The key words I fear are stamina and flow… not necessarily in that order. So I completed the MA in 2002 and despite constant pestering (and it really was pestering!) to begin the PhD from colleagues, I was adamant that I would know when the topic was right. So off I went digging a well deeper and deeper into academia.. teaching large classes of no less than 100 and up to 300 at a time in my curriculum courses; getting into community work; rushing off to present at conferences; conducting small research projects and beginning to publish. But the apple (or coconut in my case) never fell from the tree.. it hung there suspended like a golden fruit waiting to be picked – just out of reach. Most days it was simply out of sight out of mind.

I kept the dean happy by convincing her that I was “actively” searching for a topic and went as far as enrolling in a postgraduate course on Script Writing for film in 2006 and then a year later in Advanced Social Policy… I considered at least twenty possible topics and debated which discipline I ought to study in and which University and in which country and why? With my large classes it began to register as a “something I must do” “one day” like learning to swim or drive.

In retrospect, 2006 was an eventful year and a number of milestone events took place. My mum passed away and I truly felt like the orphan thrown into the driver’s seat. On the work front, the University was identified as a Regional Centre of Expertise and Centre of Excellence in ESD by UNU and ACCU-UNESCO respectively. I was added to a project team and my Education for Sustainable Development Journey began. I soon forgot about the PhD and got deeper and deeper into my ESD work.

At the back of my head, the idea was that if I had to do the PhD – it had to be difficult!  should choose a challenging topic and it should be painful…I should go away to another University and identify a topic that few would understand and I would look important and feel important and perhaps be important in the process. How wrong I was!

When the topic came to me it was 2008 and I found myself suddenly re-examining traditional symbols and their significance as metaphors of indigenous life philosophies. It dawned on me then that if I wanted to study something specifically ingrained in Pacific epistemologies, I need to be right where I was.

I even have the perfect supervisor in Professor Konai Helu Thaman, UNESCO Chair in Culture and Teacher Education and ESD Advocate. Why on earth would I go to some seemingly exotic place to conduct research on people who are literally in my back yard? And why should I settle for a second best supervisor who may only know the Pacific from what s/he has read in books?

The idea stuck but I didn’t quite get my act together until 2010 when out of the clear blue sky, a topic formulated and a proposal followed soon after. It was accepted and I enrolled for my first semester in January 2010 but my teaching load was such that I could not enroll in semester two… then in 2011, I tried again  and enrolled in the first semester.. and again was unable to enroll in semester two.. so here I am … hoping its third time lucky… enrolled in the PhD program for my third semester as a part-time Pacific islander student trying to make sense of the madness that is a sea of words floating in the abyss of my head.. fighting to find their way onto a crisp white page.

My research examines indigenous notions of sustainability and resilience in the Pacific islands and explores the concept of “Va” or relational spaces as a life-philosophy that is central to learning about (or education for) sustainability (and sustainable development). My supervisor is awesome and in the short time that I have been enrolled I have churned out four draft chapters!!!

so does it have to be difficult? I don’t think so. Does it need to be complicated? I have discovered that the simple things are the most profound.

And do I feel important? Lord NO! It’s become a personal journey of reflection and discovery and most days that I find time to work on my chapters the end game or piece of paper is the last thing on my mind.

It’s become the excitement of connecting dots and finding gaps, identifying new dots on the map and reconnecting, disconnecting and navigating my way through what promises to be a very nerdy academic rush.

I am braced and positioned to enjoy the ride because by all indications there are rapids ahead and for someone from the islands who hasnt learnt to swim – well that just means gearing up with a life-raft, a life-line and family and friends on the look out preferably with hugs, chocolate, good coffee and the occasional umu (earth oven feast) to sustain me.

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