Sunday afternoon I clicked my ruby red slippers together (ok, so they were actually TOMs…), boarded plane after plane, and after 7 incredible weeks and a long 36 hours in transit, I am finally settled back in at home. Well, maybe not as completely settled as my mom would like being that my suitcase still lays sprawled open on my bedroom floor. Yet it's more than the jet lag that keeps me from beginning to tackle this seemingly impossible task; I think I may be delaying unpacking because it would mean the end of my adventure, an adventure that has captured me fully for the past seven weeks. Sitting outside on my last day in Auki, I tried to reflect how different it would be returning home. I knew I had changed, both from the experiences I had had and the beautiful people I met along the way but I wasn't sure how this would fit in to the daily life I had left back in Connecticut and at PC. My main hope was that I would not quickly lose the humbling sense of simplicity that I had experienced the past three weeks and resist getting sucked into the materialistic hustle and bustle of schedules and technology. It was amazing to witness the community-oriented way of life in the Solomons and how it operated without the "new and improved" gadgets that you just "have to have." I also noticed that it seemed as though the less people had, the more they seemed willing to give. On one of the last days, I watched as the small daughter of the woman who presented me with the beautiful shell money necklace at St. Augustine's tried to give her own necklace away to someone else in the parish after seeing what her mother had done earlier. I was blessed to share this moment of genuine giving and sharing and appreciate the selflessness of this small girl.
I will be honest and admit that it was wonderful to once again enjoy a hot, pressurized shower and to sleep through the night without being woken by crowing roosters at 4am. However, being immersed in the culture of the Solomon Islands, even for just three weeks, has made me rethink priorities and all the 'extras' that we expend unnecessary energy on with a focus on ourselves rather than serving others. Throughout this trip, I realized I was completely dependent on the help of others in all areas, including navigating through new environments, introducing me to new people, and translating conversations (yes, both in Auki and Sydney, ha!) Life in the Solomons is simple, though far from easy, and people rely on each other's strengths to help them through challenging times and situations. In this way, I witnessed firsthand how interconnected we all were, even as an outsider from half a world away, and how each of us benefits from the strengths and unique perspectives that every individual contributes. I could not have fully prepared myself for the world that I stepped into but I did find that even after only three short weeks, I began to feel like I was being woven into the fabric of the community, each thread criss-crossing one another and ultimately all connected.
In the end, while it sounds cliché, this journey and the people I meet will remain with me forever. Years from now I may not be able to recall all the names of my Form 4 students or what specific grammar lessons I had taught, but I will always be able to bring back memories of being coated in chalk dust, nervously trying to figure out how to start that first week. Other moments, like seeing the smiling faces of the Fanualama kids swimming on our beach picnic day and the friendly “Odang!” greeting walking to school each morning, will remain special to me. And thinking about it further, coming home does not necessarily mean an end to the adventure. Rather, it gives me a chance to share my amazing experiences with others and opens new doors for further opportunities and learning. Sharing what I have. Sharing my gifts and talents. Just like that little girl and her necklace.
I guess that means I should get to unpacking that suitcase…