I was taking a leisurely stroll along the banks of the Yarra River with my parents when one of the arrays of street show booths caught my eye. They were selling some psychic self improvement books on how to manage stress through positive thinking, or something along those lines. I rolled my eyes; I didn’t even glance at the title. What caught my eye was the free stress test that they were offering, and the queer machine that was precariously placed on the table. ‘How does THAT work? Does that REALLY work?’ I thought to myself. I had to find out. I approached the booth and the kind lady greeted me with a smile, offering me to sit. I’m not sure if I was her usual customer, but I opened the conversation questioning her how the machine worked, not wanting to let her start her psychic claims on me, not just yet. She explained to me that I was to hold the two metal probes gently in my hands, and the battery-operated machine would send a small current through me. If there were any bad thoughts as evidence of stress, the current would get cut off and the meter would show. ‘Wouldn’t the current get cut off by good thoughts too?’ I asked. Apparently not. Good thoughts were fine and did not affect the natural circulation of things. I decided to take matters into my own hands and conduct an experiment of my own while I was in the hot seat. She adjusted the meter to a set point to nullify the base current that was passing through me. ‘First up, think of a stressful situation.’ The needle, which had settled quite contentedly, started moving to the right. ‘Okay see, that’s stress. What were you thinking of?’ I told her that I had thought of certain circumstances I had been in, and certain friends around me. I knew these caused me stress. Interpersonal relations mean much to me. The more I held a certain friend dear, the greater the ability and capacity for that someone to invoke turmoil in me. She adjusted the needle again. ‘Now, let’s test various aspects of your life. Think of your health.’ The needle stayed put. I was well and healthy and wasn’t stressing about my health, of course. ‘Think about your family.’ Again, the needle did not waver. ‘Think about relationships.’ This time, the needle went berserk. It swung straight to the far right, dodging the light of day. ‘Now!’ she boomed, almost triumphant, as if she’d caught me on the sly. ‘What was it you were thinking there? That was definitely stress.’ I laughed it off and complained I wished I knew, probably seeming avoidant to her. The truth was I really wished I knew. I had made up my mind right from the start that I would not think of bad thoughts or the specific events that had caused them, after that first trial, so I had no idea which reprived stashed memory was causing the needle’s reaction. ‘Subconscious thought does it too, you know,’ she added, as if having read my mind. ‘Let’s move on nonetheless. You’re a student, yeah? Now think of your studies.’ The needle was tame again this time. ‘Okay, that’s about it. Looks like relationships are your stress.’ ‘Wait a minute,’ I interrupted. ‘Could we try that relationship one again then? I’m just really curious. This thing seems to work.’ On retrospect, I hope I didn’t sound too doubtful or condescending. ‘Sure, why not.’ She set the needle again. ‘Okay, think about relationships.’ This time, I didn’t think of anything. As in I literally made my mind blank out, if that was humanly possible. I tried to think of what to cook for my next meal. And yet, the needle swung full-right. ‘Ahhh, that’s interesting,’ I commented. I thanked her for her time and left the booth. **
I would usually not subject myself to such proclaimed psychic powers, but on that fateful day, I was somehow keen to trial one of my many thought experiments. To tell the truth, I had already known what the needle would tell me. I’ve never been a guru on relationships and I’ve always felt they would be my demise. It is in this arena where I feel like I’m a small girl again, unable to fathom the nuances of the playing field out there. A relationship is the one thing that is both crave-worthy and fearsome all at the same time. We all want the highs, not the complications. We all long for love, care and companionship. We want to share our inner thoughts, yet dread we may not be accepted. We want to let someone in, eventually, but are afraid others might hurt us. We want to be as one with someone else, but are afraid we might lose ourselves. It seems a daunting task to embrace this all, especially when we’ve been rejected, hurt and disillusioned before. I’ve learnt much of the resilience of the human spirit, but today I’ve learnt one more thing. This is vulnerable territory. This is toying with uncertainty. This is placing incredible trust on a fellow imperfect human being. No one should be cast a reprimanding look for being stressed, or subconsciously stressed, about relationships, simply because of what we dare subject ourselves to. Stressful? Hell, yeah.
There were so many things I wanted to say about my experience in Fiji, but now it seems quite out of date. More than a month has passed, and so many things have happened in between. All in all, the experience was great, and indeed was an eye-opener. The Fijians are lovely, rowdy, warm, hospitable and hardy people. They get high on kava (which is their substitute for alcohol, and which produces a certain skin reaction that actually is a recognised medical condition). They also can't watch their carbohydrate intake, and Maggi (mee) has had huge advertising success in both the inner city and the villages.
Most of us felt we didn't do enough. Our medical supplies had been confiscated by the customs which led to us not being able to do much in the first few days of our trip. In addition, there was a lot of waiting around for the villagers to show up to our education talks etc. They always attribute it to 'Fijian time' (which, by the villagers' standards, operates 2-3 hours slower than the designated time). In Nabukevesi (one of the 2 villages we targeted), we felt we were unable to target the majority because they were unaware about our education talks/unconcerned about the issues we were going to discuss. So yes, we can't help people who don't want to help themselves, ey? We soon realised that indeed, we WERE in Fiji. We were upset because we couldn't help them to what we thought was the best of our abilities. But on retrospect, maybe.. we still did. These people moved slow; things effected slowly. We had to take baby steps and shouldn't frustrate over their not living up to our standards. It would take a long time to change their lifestyle, their habits, their attitude. I vividly remember an incident which proved to me how much our little deeds can mean to others, and how we should not belittle them. On our very last day at the village, we were bidding farewell to the people we've come to know over the 2 weeks. I gave a few villagers some heartfelt bear hugs, and was just about to board the bus. Just then, I felt a squeeze on my arm and turned to see this little girl who had wanted to catch my attention. I had missed her. She smiled, bid farewell in a shy manner, and gave me a wave. I smiled back, and gave her a hug. This was the girl whom I had played with in one of the villager's house. I had entertained her and her brother; I had fascinated them with my iPhone. Of course, how could I forget. I was glad that we did contribute to something bigger than ourselves, and now we've a report describing what we've done, and photos to boot! Our team even managed to sneak in a one day retreat at The Beachouse, and so all was dandy before starting a new term at school :) Ps. Pictures are up on Facebook. I wanted to load some significant ones here, but am restricted by my internet account, which is ANOTHER story. So, minimal uploading for the next 2 yrs for me.