If you saw yesterday’s post, you’ll know that I found her again, there in Tonga. She’d been waiting for me. My young self, lost in the Tropics. Waiting for me to help her say goodbye to our childhood years. I moved to Papua New Guinea when I was seven, and after seven more of my formative years there, I went to boarding school in Melbourne. While I was away, two separate, major, unforeseen things happened. Our dog died and my Mum and Dad left PNG. And so we were gone from there too, all four kids, but without ever going back to say goodbye. It’s hard leaving by remote. My young self has been waiting since then. To finally let it go. And here in this surrogate tropical paradise, I have.
I love coincidences. The way life weaves threads that cross and re-cross. The way seemingly impossible connections can be made, simply by chance. The skipper of our boat yesterday, had lived in Lae, during the mid eighties. We both inhabited the same small expatriate community in the same small coastal town, at the same time! How bizarre then, that for only one day in another Pacific nation altogether, there we were, inhabiting the same boat, reminiscing and laughing over shared nostalgias. I found the easy understanding between two people who have been there; the club of ‘others’. We don’t fit in our home culture, we don’t fit in our adopted cultures. But there is a thing we share, a culture of our own. There are ‘third culture kids’ like us all over the world. I love to think of us all peppering our communities with our unique perspectives. He made me laugh, reminded me of the crazy way things were, there. Funny anecdotes, silly stories and sad remembrances too, like the sight of young children with teeth rotted out from Betel nut chewing. We talked about the uncomfortable juxtaposition of corruption, big business and the vulnerability of Third World countries. That guy was a gift to me, to my young self.
Yes, I know you.
I know what it was like.
I know how much you wish you could have said goodbye.
And that was my beautiful gift from Tonga. A coincidence. The right person in the very moment I needed one, some solidarity and then, the end of that chapter.
I can let it go. All the varied extremes and astonishing moments of my childhood. All the shared knowings of being around others living the expatriate life in a powder keg country, all the fears and all the joys, the beauty, the people. The way all of it greyed out into shiny shopping malls and the clean streets of a shallow, sophisticated Australia. Another school, a new teacher telling me “We don’t want to know about where you have been. Couldn’t you just try to fit in?” …and so I did.
My young self has been waiting for me, here in this place of warm breezes and gentle seas. Every where I turn my memories are triggered into sharp focus. So many things to finally say goodbye to. It’s a long chapter that has been waiting for a final full stop. I feel old, looking back. But I am so grateful to Tonga, these people, full of gracious generosity. I feel so fortunate to have had my quiet reprisal, here. Thank you for showing me the best of my childhood, for the gentle gift of closure.
She’s alright, that expat kid, she’s all grown up.
Made of equal parts order and chaos, but I wouldn’t want her… me, any other way.
Dido: Sand in my Shoes