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Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Home is where the heart is . . .

I visited with my sisters over the last week or two - a visit that was long overdue and which taught me much. This morning, as I sat to write about the lessons learned, I looked up a word on my computer and found this essay, from a visit home four years ago.

As I wrote  below, and a slogan every Kiwi knows from a television commercial, good things take time. That's not to say this piece is a good thing yet, but it may become one when its time is right.

For now, it gives some background to the next, "Going Home" blog post . . .

tangata whenua
(noun) local people, hosts, indigenous people of the land - people born of the whenua, i.e. of the placenta and of the land where the people's ancestors have lived and where their placenta are buried.  – Te Aka Maori Dictionary online

That Maori have the same word for land as we do for placenta demonstrates the visceral attachment we have for the land. The earth itself is Papatuanuku, our earth mother. Our creation myth has Papa and her husband, Ranginui, the sky father, forced from a loving embrace by their mature sons who craved space to grow. The rain is Rangi weeping at his separation from Papa and the morning dew is her crying for him.

When we whakapapa, or recite our genealogical line, as we do on all important occasions, we start with the land (“My mountain is …”).  That is followed by our waterways (“My river is …”), and only after that the waka (canoe) in which our ancestors traveled to Aotearoa, our iwi and hapu (tribe and sub-tribe), our parents and, finally, ourselves.

But somewhere along the way, I lost my whakapapa, and in doing so lost a true sense of who I was and where I belonged. 

I left my family home at age 15, my home town a year or two later and departed my country while still in my teens. I came home at age 30 to belatedly attend university, but chose to do so in Te Wai Pounamu, the South Island of New Zealand, not Te Ika o Maui, the North Island where my family resided. By that time I had realized I was more at ease with my mother if I kept a vast body of water between us. Previously it had been oceans that protected me but the Cook Strait seemed wide enough to suffice.

I remained in Aotearoa, the Maori name for New Zealand, for about seven years that time, completing my degree then working for a regional daily newspaper. Two and a half years as a reporter taught me to write every day, whether the mood presented itself or not, and a stint as a copy editor taught me to write more clearly. Then I left the country again, adding more countries and cultures to my life experience.

Now, even though I can find the words of my whakapapa easily enough, I have a need to connect in a more fundamental way and to find my way home. I need to be grounded in a very literal way, to the soil, the people and the country where I have turangawaewae – a place to stand. I’ve never been to my home marae  – the iwi or hapu meeting place that is the heart of Maoridom. 

Marae are a combination of a place of worship, a meeting place, a museum, town hall, event venue, classroom and family home. It is the place where family health should be nurtured but also where any family dysfunction is first felt. The home marae is the physical representation of turangawaewae, and a healthy relationship with it and the whanau (family) allows us to travel the world. It is the anchor that holds us to our land.

But as any New Zealander knows, good things take time, and I’m in no hurry to get there. I’m also finding my personal whakapapa in unexpected places, as I renew acquaintance with my New Zealand whanau, who I am related to both by blood and choice. 

Part of my whakapapa resides in Dunedin, where I attended university and created surrogate families, as I am wont to do all over the world. Coming home after so long away has made me realize that we each have our own whakapapa, and that although my siblings and I share the same ancestors and written whakapapa, the different paths taken since birth create different personal whakapapa. Mine now adds in whanau in other countries, who have helped nurture and form me as much as my blood whanau have. My U.S., Korean and Indonesian whanau are as valid a part of my whakapapa as those connected by the accident of birth.

I look forward to traveling my country this summer, writing about the places I go, the people I meet and the country I no longer know. Aotearoa – literally “land of the long white cloud” as that is the first sight my Maori ancestors had from their massive waka on first arrival – is my first home and I am excited at the gifts and learning I will find here.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Downtime . . .

I'm not sure how it works for others but, for me, being in limbo creates a stultifying lethargy. I'm almost always excited to set sail in uncharted waters but while waiting to cast off, I feel anxious and unproductive. I guess I'm more a person of action than I realized.

So, although I have had the past two months off work after leaving my last place of employment, they have been among the most unproductive of the year, in terms of physical and mental health and writing. Despite all the time I had in which to write, I barely blogged or freelanced, although I did do some interviews for future features and kicked my own butt enough to complete one article I'd wanted to do for a while (which, once I sat down to do it, took surprisingly little time). Mostly though, I just waited for decisions by others - a situation I am not at my best in.

Not surprisingly, the moment I made decisions for myself - to move to Australia, probably take a deckhand position on a yacht up north and visit with family and friends - the positive energy attracted other positives, including a job offer that would start next month. This month, although I still am not working, I'll be constantly traveling and exploring and once again embracing and enjoying life, and will no doubt find more time to write than when I was doing nothing.

The great thing about the potential job is that my early mornings, when I write best, would be free. With an 1100 start each day and the stimulus I get from being gainfully employed and otherwise active, I imagine I'll soon be writing up a storm.

Watch this space . . .

View from Hanging Rock, Victoria, Australia.

(Note: The article referred to above can't be linked to until it has been published by the buyer, which should be later this month.)