It's the end of the world as we know it?

Congratulations!  You’ve almost made it, you’ve survived the barren wasteland of time that sits between Christmas and New Year – the epoch of time traditionally filled only with the making and eating of leftover turkey and ham sandwiches – soon you will have made it off this dog-eared, coffee stained page of the calendar and into the crisp, sweet smelling pages of a brand new year, a year where you can eat more than just Turkey, and the cranberry sauce can return to the back of the fridge until next Christmas to keep the piccalilli company.

You’ll be pleased to know that Christmas here went off without a hitch, (unless you count a certain custard related failure as a hitch, but I’m still adamant something that yellow wouldn’t have been good for you anyway) and as we get closer to 2015, and that utopia as described in ‘Back to the future (part II)’ where everyone has self tying trainers, and hover-boards, it seems apt to look forward to a brand new year – the last one we will all have if you believe certain idiots who have jumped on the ‘I-have-a-woeful-understanding-of-basic-geography-and-ancient-civilisations-but-I-have-watched-a-scientifically-flawed-Hollywood-film-and-am-therefore-an-expert’ bandwagon.  From personal experience, if I had £1 for every time one of my geography students asked me if the world was going to end in 2012 I’d be a rich man…well actually that’s a lie, I wouldn’t be rich, but I would at least have enough money to buy a book about Mayan culture to hit them round the face with.  The whole 'end of the world' thing is so 2000 anyway, and we survived that didn't we.

To be honest even if the World did end tomorrow on the first day of 2012, then at least I’d be able to say I spent my last year on Earth well – 2011 was a blast!

 Checking out the dubious turkey options...

Checking out the dubious turkey options...

This time last year I was in Manchester, drinking rum, on a balcony, with good friends, and watching the various firework displays fill the city air with smoke and a reddish glow that wouldn’t be seen again until July when rioting youths would decide to burn Miss Selfridge to “make a statement”.  The UK riots, alongside other tragedies like the shootings in Sweden, and the continued global economic downturn playing background music throughout, will no doubt cast a shadow over 2011, but whilst slightly hungover and driving from Manchester back to Norwich for the new school term, I was full of optimism; and somewhere on the M1, hangover clearing, with a particularly good song playing on the radio, I decided that 2011 was going to be a good year for me; it was the first year I had what you might call a ‘proper’ job, which meant I had (some) money, it was the first year I had a ‘career’ of sorts with promotion and development prospects, and it was the first year I could sort of be called a grown up.

This was incredible, I’d never really felt like a grown up before, this called for some grown up New Year’s resolutions, like “I will stop eating biscuits”, “I will visit at least one new country this year”, “I will have an adventure” and “I will take up running and get fitter” okay, I didn’t say I was a very good grown up, in fact, I’m a pretty bad one, but that suits me fine.  The exciting thing was however, that this year, I actually followed through with all of my resolutions.  Arriving back in Norwich I immediately searched the internet and a few clicks later had brought a flight to go and visit my brother in Colombia, that week I went with my friend Chris and we bought worryingly expensive running shoes in the hope we would have to go running to justify the cost, and much to my flatmate’s horror, I started to decline his offers of gingernuts and digestives.  I was on a feel-good high, and even my pathetic attempts at running in my shinny new shoes couldn’t bring me down (it just made me feel sick and like my heart was going to explode instead)

 Festive floral  fau  - celebrating Tuvalu style...

Festive floral fau - celebrating Tuvalu style...

By February however that feel-good high had started to plummet; work was getting more intense again, I wasn’t really doing much outside of school, and I was generally a bit fed up.  Perhaps it was the ‘cold-turkey’ biscuit come down or the constant arguments with my body after forcing it to go for yet another run in the rain, whatever it was, I needed something else, something to break the cycle of work, run, eat (not biscuits), sleep, work – I needed a new hobby, or a project, just something, and with that I switched on my computer and trusted the internet to find me that something.  After the usual distracted surfing around travel websites and YouTube, I found myself clicking around the UK Scout website (as you do), as I had been thinking about becoming a leader for a while, and after signing up to a few mailing lists and a couple of Facebook groups, I forgot all about it and carried on planning lessons and marking books: Q1) Uganda is less developed than the UK because?  "they have too many kids and stuff” – marking is always a joy.

The next day whist conducting thorough research for my lessons on coastal erosion i.e. checking Facebook again, I received a message from the Scout Network group I had joined the previous day.  Normally I would have deleted it immediately and not given it a second thought, but something made me read it, what, I don’t know, fate, karma, boredom, the fact I was reading Danny Wallace’s “Yes Man” at the time? (Recommended by the way) Whatever it was I soon found myself reading a quite frankly dull message about some Scouts in Derbyshire and a camp they had been on.  I was about to click away and check my news feed again, just in case something outrageous had happened in the last two minutes, when I realised the message wasn’t finished, and scrolled down to read the final paragraph:

[“WANTED – Scout Development Ambassadors for the South Pacific”]

2011 was about to change drastically.

 Not the only ones enjoying a festive swim...

Not the only ones enjoying a festive swim...

I could now go into the process of submitting my application, forgetting all about it, being genuinely surprised at receiving an invite to the assessment weekend, frantically researching Tuvalu and Vanuatu, a weekend spent being assessed, my acceptance phone call, not being able to tell anyone, eventually telling my friends and family, quitting my job, the training weekends, endlessly explaining to people where Tuvalu was, the fundraising, the preparations, but that is all for another time.  For this blog post it is enough to say that reading that message one rainy night in Norwich was the turning point of my 2011, and who knows, maybe for the rest of my life; Ultimately it has led me to be living this crazy life as a Scout Development Ambassador in Tuvalu, and for that I am truly grateful to that message.

I had started looking for a new hobby or a distraction from work, and have ended up on a tropical island in the South Pacific – it’s a funny old world isn’t it; and in doing so, I managed to complete my resolutions to ‘have an adventure’ and ‘visit one new country’ in fact with my trip to Colombia, and my lengthy journey to get to Tuvalu I can say I’ve been to 4 new countries in 2011!  I also managed to keep up my running, and my now slightly less shinny running shoes have made it to the South Pacific with me, and continue to make the excessive initial investment worth it, carrying me up and down the runway, but unfortunately there is one resolution I didn’t keep, and I have to confess that I gave back into biscuits some time after returning from Colombia, but in my defence, what is a life full of adventure without the occasional hobnob eh? 

 Festive Fish in  Funafuti ...

Festive Fish in Funafuti...

The rest of my 2011 has been a Tuvaluan whirlwind, and with most of it documented in the previous blog posts, it’s time to look forward to 2012, and I am excited.  I have that same optimistic feeling I had at the beginning of 2011 and that seemed to work out pretty well, so who knows what fun and adventures 2012 will have in store for me.  First thing to decide is how to properly welcome in the New Year?  Last year there were fireworks, rum, dancing, and a balcony in Manchester.  This year there will still be fireworks, there will still be rum, there might even be some dancing, but instead of a Mancunian balcony, I have decided my venue will be a beach on the eastern side of the island facing the vast expanse of the Pacific Ocean.  Why specifically here?  Well there is a first time for everything, and this year I hope to be one of the first people on this wonderful planet of ours to see the sun rise on the 1st January 2012 – got to love that time difference.

And as that sun comes up, I guess it’s time to make some new resolutions…well as I will be spending over half of 2012 in Tuvalu, I am able to dodge some of the more cliched New Year resolutions like ‘Join a gym’ (there isn’t one), or ‘give up chocolate’ (you struggle to buy it here), so instead of the regular resolution format, I have decided to create the “New Year’s Manifesto” to outline some of my targets and ambitions for the next 12 months.

I won’t bore you with it now, but essentially it says that by remaining open to every opportunity, idea, invitation or suggestion that comes my way, by smiling, and by waking up each morning with chronic optimism – I will be doing everything I possibly can to learn more about this amazing place I am lucky enough to call home.  I want to learn more of the Tuvaluan language, I want to learn how to fish like the locals, I want to learn how to free dive, I want to visit the outer islands, I want to keep writing blogs that I hope you will want to read, I want to kayak round Funafuti lagoon, I want to make some adventure/life plans for after Tuvalu, I want to get better at swimming, I want to see the ‘drop-off’ where Tuvalu disappears into the Pacific, I want to carry on playing rugby, and maybe start some volleyball, I want to experience the King tides here, I want to eat more raw fish and other local foods, if they Royals arrive whilst I’m here I want to meet them and tell Kate to give her sister my number, I want to learn to ride a motorbike properly, and I want to work hard to ensure that our project here is a resounding success and the fantastic young people of Tuvalu are able to benefit from Scouting now and for years to come.

So all that is left to say is Happy New Year everyone, wherever you are and whatever you’re doing, I hope you have an amazing one – now stop worrying, put that Mayan calendar down, and go and have an adventure!

© Andy Browning 2011