We’ve been back on St Helena now for three weeks, and it feels as though we never left. Despite a huge change in our circumstance we settle right back into things and pick up where we left off. I’ve also had two weeks to settle into my new job, as Team Leader with the Landscape and Ecology Mitigation Program. The LEMP, as it is known is a large project to undo some of the environmental damage of the airport project, rabbit proof fencing, irrigating and then planting large areas of dry desert like environment. Im becoming familiar with my own role in the team and it is essentially one of people management, setting work schedules, carrying out appraisals and the like, but is also, in a large part, one of logistics, ensuring materials are readily available, managing external contracts, and making sure the work flows sensibly and sequentially between the different field teams and local stakeholders.
After two years of photography, spending large amounts of time on my own, it is a real pleasure to be working with a team of people again, and, working with Saints, something that has been missing from my first two years on the Island. It is not without challenges though, one of which is the personal motivation required to do a job that I don’t have to do. It’s the first time in my life that Im doing a job purely for the sake of working and occupying time, challenging myself, and not because we need the money. Its very privileged to be in this position but when waking up early and sorting the boys for school and myself for work I find it necessary to remind myself that this was my choice.
The other pleasure of the job is working, when Im not in the office, in some of St Helena’s beautiful landscapes. Much of the work is in an area known as Prosperous Bay, a wide expanse of desert, a stark and striking landscape of orange red and purple sands punctuated by cacti. As I travelled through I realised I have not really taken in this area in before and certainly haven’t been out with my camera. Photography of my beautiful surroundings, has for some time now, taken a back burner. The more studio work I have been doing the less inclined I have been to enjoy photography as a hobby. I’m sure that my new job will help rekindle this, as I do less in the way of family portraits I have already developed a burning desire to get back out with my camera and photograph this wonderful Island we live in, and I realise just how much of it I still haven’t explored as normal life has taken over.
Our first three weeks back have been a little up and down. I received the news that my Mum has fallen and badly damaged her knee, leaving her immobile, in a huge cast and with the prospect of a knee replacement. It is particularly difficult being away from family when you feel that people need you and your support and I feel helpless to be able to do anything. Injury has befallen me once more and put a premature end to my football season once again. I’ve torn my groin several times, my ankles and this time, my Hamstring. It seems I am unable to play more than three games in a row before picking up a new injury, and its left me feeling old and more than a little fed up. Today I sit on my own having missed out on spear fishing this morning and a walk with friends this afternoon. 1st world problems I know, but when our time on St Helena is limited I hate missing out on things.
Still, being sat on my own gives time to reflect on things. History tells me that this is not good for me, and is one of the reasons I have sought out a full time job. But reflect I have, where are we, how far have we come, what are the important things and who am I. One of the goals of coming here was to improve my relationship with the children, and despite times when I felt it would never get better I find myself two years in with undoubtedly a better relationship with them. I shout less, and loose my temper less, and I genuinely enjoy being with them more. I have grown very proud of the people they are and have learnt to see the good things they bring to my life and not just focus on the restrictions they naturally impose. Oliver took part in the Island first Airport dash. As planes continue to be noticeable in their absence, other community uses are being found for the runway as 140 people took part in a 3km run up the runway and back. Bev, despite telling me she would not do well, placed second in the women’s category, and Oliver second in the primary school ages. Oliver’s achievement is particularly impressive given that many of his competitors were three years older. In fact, in a field of 140 Oliver finished around 15th overall and made his Mum and Dad very proud indeed.
So if I have made strides in becoming a better Dad, how do I feel about myself, have I changed, bettered myself. Right from the start I have longed to have a more important place on the Island, ridding myself of the self-doubt that I have often felt. Are things better now I have found work, I don’t know, not yet. When I look at myself I still see doubt and fear and I am no closer to knowing who I am and being comfortable in my own skin. Some former colleagues and friends back in the UK are currently out in Vancouver, for an international aquarium conference. Its crazy sitting here on St Helena, but I am filled with jealousy and feel a longing to belong to the industry I left behind. A friend once said, not long after we arrived on St Helena that she feels in limbo, not quite belonging to St Helena, but sufficiently changed so that she will never quite feel like she belongs in the UK. Two years on I understand where she is coming from. I have always wished and looked for a sense of belonging, to something important, to be a part of something greater and of significance. Maybe having a job on St Helena will help that, maybe not. I remain hugely ambitious but I have come to wonder if that is a good thing, are you ever satisfied with yourself, when you are always ambitious for more, ambitious to achieve something greater.
Most of all I worry about whether people like me, sad I know, you may argue why should I care, take me as I am if you don’t like me, it’s not my problem. Maybe I will always carry this, a need to be better, be more, be recognised and to feel important and liked. Maybe it’s just the Island that brings these feelings out in me, it’s certainly played more a part of my life here than at any other time. Work undoubtedly gives me less time to think, but when I do, I still tie myself in knots and struggle to understand how I feel and why I do. Maybe I need to stop figuring things out, and just run with it.
If I haven’t changed, things on St Helena have changed whilst we’ve been gone, good friends have left and social circles have shifted somewhat. As I sat down last night I updated our phone list, gone are the Grahams, the Hannahs, the Hathways, the Parkinsons, the Durkins and the Lambdon, great friends now gone from St Helena. Our first year on the Island seems a long time ago, and only a handful of friends remain who even know the important people in our lives from 2014. The Days, the David’s and others were very much our early time on the Island, and I feel fiercely protective of those memories we shared. Increasingly we find ourselves talking about people, events and times that others have no knowledge of, as we feel more and more like the old timers on the Island. Of course this is ridiculous, we have only been here two years, but on an Island so transitional this is longer than many. But this year it is all change again, we have made new friends on the ship and others who arrived during the eight weeks we were away. Despite the change in personal, the story remains unchanged, weekends are spent at barbecues and parties, walking with friends, Sunday football and donkeys.
Being away from the Island and then returning, highlights just how things have improved here since we first arrived. My lunch today was a lovely BLT, with locally produced bread, lettuce, tomatoes and smoked bacon, the only import being Hellman’s mayonnaise. Dinner tonight was delicious (even if I say so myself) Pork tenderloin with a tarragon and white wine sauce, carrots and broccoli (no Mum I didn’t have broccoli) again all locally produced or grown, the wine included. It’s a far cry from the endless cabbage and cauliflower that greeted us two years ago. Our fridge is stocked with fruit from our regular order, and a large piece if fillet steak awaits for tomorrow night. Now working full time, shopping has become a quick and daily occurrence, popping out at lunch and nipping round a few shops. As I pass by the Wellington store I am shouted at by a voice through the window, “Paul, when are you collecting your fruit bag” being the normal cry. Like most things, shopping is very social with an endless meet and greet as you move from shop to shop. Its this friendliness and community that really makes St Helena and makes our time here special. As I reflect on our first few weeks back on the Island, at the start of probably our last year on the Island it is clear that this is what we will miss most. Whale sharks, diving and stunning scenery are a joy, but it is the everyday people and the everyday life we have here that, when the time comes, we will miss most. I hope my hamstring heals quickly so I can spend less time thinking and reflecting, and more time enjoying and doing.
Footnote – We’ve actually been back more like six weeks at the time of posting this so before this is uploaded an update is due. Ive settled back into things, settled into work and have some exciting prospects on the horizon. Look out for another update with photos, days out and dolphins coming very soon.