Wednesday, 29 February 2012

home in toronto

so tired, but so happy to have had such a wonderful two weeks home in aotearoa and sydney... will blog more tomorrow. so much to say! SO much to SAY!

Friday, 24 February 2012

goodbye aotearoa...

In a few minutes I'll hop into bed, my packed suitcases and laid-out clothes beside me. I have been here in Aotearoa for less than two weeks, an impossibly short time for any real engagement... but I've done what I can and will be back again in June.

Now I can feel my other self kicking into gear: the girl I met when I first moved overseas all those years ago: August 2000, and I climbed into a plane to the US a weepy young thing and emerged with a slightly different look in the eye and a focus on keeping on top of it all. Not climbing to the top - just keeping things running smoothly, keeping on top so it doesn't all spin out of control.

Some days I am very impressed by this girl who clicks into place the minute I approach an airport by myself; other days I worry about my apparent ability to disconnect and focus as if there's the flick of a switch. I've been deeply feeling the layers of a difficult farewell or journey, and suddenly this girl turns up and takes over, bossing my more emotional and vulnerable self until I find myself simply following her directions: check moisturiser is in bag, pick out clothes for the flight, put poassport in pink passport holder in front pocket of handbag, stop thinking about what you're leaving behind.

Although I don't like to admit it, I need her: I need this girl who keeps it together and methodically passes through borders with all of their expectations of performance, submission, organisation and hefty instruments of discernment. I need her when I'm faced with a borderguard (at national borders, but other kinds too, somedays). I need her to keep my tears to a minimum, my eyes on the trip, my finger on the pulse.

At the same time, as with any relationship, I think she needs me too. She only makes sense as long as I am my organic, messy, apologising, distracted, emotional self.

Actually, when I think about it, I think we kind of need each other.

Thursday, 23 February 2012

flat battery

My cellphone has been running out all week... I've topped up the battery when I can, but am restricted by my own stupidity: I've brought the charger which fits an American/ Canadian electrical socket rather than a NZ one. Yep, the drama of translation, of specificity, of context.

I keep coming up with devious ways to stay in communication (tonite my SIM card is in my sister's properly-charged phone, this morning my phone was plugged in for ten minutes at a Telecom shop) but I do seem to be fighting a losing, and perhaps hopeless battle. In desperation, I even spent $20 today on a cord which should have charged my phone by plugging it into a USB port, but it doesn't work. It doesn't work!

At the same time, there's me. It's 2.13am and I have been in back-to-back meetings and appointments for the past three days... one more day tomorrow and then I'm off on the plane. Seeing so mnay poeple in such a short space of time is fantastic and exciting, but it's a little bit draining too. Well, a lot draining actually. As much as I love it and can't imagine doing a short trip home in any other way.

So, I'm off to charge my battery.

Even if it's not for as long as ideal, a bit of a recharge is definitely way better than nothing. Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz...

Monday, 20 February 2012

quality time with a dolphin

Well, a kid called Matiu who has a special swimming stroke with emulates a dolphin, anyway! ;)

This afternoon after school, Matiu and I went to the public pools and had a swim. A looong swim. A swim of many parts: splashing, floating, slides, being a dolphin, playing with the toys (noodles, flutterboard, etc), and so on.

It turns out, gentle reader, that two hours at the pools is fantastic, but tiring. So tiring. SO tiring!


writing the maori world

I've just had three days at Long Bay in Auckland, at a 'residential workshop' about 'writing the Maori world.' Talk about fascinating.

One thing it reminded me of was the extent to which the direction and feeling of a hui is so deeply shaped by the people who are present. It will move at the pace of the dominant group, power structures from outside the specific hui will be visible regardless of individual 'intentions,' and when all is said and done you learn from the process of being together, even when the attempted process of acquiring these insights is tiring, boring, dated, and dodgy.

I'm reminded of someone who told me that sometimes good things don't come in the packages we expected, but that doesn't stop them from being good packages.

I've got new friends, I've solidifed  existing friendships, I've had the chance to talk about poetry, and I've returned home inspired to be active in my own writing, in creating space for other writers, and in producing the necessary structures for future critical publications.

Oh, and I've also come home tired: another sign of a good weekend. Good nite! x

Saturday, 18 February 2012

everyday racism, everyday sovereignty

Tonite I am blogging about yesterday - tomorrow I'll blog about today.

Everyday racism

A white guy on the bus to the Wellington airport decided to have a loud conversation with the woman who sat next to him, who was Asian, about immigration. He had the deep confidence in his own assumptions that can only be the result of carefully avoiding any kind of alternative viewpoint. He talked loudly, proving to the people seated nearby that he Knew His Stuff. He went on and on, loudly explaining to the woman that it was okay for Asians to immigrate to NZ because they were honest and hardworking, with less problems of violence and crime than other immigrant communities. I, as a Maori person, and members of some of these other 'immigrant communities' cringed while he spoke. Finally, he said "you people are good immigrants because you really want to prove that you should stay here; you really want to fit in here," and I started to wonder what hoops this man jumped through in order to 'fit in here.'

Later, the English man who sat next to me on the plane to Auckland shared a chuckle with me about the announcement that we were to exit via stairs rather than an air bridge, and people who needed assistance should wait for help. We giggled, and I said "will the crew carry people?," to which he replied "maybe they're going to use an Indian rope trick." An Indian rope trick? Seriously?


The sterward who welcomed us on board the Air NZ flight, and directed us pay attention to the safety video, spoke for a while in Maori, during his welcome and also once we arrived in Auckland. "Nau mai, haere mai ki te whenua o Tamaki Makaurau." Lovely, to hear the language used in such a natural and public way.

Once I got off the plane, I went to use an ATM and withdraw some money... and when I got to the bank machine in the airport (it was a BNZ machine) I could choose a language for the transactino. One of the options was Maori!!! Using my language in an everyday transaction makes all the difference in the world!

Summing things up:

Racism; Sovereignty. Racism. Sovereignty. A constant pendulum.

Wednesday, 15 February 2012

Houses and homes. Oh, and hearts.

It's true, what they say, about home being where the heart is.

Today I drove with Dad to Palmy, so we could do the very last bits of cleaning in the house he and Mum have lived in since 1998. A lot of memories took place in that house, but it's not the house which makes the memories - it's the people.

I drove from Auckland with Chris and Bex to help Mum and Dad shift from their other place in Palmy to Russell St. Someone took a photo of Dad, Uncle Mike, Grandad and Chris standing in the garage at Batt St, and I've kept the photo close: these are the men who made the biggest impression on me while I was growing up and turning into an adult.

That was the house from which we buried Nana and Grandad. We've buried other ones from there too... and many, many times I've backed down that driveway with a bucket, scrubbing brush, flowers and water, heading to the cemetary to visit (and spruce up) the graves.

We had Grandad's 80th birthday there (a 'hat' theme), and we went from there to Valentines for lunch for one of Grandad's more recent birthdays when we were actually most interesting in another man at the table: this was the occasion where we first met (or got to spend time with) Amy's lovely man (now husband), Vaega.

Matiu was a newborn baby there, he ate his first kai there, he pulled himself up to stand and lean on the low outside chairs Dad built, and he practiced climbing up and down stairs at the back door step. He has spent hours in the backyard there: kicking balls, playing with water/ stones/ dirt, riding small bikes, helping with jobs, splashing in a bath or paddling pool, feeding goldfish, and so on. Just before Megan went back to work, she and Matiu went for a few days holiday in Palmy and when I drove up to pick them up I remember walking in and seeing that the dynamic had shifted: Matiu and Dad (whom he would later call Koko - 'Koko! Koko!' has echoed around those walls more than once) had fallen in love... with each other.

I've written pages and pages and pages in that house... they moved there while I was working on my MA at Auckland, and since then I've written a PhD, a book, chapters, articles, poems. One night a couple of years ago I sat up late with Arini and Ra at the table in the dining room as we worked on the final versions of the papers we'd deliver at a conference at Massey the next day. But it's not only writing... I've sewed in that house, and knitted, and cooked. One year, Mum and I decided to turn the front outdoor porch into 'Tuscany,' a name which stuck even though we're still not sure we pulled off the sense of Italy in the middle of the Manawatu.

I've eaten in that house... boy, have I eaten! BBQs done out the back by the high table, picnics, roasts, Dad's bacon and egg pies, Christmas dinners, birthday cakes, fruit from Hawke's Bay, crayfish from Mahia. Feijoas, lemons, tomatoes from the trees and plants in the back.

I've had fights there, and cried. I've been heartbroken. I've been sad. I've been very, very angry in that house... but I've also been happy and content and settled. I've talked about new loves of my life, and I've admitted that yet another relationship has ended. I've heard good and bad news, cried happy and sad tears, slept. It's been a mythical base while I've lived on the other side of the world, and it has been a regular destination when I've lived two hours up the road. I've driven and caught trains and bussed and flown there. I've driven yellow, white, blue, green and red cars up that driveway... and I've stood countless times at the small porch by the front door, waving as people back out onto the street and away.

Today it was our turn, and there was noone there to wave to us as Dad slowly pulled out of the driveway. That house is empty tonite. That house is no longer home.

The heart doesn't stay with the house... it stays with the many-peopled memories. And those have a home in my heart.

Monday, 13 February 2012


I'm home: properly, actually, really home.

Yesterday I arrived to a lovely gorgeous Wellington sunny Sunday, and spent the morning and afternoon hanging out with whanau... and were joined by a couple more for family roast nite in the evening - yum! I have missed Dad's cooking!!! I spent the whole day at home, which was lovely.

At home?

Of course, yesterday I also got to 'meet' my new home, which is my millionth house, but also my first: my very first house. I really love it - it's cute and adorable and very cool - and Mum and Dad have got it all sorted out so it works really well. It's strange because I know I'm heading back to Toronto in under a fortnight, but for now it is great to be in the space and imagine future years here: being an old lady, rocking in my chair, tending my garden, looking at the hills. Yesterday afternoon Dad, Mum, Matiu and I pulled down half the fence between my place and Megan's in the back (seeing as we live next door to each other) and now - as I told the plumber today - we've got two houses in the front but one house in the back.

The plumber?

Yep, within 12 hours of first arriving in my new house, the hot water went funny... so today I had the sheer joy of experiencing my first adventure in the new era of my life which shall be called The Era In Which There Is No Landlord To Call To Fix And Pay For The Problem Because I Am The Landlord. Hmmmm?


Today was all about settling further into home: time with whanau, lunch with a friend, another cousin coming over for dessert and a session looking at the research I've been doing about Hamuera, and lots of time at home.



Saturday, 11 February 2012

ki okioki e - toia te waka...

At the departures gate in Toronto, ready to fly to Vancouver - then Auckland - then home. Wellington. Toia te waka!

Although this is a little over halfway through my time in Canada, this trip home has always felt likt a 'halfway point' in my time here. It means my head is turning to the next journey after this one, but it also means I am now feeling like I have roots here too and the new few months will be spent consolidating and enjoying the opportunity to, well, write. Ki okioki e...

The next two weeks will be very busy and revitalising. I have some big decisions ahead, and I am feeling focussed and calm and ready to make them. Such a cliche, to describe life as a journey, but it's just the right metaphor. Toia te waka!

Time to board the plane... to enter the space that is somehow outside of place and outside of time, in order to land in a very different place and (seeing as it's summer at home) quite a different time too. My place, my time.  Ki okioki e...

Toia te waka!

Thursday, 9 February 2012


One sister who has just had a birthday...

Two more sleeps and I'm on a plane to Aotearoa...

Three things on the 'must get done before I get on the plane' list...

Four phones charging (yep, I've got separate cellphones for NZ, Aus, US and Canada. crazy, right?)...

Five minutes before I will be asleep!

Wednesday, 8 February 2012

The 'H-bomb' and the tyrany of comparison

A few years ago, I watched a 'documentary' (I'm using the term loosely - I think it was 60 mins or something) on a plane between LA and New York. It was about the problems educated women have attracting men. (I assume it focussed on straight women...) I was irate, feeling very much the target of yet another subtle message which was conditioning me, as a young woman (yes, this was a few years ago), not only to value a male partner over education but to recognise that I had to pick between the two.

At some point in the story, they interviewed two women who were graduate students at Harvard who struggled to find men (as a grad student at Cornell I could feel their pain), and they had a phrase: 'the H-bomb.'

"You know," said one of them, "if we drop the word 'Harvard' into a sentence, suddenly men are intimidated, and don't want anything to do with us." No matter what connection they had up to that point, it's all over when they let the 'H' word into the room.

The H-bomb has, for some reason, stayed with me all these years... I suppose I found the doc itself quite problematic, but have felt a bit of a victim of what it describes on some level, even as I refuse to accept that I should have such low expectations of men. Oh, or of myself.

There's another H-bomb that goes off in my life sometimes: another gamechanger.


Every few years, it seems, a Maori person is heard using the term 'holocaust' to describe the actions of the Crown during the colonial period (which generally is understood to last from 1840s or 1860 until today) and suddenly people start freaking out. "How dare you compare those policies to the extermination of the Jewish people in Europe!!??" they cry, outraged that anyone would make such a daring leap between 'here' and 'there.' 

Holocaust, of course, isn't a term which relates only to the Nazi genocidal programmes in the early twentieth century. It's a term of much longer, and broader, application which has quietly accumulated specific meaning over the years between 'then' and 'now.'

A holocaust is the systematic wiping out of a people: deliberate erasure physically, socially, culturally and - we cannot help but add - spiritually. Holocausts are related to genocide: they're widely applied and gruesomely administered. Deeply violent. Perhaps, if you believe in such things, evil.

The problem with the H-bomb - and it's been dropped again in Aotearoa, during a radio discussion about the Treaty, on Waitangi Day this year - is that it causes people to freeze. To forget everything they might have known about a people, and to forget all the possibilities of a future together, in order to make a singular assumption about that people. The upshot, of course, is that they 'don't want anything to do with us.'

Is this a reason to stop using the word?

Well, what advice would you have given the women in the documentary? 'Don't say Harvard.' 'Just say you're students and imply you're undergrads.' 'Don't let on that you're in grad school at all.' Of course not! It's not Harvard that's the problem - and the truth will come out one day anyway.

Truth has a way of doing that, and this is the truth in my own country. The history in Aotearoa New Zealand is shameful, violent and ongoing. I recently bought a house on my own tribal land which was alienated from my people less that a century ago: it's like being told that your stolen jewelry is at a pawn shop, and if you want it back you have to pay for it up front. As a Maori person, I have a lower life expectancy than a non-Maori person even though I live a comfortable middle class life. We are literally killed off: faster, younger, with less access to medical treatment. Violent deaths through armed combat during the 1860s-80s wars, and subtle deaths now that Crown violence has been quietly edged into systems which feel, on the outside, quite different from the wars of the later nineteenth century, but which have the same effects. The same cumulative effects.

This is why it's called a holocaust. Because we have been, and continue to be, targetted for early death by the Crown. Our resources have been, and continue to be, targetted for specific removal and Crown acquisition.

The problem, of course, is the tyrany of comparison. Because NZ's history doesn't look exactly like the extermination in Europe (oh, or the test drive of the technology in Namibia earlier last century, but people who are concerned about the H-bomb tend not to know about that) we are made to believe that this is not a holocaust. Not so bad. Actually, considering other places, quite good. What are these Maoris complaining about anyway??

Oh, the histories we remember and the histories we forget. If only we could remember them all! If only they didn't have to line up on a starting block and be made to run against each other! If only one awful chapter of history wasn't forced to compete with another, in order to see which is the most awful of them all!

We find ourselves at the limits of language when we describe these events: holocaust is an important word, because other words (oppression, murder) fail to describe the horror we feel bound to remember. It applies to the situation in Europe during WWII, for sure, but what other words do we have to describe the machinations of the Crown in, say, Taranaki over the past 150 years?

More questions. Why are some people in NZ more likely to know the complexities of the tragedies in Europe than anything at all about the tragedies in their own country? Which histories are denied, and which histories are we willing to defend against those who deny them? Why must all genocides, all tragedies, all holocausts, dance maniacally on a stage alongside one another, kicking up heels and leaping about, proving the depth of their individual situation is unable to be compared - it's incomparable! - to the others? Who judges these morbid events? How do we protect ourselves from being turned into infomercials starring our very own disadvantage, our very own brokenness, our very own truth, in a way which hopelessly but doggedly attempts to compete with the other versions of the same thing that are already more familiar? How do we refuse to answer the questions posed by the people filling in the Great Comparative Spreadsheet, knowing our table will be differently configured to theirs, but also knowing that the size of the table is not the point anyway?

And these are not the only questions. How do we maintain our healthy grief-laden mourning respect for other dead, when we also wish to mourn our own? How do we articulate our desire to grieve and to heal, when the words we have available to us have been snatched away? Why are Maori histories ignored until we drop the 'H-bomb' at which time they come sharply into focus - and yet not seen at all?

Decribing the holocaust in Taranaki does not belittle the concentration camps, the gold stars, the impossible removal of people from homes and families. Global history is not a freak show, in which we can only remain entertained when the things we are shown are more and more appalling. The problem isn't the H-bomb itself: not the word, or its use.

The problem is that there was a holocaust in Aotearoa New Zealand. And the reaction to the H-bomb is one of the most pernicious effects of the holocaust itself.  

Tuesday, 7 February 2012

missing hawai'i...

the radical act of sleeping

i. a kapa blanket

of all the unfolding and gentle handling
in this archive room
the most surprising sheets
were tapa – kapa – an expanse of beaten fibre
sewn to a stretch of red cotton
patterns pounded into kapa still visible on the cotton as well
layers of kapa for insulation in between:
under which a Hawaiian family slept almost 200 years ago
a paperbark Eskimo pie

ii. a flag blanket

families gifted quilts to children
rows of Hawaiian flags arching across the roof
one end of a long dormroom to the other
a double pattern of love and allegiance:
for a kingdom
and a school-bound boy

iii. perhaps this is the radical act

the sovereignty
the activism:
to keep our children safe
as they sleep

Monday, 6 February 2012

s W u A p I e T r A b N o G w I l (Ways the Superbowl is like Waitangi Day and vice versa)

I'm living a double life: I'm in Toronto physically but in some ways I'm always still in Aotearoa too.

Today (5 Feb) is the day of the Superbowl here in North America... and today (6 Feb) is Waitangi day in New Zealand.

Funnily enough, these two momentous occasions seem to have a few things in common...

Ways the Superbowl is like Waitangi Day and vice versa

1. It's either a big event of great significance or a waste of energy to be ridiculed/ ignored where possible and to be endured where necessary, depending on your perspective. And your perspective is more likely than not determined by the perspective of your family when you were growing up.

2. Television media uses their coverage of the day in order to bring in more audiences for advertisers... the 'entertainment' between and around the actual event often get more profile and coverage than analysis of the actual event.

3. An endless array of commentators have opinions before, during and after the actual day - regardless of what actually takes place.

4. If you don't understand the rules of the game, it's confusing to just sit around and watch for fun.

5. Sometimes an attacking team is needed, sometimes a defending team is needed.

6. Although the event is framed as if it is an annual meeting between two teams, it actually comes at the end of (and beginning of) a long series of connections and encounters that involve far more than just the people on the field on the day. Far, far more.

Saturday, 4 February 2012

hawaii days, hawaii nites

It's my last nite in Hawaii and I've had a wonderful time... I've met with friends, peers, colleagues and students... I've been looked after amazingly well... and I attended a Pacific poetry reading this afternoon that included Hawaiian, Saipan, Samoan and Tahitian writers. So awesome!

Wednesday, 1 February 2012


It's 10.24pm in Hawaii, and I'm sleepy.

I arrived last nite - as soon as I hopped off the plane I started to remember how much I love it here; not in a passionate, laugh out loud, intense way, but in a nurturing, familiar, quiet way. This place and I know each other, at least as much as feels comfortable for either of us.

About now - yes, right now, this minute - Megan and Matiu are arriving into Wellington after their amazing trip away. Mum and Dad are very excited about greeting them at the airport, and if their lunch today with Auntie Jill and Uncle Mike in Sydney while in transit is anything to go by, they'll have lots of stories to tell. Well, seeing as it's so late, perhaps most of the stories will be told tomorrow.

I suppose we've become transnational family, with people in so many ports, and favourite aiports and airlines and websites for discount flights and rental cars. The problem with living in such a spread-out way is the tyranny of departures... but tonite, sleepy in Manoa, 2 minutes from lying my head on the pillow, I'm thinking about arrivals.