Discoveries of self

6 Apr

What does it mean to “belong”,

do you need to have been their long?

What if the place where you were born and raised,

Only felt like it were a passing phase?

Could you still discover your true belonging,

Or would you be forever longing?

Does one even need to belong to a particular place,

Or can it simply be a familiar face?

Can you belong to a point in time,

Or even only within your own mind?

To belong do you need to be that same,

Like everyone else, not just in name?

What does it mean to belong?

After struggling my way through the previous 18 months of being a square peg in a round hole, I was happy to be leaving Australia. Not that my rejection of Australian culture was the sole reason I decided to become an overseas volunteer, but the search for something more meaningful than a commodified culture of people sleepwalking through life, the culture of my “home”, was an urgent need. The opportunity to immerse myself in a different culture, to give and to receive from something new, seemed too good to pass up.

Although I didn’t really know what I was looking for, I found it in Fiji and the Pacific. Cultures of solidarity, of community, of extended families where cousins become brothers and sisters and friends becomes cousins. Cultures where “where are you from” is more important than “what do you do” (And even then, the importance isnt because of establishing oneself in a vertical relationship with other through a hierarchy of village and towns, but rather establishing where one fits horizontally, with the possibility of being related to the other person, or knowing whether one should playfully joke with their “tauvu”). A culture where “I belong, therefore I am” was the motto, rather than “I have”, or “I consume, therefore I am”. I immediately let myself be drawn in, to be warmly embraced in something I didnt know, but something that felt like “home”.

However I also had another identity that I willingly accepted upon undertaking this journey – that of an Australian volunteer. Not quite an expat, obviously not a local. But somewhere in between, thanks to the volunteer label, which meant we possibly cared a bit more than the expats. It was a label I was happy to wear, because without it I wouldn’t have been there. But gee it wore thin, very quickly.  It was the push and pull of it – the pull of the beautiful new culture in which I was immersed, combined with the push of having to deal with the same old conversations about the best places to go to the beach, the best hotels, and the like…I couldn’t escape the fact that “Australia” came with the tag of “Australian volunteer”. I found myself not playing by the rules, whether they be unspoken social rules or overt volunteer policies (but thats a story for another time).

And so it was that I continued to be drawn towards another culture, other ways of being, other ways of seeing and organizing the world and relating with others. Yet I was still an outsider, the “other”. To see the passion of Pacific cultures, and desperately wanting to be a part of that, but still being on the outer. I remember having one Fijian activist look me square in the eye and with a mix of the history of anti-colonial struggle and the love of Pacific pride on her breath ask me what I could possibly know about inequality and struggle coming from my privileged white Australian background.  Maybe I could only ever be the outsider, face pressed up against the glass looking in, but never to be invited inside. Or maybe the spirit of Pasifika could reside within me, journey with me back to Australia to provide new colour to my “home”?

I was to find out the latter sooner that expected. December 5th, 2006; Fiji’s 4th coup. My phone rang, and I thought my friend was calling just to ask me out to lunch. “We have to go to Nadi. We’re being evacuated”, she said. My head was spinning with a mix of thoughts and emotions – “Why do we have to leave our friends and colleagues?” I wondered.  “Ah, my activist friend was right about the privilege white Australian after all.  When the going gets tough, the privileged get going. Shit. I will be Melbourne tomorrow!” Being in Melbourne I felt like an alien. I couldn’t look people in the eye. I felt like a book that had been put back on the wrong shelf. I was no longer a square pegs trying to fit in round holes because the holes had disappeared altogether. How could I feel this way about being “home”? Surely “home” would comfort me during this difficult situation. I couldn’t deal with it. Two weeks after being evacuated I bought a ticket and went back to Fiji. And I will never forget the overwhelming feeling that drenched me when I walked through the front door to where I was staying in Fiji – “I am home”.

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One Response to “Discoveries of self”

  1. bec4890 April 6, 2011 at 4:29 pm #

    It’s really quite uncanny how similar my feelings and attitudes are to yours.
    I have always been quite into travelling and seeing other cultures. So when the opportunity arose for me to apply to teach (which is my first passion) overseas, I couldn’t pass it up. I had just got to the point where I felt like I had to get away. I had been with my now fiancee since I was 16 and had therefore grown up with him. I didn’t really know who I was without him there. This was my chance to prove to myself that I was still the same independent person I was before i met him. I think I needed to know that I could do things without him.
    I was also so sick of the prejudices I was surrounded in. My fiancee is a black, South African Muslim and I am a white, Australian with a Catholic mother and an Athiest father. You can imagine how our relationship has been. I needed to see that people could all live and work together and get back my faith in humanity which had been lost.

    I was surprised that the whole month I was away, I never once missed home. But now I am home, not a day goes past that I don’t miss India.

    I sometimes feel guilty because I talk about India so much. And I love India so much. And I can’t wait to go back and get away from here. It’s not that I don’t love Australia because I do. I am blessed to live such a priveledged life. I just feel like, as you said, a square peg in an environment filled with round holes.

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