It’s taken years, literally years, for me to get it. With a recent trip to New Zealand, thus leaving New Caledonia for the first time in 9 months – and with a recent study of the differences between island and mainland life – something clicked.
I’m guilty of projecting my mainland life onto my requests of island life. Dreams of choice, good prices, efficiency in government and administration; dreams of vision, order, healthy competition, a commitment to excellence. All those dreams frustrated on a regular basis that send me snorkeling, hiking, swimming to remember what I love most about island life.
When we arrived in New Zealand, it was “Christmas”, as our son termed it. Life was suddenly easy, possible, friendly, pleasant, wonderfully full. Gone were the complications in trying to book an excursion, or to find out what we would need for an excursion. Gone were the closed offices, the non-existent websites, the people whose job it wasn’t was. Here, suddenly, next to everything was do-able! Safety was a priority, order and cleanliness were priorities. The environment was a priority – and so were children! Oh my!
But it is unfair of me to request all this of an island of just over 200,000 people from varying backgrounds and cultures. Here, we have to wait for shipments of milk, meat, veg. Here, you can’t get everything (we don’t have 50 million sheep, nor as many dairy cattle) – and sometimes not much of anything. Here, we don’t seem to have enough trained individuals to provide all the services we see on a bigger island/country or on a mainland. Here we see monopolies, because monopolies can exist. Here we see closed offices and stores, because here they can be. The public adapts and gets used to less, and paying more for less.
Here we get used to receiving 5 free electric bikes for a university population of 540, to share on the weekends – but only 5 because they’re too dangerous to ride during the week (so it’s okay to risk 5 lives?). The public accepts a complete misunderstanding of International Women’s Day that turns into an event for ladies to sew, paint shells and get massages. Ripped up roads remain ripped up for a year in the middle of town and that’s normal. Children wear uniforms, learn from photocopies, are seated boy-girl-boy, and families are happy to call education modern. No bananas, no tomatoes, no wholewheat pasta, no organic markets. Who needs these things? Affordable technology, affordable books, affordable art supplies – who needs these? Reliable health care that doesn’t result in one too many operations, infection or an emergency trip to Australia? As I say, I am guilty. Guilty of projecting my mainland habits onto a small island’s limited resources.
There are simply not enough of us to create/force the demand or guarantee the supply on this tiny, idyllic island. Nor does there appear to be much of a desire to step into a world where things really could be easier. So most adapt, or travel to nearby New Zealand and Australia to seek what they are missing. Many go without, because they simply cannot afford any better.
We have enough for today. Why plan for tomorrow?
Time to go for that swim, time to dive into those pristine waters and reconnect with all that extraordinary underwater life – to remember what I love here, after and above all.