Island time is a beautiful thing. I’m usually always looking at my watch, making sure I’m not late for boarding time. But in Vanuatu, I’m surprised when I realize that I’ve explored every inch of the city and still have hours to spare. In Solomon Islands, I am perplexed when I realize I actually have time to do everything I want, despite only being here for a day.
At home, there is a constant To-do list etched to the back of my mind. The western world is hooked on progress and that easily blurs into constantly trying to measure up. We think in lines of competition when we should be thinking about contribution. Our worth becomes dictated on what we create and what value we have to society.
The shops close at 3PM here. The only clean water is the rainwater they collect off the roofs. I walk down strips of beach only to realize that this land belongs to somebody and I am trespassing. But when they see me, they toss me a toothy smile. Everyone I approach is more than happy to talk to me. I put in my headphones, ignoring what I think are catcalls in Fiji. But the boy just wants to ask about the ship that is in harbor. He saw our performances on television last night and he is simply curious.
Being throttled into these societal constructs made me realize what a lack of community there is back at home. No wonder I felt so isolated in Toronto last year. The ports of call woke me up to what truly makes an individual happy –the people surrounding us. How lovely it is to feel that people care. Everyone should feel cared for. And in places like Fiji and the Solomon Islands, that’s the default. You grow up feeling that your neighbor is your family. You have this cushion of courage that is made up of people who love you. This cushion can act as a trampoline that will lead you to achieve a greater self.
I used to be drunk on empowerment, thinking of myself as a gallant eagle, using nothing but the sheer strength of my willpower to soar. I’m only now realizing that I am nothing without these people surrounding me that have been the wind beneath my wings. I’ve always felt that millennials are far from self-absorbed. We only want to desperately make something of ourselves because we want to make something for this world.
And to be fair, island time comes with its own problems. It’s hard to facilitate projects of change when everyone functions on sloth mode. Getting things done is important to improve the health and functionality of a society but it doesn’t necessarily distill a sense of peace in an individual. And to get anything done properly, it’s integral to come from a place of peace.
I walk behind Yamamo and Sandra. It’s the end of the day and we have 10 minutes to get back to the ship. People are clustered in front of shops and bars, enjoying each other’s company as the three of us quickly jolt by. It’s apparent we are foreigners, one white-skinned blonde girl, another in a cliché tourist hat and a Japanese kid clutching a bulky camera. “Goodnight” says a man on the back of a truck as he drives by. One by one, the Solomon Islanders wish us a good night and safe departure as we pass them.
My legs jolt into aliveness as I run past the shipping containers to get onto the ship. That night, some islanders come onto the boat and we sip Kava and play guitar into the night. They politely ask me if I want more Kava the minute my cup has been emptied into my throat. As the ship departs the island and I stare back at a place that gave me so much peace, I can’t help but think us westerners have it wrong. Not because we are ever conflicted or existentially doomed but because we pursue the wrong things in order for us to achieve happiness. Because we think of happiness as something to achieve. Our To-do lists exist so we can reach a grand climax that will finally give us what we want.
But all we really want is each other. Not validation, not some sort of ego play, but just to be seen and heard, to be cared for. To wholeheartedly give ourselves to others and feel secure in their clasps. To constantly exchange parts of ourselves for parts of others.
Who are you if not trickles of everyone you have met and all that has moved you?