34 / Aha!

To us, this poster board was nothing more than just a display that we made for our fundraising events.

A couple of days ago, when I was scrolling through my camera roll and the shared google photos albums of our class, I came upon this picture of our Tonga poster. I’ve seen this poster many times before at our past events– from our first car wash barbecue to the coin drives at Richmond centre, to the global auction and dinner. However, what I found profound was my realization of how it was made in the first place. When we first learned of what country we were headed to for our trip, most of us had never even heard of Tonga, let alone know where it was and what it looked like. Since the poster was made in May when our class was first selected, we all had little to no knowledge of the culture. Frankly, I just assumed that the photos presented on the poster were randomly pulled off of a Google Images search of “Tonga” and put blindly into a collage. At the time, they didn’t have much meaning to me or anyone else in the class.

Fast forward to over a month after our trip and seeing the poster again, everything on it seems too surreal. The collage of what used to be a compilation of generic and insignificant photos suddenly possess so much more meaning. When I look at the dancing men, I can feel the rhythm of the stomping feet, and I can hear the bright, lively music. I reminisce about the dance parties we had with Tongan music, and about the dancing lessons which the locals gave us. When I see the picture of the sunset, I remember the night we had dinner and conversations with the Tongans all while watching the sun setting over the horizon from the restaurant. I can still feel the warm sun on my back as my roommates and I take the long trek down the beach to our cabin, admiring the sea cucumbers. The children in the picture remind me of the endless rounds of stella-stella-oh-la we would play with them or the hours we spent teaching them how to throw frisbees, not to mention the inseparable bonds that were formed with them throughout our ten short days on Atata. Lastly, the photo of what used to be a random island, is now a photo of our island, Atata.

I guess the point that I’m trying to get at here is how Tonga has made such a huge impact on my life. As far of a stretch as it may seem to some, my realization of the poster’s significance has helped me bridge the gaps between the final points I’ve taken away from our trip and our lives here in Canada. When I had this “aha” moment about a month after our trip, I’ll admit, some of my old habits had already started making their ways back into my life. This “aha” moment helped me make a direct connection from the present me to the past me, and reminded me of my time in Tonga– how I’ve grown so much as an individual from just a short 12 months ago. Without a doubt, I think we could all say that the people of Tonga have impacted our lives indefinitely.

Toki sio Atata, you will always have a place in my heart.