Upon first glance, this picture may seem accidental, even meaningless perhaps. To be quite frank, this was my initial reaction upon discovering this photo in my camera roll as well. There was nothing distinctly interesting or aesthetically pleasing about this picture; it was simply a unfocused shot of the window view of our rooms in Tonga. So why was it still in my camera roll?
I was about to delete this photo when I suddenly realized exactly why I had taken this photo. It was right before lights out in room 7 (aka best room). Like always Sana, Alex, Lily, and I were debriefing the day and expressing any bottled up thoughts. It had become our daily routine to talk for hours (i mean a reasonable amount of time to have enough rest for the work day) about anything that crossed our minds. This was always one of my fondest memories because we talked about anything and everything. On this particular night I remember finally transitioning to the bed beside the window after sharing the big bed with Sana and Alex after being scared of critters and geckos. It sounds really pathetic now that I was too scared to sleep outside the net because of a silly gecko considering the circumstances, however after the second day my ignorant fear of geckos quickly disappeared as I realized how petty I was being.
I was looking out the window when I felt a slight feeling of deja vu. What I was seeing reminded me exactly of the Philippines; the “stray” dog keeping guard outside, the chipped paint on the walls, the styling of window. This was home and I never wanted to leave. Because of this I had nonchalantly taken a photo and tossed my phone away not bothering to check what it looked like.
During this trip I cannot say I had a specific “aha!” moment in which I took a step back. But I discovered you cannot force or rush an “aha!” moment and everyone’s moment is different and occurs at a different time. For me it happened much later than expected. It happened as I was struggling to pull myself back to reality in Canada. Interacting with those who hadn’t been on the trip, I realized that no matter what stories I told or what pictures/videos I show. There is no way for me to truly express what I have gone through on the trip. When I arrived back in Richmond I felt like I was clicking resume; nothing had changed and everything was exactly the way when I left it. I despised it. I recall hiding in the closet to escape it all. Tonga was so far from my grasps at this point and I was beginning to question if it even happened at all. The transition to life in Canada was so fast and stressful compared to the slow and carefree nature of Tonga. I used to hate the people in the hallways who would walk so slow like they don’t have a care in the world, but now that was me.
In Tonga I realized I forgot about the existence of a lot of things; people, school, social media, my belongings that I once said I couldn’t go a day without. This picturesque little corner of the world seemed hidden. It was a tucked away beauty that I wanted to selfishly keep to myself forever. So disconnected from the rest of the world, I never felt so connected with myself and the people around me. Without all the fancy embellishments and belongings that make up our identity back at home, we were all the same. Social groupings and pre-judgements ceased to exist and we bonded through our common goal.
What I truly admire about the island of Atata is its ability to humbly and effortlessly show us its beauty. Not only through the amazing sights, but rather through the golden hearts of the people. No matter who you were, you were greeted with a smile and a hi. I had the best hugs of my entire life on Atata. Whether it be through a game of stella stella oh la, music, or dance parties, it was undeniable how lively and happy everyone was. It was contagious. There was nothing more you could ask for, nothing else you would crave on this island. You would think living in a more populous city you would be more integrated socially as there are many people all around you, however in actuality it’s the opposite. In cities we are always so consumed in our lives to bother about others. Although I am not as good at speeches as Tieni, all i know for certain is that they have undoubtedly impacted us in more ways than one by them just being themselves, and we will never forget that.