When I post a photos of yet another beautiful island sunset, or a spectacular mountain view on the Facebook page, Instagram, or even here on the blog I receive a lot of nice comments. I love reading them and I’m glad I’m able to share some of the jungle island views with you. Sometimes I get comments along the lines of ‘This makes me want to go there’. Lately these comments have been stopping me in my tracks, and making me feel a little twinge of something that I can only describe as being guilt. It’s hard to explain, but when I read a comment like this, I feel like I’ve been a bit dishonest in my portrayal of this place. Like I’m not showing you the reality of it all, and that you might be getting the wrong impression.
A few days ago on one of the photos I shared on Instagram, a friend commented “Oh your world is beautiful”. I replied “It is, but it depends where you look”. And that’s the thought I’ve been stuck on since. Don’t get me wrong, many parts of this island are awe-inspiringly beautiful, and I’ve only seen one tiny corner of it. But it really does depend on where you look, and what you focus on. This photo was taken down on the beach while the tide was out. It truly was a beautiful sunset, and that’s what I was focused on – because that’s what I wanted to share with you, that’s what I wanted you to see.
Here’s the thing though – what you can’t see in this photo is how dirty the beach here really is. This photo was taken just across the bay from the port where all the boats come and go, and the sand is a filthy black colour. There was litter everywhere. Washed up shoes. Plastic. Bottles. Broken glass. Right at the same spot I took this photo, I turned my body 180 degrees and pointed the camera down towards ground, capturing a dirty and discarded syringe lying in the sand. I later deleted that photo, knowing it would never be an image I would share, nor was it something I wanted to remember that afternoon by.
The point is, both the beautiful sunset, and that discarded syringe existed right there, in that moment at the very same place. I could have shared either image with you, and I’m sure they both would have evoked very different responses. If I had posted the latter, I’m certain that nobody would have remarked ‘I wish I was there’, or ‘You’re so lucky!’. I’ve been showing the best, the beauty, because that’s what I’ve been choosing to see – but if I wanted to give an entirely different impression of this place it wouldn’t be hard at all. When we first arrived here, I really noticed the poverty, the cruelty and the seemingly hopeless plight of so many people. Everywhere I looked as we travelled along the road I’d notice the skinny, starving dogs. Limping. Scratching. Puppies curled up on the road. Being the dog lover that I am, my heart would break over and over. There would be silent tears running down my cheeks as I looked out of the car window. Barry would say to me repetitively ‘desensitise wifey, desensitise.’ In the first week we were here, it was his word of the week. I would get frustrated and snap at him through my tears ‘How can you not feel it?’ He’d reply, “I just switch it off’.
In the past, there have been times when I’ve read the news and it’s overwhelmed me. So many things wrong in the world. So much sadness. Anger. Fear. Sometimes after a natural disaster, or some sort of accident I’d read though all of the stories. Occasionally I’d even search for more information. The loss, the heartbreak. I’d lie awake at night, thinking about all of the sad things in the world, feeling helpless. I’d start telling Barry about something I’d heard or read to get it off my chest, and he’d cut me off, telling me he didn’t want to hear it. I’d glare at him and ask, ‘How can you not care?’ ‘You never read the news, you wouldn’t have a clue what’s going on in the world’. I’d accuse him of being naive, and insensitive. This couldn’t be further from the truth and I knew it, but I couldn’t understand how one could just ‘switch it off’. He would tell me quite simply that it made him sad, and that he didn’t want to be sad. It’s taken me a long time to realise that there is a valuable lesson in these simple words. A life lesson. Barry is always happy. He oozes positivity, joy and enthusiasm in all that he does. (Except shopping, or visits to the beach – these are two activities that seem to suck the life from his soul right before my eyes). He knows it’s all out there – all the sad things, the darkness, but he doesn’t let it impact him in any way. He will say to me ‘You and I are not in a position to fix it”, ‘We can’t change it, so why get hung up on it?’ ‘Don’t focus on it’, “Don’t let it get you down”.
I read a blog post last week titled “Why focusing on joy doesn’t mean we’re ignoring the world’s problems”, and it came at a perfect time – just as I was trying to put my own feelings about all of this into words. Putting feelings into words is not something that I find easy, so I was glad to find that on this particular topic, it has already been taken care of! I’d encourage you to have a read of the post, it mightn’t be in my words, but the essence of exactly what I’ve been thinking/feeling/learning is right there. If you do happen to include this remote island of Sumbawa on your travel itinerary in the future because my photos have made it seem like some sort of irresistible paradise where the sun always shines and the birds always sing – I hope you see it the way I do.