunday: I got up before 8.30. Maybe because my very bad sunburns from the 2.5 hour bike ride yesterday made me so uncomfortable. Or maybe because I could feel this was going to be a productive day. Yes, a productive Sunday in Tonga, in spite of burns that make me want to stay in all week. Continue reading Where it’s too hot to think today, but…

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 I try to define where is home but get side-tracked by identity and Charlie

{Sometimes things just need to be vented out. I thought I was doing something but then these things just caught up with me. And I had to push till the end of it, through the tears that were burning my eyes and in spite of the final roughness of this piece of writing. Emotions took over me, emotions that I thought I now had in control. I’m on my way back from a long travel that took me to France and to other places I’ve called home at some point of (my) history. A trip that I thought would help me solve some of the “home equation” and that allowed face to face discussions of the painful memories with my friends who had been in my thoughts and my Facebook messenger the previous year and a half (more than ever before), which is what I probably anticipated the most for my healing process. But considering the amount of crying I went through during the writing of the second part of this, I still have a lot of healing left to do.}
{there is a lot going on in the links. Things that I didn’t want to spell out for concision, or because it hurt too much}
Is home the same thing as where one comes from?

In the many years and places I have lived outside of my birthplace, I have often heard questions such as “when are you going back home?” or “don’t you miss home too much?” and it has always seemed unexpected of me to call the place where my actual home is, “home”. I mean, yes I come from France. But does that prevent the house where I live in another country from being where I feel at home? If I’m correct about the original English meaning of the word, that’s really what it means: the place where I sleep and eat and shower and relax and have friends over, and cook and do my washing and so much more, is home. Where else in the world could home be, I ask you?

I have lived in Tonga for 3.5 years, most of that time in the same house with the same landlords and neighbours and the same Chinese falekoloa (local grocer) around the corner. I had no obligation to stay in that house at all or even in the country after the initial 2 years I had come for, and if I didn’t feel like this was home, I would not have stayed. As I have done all my adult life. But I chose to remain in Tonga because I feel at home in Tonga. Now, would I like the falekoloa to be stocked with cheese is an entire other question.

Not exactly my hood, but close enough

Do all French people miss cheese when they are not in France? I don’t think so. Some don’t even like it. I personally don’t smoke, don’t like wine and don’t drink black coffee and it doesn’t make me any less French – a whole lot less stereotypical to foreigners, yes. I don’t really miss cheese either. Not that I’m not going to gorge on it as soon as an occasion arises, but I don’t miss it daily. Not having cheese in your fridge comes with the choice of living overseas. Would I love it if brie was readily available in Tonga and at a decent price? YES! Would I feel offended if it were a small, tasteless, pasteurized, chewy dairy product from Australia/ New Zealand and presented to me as a French product? Yes!

Can cheese be part of one’s identity?

Continue reading Where I try to define where is home but get side-tracked by identity and Charlie

A little chat with a sensitive monster cyclone

Dear TC Winston, thanks for having changed your track –again.

You are the most inconsistent entity I’ve seen since Sarkozy, when he declared he was

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Winston’s track, when I wrote the draft last night

back in politics to save France after he said he’d be out of politics forever if he was not elected for a second term as President of the French Republic. Yes Winston, your eyes are reading it right: I am comparing you to the most annoying, pretentious and BS-prone French President ever. As much as I’d like to blame his dangerously stupid person on being human and therefore imperfect (especially given his obvious Napoleon complex of the short guy who wants to be bigger than real life), in your case, I can’t find any excuse for you.

Wait, what? Did I hear “climate change”?

Are you insinuating that you were forced to change your track again (!), that it is not just because you wanted to be bigger and more damaging? That, seriously, I could understand. A Category 2 cyclone that goes around half of the South Pacific and doesn’t even kill one or two humans, or destroy for large areas of cultivated land for years to come? That’s a lame outcome. Growing to Category 4 and backtracking, but missing Vava’u anyway, that must have made you angry, so you went ahead to hit Fiji –real bad, too. You nasty attention seeker.

So now, you’re trying to make me believe that you’re not such an evil little cyclone eager for attention, but that global warming made you do it. Are you suggesting that (human) world leaders that don’t give a rat’s ass about environment unless it’s profitable are to be blamed for the likes of you? Continue reading A little chat with a sensitive monster cyclone

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