Saturday, March 31, 2012

Another country, like the past is

i was nervous about going to Auckland. i hadn't been there since about 1985 and i thought it would now be so different it would be another country, like they say the past is. i was worried about managing on my own in a big city. i told myself if i can cope in Hanoi i can surely be OK in Auckland.

As it happens, Auckland was like another country. Mostly it was warm and damp and smelled of spices. It was an Asian city, and most of the people there were Asian, either Chinese/Korean/Japanese or Middle Eastern or Indian sub-continent. For a day the only European people i saw were the homeless on the street benches or being disgorged from the City Mission and the Police Station. i felt quite at home, a little tourist far from home, not quite adrift. i op shopped and wandered. i admired the the old art nouveau buildings, nestled among the mirror glass horrors, looking slightly sinister, harbouring occult secrets no doubt. i took a boat to Tiritiri Matangi, a wildlife sanctuary, into the gulf, with the sooty shearwaters and the fluttering shearwaters skimming beside us, and the waves roiling like newly blown glass before they make the wake, and arc into rainbows.

i stayed at the YWCA. It was full of long term tenants. Most of them were young and from further away than me. They were from the Horn of Africa and Afghanistan and India. They played ball games in the meagre car park. 'Man if i kick this you will fucken die' crowed the Somalian guy. The man in the room next to mine played Hindi TV day and night. i liked all the city night noises, and slept with the window open. The floor of my room was slightly sticky, like the pubs of my youth. The duvet was unfortunate. A sign said the sheets would be changed on Tuesday. i was not there for that happy event. Three nights there gave me bed bug bites. i looked like i was turning into a dragon.

Nobody knew how to hitch out of Auckland. i ended up taking a bus.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Bad Feminist

Hey, Henare, kia ora bro. Yeah, me too.

Look, i'd like a word about when we met at the meeting. No, not at all. It's fine. i want to say somehing a bit complicated and i just wanted to make sure it comes out OK. Sweet.

OK, i will start this korero with a story about myself. Back in the eighties at a party i got seriously called out by a man, and yeah it was a man, for introducing myself, to someone else, mind, as my then husband's wife. Like, i said Hi, i'm so-and-so's wife. i did not think i'd said anything sexist. i thought that the guy knew my husband and all i was doing was pointing out the relationship so he knew who i was. Like saying i am Lizzie's sister or Jacki's tutor or whatever. But this man thought that i was undermining my own development and the cause of feminism by linking myself with a man, and he gave me a talking to about it. And because i was a good girl and he was a high status dude i actually would you believe apologised and said he was right and i would never do it again.

It was only afterwards i thought wtf, only we didn't say that back then, but i thought shit a brick i let that man, that man, mind, tell me how to develop my feminist consciousness, and then i let myself feel unworthy, like i was a Bad Feminist. Screw him. A man can't tell me how to be a feminist, i need to tell myself how to be a feminist, feminism is something i can't be given but i can take it for myself.

So in a round about way it was a lesson in consciousness raising, a lesson that a woman could not have taught me, and it was the lesson all of us learn, that there are some things that cannot be given by those in power, there are some things we just need to take.

My point, yeah, Henare, my point is that i am an older middle class pakeha woman and if i ever do the same to you that that man did to me you can tell me to sod off for sure, but, but, maybe i need to say this thing anyway.

So, my korero to you is this. Last night at the meeting when we were cleaning up you accidentally brushed against me and you said 'Aww, sorry miss'. At the time i just thought, oh, OK that shows that Henare has been to prison. 'Cos, you know, how you learn to talk to the women prison officers and nurses and that inside, and i recognised the words, and also the tone of voice.But then i thought about it and i got worried about what was behind what you said and how you said it.

Henare, yeah i am an older pakeha woman, but you don't need to pretend to respect me like i am in charge of your future. We worked in the kitchen together and you told me some things about yourself and your whanau connections that made me respect you. i thought we were equal, whatever that means. In this case it doesn't mean everyone is equal so therefore it is OK to make the fish climb the tree, it just means we worked and talked together and we were polite to each other. When you let your guard down out comes the prison boy. That pretend respect is never far away. And it is pretend, it's what used to be called Uncle Tom-ism, it's one step away from calling me muff, which i know is a real insult to a woman inside. It's no good to me because it's fake and it's one of many layers of anger and although i can't blame you for that anger it won't work if we are to try and achieve anything together. And, yeah i know who i am talking to you, but i also believe that it's no good to you, because as i see it it keeps you in prison.

If you are as pissed with me as i was with that man who told me how to be, like, a Good Feminist, then well and good and i don't get to tell you how to be a Good Maori or a Good Activist or whatever.

It's just that this older Pakeha woman knows that you only get the freedom you take.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

The tuis were merely contemptuous

It is five years since my mother died, and i decided it was time for a pilgrimage of sorts. Her childhood had its difficulties. The place where she felt best was her aunt and uncle's farm near Heriot, in West Otago. Last week i made my way there.

i thought there would be nothing left of Heriot, that it would have emptied out with the urban drift and the drive to agribusiness. But i was wrong. There is still a street, and the old buildings such as the Bank of New Zealand still stand, now used as shearers' quarters. A transport company has its headquarters there. The land rolled out green and steers play-fought in the field next to the Margaret Fergusson Plunket rooms.

i visited Todd Cottage, the birthplace of the Todd industrial dynasty. The Todds are still a wealthy and influential family and owned transport companies and auto manufacturing. They renovated the cottage and let it to an old couple for a peppercorn rent. In return, they welcome Todd family members and employees who come looking for their roots from time to time, and even the occasional random tourist like me. The couple spoke highly of the Todds. They were known for equal opportunity employment and for educating their workers. No uber-capitalists in those days.

The old couple also remembered my great aunt, mostly for drinking them under the table. i had no idea. The area was dry during the war, when my mother visited them for her school holidays. she remembered the men driving to Rae's Junction, 20 kms away, and the women sitting and worrying about their return. She remembered dancing the Lancers and the Gay Gordons, and the movie nights. Back then each town took turns in hosting these events - Crookston, Kelso, Moa Flat - all gone now. There was rivalry between Kelso and Heriot. when one town got a street light the other one had to get one too. There was ferocious rugby rivalry, even more recently between Heriot and Tapanui, the main town in the district (pop. 500, about 15 kms away). They had to bury the hatchet when the two combined to make one team, because there were no longer enough players to go around. i wonder how they did that.

i was told that Tapanui people are very different from Heriot people, not like us at all, much less friendly. i spent two nights in Tapanui. It is a hard headed little town, and seems like a great place to buy farm implements. i walked in the long southern evening, and passed Tapanui's jeunesse doree hanging out in the playground, as they taunted each other and made out.

They say in West Otago that if you can see the Blue Mountains it is about to rain, and if you can't see them it is already raining.* i went walking in the Blue Mountains. i will say here i am not proud of my ancestors. They had an unequivocally positivist view of the bush - cut it down.Some of my ancestors owned a saw mill deep in the bush, and they had an almost native understanding of bush life and flora and fauna. But they still cut it down. i don't know how they would have viewed the idea of bush walking for pleasure. Simon Schama in his excellent Landscape and Memory talks about the development of the romantic view of nature. The Wordsworths almost started it, in the Lake Country, and they were considered a bit mad. By the end of the nineteenth century nature rambling was respectable at least and the English countryside was simply swarming with birdwatchers and butterfly collectors and amateur geologists and bright eyed members of the YMCA. It was a wonder any farming got done - no wonder they all emigrated. i still think my ancestors would have thought i was bourgeois.

For me it was a fairly technical walk. i am afraid i am used to boardwalks for the swampy bits and steps for the steep bits. This walk was more fun.It is a shaggy old forest, with a lot more messy ground cover than up north. The birdlife was a wonder. The sound of streamfall and birdsong. i ttried to contribute by whistling 'A walk in the Black Forest' which seemed appropriate, but the tuis were merely contemptuous.

The next day i drove out, and it was morning, and the mist was rising from the silver fields, and forming little gentle clouds among the trees, and drifting skywards. No drama. Good living.

* They say that everywhere. On the planet Zog someone is saying that if you can see the Needles of Artroggi'a it is about to precipitate Nurgle. And if you can't see them it is already Nurgling. Some things just have to be said.