Living on the mainland in the Western world, it’s easy to get caught up in the cacophony of city life. Most people, including myself at many times during my life, get consumed by their normal nine to five day jobs. If you’re lucky enough not to have to take your work home with you after hours or on the weekends, those “free” hours are often spent with chores typically barred by the hours spent at yer jerb. Laundry, bills, doctor’s appointments, cleaning the toilet… you know, the glamorous stuff. With whatever personal time is left, we often want to turn our brains off in front of the television, or browse the internet, or listen to our You go, Girl! mix as we pound out yet another mile on the treadmill. Quiet time can be hard to come by in this modern world of ours.
Not so on a rock, my friend. Many of our island homes are unfettered with modern conveniences such as movie theatres, reliable internet, or even – Gasp! Say it ain’t so! – Starbucks. What is one to do with all these spare hours? Cocktails? Why, yes please, glad you asked. Where was I? Oh yes… Taking my cue from islanders from the Caribbean to the South Pacific, I’ve come to appreciate the slower pace of life here and learned to savor the small moments.
On my current rock, Vava’u in the Kingdom of Tonga, it’s literally illegal to do work on a Sunday. Practically everything is closed, except for the bakeries, which open at 4pm to start baking bread for Monday. It’s a day for church and feasting with your families as everyone gets together to prepare the umu (an underground oven). Even doing home chores is frowned upon. We’ve heard a story from another palangi (foreigner) yachtie who was working on his dive gear aboard his boat on a Sunday. Apparently, his boat was a little too close to shore, so he was surprised when a Tongan rowed out to his boat to tell him to stop looking so damn busy. And would he like to come to his aunt’s house for some freshly roasted pig?
Similarly, Samoans have a nightly custom called sā. Around six o’clock in the evening, each village will ring a bell (usually a metal pipe on an old industrial acetylene tank) and everyone, wherever they are, must stop what they’re doing and spend fifteen minutes reflecting on the day and/or thinking about God, if you’re so inclined. If you’re walking in the street, the nice men with metal pipes or old golf clubs will tell you to sit down wherever is closest. No walking, no driving, no purchasing anything in stores, just your fifteen minutes of zen.
There have been two conclusions garnered from these moments of enforced reflection and relaxation: 1) Plan ahead. If you can’t buy anything on Sunday, make sure you get your beer on Saturday before noon because everything closes early; and 2) Take a breather. Even living without a regular job, it’s easy to get immersed in boat chores or staring at a computer screen. We’ve got to look up every now and then and appreciate the terns surfing on the wind over the water, or the smell of fresh bread wafting through the kitchen window. This lesson is important whether you’re in Abaco or Albany. A cool nightly reminder to appreciate your day may help you make it through one of those hellishly hot ones. A literal Sun-day of rest reminds us to enjoy life and spend time with those important to us, even if those loved ones are far away. Sometimes these moments come at inconvenient times (“Ugh, 15 minutes and no Candy Crush!”), but I wouldn’t trade all the internet in world for such a lovely lesson.