Leaning In, Showing Up and Taking a Chance: What it’s Like to Talanoa in Suva

Three weeks ago, sitting on my living room floor, I decided to take the leap into the unknown and hold my first independent event at home in Fiji. A talanoa session – one that would encourage people to step into the limelight of their own stories, and know exactly what to do if they choose to share it in the digital world. It would be a mix of sharing my own story, with the story of what’s happening to Pacific people’s stories on a global scale online, and what we can do to reclaim them and tell them in our own voices, and on our own terms. I also knew that I had a lot to learn from people here in Fiji, and that it was crucial to my work in Sydney to build a broader, more diverse network of people living and working on the ground here in the Pacific.

It was a big dream for a little fish like me, but thankfully, I am no stranger to hustling with the little I have. I had two weeks, online connections with people who wanted to meet in real life, and a gut instinct that I needed to do more than write while I had free time here in Fiji. I needed to meet people – warm bodies with real stories, looking to learn and share and connect through their work, their experiences, and their dreams of telling their own stories and enabling many others to do so too. My dream of holding a talanoa session in Suva was off to a strong start.

Two weeks later, it’s Saturday morning and I’m standing in an empty meeting room. It’s five minutes to ten and I’m nervously checking my watch… again. Will anyone show up? Or have I jumped the gun? I remind myself I’m no stranger to this feeling. Remember when you quit your job to pursue this? Yes. Lean into that. You’ve got this.

This is what’s going through my mind when I’m down to the wire and leaning into the discomfort of being vulnerable, showing up, and taking a chance on my abilities, my dreams and my connections.

So… who’s in the room?

Much to my relief (and delight), someone did show up to Talanoa with Arieta – 20 people to be exact. I loved that each person was from a different walk of life – a variety of ethnicities, gender, age, careers and academic backgrounds. Looking around the room, you’d see a year 13 high schooler, journalism students, teachers, climate change activists, researchers, social media managers, a hotel owner, a development manager, writers, followers of Talanoa, and (alert: major fangirl moment), researchers and founders of Making Connections Fiji, Dr. Vanisha Mishra-Vakaoti and Dr. Patrick Vakaoti. Vanisha is also the founder of A Life Un-styled, and while this deserves it’s own piece, having a woman and mentor like her in the room really meant a lot to me.

Why is diversity in a talanoa important? It means it’s not always the same people, talking about the same things, at the same types of events. It was important to me that people who wouldn’t normally be in “storytelling spaces” found the session inviting, relevant and interesting enough to show up and be a part of the discussion. It meant sharing and learning about digital storytelling and Pacific storytelling is more accessible to anyone and everyone, which was exactly what I was aiming for.

Time to Talanoa

Our talanoa session was segmented into three parts: my story, Pacific stories, and your stories. From a top level, this is exactly how I go about my work, and how most Pacific people create strong relationships in order to have meaningful talanoa. We introduce ourselves, and open up – how can we expect people to share their stories with us, if they have no idea of who we are? Secondly, I talk about my work, so people have a good understanding of what I do and why I do it. It’s only after I’ve done this initial groundwork, that I feel comfortable enough to ask people to share their own stories, experiences and insights with me too.

I love hearing people’s questions – they give you a small insight into who they are and how they view the world. Here are a few thought-provoking questions people shared during our talanoa:

  • How can we reclaim our stories as Fijians and decolonise our past?
  • What was the most valid criticism you’ve received?
  • How do you cope with people questioning your ethnicity, when you don’t look Fijian or Tongan?
  • How do you deal with being outspoken, where women are looked down on for speaking out?
  • How can I encourage my students to be more confident in their stories?
  • What’s the best way to use social media to help parents read their children’s stories?
  • How can I professionalise my business and brand online?

As we moved through these discussions, a theme emerged – the importance of truly knowing yourself. This means taking the time and groundwork to be very clear on your purpose, intentions and capabilities. It’s also about knowing that you don’t know everything and that there’s always room to learn. There is much to be said for being open and teachable too. This is what’s protected me from falling to pieces when my credibility and expertise is questioned or criticised.

In the Pacific, there seems to be no middle ground – people are either praised or persecuted for sharing new ideas, speaking against the status quo, or trying new and unheard of creative or business ventures. So this discussion spoke to everyone in the room – people who were all venturing out to try something new.

All in all…

I won’t lie – promoting, organising and facilitating my own independent event for the first time was no walk in the park. I wrestled over charging a fee, choosing the right venue, deciding on a photographer and even asking family for help. I dug into my savings, and had to cover my back a few times to protect myself from critics who hadn’t taken the time to find out what I do and what I’m about. I had my own nerves and reservations and it’s why I didn’t advertise the event as heavily as I could have. I might’ve gone small and safe – but I think that was smart and it still needed guts for it to happen.

Looking back, almost a week later and I’m still thrilled and thankful. I can’t believe people actually showed up! It’s amazing that I was so confident in myself until ten minutes before the event kicked off. I’m not 100% sure where that gutso came from, but was probably those hustle instincts kicking in again.

It warmed my heart and instilled a serious amount of encouragement and inspiration in me to see both young and accomplished people listening and talking with me and with each other. I am so motivated to take everything I’ve learnt to open up, show up and take another chance by inviting people to sit down and talanoa with me again, and again. That’s the beautiful thing about embracing vulnerability – the pay off is growth, confidence and in my case, the ability to try again.

May this small, but meaningful talanoa in Suva be a start of many more to come, both in the Pacific and for our diaspora communities everywhere around the world. I’m excited for what’s to come.

To view photos from the event, head to our Facebook page or click here. Photography from the event was captured by local photographer Adi Kautea Nacola – thank you Adi for your support and help!

talanoa

Arieta Tora Rika is a Tongan-Fijian Freelance Writer, Digital Communications Specialist, and Talanoa’s Founder and Creative Director. Born in Darlinghurst in the late 80s, she spent most of her childhood in Fiji, New Zealand and Australia, and all of her teen years in Tonga. She now lives in Western Sydney with her husband Josese.