Article | THE ADVENTURE HAS ONLY JUST BEGUN. We’re coming towards the end of our 1.5 years in the Autonomous Region of Bougainville, however, I feel like the adventure has only just begun…
I often think about what my dream job would be – you know, if you could pick that one thing to do and earn a living from it. I’ve always struggled to answer it. I remember at high school in the 90’s, seeing a career’s advisor who advised me that Interior Design was my perfect job.
Instead, I applied for an apprenticeship at a defence and communications organization, with the opportunity to study business studies at a local college. I got the role and the rest is history as they say. And yet, the question still kept popping up ‘what’s your perfect job?’.
During, my 6-year stint in this job, I would be asked what direction I wanted to head in and what I wanted to become at my annual appraisal. I never found it easy to answer. In the end they gave me an ultimatum and asked if I would like to pursue a future as a project manager or a software developer. I was 17-years-old and to be perfectly honest, I had little to no idea what either entailed. I picked project management and left the room to go to lunch, thinking little of it.
Little did I know that that snap decision would shape my career for the next 15 or so years. It would see me working in London, Sydney and Wellington, across a multitude of roles and contracts with over a dozen organizations, working on a range of very exciting projects. I occasionally wonder to myself how different my path would have been if I had said software development. I’ll never know for sure but it would have started off with another 4-years of study, hence my quick decision to go for project management instead.
Fast forward to 2016 and I’m working as an IT Programme Planner in Wellington, New Zealand, as well as renovating our house with my partner, and kicking off a new personal project – a website called Travel Inspired, to share my experiences of travel, hiking and other outdoor pursuits and adventures. I had started to put more and more time into this new website, reducing my paid job to 4-days a week, and I was excited to see where it might eventually lead. That’s about as far as my strategic thought process around Travel Inspired went. It was something that might possibly lead to something in the future, but for now it was a just a hobby I enjoyed investing my time and effort into.
But, not for the first time in my life, there was a decision on the horizon that would shake things up. It wasn’t project management versus software development this time, instead it was about volunteering in Bougainville, Papua New Guinea. I was older and wiser, yet it was my very persuasive partner, who had been keen to volunteer overseas for a few years, that convinced me to take the plunge. After a little back and forth, I hesitantly agreed, yes, let’s do this, let’s move to Bougainville in Papua New Guinea and volunteer (or in my case, be an accompanying partner).
On previous occasions when I agreed to make big changes there had always been a handful of constants around me that had made other decisions and resulting changes seem less drastic. For example, the decision to buy a house in Wellington. Yes, it was a big decision of course, but, there were many things around me that didn’t change, it was still Wellington, the place I knew and loved, my work was constant, my friends, flat whites and football, they all remained constant, and so even though I was buying a house, it wasn’t too stressful at all.
However, on this occasion, I knew very little about the country, the people, what I’d be doing day to day, how easy it would be to get out and about, the type of food, drinks, internet access and a ton of other unanswered questions. I struggled to visualise even the smallest piece of my life in Papua New Guinea, no matter how many people I spoke to, books I flicked through, or websites I trawled. I found out snippets about Bougainville, but how I could fit my life into what I knew about the place still very much evaded me. Initially, that was very worrisome and a cause for anxiety. However, it would soon be the very thing I relished and thrived upon.
In the build-up to leaving for Papua New Guinea, I thought of it as taking some time-out from normal life. We would spend 1-year living in Bougainville and then return to Wellington, New Zealand to slot back into my ‘normal life’ of project management, flat whites and football. Throughout the week-long VSA briefing, medical check-ups, x-rays, dentist visits, and dozens of vaccinations, that thought never changed. It wasn’t until I’d been in Bougainville for 3-months, that it began to shift.
Keen to make the most of my ‘accompanying partner’ status – which means I don’t have any job or volunteer role or any other set commitments – I swiftly set about spending my time filming my experiences from the everyday to the more adventurous – from wandering around the town of Arawa searching the small stores for supplies, to going to the busy Friday fruit and vegetable market, to overnight hikes in the mountains of Rotokas in Central Bougainville.
I shared these videos on my Travel Inspired website, Facebook page and YouTube channel and the response was overwhelmingly positive from people in and outside of Papua New Guinea. I started to receive emails from people sharing their fond memories of Bougainville, both before and after The Crisis – Bougainville’s 10 year civil war from 1988 to 1998.
To be perfectly honest, I hadn’t anticipated such a response about a destination, it’s not something I’d ever seen before but it was very evident that people were thirsty to see more of their much beloved Bougainville. I was happy to provide it.
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After six months I reached out to the editor for Air Niugini’s inflight Paradise magazine with a pitch to promote Pokpok Island. Shortly after, the article was published and a copy of the magazine was sent to me to read. However, it wasn’t until I was aboard an Air Niugini flight and actually saw people reading the magazine that it really hit home. I was unofficially promoting Bougainville and went on to provide another couple of articles to Paradise Magazine.
I started to push harder in terms of both output and developing my own skills, watching tutorials relating to photography, videography, editing and social media, I followed the journeys of like-minded individuals from across the globe, I reached out to the experts in the industry for advice and guidance, and I said yes to every opportunity that came my way including the opportunity to speak at the Bougainville tourism AGM to share my experiences and recommendations.
The momentum slowly increased and a few requests started to come in to provide services around Bougainville. One particular request was from NZ Leprosy Mission, who asked if I would be interested in interviewing and photographing youths recovering from leprosy on Buka Island. A few weeks later, with my camera gear packed, I was in a 4×4 bouncing my way north for a weekend exploring remote villages and listening to some of the most heart-wrenching stories of pain and endurance that I’ve ever heard.
Over the next few months, I visited Arawa medical centre to photograph the new premises and staff at work, photographed the donation of a dozen PC’s to the Arawa School of Nursing, as well as attended the unforgettable Cool Culture Sing Sing Competition. During this period, I was also having conversations with a film producer in New Zealand about an upcoming documentary called Soldiers Without Guns, and after all the necessary approvals, I began to collate video footage from Bougainville for this project.
All of this enabled me to make friends and connections and slowly but surely more places became accessible to me – a waterfall hike in the hills of Arawa, visiting a village with incredible views of the ocean, swims in refreshingly cold rivers, snorkelling off remote uninhabited islands or watching a wood carver transform a blank canvas into a masterpiece of fish, dolphins and turtles. It was like some of Bougainville’s hidden gems were unlocked and being revealed to me.
At some point I came to a realisation. This was my life. I was happy, busy, thriving to learn, developing new skills, making new connections within the photography, film and creative space, as well as the tourism sector, and soaking up as much information as possible. I was no longer thinking about ‘heading back to my normal life and slotting in’, this had become my normal life. Time had passed, things had evolved, friends had been made and I was excited to experience the start of something new, something unknown, and something very, very exciting.
Is it the dream job for me? Well, I still find that impossible to answer and I don’t know how anyone can answer it. Would I change anything about what I’m doing right now? No, it’s rewarding and I couldn’t think of anything I’d rather be doing than this. Maybe it is my dream job? To be perfectly honest, I’m not even 100% clear what my current ‘job’ is, as it’s forever changing, and evolving day to day. That’s a positive thing though, it morphs, I adapt, learn new skills and make new connections, which in turn opens up potential new opportunities. It’s exciting, you never know what lies around the corner, and it’s that unpredictability that I thrive on. Over the last six-months alone, I’ve referred to myself variously as a travel writer, content creator, videographer and a photographer, depending on what’s on the to-do-list in any particular week, and I’m still not completely settled on a title that fully encapsulates this fascinating, varied and incredibly rewarding work, however I’m OK with that – it’s just a title after all…
There are also elements that I’m still trying to suss out, like how to make it a sustainable venture, with a sustainable income, as well as how to best manage my time and juggle the many pieces of the puzzle – website development, social media management, writing, filming, photography, editing, reaching out for new opportunities, supporting others with information, as well as getting out and about on adventures myself. Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m definitely not moaning, far from it, it’s actually a very good puzzle to have to figure out, and as I mentioned earlier, it feels like the start of something new, something unknown and something very, very exciting. The adventure has only just begun…
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Hi, I’m Adam Constanza, freelance travel content creator living, working and supporting tourism in Timor Leste, South East Asia.
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