Life

A series of monthly reflections

July

The sense of change fast approaching. my sense of rhythm about to shatter once again.

Losing balance. Fatigue from long hours at the snack shop.

In a routine. Getting into the swing of things.

Busier at the shop.

Baking bread. Icing napolitains. Making burgers. Decorating a birthday cake.

I can take food orders in Kreol now!

The feeling of leaving creeping up.

Am I ready for another enormous shift in my life?

Mental block.

Cannot imagine the future clearly.

Bought a plane ticket. Flight canceled.

Uncertainty.

Got a ring.

On the bus, a lack of social distancing.

COVID-19 paranoia seeping into my mind.

COVID-19 testing costs a fortune.

Leaving becoming real.

Trying to tie up loose ends.

Convincing the neighborhood family to give their pet giant Aldabra tortoises better lives.

Co-ideating a plan to create a better, bigger enclosure on the property.

Buying materials to kick-start the project.

The cousins, resident welder and family pitched in with the construction and moving of the tortoises.

The tortoises now live under a golden apple and mango tree. I hope they will be happy during the fruiting seasons.

Dreading the goodbyes.

Last hike. Basen Diri. A small basin of wild rice growing at the top of a mountain overlooking the whole east coast of the country. Spotted the roofs under which my neighbors and I lived.

Last mass and rehearsal with the Bel Ombre choir.

Home cooked dinner with the Byenal Sesel art team and family.

Final meals together with my neighbors/adopted family.

Then the goodbyes arrived.

Farewell to the people who became my family.

But this is not a goodbye forever.

23+ hours of travel time homeward bound through Dubai.

I return the way I came.

But in a world of COVID-19 and PPE.

June

I work at a snack shop now. breaks are a blessing again.

Koko Zerm all day every day

Good to be busy again

Frying samosas, baking, mixing fresh juice

Managing front desk/cash register. Working on my mental math

Constantly battling togethers (small flies), ants and larger flies that want to get into the homemade food display case

Long hours

Learning how to make bread and gulab jamun from a pastry chef

Putting together, taking apart, cleaning ice cream machine daily

Quickly got my fill of soft serve ice cream

Happy hours! Saturday night jam sessions that fill the neighborhood with music

A bit frustrating when I’m playing violin and nobody except people in the immediate vicinity can hear me because the speakers are blasting and I don’t have a mic

Problem solved when mon bamboozoo gets me a mic

Trip to Praslin and La Digue

Meeting family, getting to know Praslinois​

Biking into the sunrise

Biking back in time for a breakfast of fresh baked pastries (not baked by us!)

Bird watching –paradise flycatcher (vev) spotted!

Climbing big rocks in flip flops is a real challenge. Islanders can do it no problem. First time I was really afraid of falling, but mon bamboozoo helped me up

 

The largest mango I’ve seen and eaten! Every bite tastes a little different. Mango tree from Australia.

Moving furniture and getting my suitcase from the Beau Vallon apartment. Reminder that I leave in about a month.

Saying hi and goodbye to Ruby, the Beau Vallon apartment’s dog. She remembered me after all those months! Bittersweet

Giving a haircut: first time cutting curly hair!

Then being asked to help at the hair salon next door to the snack shop because it was super busy one day. Washing hair and then straightening it. I had never straightened hair before. Internal conflict: the girl’s natural curly hair was beautiful. Felt wrong to force it straight. All of the posters in the salon were of straight/smooth haired women. I suppose the clientele look at those hair styles as the ideals. All of the clientele I saw had naturally curly hair.

Lockdown Bienalle project on coral bleaching. Done in collaboration with mon bamboozoo

Hiking and camping on a rocky outcrop over a beach (Anse Capucin). Tested my abilities to hike in flip flops. Getting better, but rain makes it slippery and my feet are still tender from the surgery. Proper campfire: grilled fish and meat. Fresh bread from our snack shop. Until the rain came. Couldn’t make smores –a lot of time was devoted to hunting down proper marshmallows (in one store in the country?) – was disappointed. Tent was not waterproof. During a lull during the night, we watched waves crashing onto the beach. Woke up in the morning and made smores. Hiked back in the rain.

Ziplining in Port Glaud over the tropical forest. First time dong this over such a distance. Freeing and restricting at the same time. Zipline masters doing flips and other aerial acrobats.

May

Changing tempo. doing the impossible.

Feeling housebound. My friends went back to work, so I’m home alone for most of the day now. Trying to focus.

Getting to know a different household (people and dogs) in the neighborhood.

Helping the neighbors prepare for the opening of their snack shop close by.

Painting murals of sprouting coconuts for the inside and outside walls of the shop. First time doing murals. The first painting attempt cracked (literally). Then I used primer, acrylics, and a sealant to make sure the painting would stay.

Brainstorming a menu and prices. Trying to keep prices reasonable but make enough profit to stay afloat.

Going shopping with the neighbor to prepare the necessary supplies for the snack shop’s opening. Trips to town. Visiting wholesale stores and storage complexes that I had only passed by. Observing the system. Advising the family to purchase non-plastic disposables (cups, utensils and takeaway boxes made of paper, wood, or plant-based materials).

A strong push leading up to and on the opening day. The whole family/neighborhood came together to make this possible. Construction work, installing machinery, baking desserts, making samosas, practicing swirling ice-creams, cleaning the place, learning how to operate the cash register…

A live band came on opening day, performing a song composed for the snack shop: “Koko Zerm.” A big turnout of customers –mainly extended family. Singing, dancing, eating. Summer picnic party atmosphere. Immediate family was in the kitchen together cooking. I was at the front, serving customers and operating the cash register.

April

Balancing life. Life moves along at an unknown rate.

I used to try maintaining some sort of (school)work-life balance. This month, for the first time since I was a preschooler, I had the time to focus on living life.

 

Due to a spreading foot infection, I went to the clinic and got foot surgery. I was not able to walk for roughly two weeks. I thank my neighbors for taking such good care of me during this time especially.

 

No church. Foot operation happened during Holy Week. Spent time with the neighbors. Watched local mass on TV. Pained me to see the choir and music team I used to be a part of with playing for Easter Vigil to an otherwise empty church. I should have been there.

 

Decorated an Easter egg for the little girl down the road.

 

Decided to make lemon bars and deviled eggs for Easter. Friend was dubious about the lemon bars (too sour??), but they were an instant hit! Lemons here are more sour than the ones I used in the States. Fresh picked from my neighbor’s backyard.

 

Daily routines:

 

Wake up. (Exercise in bed if I remember). Shower. Avoid getting stung by the wasps building nests in the apartment. Breakfast/brunch (Let’s be real. I wasn’t waking up at the crack of dawn).

 

Take care of my feet. Attempt to move. Wheely chair eventually upgraded to walker. Call mom. Listen to music. Paint something. Read something. Bake.

 

**Baking sprees**

 

Dinner. Learn and play traditional Kreol sega music from my neighbor. Some good ear training. He hums or plays the melody on the harmonica while strumming on the guitar and I play it back on the violin. No music scores.

 

Started watching The Office. Finally. I’m very late to the TV series party, but it’s good!

 

Still no tomatoes to be found on the island.

 

Police enforced checkpoints on the roads. I only went to the hospital/groceries.

 

Time passes through the day like liquid. Where does it slip by?

MARCH

Tasting the life of an artist. Integrating into the community. The introduction of COVID-19.

Taking time to focus on painting watercolors for the interviewees

Subjects include the mountain, ocean, boat, people…

Given the freedom to manage my own time during the week for the first time while here

Getting lost in artmaking

Balancing flow with perfection

Trying lots of local fruits, thanks to the season, my neighbors, and coworker: various types of guyav (guava), patol, bilenbi (bilimbi), fri la passion (passionfruit), bannann, zavoka (avocado), limon (lemon), zanmalak (java rose apple), ponm local (Malay rose apple), frisiter (golden apple), karambol (starfruit), koko (coconut), papay (papaya), korsol (soursop), friyapen (breadfruit), zak (jackfruit)

Lots of food experimentations: cooking and baking with the local fruits. Zanmalak x limon x frisiter bread, guacamole, gato bannann (banana cake), pancakes topped with guyav

Learning how to cook Kreol food from my neighbors: ladob, satini patol (patol chutney), brenzel fri (fried aubergine), kari poisson, frikase zironmon (pumpkin dish)…

More late dinner conversations –becoming a part of the family.

Learning how to play traditional Kreol music on the violin. Jam sessions with my neighbors.

Attending a funeral for a member of the family. Essentially the whole district was present. Catholic traditions. The grandmother who lives below me introduced me to kin as her adopted daughter. She asked me to carry flowers from the church to the cemetery. I felt oddly in and out of place as I laid the flowers on the grave. We picked bilenbi at her sister’s home and ate guava off a tree as we walked back towards home.

Asked the neighbors if I could tag along to a pickup soccer game. I had wanted to play since I saw guys playing on fields all around the nation. My neighbor said yes but warned me that I might get some weird looks because I was a girl. The vast majority of girls in the Seychelles are not sporty. It felt good to run. I worked to earn my respect on the field.

Hiking with the extended family up to a glacis vantage point where you can see the ocean and developed areas on one side and mostly pristine mountains on the other side (besides the homes of the ultra-rich).

Hiking, swimming and diving at Cascade waterfall/reservoir with the neighbors and friends. Spontaneous weekend exploration outings.

Sunset at Anse Takamaka. West coast tropical beach sunset faded into a starry sky. Times like this feel like a dreamlike reality.

Evening fishing trip in the Indian Ocean with the neighbors. Learning to spot the flocks of birds (storm petrels) that indicate the presence of fish. First time seeing the whole southern tip of Mahe. One small bonito caught. Painful to see it suffocate on the boat. No more fish. The water temperature too high. Fiery sunset into a clear night sky filled with brilliantly shining constellations.

LIFE CHANGED BY COVID-19

Denial that COVID-19 would come to the Seychelles

A warning that people might look at me funny because I look Chinese

Advice to stock up on food because imports would lessen

The first COVID-19 cases

Finding the small bottle of hand sanitizer that I brought from the States

Rumors of a lockdown

Listening to the president speaking about movement restriction measures on the TV with my neighbors

Reduced work schedule for conservation: only field work. No interaction with hotel guests

All other MCSS volunteers left the country

No more tourists allowed into the Seychelles

Shuttered restaurants, quiet hotels and beaches

The tourism industry (major part of the economy) is being heavily hit. Hotel workers are feeling it. Businesses are feeling it. Conservationists are feeling it (depend in large part on CSR taxes from hotels).

Lockdown on a relatively isolated region of a tropical island with caring neighbors. Becoming closer with them, as we are all home together. I am infinitely grateful.

 

Doing my best to stay safe with the people I love.

FEBRUARY

Diving into the unknown. Again and again. Glad I did.

ART:

Some real team bonding with Karyn Zialor and Allen Gervais Comettant. An unlikely combo perhaps. But we get it done.

Meeting a diversity of Seychellois people (30 interviews in total) through the art project: dancer, politician, shop owner, fisherman, businesswoman, architect, priest, artists, Olympic boxers…

Many long bus rides between the south and north of Mahe

Boat rides to Praslin and La Digue to conduct interviews and get representation from the different inhabited islands of the Seychelles.

Listening to their life stories helps me get a clearer understanding of the culture through Seychellois eyes. Some share similar views. Others differ. It’s only human.

Topics covered include: the island’s severe heroin addiction problem, the eroding coastline, people’s attitudes towards environmental issues, technology’s effects on the young generation of Seychellois, traditional foods, the construction industry, changes in culture over time, race and connotations of skin color, the changing family-oriented community structure…

I am also learning about humans as a species. Everyone has different interests and passions. How does someone develop interests and habits? Family, role models, culture, traditions, education, religion, neighborhood, and environment seem to be factors to varying degrees in each person.

Started video editing. Takes longer than anticipated. Always.

LIFE:

Turtle season winding down. Eroded cliffs preventing female turtles from finding good nesting sites. Nests lost because of the severe sand erosion.

Learning how to cook Kreol food from my neighbor. Satini papay (papaya chutney), kari koko, konfiture jamalak ek karambole…

Practicing opening, grating (in 2 ways), baking, pressing into milk, and cooking with coconuts.

Dinner with the neighbors. Outside, listening to the sound of frogs. Palm leaves rustling in the breeze. Stars clear in the night sky.

Candid conversations on culture, the everyday, business, environment, food, life histories…this is what I am here for.

I also ran a 10k –my first organized running event. Trained a bit by running along the south coast beaches where we monitor nesting turtles. The feeling of running together is something else. Along the Beau Vallon coast. Runner’s high is real.

Mid-year poems: 24 haikus

INDIAN OCEAN

smooth, rough, filled with life

surrounds the many islands

called to go explore

 

ILE MAHÉ

people in the north

nature is everywhere but

south is where I am

 

ILES PRASLIN, LA DIGUE, CURIEUSE, CERF

a ferry brings you

to a world separate from

the developed ile

 

KOLORE (COLOURED)

ever green and lush

yellow of the setting sun

over ocean blue

 

BIS (BUS)

did you ever want

a scenic rollercoaster?

it’s called the bus here

 

TORTI EK TORTI SOUPAP (TORTOISES, TURTLES & TERRAPINS)

land, sea, freshwater

they outlived the dinosaurs

majestic beings

HAWKSBILL TURTLE NESTING

she comes onto land

vulnerable to humans

to rest her children

 

SEA TURTLE HATCHLINGS

two months in the sand

then they emerge together

called by the ocean

 

KORAY (CORAL)

support ocean life

so many varieties

they are dying here

 

LANMER (SEA)

sharks, rays, moray eels

invertebrates, vertebrates

snorkel, dive to see

 

PLANT EK ALG (PLANTS & ALGAE)

underwater fields

wetlands to montane forests

they thrive in this clime

 

FRI (FRUITS)

mang, papay, bannann

starfruit, breadfruit, coconut

collect them from trees

 

PWASON (FISH)

fresh pwason from sea

smoked, curried, stewed, fried, grilled with

garlic ginger sauce

 

KREOL

English and Français

somewhere in the in-between

Kreol found its place

 

KREOL MUSIC

blast from the speakers

dance to the beat of sega

sing along in church

 

DIMOUN (PEOPLE)

friendly and open

watch out for salacious men

small island town life

 

MARINE CONSERVATION (MCSS)

erosion, poachings

bleaching of the coral reefs

try to help nature

 

FRUSTRATION

police is inept

beach picnickers littering

I pick up the trash

 

ART

creativity

inspired by nature and

Seychellois culture

 

ART COLLABORATIONS

synergy between

backgrounds, ages and nations

for a common cause

 

ART PROJECT FOR BYENAL SESEL 2020

we listen to them

thankful for their life stories

make art in return

 

WHERE PEOPLE THINK I’M FROM

China, Malaysia

Hawaii, Nepal, Japan

Mexico, Seychelles

 

RACE & ETHNICITY

recent history

mixed shades of dark brown, gold, cream

I do fit in here

 

CHANGE

traditions are lost

development, tourism

hold on to the good

January

Finding balance: excitement and routine

New Year’s celebration in Beau Vallon with friends: music, dancing, and a midnight swim in the ocean

Body-boarding, pulled by my neighbor’s boat. They call it “skiing.”

My neighbor’s friend caught three baby white-tip reef sharks. I tried to explain the ecological damage of his actions. I tried to hold a conversation. He refused to listen. I shed tears into the ocean.

New Year’s Kreol celebration at my next-door neighbor’s place. There was shark chutney. The man who caught the sharks did not make an appearance. Maybe he was reflecting on his actions.

Food, music, and dancing. Learning to loosen up.

Nesting turtles and hatchlings: it’s peak turtle season!

Settling into a daily and weekly routine. Getting comfortable. Trying to not fall into a mental rut.

Informal basil cutting and rooting experiment: which species and color morph roots the fastest in water? Is it better to cut the plant before or after the node? Thai basil cut after the node seems to be the winner in terms of root length and density.

I missed working with plants.

Numerous turtle poachings. Female turtles taken as they come up to lay their eggs. Found a carapace hidden behind a pile of coconut husks near the old prison. Attempting to understand the turtle consumption culture, traditions, corruption, black market, and ineffective law enforcement.

Sunset dive: the reef activity is incredible at this time. Rays, sharks, schools of fish, invertebrates are stirring!

Freediving with a school of fish and juvenile white-tip shark

Hiking to, diving, and floating in a tidal rock pool

The pharmacist knows more than the public doctor

Cared for three abandoned kittens for a couple days before a coworker brought them to the shelter. They were left in a crate at the bus stop next to the garbage cans. One was about to walk onto the road when Shannon and I found them. Apparently this is Seychelles. My neighbor named them Lost, And, Found. Fitting.

Long-term co-volunteer friends leave for home. Time is passing.

Getting going on the Byenal Sesel art project. Attaining the starting momentum is really the hardest part. I need to push myself to overcome the mental hurdle to ask people for their time and stories.

Generally speaking, I don’t like asking people for things. Some will say no. Others are hesitant. But there are those who are more than willing to share. This is a good exercise for me.

Much excitement for this art collaboration. The synergy is here!

First art interviews done. Getting to know the culture and the people. Good to get back to making art.

Most people in Takamaka are related somehow. My neighbors have welcomed me into their family.

Give me a coconut, stake and a hard edge. I can dehusk and crack a coconut for you in about a minute. Shoutout to Max for patiently teaching me.

Lesson: give a girl an open coconut and she’ll enjoy it. Teach a girl to open a coconut and she’ll drink it, bake it, eat it, share it, and thank you forever.

I’m out of my mental rut now.

December

Variations on the theme of “If life gives you lemons, make lemonade”

If you make too much tea, chill the rest in a glass tomato sauce jar for the next day

If flies keep diving into your water, use a jam jar as a glass and close the lid when you’re not drinking

If everyone starts giving you bananas, make as many recipes with banana as possible

If there are bananas left after you have eaten your fill, freeze some and give the rest to the tortoises

If your neighbor gives you a big papaya, make 2 jars of papaya jam

If your arm hairs bleach platinum blonde in the sun, let them shimmer in the light

If you need seeds for a native wetland plant nursery, go collect them from the wetland

 

If a gardener is trimming vegetation, ask for the scraps to feed the tortoises

If you have veggie/fruit food waste, feed them to the tortoises (they’ll be happy!)

If you get home from work and the tide is low, go for an evening snorkel before the sun sets

If nice weather and a 3-day weekend coincide with your birthday, spend the maximum amount of time outdoors with friends and good food by the ocean

If you arrive in town earlier than your meeting time, treat yourself to a shopping spree and buy things you normally can’t buy, like a cutting board and cooking utensils

If you miss the bus because it leaves early from the terminal, have dinner in the shop across the road and study Creole while waiting for the next bus

If the bus comes 30+ minutes late, don’t get antsy: study Creole while waiting

If the bus doesn’t come, remind yourself to be grateful that the public transport system exists

If you wait on the beach for 2+ hours for a turtle to lay eggs and she ends up not nesting, hope that she will try again later. Be thankful to have seen the turtle

If someone smiles and laughs as they describe eating turtle, restrain your anger, channel your most empathetic inner self, and calmly explain that what they

are doing is an illegal act that harms endangered keystone species

If someone you know gets chased away by turtle poachers while trying to protect a nesting turtle, realize that there is a systemic issue on the island in need of addressing

When a nun asks you to have lunch at the same table as the bishop, say yes

If it’s low tide, go wade through the Indian ocean to a nearby island

If you spot pitcher plants, admire their evolution

If there’s a waterfall, climb up it

If there’s a mountain, climb up it

November

More islands, more learning, and good news

*I am officially collaborating on an art project for the 2020 Byenal Sesel (Seychelles Biennale) with two local artists in which we will listen to and document the stories of the Seychellois about the changing times, traditions, and environment. In return for the stories, we will be creating pieces of personal artwork for them.*

Learning by experience

                First sea turtle hatchlings of the season (Green and Hawksbill)!

                Turtle nest excavations to attain egg clutch survival data (Getting used to digging up rotting maggoty eggs)

                Turtle beach patrols go on in the burning heat or the pouring rain  

Curieuse Island with the Seychelles National Parks Authority involving

                A real Creole BBQ

                A hike and endemic thief palm planting

                Plants and animals, including but not lim ited to

                Coco de mer (palm with the largest + heaviest seed of any plant)

                Multiple mangrove species (in Creole/Latin: Mangliye Blan (Avicennia marina), Mangliye Lat (Bruguiera gymnorrhiza), Mangliye Rouz (Rhizophora                  mucronata)

                Hawksbill and Green turtles (my first turtle sighting in the water)

                Greater crested terns

                Lemon sharks (pups in the mangroves!)

                Aldabra giant tortoise rescue mission: bringing tortoises living in unfit captive conditions to Curieuse Island where they can roam freely

                Stories of life from the Rangers

Praslin Island

                Vallée de Mai: a cathedral of old-growth forest. If you stand below the layers of palm leaves, the rain will not fall on you. People thought it was the                    Garden of Eden. I understand why. Incredible plants, animals and fungi including coco de mer, Seychelles black parrot, bronze-eyed gecko,                          endemic snail (Stylodonta studeriana)

St. Pierre Island

                While snorkeling, it was evident that the corals on the side of the island with less current was warmer and had a graveyard of bleached corals.                        The other side with more current was cooler and had healthy corals with a more diverse community of fish and invertebrates associated with it.                      This was a stark example of how temperature and water flow matter for the health of corals and the animals that depend upon them.

October

A shift in life. Refreshed.

A move from the north to the south of Mahé with an open heart for change:

Farewells--even temporary ones--are difficult

Attempts to surf: slammed by innumerable waves

Managed to stand and catch one wave to shore

An incredible sensation

Diving with mobula rays, reef sharks, colorful fish and corals

Fewer people, more undisturbed nature

Learning my wetland birds

Working with sea turtles, terrapins, and Aldabra giant tortoises!

Was asked to clean a tank of corals that was ill maintained

Heart fell when I saw the algae-covered tank and diseased state of the corals

I want them to recover

I will do what I can

Beach patrols to monitor nesting sea turtle (Hawksbill, Green) populations

Wetland walks to monitor terrapin (Yellow-bellied mud, Black mud) and bird populations

Machete wielding to chop vegetation for tortoise food

On my first Monday here, received an emergency call: turtle on the beach!

Absolute respect for the nesting turtle

Raw inspiration

Played violin at church

Celebrations with good people and food

Baked a birthday cake in a rice cooker

Meeting kind people with generous hearts again

SEPTEMBER

Was a reality check.

Scattered:

Relearned piano

Played keyboard accompaniment for two full masses at church

A violin teacher repaired a violin for me to play

Attended workshops on marine research techniques and met environmentally minded people

Realized things move and mend slowly here

A wound didn’t heal completely for over a month

Older men can act like young colts

People assume that I am from China (occasionally Japan)

Escapes to the ocean

Meetings and start of collaboration with local artists

Climate Action for Peace: a march on the main road to the capital –many children joined

Ate the most delicious garlic naan, freshly cooked, walking back home in the rain

Regatta festival: people, food, music, loads of litter washing into the ocean

I cannot clean all the trash here

Decreasing in naivety

Appreciating kindness

Understanding cultural differences

Developing deeper empathy for survivors of sexual harassment

August

A month of settling into the rhythm of island life

I….

spent a day in Dubai for a layover and was struck by the amount of control humans have exerted on the landscape.

am living in the tropics. It is winter. It is hot.

have become a morning person, waking up to the sound of dogs and chickens outside my window.

essentially have a pet dog and she is the sweetest.

enjoy listening to the wide variety of loud music played by my neighbors.

harvested coconuts from the palm tree in my backyard with the help of a kind neighbor. Fruit trees (coconut, starfruit, tamarind, breadfruit, mango) grow within a several meter radius of where I live.

see the ocean and nearby islands from the place where I am staying. The beach is a 20-minute walk away. The ever-changing water and skyscape never cease to amaze me.

now have an open water scuba diving certification.

am saddened by the large degree of coral bleaching and rubble (dead coral) I see on the reefs.

am working on a coral restoration project with the Marine Conservation Society Seychelles, focusing on the genus Acropora. Snorkeling and scuba diving are daily activities.

am beginning to see the complexities of the ecotourism industry.

am learning to recognize corals, fish, and the other diverse biota of the waters, land, and air.

had encounters with jellyfish, cars, sea urchins, falling geckos and a lionfish. 3/5 of those within the first week of arrival.

found that Seychellois food can be SPICY, and the combination of ginger and garlic is almost too good to be true.

am slowly learning Seychellois Creole, starting with the food words.

am doing watercolor studies, focusing on light, clouds, and water, among other things.

joined the church choir.

have met good people.