Friday, April 11, 2014

What's Happening in My Life (April Update)

It occurred to me recently, that many readers of this blog are either friends, friends of friends, or people I’ve met through online forums. These people are still interested in hearing what’s going on in my life, so I’ve decided to start a monthly update to satisfy your curiosity..!

A little background to my life, for the newer readers: In 2011, just before the birth of our third child, we sold our home in Canberra, Australia, got rid of most of our possessions, and put the rest into a 3x3m storage unit. When our daughter was just 11 weeks old, we moved across the ocean to my husband’s country of birth – the Kingdom of Tonga.

It was meant to be a year of exploration, challenge and growth, before returning to our comfortable lives in Australia. 

More than 2 years later, we’re still here! During this time, our family of 5 has been living in one bedroom of my mother-in-law’s home. (More about the poverty and paradise of everyday island life here.) At some point, we dreamed up this crazy idea of shipping a container of building supplies over, and building our own home, amongst the coconut trees and taro plantations.

We spent the summer of 2012 in Australia, and after months of sourcing all the supplies ourselves, going to auctions and warehouses, scouring the classifieds and driving from one end of Sydney to the other, we finally had our building materials. Then we began the herculean effort of loading the 40-foot container. My husband and I spent days, and one entire night getting it finished. I thought the hardest part was over. Ha! I often think it’s a merciful thing we can’t see into the future, or we’d be overwhelmed at the enormity of what is still in front of us.  

The container arrived, but we still had no land, despite a promise from the village chief. So we busied ourselves setting up Tonga’s first ever health food business – I’m not one to just sit around and wait. Must be the Capricorn in me! After a year of waiting for land, an uncle offered us a piece of land on his bush plantation, which we gratefully accepted.

The exorbitant rent we were paying for the shop, eventually drained all our savings and we sadly closed down our shop, but continued selling our products from home to a few loyal customers. 

Our income had reduced to an occasional dribble. We managed to scrape by with money my husband was given for taking people’s produce to market, or picking up people from the wharf. Somehow, he became an unofficial courier service, because we have reliable transport (we shipped a 4x4 ute over with the building supplies) in a village where most people don’t have any transport (except their own two feet!). 

We knew that we would never be able to get our house built on such a tiny income, so in February, my husband flew to Australia to work for a few months. The children and I stayed here with his family.

Since he left, I’ve realized that the presence of a husband shielded me from some of the realities of island life.

When people wanted something (which is often), they would come and ask my husband, but now they come and ask me. Where my husband would have dealt with any differences or the inevitable issues that come up when three families are living in one house together, now it’s up to me.

It so happens that I am terrible at saying “no” and I’m terrible at confronting confrontation! I’ve struggled often, and yet I recognize that this experience is an opportunity for me to address some of the things that challenge me, such as learning to say “no” sometimes, and how to resolve conflict respectfully, rather than sweeping it under the carpet where it festers into resentment. 

When my husband arrived in Australia, he immediately started working at a well-paying job on a construction site. Our spirits were high. We would get started on the house, and he’d be home again in no time. 

Then began a series of setbacks, specifically designed to test my patience, I believe! 

The bulldozer we hired to clear the land finally turned up, but only did a fraction of the job (kept the $200 we paid, though). I was expecting to arrive and find a newly cleared patch of ground, with all the coconut trees and undergrowth pushed to the side. It was a rather unpleasant surprise to find only some of the trees had been pushed over, left right where they fell, and the undergrowth untouched.

The builder (my husband’s brother) attempted to get them back and finish the job. They said they would, but never showed. We decided to just get on and do it ourselves, which set us back several weeks.

That was followed by an entire week of torrential downpour, where the schools closed down and we were all stuck inside our bedroom for a week, getting on each others nerves.

When the rain finally cleared, we began the slow, arduous task of cutting up the coconut with a chainsaw and shifting the wood out of the road. Coconut wood is extremely hard wood, and HEAVY. We had to use our 4x4 to tow away sections of the trees. That was followed by more rain, so work came to a halt again. 

Then, some of the village youth came with machetes and cleared away the undergrowth. (As you can see, it's cool to show off your undies and boxer shorts here in Tonga...)

...which was immediately followed by news that the village chief had put out a decree that only one home was allowed per bush allotment (ours would be the second). So, my mother-in-law and I dressed in our Sunday best and went to see the village chief (who also happens to be the Prime Minister of Tonga).

One of the things I love about Tonga, is that the Prime Minister lives in a nondescript house, on an ordinary suburban street and people can go to his house and talk to him. So, that’s what we did! I baked a banana cake, since the custom is to take gifts when visiting an “important” person. 

When we arrived, he was standing out front of his house, talking on the phone. We waited, and when he finished, he turned to us. He was dressed in T-shirt and shorts, about to go and play tennis. My mother-in-law told him about our situation, and he immediately gave his permission for us to go ahead with our building plans. I hadn’t even whipped out my banana cake! Elatedly, we drove away (with our banana cake) and everybody ate it for supper (except me, because I’m now gluten-free. More on that later. )

That was immediately followed by more rain, which brings us to today. When the skies clear, we’re back on the chainsaw again, to try and cut down another five coconut trees which are growing too close to where the house will be built. These trees were meant to be removed by the bulldozer, too…

Meanwhile, my husband’s work in Australia has slowed to a day here, another day there.

When I first came to Tonga, I was possibly the world’s most impatient person. With the slow pace of island life, I soon realized that I could either learn patience, or go mad. Obviously, I chose the former :-)

So, while I’ve had moments of intense frustration during the past month or two, I’ve kept my sanity by focusing on the fact that when I finally have my own home again, I’m going to really, REALLY appreciate it, because of these challenges. 

When I get frustrated about the people in this house, with their different ideas on work ethic, cleanliness, personal property, child-rearing and discipline etc…I use it to fuel my determination to carry on, to see this through to completion.

I know I will eventually be in my own home, surrounded by green trees and whispering coconut palms. I see this clearly in my mind, and I conjure up this image whenever faced by another setback. I dreamed up, and drew those plans myself.

In other news, I quit gluten three weeks ago. Quitting sugar was really hard, quitting meat was really easy, but wheat has always been my greatest food addiction. I've known this for a long time. But I'm feeling good and staying strong, after two previous attempts last year. I've been using the rainy days as opportunity to try out new recipes. My absolute favorite so far, is the Cumin & Lime Baked Sweet Potatoes.

If it's possible, they are even nicer when tossed together with shredded lettuce, diced avocado and crumbled feta. Heavenly!!

Coming in a close second is pizza, made with chickpea flour, topped with home-made pizza sauce, onion, basil and cheese. Oh, my!!

The base is made using a recipe called socca. It is kind of sloppy and hard to handle when hot, but if you allow it to cool for 15 - 20 minutes, it becomes much firmer. But seriously, who wants to wait that long for pizza!

Until next time,

Love & Light.

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