A short Informal Illustrated Autobiography
by Tom Riddle, written for the people of my home town,
There is also a resume.
|Click any picture to enlage and read the caption.
My life-changing moment came when I was sitting in the 11th grade English class of Ravenna High School and, as part of a survey of American Literature, we read an essay by Henry David Thoreau. I was so impressed that I took my paper route money up to the McGraw and Ekler Bookstore and ordered, Walden, or Life in the Woods, Thoreau's famous book about the virtues of the simple life he had lived while staying alone in a hut on the banks of Walden Pond in the 1840s. Gosh, I thought, why didn't anyone tell me this before? That summer, in 1968, thinking that I might never have a chance to have an adventure again, I retired from delivering newspapers, built myself a little hut in a quiet forest on my grandmother's farm outside of Ravenna and lived, except for visits from my high school friends, alone for three months. Little did I know how many adventures would follow.
When I graduated from Kent State University in 1974 with certification to teach English, I immediately applied for work with the Peace Corps. Six months later I was sent to the South Pacific Kingdom of Tonga and ended up being one of the most remote Peace Corps Volunteers in the world. For a year I lived on the island of Niuatoputapu, which had 1100 people, and was 150 miles from the nearest island. The island was visited by the local inter-island boat once a month or sometimes once every three months.
I stayed in Tonga four years teaching English and Science to middle school students.
On my way home from Tonga, I studied yoga in India with the legendary BKS Iyengar and visited many of the holy places of India and Nepal.
Once I was back in the USA in 1980, I applied to work in the refugee camps of Southeast Asia as a United Nations Volunteer. That contract lasted for a year in the Philippines. After that I spent three years working for the State Department in a refugee camp in Thailand as a writer and teacher.
On my way back to the USA this time, in 1985, I spent a month in a Zen temple in Japan. Since then I've continued to do the yoga I learned in India and the meditation I learned in Japan on a daily basis.
Back in the USA in late '85, because of my experience in the refugee camps, I was able to obtain a full scholarship to study anthropology at the University of Hawaii. Three years later I earned an MA and was accepted into the PhD program. However, I was bored with university life and decided to return to Tonga for a year to teach anthropology in a university there.
By now it was the early 1990s and the United Nations had just brokered a peace agreement in Cambodia. Having known hundreds of Cambodian refugees in the camps, I had longed to visit Cambodia for years. So I decided to join the UN again, this time to help run the 1993 UN-sponsored election in Cambodia. What I and a lot of other people didn't realize was that we were walking into the middle of a civil war. I spent 18 months in Cambodia, a story told in my book, Cambodia Interlude. It's a love story describing the closest I ever came to getting married.
While in graduate school, and later with the UN, I had learned something about computers, that skill helped me get a job teaching computers at a university in Hawaii for three years as the 1990s were coming to and end. I loved that job, but when the Asian Economic Crash happened at the end of the 1990s, foreign students stopped coming to Hawaii and I lost my classes.
Fortunately, as the new millieum began, in 2000, I realized that technology had reached the point where it was now possible to literally put a movie studio into a backpack. So I went to movie school in San Francisco, bought professional equipment, and then went back to Asia to make movies for small non-profit organizations. This work took me to remote parts of Laos, India, Vietnam, Cambodia, and Indonesia. For one assignment, while working in the Golden Triangle of Laos for Save the Children, I was the first foreign person that the school children had ever seen.
These days I still makes movies for small organizations. On my home page, http://thomasriddle.net you can see a few pictures and movies from my travels.
If I had any message for the young people of Ravenna it would be to think out of the box and to strive to live your dreams. The world, for all of its craziness, is still filled with nice people and beautiful places. The Tongans have a wonderful saying, “Mama 'oku tau 'i ai.” The world is a place of light, well that we are here.