The Gift of the Seychelles

Hazel Wong at Machu Picchu in Peru.
Hazel Wong at Machu Picchu in Peru.

Everyone has different places with profound meaning for their lives. For Hazel Wong, the Conservancy’s director of Conservation Campaigns, her place is the Seychelles, and she recently sat down with blogger Cara Byington to talk about her lasting connection to the islands.

There are places in the world where I feel like I’ve left my DNA. In the Seychelles, where I was born, it’s literal. My bellybutton is buried there and I am forever part of those islands and they are forever part of me. There’s also quite a lot of my DNA on the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu – mostly blood, sweat and tears – but that’s a different story.

This story is about the Seychelles and my connection to the islands plays out over decades. I lived there until I was 10 when my father had to leave the country, well, rather suddenly, for political reasons in 1980. So I grew up in the states and for most of my life, I knew the Seychelles the way children remember the places they left a long time ago.

But the islands still marked me. I think one of the reasons I work for the Conservancy and believe so much in conservation is because of the Seychelles. When you spend the formative years of your childhood on an island like Mahe [the capital island of the Seychelles] you spend most of your time outside. Everything is just right there – beaches, mountains, so much to explore. That’s how I remembered the Seychelles, but they were just memories until 1991 when I went back again for the first time since we’d left a decade earlier.

My grandmother – my father’s mother – was still on Mahe and she was passing away. She asked to see me so I went, and I didn’t realize the gift she gave me until many years later. And what a gift. She gave me back the islands. She made them real again. And the islands were there for me when I needed them most.

About 10 years after that first trip back, when I was in my late 20s, I had to find myself again. I was so broken by life and events. I needed a place and an anchor and I found it again in the Seychelles. Found myself again. And to this day, no matter where I go in the world, my connection to the island helps me know who I am. Last time I was in the Seychelles with family, I took a bicycle and went to the cemetery and watched the sunrise and I thanked my grandmother for bringing me back.

And of course to me, my islands are the most beautiful islands in the world, the most beautiful place I’ve ever seen. But they are also about my family. This is the place we come from. This is where we gather together from all over the world for family reunions. And there is one particular spot that means the most to me. It’s not the top of a mountain or a beach or waterfall. It’s a chair on the porch at my Aunt Anita’s house on Mahe where I can look out at the Trois Frere Mountains – The Three Brothers – these big granite mountains that tower over the island.

The hike to the top doesn’t take long and you can see amazing views across Mahe and out into the Indian Ocean. But I’m just as happy sitting on my aunt’s porch around 2 pm staring up at those mountains with the light coming down like a blessing and I know I’m connected to this place and these people and I know I’m home.

Seychelles image © tiarescott via creative commons license

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Comments

  1. Hi Hazel
    I am just back from the Seychelles. I was lovely returning and to see the inevitable development confined to the Victoria-airport area whee all the reclamation is concentrated. Some areas were just as they had been in 1970 when I first visited the islands. Driving some roads on the west side of Mahe took me back to my 20′s: the lush green foliage, smells of composting leaves, blue-green seas fringed by beaches and white surf, I visited there often until joining TNC in 1999 and lived there off and on. My parents lived there for 15 years. So much is the same and so much is different. One thing that doesn’t change is the commitment to conservation. I look forward to meeting with you and swapping stories.
    Rod

  2. Hazel, thanks for your story, it almost brought me to tears, because I share the same sentiment since as your aunt, it’s also my birth place. Vive les Seychelles!

  3. Rod, it’s wonderful to share this special place with a colleague. I’m spending a few weeks in Sez this summer and I most definitely look forward to swapping stories–in the near future, I hope.

    Tante Jo, thank you for your kind words. I look forward to spending quality time with you in our special place soon.

  4. Wow! Hazel, I loved reading your story. Now, I want to visit Seychelles. Thank you

  5. Hazel, thanks for your beautiful story -I’m originally from a group of small islands myself so it resonated deeply with me. Thanks for affirming the power of connection to place -no matter the size- in driving our work.

  6. Hazel-

    Thanks for sharing your personal story. I so much want to go to the Seychelles someday!

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