‘As long as I can remember I’ve seen people cry and grieve and celebrate life by singing and dancing in the name of a person’s life.
‘I’m Tokelauan Fijian – my mother’s Tokelauan and my father’s Fijian. Both sides have quit similar mourning processes but on my Fijian side the whole mourning process is 100 days. On my Tokelauan side it’s 10 days.
‘I found out my nanna passed away when I was 17 and I was on a plane from Australia and thrown in to 2 weeks of planning, organising, crying, cooking, singing, dancing, praying with my family from 7am to 4am, 10 days in a row.
‘Sitting with her body and my family for ten days – actually sitting and talking to her and holding her and seeing that it was real; there was no tangible life left in her – that really helped me.
‘In my mother’s culture, when you begin the mourning process you have these things called Leos – each community or family member that’s connected to the person who’s passed away will come together with their family and present to the immediate family of the person who’s passed away gifts, prayer and song.
‘So many people came to my nanna – it was leo after leo after leo. Each time we did a leo, I grieved again – even when I thought I had nothing left in me.
‘If you know the songs and dance, you get up and join in – even if it’s not your family. The power of the call of community and the call to celebrate was so revealing for me because it was really my community and my family saying you’re not alone.
‘Going through that entire experience really slapped me in the face because it taught me about the importance of sitting with death and sharing your grief. It also taught me the importance of celebration for a person’s life.
‘You share everything throughout the process – there is no hiding; there is quite literally nowhere to go away and just be private. It can be very overwhelming too but I personally found a lot of comfort in it.’
‘In Hong Kong I just didn’t have the time to enjoy things. It’s too rushed and you can’t really observe stuff in detail. We don’t have a second to relax and enjoy life so for me, I want to take back the time. Here, at least I can get back free time and the lifestyle. And the food and the air. The air is so important because Hong Kong is so polluted.’
‘I think I’m going to take the Australian lifestyle back to Hong Kong with me. I’ve been back to Hong Kong twice since living here and now I’m just not used to how people walk so quickly and how rude they can be. I’m so used to now getting off the bus and saying thank you and stuff. I think I’m just going to keep doing that in Hong Kong.’
‘When I was 15, a lady came to our school and spoke about exchange programs so I went and spent a year in Costa Rica. I did my year 10 in Costa Rica and learnt to speak Spanish and lived with a local family there. We lived in the mountains surrounded by coffee fields. Before I went, I didn’t speak Spanish or anything so I didn’t really know what was going on. It was a poor school – 3,000 students with just a couple of teachers and none of them would turn up. No one really cared.
‘There was one teacher; she was a biology teacher, and she really cared that I understood what was going on and that I actually learnt. She told me to go and buy some rope and some paint and she taught me to make a really thick rope – like macramé. She was teaching us about DNA so it looked like a DNA thing. So I made a really big one – she taught me how to make it – and she told me to paint this knot blue and this knot green and I did everything she said and at the end she was able to explain all the parts of the DNA. To this day, I still only know them in Spanish.
‘Then she told me to go buy some smaller string so I could make bracelets for my friends and family. This is the jewellery I make and sell now.’