Godzone-d out.

Today was the day for in-depth discussion, which is good because I was having trouble deciphering everything I was feeling. Today some of us met in the Rūnanga Room at uni for a ‘Teach In’ hosted by our lecturer, Whaea Linda Tuhiwai Smith.10.jpg

We came to share space. Free space. Safe space. Space where we could share how we felt. Space where we could sit and listen. Space where we knew we weren’t under a microscope. Space where we could vent. Space where we could share trauma, whether it be emotional, generational, historical or any other. Space where we knew our voice would be heard. A.1.01, the Rūnanga Room was that space today, and I’m grateful to have been given the opportunity to be a part of discussions. Although, to be honest, I wasn’t sure exactly how ideas would fall from my grey matter.

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On Friday 15 March, 2019, at gunman was greeted at the door of Mosque Al-Noor with, “Greetings brother”. That gunman then turned his firearm on and murdered that man, and 49 other innocent men, women and children in an act of absolute, cowardice, hate-filled, humanless, heartless terrorism.

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That thing (I refuse to say his name) stole the lives of hardworking, good and loyal parents, and stole the lives of our next generation of New Zealanders, on one of the Muslim faiths most significant days, Jumu’ah, or Congregational Prayer.

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That word, “prayer” gives insight, I think, into what type of mindset this thing is in. To massacre, commit murder, upon those who are in prayer, in their place of worship, in their whare karakia, their marae, means this act was one of nothing but hate. It also means, that any culture he saw as being on his “Fuck You Coloured Cunts” list could easily have been next, and the question I found myself asking a couple of days ago was, “If it wasn’t the Muslim faith he targeted first … which culture would he have targeted instead?”

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Random thoughts:

You prick. Your actions have instilled fear and discourse that re-immerses us back into the pool of trauma we already tread water in.

How dare you reawaken this in us! What have our cultures EVER done to you!?! What has ISLAM ever done to you!?!

From microaggression to massacre. There should be no room for light to shine through that darkness. 

But light always finds a way to shine through.

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The talks today were fog clearing. Insightful. Painful. Helpful. Traumatic. Heavy.

They were good. Good in the way that they allowed people to speak freely, and clear their own minds. Share their thoughts. Share their stories. I was whakamā to share what I had been doing last Friday because I had been … having fun … watching my babies perform on stage after they and their kapa brother’s had worked their bums off practicing for Polyfest. I was ashamed to approach it until Whaea said it was important not to feel guilt for doing whatever you were doing that day, because we were all leading our own lives prior to the terrorist attack – there should be no guilt in living your life. There should be no guilt in celebrating achievements. Their should be no guilt in normality. But while I was with ‘my kids’ (the entire kapa is packed with ‘my kids’ – 30+ young men who attend Titikōpuke Kapahaka, from Dilworth School in Auckland) I saw their extreme guilt in receiving awards while ‘just down the road’ their fellow countrymen were grieving the loss of their loved ones. The boys felt guilty for celebrating their achievements until the were told the exact same thing, “I know you’re feeling empathy for the loss of those in Christchurch. I know some of you have family in Christchurch. But keep yourself here. In this time. Our time. Don’t feel guilty for something that was in no way, your fault, or in your control. Stay in the kaupapa. Be proud of your achievements. Celebrate them.”

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Out of all the kōrero, a few things that stuck out in my mind:

  • Everyone in the room had suffered, or was in the process of recognising, their own trauma
  • Everyone in the room had experienced some, thing, some narrative, some action, discourse, pertaining to their own lives or of those they are close to that had been triggered and had come to the surface via this act of terrorism
  • No matter how big or how small, everyone’s stories were important and every story was cherished
  • Our narratives, our histories as Tangata Whenua are still being ignored and will continue to be so until WE make change
  • Those who have lived in and were raised in and around Christchurch had very similar narratives of trauma, yet each person lived completely different lives. It was hearing their histories that hurt the most, because their histories will never be the stories of the rest of the nation … I will, for example, never know what it is like to live in a city where being targeted by skinheads and other alt-right groups, because of my race and/or gender, is so normal that only brown people talk about it – because I’ve only ever heard brown people talk about it … because europeans don’t get targeted by gangs like that. And some of them never want to listen to what they believe doesn’t exist. It’s half the reason why the facebook frame’s saying, “This is not us” piss me off. They were designed by people who either ‘don’t see colour’ or who ‘didn’t realise there was a problem’. Bull. You frikkin see it alright. I have a lifetime of historical and generational trauma that calls you out on it, and I refuse to get over it until you start acknowledging your part in it.
  • ‘Godzone’. Gods’ own. New Zealand. Is completely f’d up.

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How does talk of Māori historical trauma bind with this kaupapa of terrorism. Simply put, there is a piece of me that feels we as Māori, as tangata whenua, as mana whenua, have been forgotten. “Law and policy makers don’t know what to do with Māori, as a race, when they make policies, because if they acknowledge us as tangata whenua they then have to acknowledge us as part and parcel of the policy making process – and they don’t want to give us tooooo much power, do they?”

True. We might actually save the whales, the Kauri, the international animal endangered list, find alternative, clean, green renewable power sources, increase our education track record, lower our prison one, stop addiction in all its’ forms, solve world hunger and poverty and basically be better off. Nah, screw that, keep Māori out of the policy making processes. Ignore us. There we go – now we’re one. Yaaay!

There is more to it than that though. The attack on these masjid have brought the pus to the tops of our wounds that have never really been allowed to heal. None of us, as minorities in New Zealand (meaning Muslim, Māori, Asian, Pacific Islander etc etc), are safe from any kind of terrorism. Our skin colour and culture is the flame to which all bugs are drawn to, good and bad – the only difference is it’s the bad bugs that hang around and make life difficult. Our Muslim brother’s and sister’s are a strong community, and once they have been given time to grieve and practice their tikanga, they will find their own small steps back to ‘normal’ life – but, life in New Zealand for them will forever be one where they thought they were coming to a land rich in culture (whatever the hell that means). A land full of opportunity, and a chance at a peaceful life to raise their children in a country that doesn’t know anything of war. Those 50 men, women and children didn’t deserve this.


 

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The images I took today, which are shown in this post, are part and parcel of the love and devotion the wider student body is showing for our Muslim community. The outpouring of aroha and solidarity has been phenomenal for our Muslim brother’s and sister’s.

Our VC stood in front of the wider student body at an event that was very well organised by the Waikato Muslim Students’ Association today. He stood and gave his very well practiced speech, which shows he’s a business man, and not an off the cuff sort of guy – nothing wrong with that though. I’m a planner as well. Hell, even Jacinda is a planner.

He stood in front of the wider student body, giving his heartfelt condolences and love on behalf of the university, and, somewhere along the way, wording similar to, ‘This is the first massacre New Zealand has ever experienced’, fell out of his face. There were staff members there who literally felt their jaws drop to the ground at that statement. Students I spoke to after class this afternoon each baulked, turned to their friends and said,

“Did that m’fer just say this is the first massacre NZ’s ever experienced?”,

“Wait, what did he just say? Did he just say that Rangiaowhia didn’t matter? What, so Pukehinahina didn’t matter either? Ohhh I get it. It’s not a pākehā thing, so it doesn’t matter. Gotcha (snaps)”,

“Hoooooly shit. He’s just discounted our whole fucking history in front of the student body … good one, his dumb ass has just made it ok for the rest of the uni to think it’s ok to ignore our histories too”

“I thought, far what a rat shit fulla, I know he thinks we’re shit, otherwise he wouldn’t be thinking of stripping FMIS of its’ faculty, but that was pretty low eh, making out our narratives don’t exist”

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Good one VC. Way to ignore a whole culture’s past. Whether they happen 175 years ago, 75 years ago, or 5 years ago, those massacre’s happened. Our nation’s history is dotted with stories of massacre’s from a colonial viewpoint – ‘victor’s justice’ – so I get why our histories don’t register with him, because they wouldn’t matter unless they were from the viewpoint of the victor.

How else does this come from the original kaupapa of terrorism?

There are Pākehā in our community who actively seek to address, take responsibility for and heal the wrongs of their own community, family and race. I know many but a friend of mine in particular, who comes to my Māori302 class, has had some trouble peeling back the layers she feels. I see it in her eyes when we pass each other in the halls, I hear it in her voice when we stop to talk to one another. She has told me that her look into Te Ao Māori began with the disgust she felt at her brother for the way he talks about Māori and Pacific Islanders. She calls her family a bunch of racists, and I know sometimes she feels out on the edge of her circle of influence. She calls her brother out at every opportunity, but her journey would have had to start with the fear that she was going against the grain, not ‘being normal’. It’s people like her, and many others, who are trying to take this burden on for their entire race. These people need to be supported as well and reminded that their job isn’t to feel for their race, it’s to feel for themselves and realise that they have been a source of enlightenment for others like them to come forward and make a difference in our today, for our tomorrow.

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Above: a screenshot of a post shared on facebook that speaks volumes about what our country fails to see. Credit: https://www.facebook.com/whatwouldkritdo/

It’s a great power that sits in front us now. That power to unravel, acknowledge and heal. That power to forgive, as we know we have the capacity for, as we know our Muslim brother’s and sister’s are trying to do. A great power indeed. How do we move forward? How do we stomp out hate and bigotry, especially in the culture that we have been ignored in for generations? How? Tell me? Because I still hear people talking about Bastion Point, about Pukehinahina, about Wairau, about Parihaka, about racial profiling in stores, about adopting nicknames to suit the listener/teacher/employee/whānau. I still hear our kids in class telling a room full of strangers that she was bullied for being dark at school and this girl is only 19/20 years old, and the shame and hurt still resonates with me, who used to janola and sandsoap her skin raw in the 80’s to bleach the brown out so I wouldn’t be called ‘Dark Moon, full Moon, nigger, monkey, coon, shoe shine, dubbin, paint, lily (which are white, and therefore the opposite of what I am … quite clever actually), mud-pie, matchstick, skiddy’ – all of those pretty little names that stay with you and come back to the surface, all of those collective and generational memories you’re told by your kuia and kaumatua as a child when they recollect their childhood during the Native School years, when they tell their tupuna … YOUR tupuna narratives, all of that comes flooding back at once as trauma, when something like this, a terrorist attack on innocent people in our country, happens.

This country … New Zealand, Aotearoa, “Godzone”, needs to be reminded it where it’s roots comes from. Our future narrative starts with acknowledging that we need to be seen as the culture we have always been. Colonial trauma can only be healed when that process starts. Until then, our country will always hide behind closed curtains, or under the blanket where it feels cosy.


Nihad Nadam pic.jpgAbove: a photo of a print I bought a couple of years ago in UAE by Nihad Nadam, titled “Ennakum Lan”. On the back, a translation: “You can only win people’s hearts with morals”.

 

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We ARE who we are. Indigenous.

I’ve just finished watching a brilliant youtube video via The Graduate Center at CUNY, 2013. This video already had me hooked. Whaea Linda Tuhiwai Smith and Eve Tuck are the panel speakers, and their telling of the book Decolonising Methodologies, their own tribal narratives, their own experiences as Indigenous people’s and Indigenous women is beyond amazing, it’s culturally awakening and culturally strengthening. Towards the end of the clip, a young, Indigenous woman sparks conversation from Whaea Linda who explains that under ‘convenient national fictions’, some countries can allow Indigenous cultures to be forgotten. She mentions a visit she had to China, where using the word Indigenous is not encouraged, but using ethnic and minority are. During a visit to Puerto Rico she was told, “There are no Indigenous people here. They went to the mountains”. She looks to the crowd and then her co-panelist with a look of disbelief – equally, the low murmur and nervous giggles from the audience mirror her thoughts, which I’m guessing ran along these lines,

Wtf do you mean, ‘they went to the mountains?!?’,

it’s certainly what I thought when she said it.

In a recent class that I take at uni (Whaea Linda’s Decolonising Methodologies class. A second year paper), Whaea Linda was taking us through the teaser of her class – giving us just enough information to make us all curious and passionate enough to want to learn more. She said, “How do these Indigenous People’s just disappear?? They don’t. They’re killed off”.

A lot of agreement can be obtained from the simple gesture of a head nod or a throat clearing “Mmmm-hmm”. Class that day was full of them. We weren’t just agreeing because our lecturer is one of the most well respected women in our (Māori) community, or because she is well respected in the international community, for the work she does in and around education and cultural rights, we were agreeing because, as Indigenous People’s, as Māori, we see our Indigenous whanaunga around the world, striving to ‘be’ and the many cogs of the colonial machine working harder to take what is not theirs. We agree also because Linda Tuhiwai Smith is one of us: Wahine. Mother. Grandmother. Aunty. Friend. Teacher. Māori.

Back to the video. How right they (Whaea Linda and Eve Tuck) both are. I’ve seen and heard it before. Not at Waikato, but at AUT. A culture just disappeared before my eyes, and it was painful to witness … it was equally painful to watch the correction.

I was sitting in on a class (waiting for my husband to finish his lecture that day). He often teaches in the campus marae; it’s his way of keeping students connected to the Māori faculty and enables them to break down barriers (and sometimes ‘fears’) some students may have towards Māoridom. Majority of the students were from the US and although attended the same university, were from different parts of the States. They were all part of a university cultural exchange, in that they had all come to Aotearoa to learn a little about Māoridom and the uni in general. If their papers could be cross credited and matched to NZ papers, they could potentially do a semester in Aotearoa as part of their degree.

Anyway, they were participating in a type of icebreaker, so they could get to know each other a little. While sitting in a circle, each student was asked to tell the class their name, what town or city they came from originally and, if they wanted to, to give one thing their family ate, as a tradition, every year, during the Christmas season (this class happened after NZ New Year, so thoughts of Christmas food were most definitely still fresh), something that was potentially native to their location or family, i.e. if your family never ate turkey because turkey wasn’t something you ate in your town or city, but you ate roast pork and apple sauce because it was your nan’s ggggrandmother’s favourite recipe from when she grew up in New York, tell us. At the end of each persons turn, everyone was asked to say, “Kia ora *insert name*!”, meaning, ‘thank you, so-n-so’.

The game was going well until one young woman said,

Hi, my name is *insert name*. I’m from the Mid West aaaaand we kinda don’t do traditional foods for Christmas because we aren’t native people’s of the area …”,

that was fine. We thought she meant she wasn’t born in the area. She didn’t.

My family originally came from the South. We had slaves and stuff. Yeah. I’m not sure how to answer that question because there haven’t been any Indigenous People in America for a really long time so there’s no traditional native food in America

I know. The entire room baulked at the young woman, not knowing whether she was kidding … in which case she needed to reassess her comedy sketch, or whether she was serious. A peer of hers widened her eyes, looked to her and said,

You’re joking right? Have you forgotten Native Americans? THEY are the Indigenous People of America. And just for the record – I’m descended from slaves. My proud African-American presence here is to remind you that slavery was not ok, and neither is your clouded, non-chalant thinking about the history of the United States. Wake up (snaps!)!“.

That one moment was both painful and powerful. Painful to think this young woman had been allowed to believe in her non-chalant sounding statement; that she had been raised to think that way and allowed to think she was right, and powerful because her peer had the guts to tell her to her face that she was wrong in front of their class and in front of those of us who were Indigenous to Aotearoa.

As aforementioned, in class the other day, Whaea Linda asked, “How do these Indigenous People’s just disappear?”. Now we all know she was being sarcastic about the person who told her there are no Indigenous people’s in Puerto Rico. She posed the question to our class because she was shocked at the audacity of what she’d been told.

By allowing youth to believe Indigenous people’s don’t exist, even if they are in plain sight, they disappear. People start to make excuses not to see them, or say their names, or any name or word from that culture properly so after a while those People’s cease to be a part of their line of sight. That is essentially how Indigenous People’s are ‘killed off’. Colonisation doesn’t just strip a culture of it’s land, water, resources, language, traditions, protocols and narratives, it strips a culture of it’s very essence; its mauri. Its wairua. A forgotten People is one who no longer has a voice, who no longer has a language, no longer has traditions, narratives, names, elders to pass down tribal knowledge or babies to whom that knowledge can be passed. That’s when a culture becomes dead. That’s when a culture is killed off. And yet it happens all the time. For the love of money. For the love of power. For the love of greed. For the need to control.

We must continue to fight to be seen, to be heard, to be present, to be alive. Not one of our People’s should be non-chalantly spoken about like we ‘were’ a People. Those days of being a dying race are dead. Our narratives, languages, names and traditions keep us present; keep us bound to Earth Mother and Sky Father. Keep us bound to the now. We must continue to write, sing, perform, and live our cultures. We must continue to be the hands and mouths of progress for our People’s. We must fight to ensure people in all manner of society see and hear us. We must continue to raise awareness, to raise consciousness, to raise our clenched fists and our voices. To raise our tamariki (children) and our mokopuna (grandchildren/generational) to be proud in their skin, in their Indigenous, Native, Ethnic, Minority selves – for we are not ‘The Maori people’, or, ‘The  Maoris’, or ‘The Hawaiian people’, or any other culture where the words ‘The … people’ are used. Those words signify a dead culture in any book. BE alive. BE your culture. BE Indigenous.

 

Something in the water

There must be something in the water for the only two females of my grandparents children to have been disowned by their children. It happened 11 years ago with my cousin, to her “donor”, and is now a reality, as of November of last year for my brother and I. What the hell was in that water?? And why did it not affect the boys of the family? Just a couple of the many questions I’ll never have answers to … and I’m ok with that. We’ve never had a good relationship with her, and to be brutally honest, the full weight of the whole ordeal has been lifted since my brother and I decided to let her go.

We. Are. Free.

The road is long with this story. Long and hard. It’s been hard not to have malice towards her over the years, and I only really kept in contact with her for the sake of my brother, because his relationship with her was already strained beyond belief. I practically used lard to grease the surface and slide the two of them in close proximity to one another until he was willing to contact her again.

But not anymore.

I used to think I could heal anyone and anything if I gave them enough love. Gave them everything I could. Gave them everything I shouldn’t. It didn’t work. Not with her.

I gave up being the constant reminder that her life was ruined once I was born.

Gave up being the constant reminder that a court case was what brought her name to disrepute.

Gave up waiting to be told how fucking great I was in public then told the opposite in private.

Gave up feeling guilty for things that were never in my control in order to have her feel good.

Gave up believing her lies.

The bullet to the skull was being told I was a product of rape, not love. If I didn’t have my guard down at the time I could’ve handled that … but you never expect that sort of thing the day after your wedding do you? No. No you don’t.

I just gave up. Gave up fighting. I realised it was fighting when I saw I was making my whānau struggle through the same relationship.

Manipulative.

Conceited.

“You would cut off your nose to spite your face” – Her

No. My nan raised me better than that. YOUR MOTHER RAISED ME BETTER THAN THAT!!

But no more. Whatever was in the water has been well and truly disinfected.

I KNOW who I am. I wear my scars proudly.

I wear them and share them.

Educate. Ponder. My knowledge to squander.

I KNOW that I mattered.

She is not you.

And you will never be her.

My brother and I

We. Are. Free.

 

Polite and passionate protest in pictures.

Staff and students from different university faculties united, this afternoon, in peaceful protest against academic restructuring of certain faculties. One of those, in particular, stands to lose the identity they have only recently become to call their own. Not a big deal to most, I guess, but this faculty is Indigenous, and fought long and hard to bare its name and become its own entity. Stand in its own light.

It stands to lose it again – but not without us standing in front of it first.

Ka whawhai tonu mātou!

Ake! Ake! Ake!

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The kara flying high outside Te Ahurutanga
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Hīkoi
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United we stand.
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Te kara anō.

Follow the Māori brick road

I made the decision to go back to uni this year and finally restart, and finish my degree. Actually, hubby kind of did the, “You have no excuse now dear! All the kids are teenagers and are happy at school. It’s time for you to GET!”. Such a grouch.

I’m loving it more now than I did when I first enrolled into uni at AUT as a fresh faced  take on the world-erer in 2001/2. I don’t know if that’s because I’m older now, a parent now, or if it’s because my husband, who’s a lecturer, kinda growled at me to go back, or it’s just wanting to be a solid female role model for my kids, but shit it feels good to stretch the brain.

So, here I am, lunch packed and in my handy dandy back pack, breakfast eaten (I started this on Monday morning … it’s now Thursday evening. Assignments.) and jaw stinging from gulping back the lemony hot water I have steeping in front of me too quick, and I can honestly say that while I love being back at kura. I’m absolutely shitting myself as well. So many doubts run through my head, and as a wahine Māori, a Māori woman, and a mum, sometimes I feel like there’s no frikkin way that I should be here. But I can’t let my kids down. They don’t even know they’re my inspiration.

My biggest obstacle at the moment is my own mind. And it’s only the second semester of my first year. Stop doubting yourself, dick.

I’m not at AUT (where husband works) though. I told my husband that for my own sanity, and our domestic harmony, I needed to be out from under his shadow and be me. Be on my own. Not his wife, his missus, his mumsy. No. I also didn’t want to have to explain or defend any possible good grades I got. That was my main thing. Having to constantly defend that I do work hard for my marks and it wasn’t just handed to me because I’m a lecturers wife.

I was me before I was married.

I was me when I became a parent.

I was me when I got married and took my husbands name.

I am me now and I’ll get through uni being me as well.

Thank you very much.

                                                            **************

 

Kia ora University of Waikato. This is my academic home for the next three years.

As a student of the Faculty of Māori and Indigenous Studies I can quite confidently say that this place has revived my desire to do more than just giggle and nod at the things I do understand in Te Reo Māori and then stare at something on the ground when the metaphor’s fly 1000 feet over my head. I’m someone who once had a Māori tongue but had it taken away by one of her own in order to fit in. Fast forward to 2018 and hullo, I’m back at square one, relearning what I originally lost and fitting in with all the others who are also at square one – it’s so frikkin awesome to see and hear. For example:

I saw a classmate of mine yesterday. Out of class. He was with a friend of his. As I passed him he smiled and let out a, “Kia ora e hoa!”. Now, there’s nothing unusual about that, except for a full 5 minutes we had a full conversation in Te Reo Māori about our upcoming kōrero-ā-waha (oral presentation) and how we’re both stressing but coping, and he is Pākeha (NZ European). His friend was doing her best to impersonate a deer in headlights, and after we said goodbye to each other I heard his friend say, “Mate!?! Didn’t even know you spoke Maowri!?!”. She was corrected politely with, “Bro, I don’t just speak Maowri. I kōrero Māori. It’s mean, you should join!” I can’t wait to see that one become a fluent speaker. He is going to rock the planet.

                                                              ***************

What does Waikato have in store for me in the next three years, maybe? Everything, as long as I am willing to be open, learn from mistakes, strive and work my butt off for it. I have only one option; and that is to graduate. So my kids will have something to be proud of me for. They don’t even know they’re my reason for wanting this so frikkin bad. So I’d better not stuff it up.

Now … back to my essay.

The mind plays tricks?

This year’s been a tad crazy for my friends and family. I had two people I care about seriously contemplate taking their own lives late last year, and one my close friends tried and almost succeeded in taking their own life a couple of months ago. My emotions were kinda shot by the time christmas came around.


I wish I was a stranger to the thought of suicide. I tried, when I was younger, to take my own life during a bad relationship. I had had a miscarriage at work and no longer wanted to be with someone who was controlling, who threatened to hurt my younger brother if I ever tried to leave him. I thought it was my only way out. If I didn’t exist he wouldn’t be able to hurt my brother. He would be safe. This led me to the motel room where I decided I would sink the biggest bottle of tequila I could afford for precisely that reason, and swallow every pill I could find at my ex partners parents house; tramadol, nurofen, codiene, asprin, gout pills, “gout pills!?!” (I laugh at that now), declofenac – anything I could find. Luckily for me (although at the time I was definitely thinking otherwise), I was also clumsy as hell and knocked into almost everything in the room, and somehow managed to turn the volume on the tv up really loud. Residents complained. I felt so terrible about the damage I’d caused to the motel room, but not as bad as how I felt for my family. My younger brother especially. I had let him down most of all. Odd because I told no one in my family about what had happened for years, for a number of reasons. I was whakamā (shy/embarrassed) as I had been told not to be with my ex. I didn’t listen. I was concerned that my actions would have a bad effect on my brother (he’s seven years younger than me. I was 21 at the time) and I didn’t want him carrying that. I didn’t want to shame my grandparents memories; to be that family member either no one talks about, or who they cry over whenever my name is mentioned. No. I didn’t want to be that person. I also didn’t want to admit that I had almost put my whānau in the position of doing those necessary jobs that come with preparing someone for their tangihanga/funeral. Of everything, the thought of what my family would’ve had to endure had I succeeded brought me squarely back to Earth. I then understood why some people thought suicide was the weak way out. I became one of them over the years. I have, over those same years, changed my mind about suicide and depression again. And thank bloody goodness. It took me more strength to stay. And I’m so frikkin glad I stayed.


The craziest thoughts ran through my mind when my friends and I all got *Lucy’s text and photos of what she’d intended to do. My eyes couldn’t focus when my husband said, “What the?! You get that!?!”. I got it alright. My brain had switched to auto pilot already, trying to figure out where the people she had sent her text to were.

Lucy has only a couple of blood relatives in the country, the rest of her family are her friends. Us. Old work mates, all of us. Her parents and the rest of her family are in her home country. She had not spoken to or sent any of her family members anything to say what she had intended to do.

When we got to the house I was on auto. I had arranged for her flatmate to race home from work to check on her after a group of us had received her text saying goodbye. I live on the other side of town so her flatmate was closer to her than I was.

“Check her vitals. Keep her up. Check her vitals. Keep her up. Don’t let her go to sleep. Don’t give her water, we don’t know what else she’s taken. Slap her hard if you have to. Just keep her up.” She was semi conscious, lying on the floor. Pills scattered on the table. Bottles of wine, emptied. Eyes rolled back into her head. Pale brown in skin colour. Shallow breathing. Limp in body.

We finally got to A&E and my thought pattern started to change, “She’ll be ok. The Ambo’s said she’ll be ok. She’s spewed already so that’s a good sign they said. Shit. If she dies, how tf do we tell her family that we couldn’t look after her while she was here?”, “How do we tell them that we couldn’t help her?”, “How do we tell them that their daughter is dead?”, “How do we tell them that we didn’t get to her in time?”, “How do we tell them what she left behind? How? How do we tell them?”

Everything came flooding back. My own attempt. My two friends’ attempts at two different times, earlier in the year, and now Lucy. I literally would have lost the plot if I had been on my own, but my husband and another friend, *Anna, were there as well. I had to stay strong, for Anna at least. I cried a little, away from them, while expaining what was going on to friend #2 over the phone. When I went back to Lucy’s room they were administering antidote, and she was throwing up.

Good, chuck it up girl.

She had been angry that she was still alive the whole time we were in A&E up until she started her antidote drip, whispering things like, “Why the f am I still here? I shouldn’t BE here. Can’t even do that properly. F’n usless”, “Shouldn’t have saved me. Why didn’t you f’n leave me alone?!? No one cares. F off! You can all just f off.”. I just kept saying, “Shut up egg. You just keep throwing up so I can give you shit in the morning. Good girl.”

The next afternoon Lucy was still drowsy, still wanting to throw up, wondering what, when, and how, and 100% embarrassed but glad to be alive. She couldn’t remember much. I bloody told her, amongst tears of gratitude for her being there and friendly/motherly rage. She complained that she looked bad … I told her she looked frikkin glamourous compared to the night before. She said she needed proof, which I knew she would say, so I showed her the photo I took the night before. She agreed – she definitely looked glamourous. She was keen to hurry up and leave the hospital but she was still under watch. Everyone that had had a hand in her care within our friend group was still coming to terms with the fact that we could’ve lost Lucy the night before. I was still reeling from the very real and very scary memories that had resurfaced from my youth and earlier in the year. We were all tired and scared for our friend, but all very glad that she was alive. She asked for a recount of what happened to her, and I obliged. The way I saw it, if I lied, she would know, and I didn’t want to lie to her.

She asked about her cats. She had, in an earlier conversation, stated that if she ever tried to take her own life, that her cats would go with her. The night of her attempted self one out, my first concern was to make sure she was home. She lived not far from a boat ramp and I was scared she’d carry out what she’d said earlier and use her car to end everything. Her fur babies were fine.

It’s been a fair few months since Lucy’s attempted suicide. She’s a little different than before, and that’s a good thing. She’s more understanding of the fact that the choice’s she makes affect more than just her. Her choices are like ripples in the water after someone’s thrown a stone in a still pool – they affect everyone in her immediate circle just as much as they do in the furthest circles of her life. She is more tolerant of herself. More forgiving of herself. She is more true to herself. She is stronger in herself, and it’s been wonderful to see her break down bounadries bit by bit. She still has down days, don’t get me wrong – depression is still depression – but she knows what triggers to look for and takes a step back to assess her situation and calls on us if and when she needs us. She knows now, that we aren’t going anywhere. And that we love her. We all still text, visit, and call her daily. We’re all still a little cautious I guess.

If you need anyone to talk to, please, confide in someone. Anyone. You have friends and family. Open yourself to them. Let in the light. There are also professionals online, and are a phone call away. You are worth more than any jewel in the world, and you are loved.

*Not their real names.

Whānau, for Life!

I’ve seen quite a few blogs lately. All of them written by young travellers. Young students, sharing their experiences of Aotearoa (New Zealand. My home sweet home). Most of the ones I have seen have come from students studying at AUT (Auckland University of Technology).

In them you can almost feel the warm golden sands of the Hokianga between their toes, smell the sulphur pools of Rotorua, hear the silence of the wind swept Remarkables and taste every morsel of food that the students taste along the way as well. You can feel their nervousness and excitement when they venture out on their own and in groups. You hear and feel when they don’t get something right, and taste when they learn something new, devour it ravenously, and store some away for when they may need it next. You can feel their nervousness when it’s the start of the Semester too. Wide eyed, fresh new faces streaming in to uni looking forward to the start of their journey as an adult learner in New Zealand. That takes balls, to say the very least. New surroundings, new opportunities, new friends. It’s officially on like Donkey Kong.

International students have extra hurdles though. New surroundings, new opportunities, new friends, and in a new country. It must scare the wits out of them at first, but their routine quickly sorts them out, and they’re usually too busy to worry about their hometowns until their uni timetables are sorted. However, it’s sometimes in those small hours of calm, when it’s just international student and quiet, that homesickness can pay a visit, and can mess with them. This is where the AUT International Student Noho Marae comes into play.

Above: Ngā Wai o Horotiu Marae

“The Noho”, as it is lovingly referred to, is a weekend marae stay that occurs on the first weekend of every semester at Ngā Wai o Horotiu Marae at AUT.

International students pay a small fee to be hosted by AUT staff (which includes alumni from previous Noho Marae who are either still studying at AUT or are home for a visit). Throughout the weekend the students are taught a poi (for the ladies), a waiata ā ringa (action song), tītītōrea (stick game), and a haka (for the men).

On the Saturday evening the students perform what they have learned to the entire Noho staff and VIP guests. They learn, eat and sleep at the marae. It’s only fitting that they perform what they have been taught in the same arena.

It’s inception came by way of two close friends meeting up and discussing the possibility of hosting foreign students … international students … to teach them a little about Māori culture. This concept was, as it still is now, an important, forward thinking opportunity. Not only for the university but for the Faculty of Māori Development. It was a chance to give something unique and precious to New Zealand, to students from other countries who sometimes knew next to nothing of the indigenous culture of New Zealand.

All new students come through the doors of Ngā Wai o Horotiu to be embraced by the notion of whanaungatanga (kinship). It is the powhiri process, the cultural process that begins at the marae, that helps to unite the student body.

It gives the students a feeling of ‘home away from home’, an extended family, somewhere to lay their hat. Somewhere to feel safe and included.

The Poutokomanawa (the heart of the marae) inside the wharenui (meeting house) depicts a woman holding a new born baby. The woman is the maternal aspect of the university. She represents the stability of whānau (family), aroha (love) and acts as an anchor for the students to ground themselves when they’re feeling out of sorts or homesick.

The new born she holds represents all students who enter the gates to study at AUT. When students study at AUT they are … her babies, they are hers to look after from the time they arrive until well after they have graduated. They are whānau; and whānau lasts for life.

This is what makes the AUT International Student Noho Marae unique. The sharing of tikanga Māori (Māori Culture and protocol) with the beauty and colour of different cultures from around the world.

The wharenui shows how much everyone belongs by the painted rafters on the ceiling. Each rafter represents a different cultural group, which means that the marae is not just a home away from home for one people, it is home away from home for all people.

The reach of the Noho is massive.

What is equally as massive is the organisational side of it. Resources, staff and food; three of the most important elements to run a Noho Marae. The resources that are used at the Noho all come from the university. Ngā Wai o Horotiu is an important resource, without her we literally have nowhere to host our students. Workshop materials such as dacron and wool for poi making, the rākau (sticks) that are used for Tītītōrea, to the paper used for the booklets that the weekends program is presented in (which also has the words for the items the students perform); all of these resources are provided for by the mighty few who help to fund the Noho where possible.

The food which is bought the day before for the entire weekend is budgeted in months before.

Everything is carefully calculated so as not to be too wasteful. The only resource available to the Noho that monetarily costs very little are the staff. They are all volunteers and all are AUT alumni; more importantly, they are all whānau.

It’s been an amazing road to travel for the volunteers to say the least. As one of the volunteers, I honestly cannot remember (and neither can anyone else in the crew most probably) how many times I’ve heard “Ko wai tō whānau”, sung Pōkarekare Ana, had the Tītītōrea beat stuck in my head or even how many times I’ve almost burned my throat from showing the students how ‘Whānau Māori’ haka because I went too hardout for the demo and forgot to pull back. On the flip side though, I also cannot remember how many times I’ve hugged a student who’s become overwhelmed with what they’re doing at the noho.

How many times I’ve heard, “I was starting to feel homesick but the whānau make me feel safe and part of a family”, or how many times I’ve heard, “I don’t think I’m going to eat for a couple of days after this”, and this beauty of a line, “Kia ora whānau! Whānau for Life!”.

I think the crew would all agree though, that the Noho not only brings different cultures together as an international whānau village, but it also helps to strengthen our own ties, as we, the staff, have all known each other for years. Those ties are so strong that our children call each other cousins (though we may not be related by blood, our whanaungatanga, kinship, makes us family) and our children call the adults aunties and uncles. This link the children bring is also important. No marae is a marae without the sound of children.

Above: Whānau members modeling their hoodies. These have been designed specifically for the Noho.

Our global marae has grown in the last 15 years. As staff we have seen complete international strangers go from student, to family.

From being 20 somethings and single, to late 20’s/mid 30’s, partners and parents. We have seen many happy occasions, and experienced the loss of a whānau member as well. We’ve had announced to us the births of our many “Noho babies” here in NZ and around the world.

We’ve shed tears when students have left to return to their home countries, and we’ve wanted to hug them until they pass out when they come back to their second home or when we’ve visited them.

We’ve witnessed break ups and make ups, wedding proposals, received copious wedding invitations and had the honour of having children being named after us (that’s a fib … it hasn’t happened yet … this is the hint ;)).

As staff we have also had the opportunity to show the students that come to the Noho and our own children, what it is to give of yourself. As I said earlier, we are all volunteers, and majority of us have been part of the Noho staff for well over 10 years. None of us is paid to take workshops, or cook, or clean. We do what we do for the love of it. We do, however, get the most amazing non monetary payment in the world. We get to share our love and knowledge of our culture with total strangers, who, by the end of the weekend, know a little more than they did before and love our culture as much as we do.

This non monetary payment also spills over to the tamariki (children) who come to the noho as well.

These children (my children, the children of our other staff members, the children of our past students), these little sponges are now learning through us the value of giving, of responsibility, kindness, aroha, of being pono (truthful). These values all come from and lead to one word: whānau. In all that is taught to the students over the Noho weekend, the word whānau underpins everything.

At the end of the weekend the staff are completely ‘haddit’ (a colloquialism that I’m guessing actually means something like “had its day”, therefore, absolutely and unequivocally exhausted). We farewell our new whānau members by asking them to perform a little something from their home countries as a koha (gift) to the hau kainga (home people).

Every year they blow our minds. We hear songs that we know from previous years, we hear new songs as well. We see the person who, when they first arrived, didn’t really like standing out in a crowd, but at the end of the weekend is standing proudly, singing a song from their home country. We see each and every country stand and give their all. They aren’t shy or too embarrassed, because they know they’re with whānau. It’s beautiful.

The staff have another couple of gifts to give before the students leave the marae. A pendant, a keepsake of the Noho Marae. This semester they received a pounamu (greenstone), in the shape of a pikoura (twist).

The pikoura represents the never ending unity of whānau and friendship. So even when they’re annoyed at people, can’t be bothered texting or calling, unfollow or delete them from facebook, that pikoura (or any taonga that has been given over the years for that matter) is the reminder that they are and always will be “Whānau for Life”.

Above: Pikoura, laid out, ready to be given to our new whānau members.

The last gift the new whānau members receive is the gift of food.

As the wharekai (dining room) is being tidied, our kitchen staff prepare food parcels for whānau to take home with them so the leftovers won’t be wasted.

Everything goes. Leftover hāngi, bread, cream, custard, fruit, vegetables, steamed pudding, ice cream, salads, cold cuts, milk, the lot must go and we refuse to see anyone walking out the doors empty handed. Then there’s always time for another hug before they leave.

Once everyone has gone the volunteers finish cleaning the marae; once finished, they pack their gear into their cars, but before they lock up, they take the time to sit down and debrief.

I am one of about 60 staff, past and present, who has seen the progression of the Noho. One team member remarked that when the Noho was still in its infancy, a lot of the food that was served was prepackaged and processed, which, then, made things a little cheaper and easier. These days the food bill can vary depending on ingredients needed and the number of students, but the food is fresh and as ‘real’ (meaning not much of it is processed) as possible.

This staff member knows better than anyone how strong the Noho is. He started out as a young, fresh faced international student, he came to the Noho Marae and loved NZ and the noho so much that he became a staff member at AUT and has been a Noho staff member ever since.

I remember when we used rolled up newspaper or magazines as our tītītōrea sticks. These were perfect for what we needed at the time, but by the time we had them replaced they were looking very … ‘haddit’. Seeing photos of students using rolled up magazines can, weirdly enough, bring back memories of past students and time well spent. My other memory is how much my own children have grown since my partner and I first became staff/whānau members.

By these measures alone it is possible to see just how far the Noho has come. My children know exactly when it’s time to prepare for the Noho weekend. They know exactly why we go, and what their jobs will be when we get there. My partner and I have no need to remind them of what needs to be done, because they have been taught since they were little. We’re hoping that by preparing the kids this way, and going to as many noho as we can, it will help to keep the fire burning within them, and that they will carry on with it when they’re older.

Succession.

What does the future hold for the AUT International Student Noho Marae?

Everything. As long as there are helping hands to guide, minds to mould and staff wanting to be a part of a kaupapa larger than themselves, the Noho and everything about it will remain as strong, if not stronger, than it is now.

We celebrated 15 years of operation at the start of the semester (March 2016); that’s 30 Noho Marae to date. Here’s to another hardcore, full on, fun and love filled 15 years with an amazing and hardworking crew. We look forward to it, and look forward to welcoming future whānau members.

Whānau 4 Life!