Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Stranger in a strange land

I'm at liberty to say that Briar and Zane are on the plane as I write (unless something utterly unforseen has happened) and I'm expecting to see them in about two hours, cavity searches at customs notwithstanding.

Briar has sent a post descibing the last few hours on the island which she couldn't get through till recently (they've been without the internet for the last two weeks). It's a moving and soulfully insightful piece and I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

Here is a post that I wrote just before leaving the island:

A wild cyclone is devouring Takuu. It rips through the coconut trees. The lagoon is stirred into a murky grey and its surface is littered with hundreds of tiny white caps. The banana palms are shredded into fine green strips which remind me of thinly cut paper used for decorating the edges of cakes or cocktail straws. Rain falls in bucket loads, hitting the ground in violent splashes. The chickens and roosters squawk and scream with horror but the ducks stand dead still, showering their waxy backs. The wind has a constant drumming sound, like that of a tide moving back and forth, but with a viciously wild and unpredictable edge. It blows directly through our tiny shelter, inside the eastern door and out through the western one. It deafens the sound of my thoughts like an oddly intoxicating blanket of gloom which wraps itself around you and over takes your mood and mobility. Rain and hair are in my eyes and a wet lap lap clings to my blistered legs. Nobody is outside (except for me and the birds). All have crept away. Men are sleeping. Women are huddled around open fires in the cook houses. Children stop their noisy games finding quieter activities inside. Meanwhile a lap lap from a clothes line is hurdled across the street. There is a loud crash as something three yards away has fallen from its place. Could it be the loose corrugated iron which acts as our make shift door, or the roof from our neighbors cook house? Before I have time to find out the whole place shakes from the violent clapping of thunder, followed by bright flashes of sheet lightening.

Do you think the boat will be here today? Hmm I don't think so. Every twelve hours we have a new piece of news. The last few reports have said that the rusty hulk that is the Sankamap is still in Tasman. First with a missing engine, then with the absence of its three anchors all lost along the way. We have learnt not to care or worry about when it will arrive. This is a great opportunity to put into practice what Echart Tollie calls " the power of now" (basically staying in the present moment) and perhaps it would be better to travel on the Sankamap when the sun-really-does-come-up?

I stand soaking wet in the middle of this storm and think back over our trip..

What will I take away and what will I leave behind for the winds to ravage? It is hard to know what you have actually learnt from a place while you are still in it. Usually the most valuable insights occur when you return home. I like the way T.S Elliot puts it in his poem 'Little Gidding':

We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time

I was pleasantly surprised when these words turned up at the beginning of the film Run Lola Run. Speaking of quotes, I should add (while standing in the marae drenched through)

"There is nothing so strange in a strange land as the stranger who comes to visit it".

I read this at the beginning of a Denise O'Rouke film and fits appropriately with the way I look now. Something that could fit the description of perturbed drunkard – although this is just me stumbling around as I fight the elements! It also sums up the many ironic moments we have had since our arrival. For example, one day I was standing in the middle of the street holding the satellite phone to my ear (this is a plastic brick with a huge aerial) whilst being interviewed by Radio New Zealand. Around me villagers are hauling giant taro into piles, for an annual customary ritual. The situation just seemed too surreal.

I wonder what it would have been like for missionaries a hundred or so years ago. They wouldn't have had radio reports with news from afar, nor satellite phones or blog posts, only handwritten journals. They wouldn't have known whether their boat ride home had lost its three anchors, let alone become ship wrecked with no surviving passengers! They would have ventured to foreign lands like Takuu, with the expectation that they may never come back, or with rumors that they could be eaten alive (this is eventually what happened to the famous John Williams – an English Missionary from the early 1800s). Our trip is hardly remote by these standards, especially considering we can still use internet and even ring our producer Lyn for help when things get rough. Perhaps one thing I have learn is just how dependent I am on modern inventions. Live in a place with no hospitals, medicine and little news of the out side world and you have a completely different view on life.

The other thing I have been reminded of is the importance of staying positive. For some, this might sound like a 101 self help book lesson, but many times I have needed to focus on this simple wisdom. I was particularly inspired by a man named Ben. He turned up near the end of our stay and I got the opportunity to interview him one day with no prior warning. He is one of those guys who has an extra bounce in his step. He had once lived in Australia but has come back home expressing that he wanted to do his part to help his people. Part of Ben's work involves a business buying and exporting sea cucumber from Takuu. It is the only economy on Takuu (before this there was nothing for quite some time). The selling of the sea cucumber provides a way for families to find funds for their school fees and buy other living essentials and food items. Zane and I have been talking of and scheming up many other options and ideas that could help the community, and it was encouraging to hear the same thoughts being voice by Ben.

I have been asking many of my characters what is their view on change. When I asked Ben he immediately replied with one word: "Positive". He went on to say "we must take the word 'positive' into every situation and in every negative circumstance we must find a positive outcome". So many times during this trip I have tended to look at the glass as if it was only half empty. It is easy to get carried away thinking about how much nicer it would have been if I could have only taken this bit of gear or that lens etc. It is also quite stressful knowing that we have a limited period of time to shoot the film and that it is hard to get back to the island, so as much as possible must be filmed on this trip. Sometimes it has been hard to organize shoots and get the interviews I have wanted. In the hot sun and the dense coral the process has often felt like a long battle up hill (but I must say almost always exciting and enjoyable).

I have learnt that the important thing is to enjoy the journey rather than focus on the destination and to always stay positive (you never know - if I was living in John Williams time – I might have ended up being eaten when I got there so best not to think about it too much)! So I will throw all my negative thoughts to the winds. I will splash in a few more puddles, sing in the rain, and continue looking like a perturbed drunkard.

"There is nothing so strange in a strange land as the stranger who comes to visit it".

- Briar signing out from Takuu..

1 comment:

Tiff said...

Marvellous Briar. Like Lyn, I too found this very moving and insightful. I relate to your anxiety about having a limited time in a place and wondering if you've got everything you need. Personally, I know I'll probably never get enough of everything, but you are right. It is the journey, the lessons learnt and trusting that the glass is half full, that there has to be some good in things. Congratulations on arriving home safe and sound. I wish you all the best with the film.