My story is a little different to most. Instead of finishing school, studying and then travelling to find my purpose in life, as the newer generation do, I decided to fall into the rat race trap. Finish school, study, to receive a qualification, to find a job, to earn money to buy a whole bunch of stuff, that later in life, you learn that you actually don’t need. To be able to create a lifestyle that you constantly need to feed, with money, to survive. A lifestyle, that, once you get to my age, is either not for you, or you realise that you actually do not need it to survive.
I read a quote once, whilst on holiday at backpackers in the Transkei, South Africa, which said: “you do not need as much as you think that you do”. This always stuck with me, but it was not until last year that I actually started believing it, and wanted to start living it, in every sense and essence of the words. I started to crave the idea of having less baggage, and being able to do more, see more, explore more, and learn to live outside of the comfort zone.
By baggage, I am not just referring to the 23kgs worth of items that I currently own, but the emotional baggage, the items and gadgets that we buy to make ourselves feel good, not because we need to, but because society makes us feel like we need to have them in order to be happy, the things that we hold on to, but can no longer control.
And that is when I really started to embrace the fact that I was a yoga teacher. I think it was while I was lying in hospital, with an inverted disc in my lower back, after hearing that I would not be able to run my second Comrades Marathon, a gruelling 90km road race. I had been training hard for it; I was committed to it this time, whilst surfing every day in between, teaching yoga, chasing my career, getting involved in everything as much as I could. I was so independent, I was capable of anything and everything and there was no limit as to how much I could take on without it catching up on me. I thought that I was invincible.
But life decided to teach me a lesson, and proved me to be wrong. All of a sudden, I could not even drive, I was out of a race that I had trained so hard for, I could not surf, which was my daily tonic, and worst of all, I could not even practice or teach yoga. I felt like a yoga fraud, here I was preaching to people to “listen to your body”, and I was the one who was ignoring my body, the most.
But I took it as a lesson, and slowly started getting rid of the excess baggage, the things that I was carrying around with me, every day, that were clearly breaking my back. It was after a massive clean out, at my parent’s house, that things really started falling into place, literally. To cut a couple of long stories very short, before I knew it, I was in love with that one person that we all dream of meeting but never believe that we actually will, but I was also running away from him, checking in at King Shaka Airport, and leaving my comfort zone to go and teach yoga in the Maldives. A place that I had only ever seen in magazines, and on Instagram, a place that I had never actually believed that I would get to see. I had quit my stable job, my comfort zone, and was heading into the unknown. Literally, into the middle of the ocean.
Arriving in Male, and being informed that I would be spending the night in Male’, was already quite the experience. I had never left South Africa, there I was dragging my life behind me, which was all still cling wrapped in a plastic blue case, watching my back and assuming that everyone was trying to attack me and steal my cell-phone, and belongings. I had no clue where I was, could not speak a word of Dhivehi, but on a ferry boat heading across to Male’, still not letting go of the thought that I had possibly been scammed, and was in fact, on my way to be a victim of human trafficking, or waking up in a bathtub of ice, with my organs next to me in a jar. South Africans are a little paranoid; this is one thing I have learnt! Paranoid, but very patriotic after they have left their home land.
I was greeted by Ali, who escorted me to my “hotel” for the night, and told to be in touch with Sara, the resident marine biologist, who I had never seen, or heard of, but who has since become one of dearest and best friends.
Ali fetched me on a scooter, no helmet, and there we went, sliding and swiping our way through narrow streets, all in unison with about 5 other scooters all at once. No traffic lights, no traffic authorities and seemingly no direction, just point and aim. And go! It was kind of exhilarating, and amazing way to get to see the city, whilst also clutching on and hoping not to be a hit by another scooter. We arrived at the medical centre, feeling as relieved as I did after skydiving once and being free from the rickety, squeaky aeroplane. You learn to appreciate private hospitals and your good old, reliable family GP very quickly when you are in places like these.
I was greeted by very friendly ladies, who, despite the fact that I had been sweating in my leggings and t-shirt, and had travelled for over 26 hours, made me feel comfortable, while I had blood drained from my exhausted arms, had to pee in a cup, and have my chest X-rayed. Getting the medical check is a standard procedure to obtain a working permit in the Maldives.
First night in Male’, I was so grateful to have had Sara with me. She was nothing but kind, friendly, helpful, and exactly what I needed. And she was there to show me where to go the next day, making sure that I did not miss the ferry back across to the airport, or the seaplane that would be one of the final modes of transport to my new home. I will never forget that first dinner that we had together, whilst she sat me down and told me exactly what I was in for. The hidden parts of my job requirements that the resort HR had conveniently forgotten to mention to me. Yes, read the fine print, read between the lines. When something sounds too good to be true, it usually is. I am just glad that mine was on a beautiful island, where I had more good, than bad, experiences.
After my first experience on the seaplane, flying over the islands, and not something that I will ever forget, we were on a 2 hour trip on a dhoni, where I would soon be spending a lot of time, out at sea. I have always wished to be in a job or situation where I could live out at sea, and here I was. In the middle of the Indian Ocean, flying fish fleeting across our wake, the sun toasting my lily white winter skin, laughing out allowed with Sara, while being bumped and rolled around, coated in a layer of salty happiness. This was my new home; I was literally going to be living in the middle of the ocean, something that I had always dreamed about.
I think it was upon my arrival, when I was greeted by HR and told that I must just try to make at least 6 months, and that my new home, was basically just prison in paradise, that I realised that things were not as peachy as they seemed on paper. But, as always, I was going to brush aside the negative thoughts of one individual, and lavish up the sun, and fully embrace this beautiful island, my new life. I was fuelled with passion, with a love of yoga, and so many ideas that I had, ready to embrace the growth that I had anticipated, that I had been craving all these years.
By the time we had moved the last heavy chair that first evening, dressed in a dark navy blue uniform that I would not even allow my dog to sleep on (think of the thickest, most course canvas that you can), and I had learnt how to use everything from a projector, microphone and make a big outdoor movie happen in the middle of an island, I realised just what I was in for. Or at least I thought that I had, the truth is that I had no idea just what I was in for.
I remember planning my first yoga lesson, writing down all the essentials in Italian, Destra.. Sinistra.. Inspirare, Espirare.. I thought I had it all figured out. Not a single guest arrived for that first class, which I had so eagerly planned for, so I just embraced the opportunity to have a little self-practiced. This is what I had dreamed of doing, travelling and spreading my love for yoga with the world. I had to just keep reminding myself of that. I will always treasure the yoga and Pilates teaching experiences that I did have, the Italian phrases that I learnt, and to always “ Allungora Colona Vertabrale!”
I remember my first excursion, my first glimpse of Kalu Giri reef, being so fascinated by the red-toothed trigger fish, the turtles just swimming so gracefully past us, not put off by the large shoal of Go-Pros and muffled underwater shouts of “Tattaruga! Tattaruga!” . I was in paradise, I was living the dream! How could my colleagues feel so confined by this, how could they be measuring their happiness based on how many days they had left on their contracts?
My first manta ray… it was the most magnificent thing I had ever seen, and I still play that memory in my mind, like a favourite movie, that you cannot wait to see again, no matter how many times you have watched it. Manta Rays are graceful, unassuming, harmless, natural underwater acrobats. Being able to experience guest’s excitement as they first witness manta rays, the occasions that I assisted guests in the water, who were nervous swimmers, or who had never been in the deep water before, enabling them to experience and witness something that fascinated me so much. I will always be grateful for these experiences.
Just about every single skill that I have ever had was put to the test, from my photography, helping people and making them feel comfortable, pushing them out of their comfort zones and limits, to artistic drawing skills, making hand-made banners, fire-spinning and choreographing a dance with my team of marine biologists, water sports instructors and fitness instructor, aka our ‘ evening dance team”, to one of my favourite dance songs…I will remember my Maldivian New Year’s eve every time I listen to Safri Duo’s “Played Alive – The Bongo Song”. I will be forever grateful of every single time that I got to spend out, and in, the ocean, learning more and more about the fascinating blue world. I will endure the friendships that I made, the lessons that I learnt, and the amazing people that I met from all over the world.
I learnt to laugh at simple things, and to question the most random facts, such as “what sound does a shark make?”. I learnt that you really do not need as much as you think you do to survive. You realise this even more, when winning a bottle of cheap shampoo is as exhilarating as that one time that you won an Audi A3. You learn to just make do with whatever you can find in the local island staff shop, or with whatever left-overs a generous guest has left behind for you.
Another incredible experience, especially for a South African, is how non-racially divided the world is, well not as seemingly as in South Africa. I had the pleasure of working with all different nationalities, Italians, French-Canadian, German, Maldivians, Sri Lankan’s, Ukrainians, and guests from all over the world. Nobody ever once introduced their colleague as “my Italian co-worker”, or “ my Sri Lankan barman”. We saw each other as people, as fellow human beings. You realise just how strong, and sad, the racial divide is in South Africa, when you work abroad. Perhaps this was just in my experience, this is the only working abroad experience that I have had, so far.
But on the other-hand, you also learn how much you miss things like Biltong, the sound of Afrikaans, traditional djembe drumming, as much as I loved the Budoberu drumming every Friday night, the culture, the humour, the way that South Africans love to sit and chat around a fire, or at the dinner table long after dinner time is over.
I am home now, and I am sadly not going back to the Maldives. I really did enjoy the island and the marine life, and embraced the good experiences. I got to teach yoga to people of all nationalities, ages and abilities. As much as my own personal teaching experience as a yogi did not grow quite as much as I had dreamed of, I learnt to be a real yogi, I learnt to literally accept things as they are, in the moment, “ it is what it is”. I learnt to really embrace the fact that tomorrow is gone, we don’t look back at it, we cannot anticipate for what is going to happen tomorrow, we “make do” with what we have. We may have a large group of guests, eagerly booking for an excursion, to see Whale Sharks, but we cannot predict the weather or the conditions, or if the whale shark will even show up. We learn that all that we can control, is the moment as it is unfolding in front of us. We may not see the whale shark, but we may be surprised by hundreds of Spinner Dolphins, dancing in front of our dhoni. We may see a little turtle, restricted by plastic, reminding us of what human beings have done to the planet. Fortunately, my colleague and dhoni crew were able to free the little guy.
As for the long hours, the lack of privacy, never knowing who you were going to be sharing a room with, the filthy, septic pillows and mattress that caused me many a sleepless night, itching profusely and running around the resort at 2am in desperate cries for ice, the way that you never get a “thank you”, I will never look back at my decision to not return. But that is all a part of the experience.
But for the friendships, the lessons, the experiences, the manta rays, the cultural experience, the endless ginger and chocolate gelato, the languages that I learnt, and the soothing cup of ginger tea in the evenings with the incredibly nurturing spa girls, I will never forget. I will always smile whenever these memories pop up into my mind, I will always hold these moments close to my heart. I learnt that I like my comfort a little more than I thought, but I do recommend that we you step out of the comfort zone from time to time, as this is where you truly learn to live. To love. And to experience the true meaning of gratitude, of life, and of adventure.
When life starts to feel stale, shake things up a little. Throw away what no longer serves you. You will be amazed at what you learn about yourself in the process, you will be amazed at just what you are capable of, and you will be amazed at how much sparkle you have inside of you, just as you had thought that your light had started to fade.
Now, I am just a piece of drifting plankton. I have no idea where I am heading, what I am doing, I have no permanent home. It is terrifying, but kind of liberating at the same time. For the first time in my life, I have no control, and I am literally taking each day as it comes. I am also not alone anymore, I have somebody who loves me, somebody who has been patient enough to wait for me after only knowing each other for what felt like a fleeting moment. That moment stirred something up inside of me, and I very excited for the next adventure. I have learnt that I do not want to be alone, and that it is ok to want companionship, it does not make you a weak woman. I always secretly dreamed of having my own “Eat, Pray , Love” story, as I am sure that most girls secretly do. I never imagined that mine would turn out to be “Love ( run away from it) Pray, Eat ( return to love) ”. But then, I have never been one to follow the sheep, to follow the normal way of life.
I am plankton, shiny noctiluca plankton, and I am going to shine on wherever the winds and tides may take me. Perhaps I become food to a manta ray, perhaps I drift to another ocean. All that I can do, is drift and just embrace each moment of it. Learn from it, and never look back.
Never lose your shine, never give up an opportunity that you might sit back and wonder one day “what if?”.
Life is short, live it.