This weekend I went home to visit my parents in England, and found myself watching “Kevin McCloud’s Escape to the Wild” on Channel 4 (good old English TV!). This week focused on a family that had moved to Tonga. The family, consisting of Boris and Karyn and their three children moved the South Pacific island in 2007 with five suitcases, where they camped for about a year in the forest whilst they built a log cabin to live in.
.Now they have a beautiful house built entirely from natural resources from the island, along with imported cement. It has two bedrooms, two bathrooms and a large living area with a sea view. The family aim to live entirely sustainably: they get electricity and warmth from solar panels and a wind turbine, and running clean water from collecting rain water in big tanks. They even have a bunker at the back of the house for protection from hurricanes and tsunamis.
So how do they eat? Being on an island, fish becomes a core foodstuff, as well as eating plants on the island. They claim to have also worked for years to grow fruits and vegetables not native to the island, such as bananas, avocados and sweet potatoes. There are also local markets on the island, and they travel to other islands to collect valuable items like guano for fertilizer. They also buy diesel to power their speed boat, which they use to sell whale watching tours to visitors for their income. The children are homeschooled and all work together to survive on the island.
I found this interesting for several reasons. First of all was their attitude to life. Instead of living from one pay cheque to the next, their main goal of life is sustainable survival. They invest their time in long-term projects like growing edible fruits and building new renewable energy sources for the house. Life appeared simple, clean and was to be enjoyed, not mindlessly walked through. Secondly was their attitude to the environment. Rather than a resource to become exploited, the island surroundings became regarded as part of them, to be used when they needed it. This attitude is great, but only as long as you fit to the environment, not the other way round. Using materials and fishing sustainably will always be necessary, but I was surprised that they introduced fruits that were not already growing on the island, as these could outcompete the native fruits and plants.
Either way, for me this was a very different example of living “off-grid”: moving somewhere entirely new and cultivating it, especially as a family with young children. I found it really inspiring to see other people do this, as it makes it more tangible to people like me who want to achieve a similar lifestyle. And even better that this sort of thing is covered in a television series, as it gets more people out there thinking and talking about how and why we are living life the way we are.
Something like moving away from society and becoming self-sufficient is daunting to many people, but it has been an idea dwelling in the back of my head for a while now. Obviously as a student this is a move I cannot make in the next few years or so, but I hope to explore further the options out there of living a sustainable lifestyle off-grid for the future. Of course this isn’t an option for everyone, as people are tied down where they are by families, jobs and convenient lifestyles. But seeing this sort of living really does make me start to question what is actually important to me, what I value, and most of all, whether I am really getting everything out of life by living the way we are “expected” to.