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Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Return to the Quake Zone

The last time I visited Lyttelton was four days after the Feb. 22 earthquake and the trauma was all too obvious, both physically and psychologically. Situated closest to the violent quake’s epicenter, this small port community saw its main and lower streets all but destroyed, with historic brick buildings tumbling down in tandem with the sense of security of its residents. Lyttelton is a unique and colorful mix of characters, where fishermen and port workers share the same streets, cafes and bars as bright young things from the city who would rather live over the Port Hills from Christchurch’s more sedate, English-style streets. Indonesian fishermen and Russian sailors are constant visitors, ship-girls vie for trade from historic hotel bars and the township attracts artists, writers and hippies of all ages.

At least, that’s how it was prior to Feb. 22.

The Saturday of that week, Feb. 26, Lyttelton had a summer street festival planned in its main street. London St was a miniature of the community, with historic buildings containing cafes, art galleries and bars interspersed with banks, the town supermarket and a well-used library. I’d been there in January and sipped coffee while watching the passing parade, where few seemed in any hurry and stopping for a chat was a constant occurrence. Much of London St was badly damaged in the quake but the community, seeking a bright spot among the rubble, decided on the day before the planned party to relocate the festival to the school yard. I was staying across the water at Diamond Harbour and, when told of the festival the night before by the wife of one of the ferry skippers, stayed one more day to attend.

The strongest impressions I came away with were of the rawness of people’s grief,  a strong unfocused anger (an earthquake is a very abstract thing to hate) and a coming together of the community. Lyttelton is joined to Christchurch by a tunnel under the Port Hills or longer roads that go up and over passes. The tunnel was closed by the quake and Lyttelton, like most of the Banks Peninsula, seemed to have been forgotten by the powers-that-be as they concentrated on the city’s higher population areas and the bodies still to be recovered in the Central Business District.

In some ways, Lyttelton was fortunate. The only life lost was a well-respected local man who’d been working at his joinery business in the city when the quake occurred, and had been hit by falling rocks in an aftershock as he walked home across the hills to get to his family and ensure they were safe. The joiner's family and friends gathered together in his workshop a few days later to build him a coffin of native wood left over from the family home he had built.

The town was also fortunate to have the HMNZS Canterbury in port when the quake occurred, and the sailors and soldiers aboard reacted quickly and decisively to offer help.

But local residents, like those throughout Christchurch, knew they faced long waits until they knew what might happen with their damaged homes, businesses, lives and livelihoods. Since the first Christchurch quake in September, many residents had waited to get damage assessments, insurance payouts, repairwork or sufficient information on when any of that might happen. Aftershocks had been felt constantly since September and there was a sense among many of those affected that the Government and insurance companies were waiting for things to be over before making decisions. Each subsequent shake, and I experienced a strong one myself while there in January, reminded residents that there was no clear end date for this event. A death, however tragic, is an ending and those left behind can begin the grieving process. I would compare the constant upheavals in Christchurch, as tectonic plates abrade each other, as more akin to a long, lingering illness with no end in sight.

The aftershocks create their own trauma, more so after Feb. 22, as none can know until they’re over just how bad this one might be.

Kiwis are renowned as being strong, resilient folk, although many of us have lost that trait as we become progressively more urbanized. Lyttelton, being a small, more rural community, retains that “No. 8 fencing wire” mentality (a belief that you can fix almost anything with judicious application of a piece of fencing wire, or perhaps a coathanger). I saw that the week of the quake in the way the community was rallying around its own, but the rawness of their grief and the shock meant they often excluded outsiders in doing so.

I returned to Lyttelton this past weekend, and the streets are still a scene of carnage. Buildings are opened at the front, as if hinged dolls' houses, the frontage's framing, lining and bricks lying on crushed cars in the street below while chandeliers still hang above. The lower street, that nearest the port, was home to the hotels and bars, and all have been closed due to damage. Some will never reopen. The Time Ball above the port, a chronometer for the benefit of ocean-bound navigators built in 1876 by the makers of London's Big Ben is damaged beyond repair. Most of London St remains fenced off.

But there is a stronger sense of positivity than that I observed on my February visit. A group of local women has been making cloth hearts embroidered with messages of support and aroha (“Live Life Love” was one example) and pinning them to the cold steel fencing. They have now started making smaller heart brooches to give to individuals. When I tried to decline one, saying I wasn’t from Lyttelton, they laughed and told me everyone needs a heart. I was invited to join them to make more at the Saturday Market the following day. I did, then took my hearts to another community further around the harbor.

The Lyttelton Coffee Company, a popular meeting place in London St, was so badly harmed it seemed likely to be demolished, but staff had set up under an awning outside the damaged library and the conversations and care among residents was more focused than before the quake. People talked of how to help each other, and how others could also help.

With all the other bars damaged, Fisherman’s Wharf, overlooking the damaged but working port, had become the social center of the town, with great food, caring service and an air of possibility rather than loss. Regular Saturday night parties were also beginning at the Naval Point Club, offering bands, beer and fun for no cover charge and giving locals a chance to blow off steam.

BNZ, the Bank of New Zealand, had responded to all the town’s cash machines being inside the cordons by bringing a mobile teller machine to allow people access to cash. They came and went each day, but people were more than willing to help out if anyone was temporarily short. I asked the server at the Coffee Company if there was anywhere else I could get cash as I was hoping to have a coffee before catching the next ferry, he said I could have one anyway. I had $2.10 in coins so got the $2.10 "Special of the Day."

Lyttelton, like all of Christchurch, is still hurting and is likely to be for some time. An older woman I walked to the ferry with told me her house above the port was badly damaged, and the apartment block she’d just bought into in Christchurch and had been about to move to had been demolished. One home gone, one uncertain, but she was happy to be alive. As Lyttelton’s residents pick themselves up and shake themselves off, I salute their courage, their spirit and their strong sense of community.

Kia ora, kia kaha.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Being Welcome on Marae

The difference between being welcomed onto marae, our Maori meeting places, and being welcome on marae is far more than a few simple letters. Let me deal with the technicalities first:

Being welcomed onto marae is a formal event with strict kawa (protocol) to follow and that kawa differs between individual iwi (tribe) and marae. It is a tapu event and the kawa are there to protect all involved. (Tapu is one of the most complex concepts in tikanga Maori and involves the notion of the "sacred," but also of "spiritual restriction" and "implied prohibition." See here if you're interested in learning more. ) The powhiri (welcome) is a process through which manuhiri (visitors) are brought onto the marae and their tapu removed, making them one with the tangata whenua, or local iwi.

For those unaware of the local kawa, it's essential to consult with the tangata whenua before a visit or to arrive with a party of manuhiri who know the kawa. As in any new culture, you're best to keep quiet, observe and learn, so as not to inadvertantly do or say anything that might put people at risk or cause offense.

Being welcome on marae, in contrast, is being welcome at the family home, another role the marae fills for its tangata whenua. It's more of a "make yourself at home" invite, often issued at the back door.

I, though not yet having been to my home marae, have been fortunate to have been both welcomed and welcome on several South Island marae. As a student at Otago Polytechnic, I was privileged to enjoy a weekend on Takutai o te Titi Marae at Colac Bay with other Whakairo (carving/design) students, learning about local tikanga (customs). As a journalist in Dunedin, I was welcome on Otakou Marae (after some initial hesitance) and enjoyed conversations over a cup of tea and taiaha (spear) practice out back. I was also honored to be welcomed to Otakou formally, both as an Otago University Theatre Studies student and later as a journalist.

This past weekend, I was honored again to become welcome at another stunning marae, Wheke, at Rapaki.  I had met one of the carvers involved while in Lyttelton last month and returned to borrow his caravan at the weekend and to enjoy the peace of his garden and the company of his daughter and himself. I'd gone for a walk and admired the whare whakairo (carved house) from outside the gates but, not knowing the local kawa, didn't want to step through. Then, while going past the back gate, I was invited to join the whanau out back for a drink and took the opportunity to ask if I could enter the whare.

Inside, I was blown away by the design, work and artistry of the carvings, woven tukutuku panels and paintings, and humbled by the welcome I received by the kuia - the older women who hold Maori families together and hold us to account at the same time. Several families were staying on marae after the Feb. 22 quake damaged homes (it was in this community that a boulder the size of a car bounded from Tamatea, the mountain above, and through a house), and I was touched to have an Aunty pat my hand as I sat beside her bed and assure me I could stay there anytime.

I had a fabulous feed, helped with dishes, played with feral youngsters, met many more wonderful people and enjoyed camaraderie and song with them. As one does on marae.

Rapaki has stolen my heart in a very brief time, with the deep sense of magic I feel there, the hospitality and acceptance of its residents and the open-hearted generosity of knowledge I have encountered.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Fish Swim, Bird's Fly, Lover's Leave, Bye Bye . . .

I have a new theme song.

I plan to enlist a few muso friends to back me and sing this very badly (the only way I can sing), but I fell in love with it on a loong, loong drive on the Canterbury Plains yesterday.

"Old men, Sit and think . . ."

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Tracie's Didn'ts

This post will need constant updates, I recognize that.

As I embark on another year, I look back on the things I (spectacularly) did not do. More to be added as I remember or get reminded by friends (?).

There were the two times I didn't get married.

Not-husband 1: Sorry Steve, you are a wonderful guy. In fact, I wish you were still around as I need an illustrator and the boy who will not be named wants to learn to surf. The engagement was my fault and not a good idea. It was New Year's Eve 2000 and I was at a party overlooking the Sydney Harbor Bridge fireworks and feeling a little lonely. Also planning to catch a subway home, then a flight to Hobart, Tazzie, to sail a yacht back. Way too many possible ways to die and I kinda wanted someone to miss me. Also sorry that it was so hard to dump me. I would have answered the phone but I'd left it in a Korean taxi and I was in a Korean hospital getting a hole drilled in my head. I now have a really cool panel-beating mark.

Not-husband 2: Also not a good idea. I'd already given my heart away and didn't have any other plans that year and thought I could help you. Lesson to self: people have to help themselves. Thank you for your mom (and a few of your subsequent fiancees), btw, at some stage you need to repay the money.

Well, there's the marriage bit done. What else didn't I do?

Ahhhh, Iraq! Still kicking myself for that one. Mention to a buddy that I want to go there and get gifted a job as senior logistics coordinator for the DFACs. Go to Houston for training. Realize that as much as I always wanted to be a pirate, I didn't think I could wear the KBR patch. Contract signed, need to remove myself from project. Done! It involved a little heckling and a lot of vodka and I think I can safely say I will never be on KBR's employment list again. That's okay, they have Bush and Rummie, they don't need a bolshie Irish Maori.

The farewell parties were spectacular. I bought a ferry in Thailand on my way out.

Didn't have kids. But borrowed a few. Thank you for that, parents and kids. Nuff said.

Didn't get enough sleep. Still a problem. You can sleep forever when you're dead may be a better slogan at age 20 than age aged. *whatever*

to be continued . . .

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Getting Down and Dirty

Above, the undershot bitch enjoying life.

This morning, for the second time in 17 years of being welcome at this farm at the bottom of the world, I buried the bucket (see "Talking Dirty" if that needs elaboration). The first time, a young boy I care for asked me to and he's someone I can seldom refuse. This time, it needed doing and I was free. It was also a matter of not just talking the talk. The young boy turned young man dug a hole when I asked and the rest was up to me. It was an unpleasant five minutes with a little retching (I'm such a girly wimp sometimes) but the outhouse is much more pleasant now. Mission accomplished.

Other unpleasant tasks need doing. As often happens when you're the last house on a country road, cats get dumped, reproduce and start killing bunnies and birds. The bunnies, tho cute, do their own damage so killing them is good, but we have our own cats for that. The fantails, gray warblers and other assorted birdlife we like, and our cats have been taught to leave them alone. While grubbing horehound and thistles some days past, I heard crunching of bones and investigated to find cute wee kittens chowing down on a bunny carcass. We're discussing who gets to kill them, with none of us truly wanting the karmic debt (yes Matt, I believe in karma, but will happily eat the pig you shoot on my behalf). Kittens anyone?

There's another kitten that turned up a few weeks back and might get to stay. He has a name, which is a good sign. I'm trying to get an answer on his future so I know whether to take him to the vet or not. Sorry dude, I realize having your testicles cut off probably isn't a lot of fun, but the option is a bullet.

Meanwhile, the undershot bitch sent in error by a breeder who forgot to actually look at her still has a stay of execution, and there is talk of a possible home. She's also very cute but I'm trying not to allow her to bond with me too much. Pups make poor global travel companions. As someone who endured braces as a child myself, it seems unfair that an overbite should equal a bullet.

Out back, one of the acceptable bitches has had her first litter. Squirming bundles that sound like geese (I stole that description). Himself came in from inspecting them the other night to announce, "Seven fucking bitches." In a litter of eight, in a world where females are less valued, that's apparently a bad thing. Herself and I almost rolled around laughing. I think they're safe.

I love my life, shit, pups, loud American friends and all! And tomorrow is a special day, which I look forward to spending with some very special people.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Desperately Seeking Designer

The fictional character needs some business cards, so needs an artiste (Jessie?) to help come up with a suitable caricature for a flightless bird that eats roots and leaves (apply punctuation where you see fit) - lousy pay but full credit given

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Coming to America

It's definite!

Myrtle Beach Bike Week, here I come. With a stop-off in Korea on the way to visit with the VFW, VKW and PAO, plus some friends who don't need acronyms, and to write some stories from Jeju.

Then, three months of touring the land of the free and finding out if it's still the home of the brave. It's happening. Flights covered, MZ Baghira graciously loaned, incidentals covered, home base eager. Logistics being worked out as I type - it's a big country. Starting from Norfolk, definite dates in NC, CO, MO and CA, feel free to invite me for dinner, drinks and conversation elsewhere.

See you soon . . .

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Gardening Notes for the CINC

Hey guys, I have some serious gardening to do today - it's a very inconsiderate time to start another "action." But, while grubbing out horehound and thistles, I thought I'd give the Commander in Chief (Community Organizer in Chief, I've heard him referred to, thanks John) a few tips on weeding. Just in case he has time for the garden after testing his new action toy - Operation Odyssey Dawn. From the bottom of the world in Aotearoa, a country that people's thoughts turn to during nuclear scares.

Once weeds have started to seed, you have to make a clear decision. Either leave them to their own devices or raze them completely. Choosing the middle ground (selectively weeding while inadvertantly shaking the seeds around and creating fresh-tilled soil on which to grow) is not a viable option. Before making that decision, look up the Hippocratic Oath and Asimov's First Law of Robotics. Read your constitution while you're at it, or at least skim the Cliffs Notes.

Some things don't transplant well. Rabbits, thistle, heather, gorse and rats come to mind. The rats were inevitable, they go everywhere ships go. The rest were introduced to Aotearoa by homesick Brits and Scots (I know Stephen, same thing but a difference in coloring). Flowering gorse may be pretty on the rolling hills of Scotland, in this more fertile land it has flourished and become a monster. Be careful what and where you plant - you can't control what will grow. You may end up creating new weeds inadvertantly (that word again!). Back to the Oath, First Law and Constitution.

You can't beat nature. It's like telling the tide to turn back. Look clearly at what is and recognize your limitations, and deal with it. Without me, the weeds will win. With me, the weeds will win, but I can utilize the soil more productively. But there's only so much a gardener can do and there are areas that the weeds and I have decided they can have.  Shit happens.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

God Save the Prince

As an Irish Maori, I have little time for British royalty, ancestors on both sides having suffered the ill-effects of British rule. Thus, when I heard that Prince William, Prince of Wales, would be visiting Aotearoa to represent his mother, Queen Elizabeth II, and express the royal family’s sadness over the Christchurch earthquake and the Pike River mining tragedy, I was suitably unimpressed. The journalist and skeptic in me viewed it as an effective marketing ploy for a rapidly shrinking Commonwealth.

I still view it that way, but have to salute the effectiveness of the visit. I have just listened to the prince’s speech at the National Memorial Service in Christchurch and applaud everything he said. From the opening words – “My grandmother once said that grief is the price you pay for love” – to the closing Maori blessing – “Kia kaha – Be strong” – every word seemed heart-felt and appropriate. William acknowledged the Japanese people also and his speech was a stark contrast to that given by our prime minister, John Key, at the Pike River memorial. (In which he essentially told mothers who were in fear of raising children without a father not to worry, he grew up without a father and look what he became. Without meaning any disrespect to the Pike River families, I would consider culling my own children rather than having them become John Key.)

I, for one, would favor continuing to be part of the Commonwealth on this speech alone. The fact that the royals cared enough to have someone craft such an appropriate speech indicates to me that we are better having a Brit royal as nominal head of state than to confer the title of president on a dolt such as Key.

The transcript of William’s speech is here, with one typo (units should be unites): http://www.nzherald.co.nz/christchurch-earthquake/news/article.cfm?c_id=1502981&objectid=10713386

Days Gone By

While looking over some old files, I found the following piece I wrote many, many years ago. At the time, I wrote two regular columns for a publication called Seoul Classifieds, which is now defunct. The first, "Seoul Searching," was on general life in the South Korean megapolis, and "G.I. Blues" was about the military, both U.S. and Republic of Korea (I found a few old pieces from that also, beware.)

I ceased writing for the magazine after the publisher objected to a column I wrote about South Koreans, mainly university students, protesting the U.S. presence in the ROK while knowing little about their own history. In the piece, I pointed out that more Americans died to help South Korea become a nation than were stationed there at the time of writing (as did United Nations service members from an additional 20 countries). The publisher was uncomfortable with what I wrote, so I stopped contributing.

It all seems so long ago. Yet most of the gentlemen I wrote about below can still be found at the same corner of the same bar, playing poker dice for beer or Jagermeister and solving the problems of the world. (Yes Ron, Stevie, Chet - I do consider you gentlemen!) Some time after I wrote this piece, they got to meet Nic himself and Stevie asked him to do the "bunny" line. Good times!

Interesting fact: This column was one reason I was asked to test for a job at IHT/JoongAng Daily - the South Korean supplement to the International Herald Tribune. I thought I had applied to be a columnist and found myself a deputy editor. The colleagues I worked with there are still a large and valued part of my life.

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Visiting With the VKW

Nicolas Cage and Wesley Snipes are both members, but only Cage has the t-shirt.

If he wants to join the support group, they meet weekly in an Itaewon bar.

That’s when the 3 Alley Pub Chapter of the V.K.W. gathers to share beverages and banter. And no, they aren’t Veterans of Korean Wars but have faced a more daunting task – they’re Victims of Korean Wives!

I joined the Chapter at the bar last week seeking further information. They were happy to enlighten me on condition I used no names.

That would complicate their drinking, I was told.

Ask when the club was formed and they’ll say during the Korean War. The 3 Alley Pub Chapter, however, is a more recent occurrence and the guys only designed their t-shirts last year.

Membership is open to any foreigner with a Korean wife.

“The membership dues are extremely high,” one member joked.

“You never stop paying,” another agreed.

When asked how their wives viewed the group, one replied, “They love it!”

After the laughter of the others subsides, he continued, ". . . Or tolerate it. It’s one of those two words.”

It’s all tongue in cheek though and they confide that most of their wives even wash and iron their shirts.

“One thing about our club is we wouldn’t trade our wives for anyone else in the world,” one said, to agreement from the others.

“But we realize we’re married to weird women,” another added.

The shop that made their t-shirts mysteriously burned down earlier this year.

“It could have been our wives,” they surmised.

As for the Hollywood connection, both Cage and Snipes are married to Korean women. One member teaches Cage’s wife’s uncle who forwarded the actor a V.K.W. shirt.

Snipes is sure to want one when he sees it!

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Allah Needs a New Publicist

Before writing this, and before anyone issues a fatwah on me (if they haven't already), let me restate my religous beliefs. I believe in God, Allah and Buddha and suspect they may all be one entity. I also believe in the Maori pantheon of Gods and demi-gods and think that the parties in Valhalla sound pretty good so I'll vote for Odin and his battle buddies too. I don't believe in Santa or the Easter Bunny (tho I've played the latter) but would fight for anyone else's right to believe in them or anything else.

What I do not believe in is the use of any religion or belief as a means of power and control and the monotheistic flavors seem to have this in common. I have friends of all faiths and respect their choices and value our discussions of the similarities and differences. But my basic ethos is probably closest to the Hippocratic oath (basically, "First do no harm")
http://www.medterms.com/script/main/art.asp?articlekey=20909 or Isaac Asimov's First Law of Robotics in human terms ("A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm").

Christians who follow Christ's teaching ("Love one another") are wondrous and deserve to sit at God's right hand. Those whom I term "Sunday Christians," who attend church religiously or teach Sunday School while lying and cheating the remainder of the week, deserve their own special limbo.

I don't know Islam so well but have lived in many Islamic countries, have many Muslim friends and know enough about the Koran to understand that it is misused by fundamentalists in the same way the Bible has been misused throughout history. I also know, from my time in Jakarta, Indonesia, that the majority of Muslims are rational, reasonable beings BUT they are sometimes (often?) afraid to publicly denounce the idiocy of fundamentalism in the fear of being thought "not Muslim enough."

Apologies to my Jewish friends that I know so little of your faith. I was 17 before I even realized there were any Jews in Aotearoa. Josh, can you and I sit down over a good bottle of wine someday soon (I recommend a Central Otago Pinot Noir, I'll put a bottle of 8 Ranges in my travel case) and you can school me in all things Jewlike (and why Timo thinks Jews aren't cool).

That being said, this article makes me think that Allah definitely needs a new publicist: http://www.odt.co.nz/news/world/151143/tv-exec-jailed-beheading-wife

Particularly note this passage:
"Hassan, who killed his wife inside the offices of the Muslim-oriented television station the Pakistan-born couple started to dispel negative cultural stereotypes . . ."
Hmmm, that might count as a failed mission, methinks.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

The Road Has No Name

Review of Allen Hall Lunchtime Theatre
"The Road Has No Name"
Written and directed by Feather Shaw
March 11, 2011


Wow! The first Allen Hall Lunchtime Theatre has set the bar high for the year.

(For those not in the know, Allen Hall is the theatre at my alma mater, the University of Otago, in Dunedin, Aotearoa. Each Thursday and Friday from 1 p.m., plays written, directed and teched by students are presented at a minimal cost. Actors are usually students but sometimes a stranger will be brought in. They often end up staying. I have many fond memories of that theatre, most of which were spent rigging and operating lights and sound.)

I was fortunate to be in Dunedin and in the city on Friday so made my way to Allen Hall, and was blown away. I remember some exceptional plays during my time with Theatre Studies. I also, while typing this, remember the first show of my own first Allen Hall year, which also took people’s breaths away (the play, not my year). I suspect the inaugural plays are chosen to lead the pack for that very reason.

“The Road Has No Name,” written and directed by Emma “Feather” Shaw, was simply brilliant. The tale of two young female hitch-hikers picked up by an opinionated farmer had the audience roaring with laughter while they cringed at his rants. Shaw’s farmer, played by Luke Agnew, is anything but PC. But his brash character, fluctuating between caring good guy and angry everyman (tho perhaps more foul-mouthed than most), was strangely loveable. Everything seemed equal in his eyes, from “fucking Maoris” through “fucking bitches” and “fucking queer cunts” to the “fucking cheesecake” he needed to pick up for his brother’s wife (“a fucking ugly bitch”). Well done, Luke!

Rachel Foerg and Alex Ross played the hitchers wonderfully, their separate reactions as cars passed them by our introduction to the action. They join the farmer’s ute, after the quick removal of his life’s detritus from the seats to the floor, Ross having to straddle an anatomically inconveniently placed gearstick and both having to hold their backpacks. For those of us who hitch, it’s an instantly recognizable situation (In fact, I may have been in that particular ute along my travels). The mismatched trio continue along their way, their trip beginning with the long awkward silence of strangers thrown together (interrupted, comically, by stomach rumblings from audience members who’d chosen theatre over more physical sustenance that lunchtime).

For an actor, conveying meaning without speech is a delicate balance. It’s tempting to overplay, but too subtle a portrayal may be lost on the audience. All three leads hit perfect notes the day I attended, providing identifiable comic moments as the hitchers nudged each other to begin a conversation and the farmer changed gears between Ross’s thighs as if unaware of anyone else in the cab with him.
Once the women did initiate conversation, they quickly regretted it, as the farmer gave his opinions on life, the universe and everything. Drugs, dairy-farming, music, personal struggle, relationships and indigenous affairs – this farmer had an opinion on all, well peppered with Tourette’s-like language. (If Shaw ever decides to make a short film of this and Agnew isn’t available, Charlie Sheen would be a great second choice!) The farmer was mercurial, changing from frothing abuse at the world to gentle musings and kind offers, as he explained to the hitchers that his recently-completed anger management course had helped him a lot.

The set was also impressive, a tattered ute seat strewn with its owner’s droppings in what was essentially a modern rural midden, the aforementioned gearstick and a steering wheel that, like its owner, has a tendency to become unhinged. Simple, yet effective, as was the lighting and sound design. Technicians are the unsung heroes of naturalistic plays as their effectiveness is best judged by their invisibility. Kudos to stage manager Maya Turei, sound operator Aimee Wilson and lighting operator Liam Baird - the fact that you were easily overlooked proves you did well.

My only quibble with the performance is a minor scripting one, and only a niggle to me because everything else in the script was so on-point. The ending needs a little work, I feel. The farmer’s sudden rudeness seemed out of keeping with his essential nature, which I saw as always gruff, blunt and abrupt, but not consciously rude. And tho a hitcher calling, “Don’t forget the fucking cheesecake!” as he drove away provided an easy laugh for all, at this level of writing perhaps the easy laugh and convenient ending are unnecessary. Just one opinion, of course.

Ultimately tho, I wish I had attended on the Thursday rather than the Friday so I could recommend others go see it the next day. All involved are young theatre practitioners well worth keeping an eye out for.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Ring of Fire

My thoughts are with all those in Japan as they begin to pick themselves up after the quake and subsequent tsunami - Japan was one of many countries to send help to Christchurch after the Feb. 22 earthquake, I trust that they will receive help also from near and far

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Lust for Life

Wow, it’s been a busy few weeks!

It doesn’t look like slowing down any soon. Deciding to change my blog from an online portfolio to an active blog took place alongside a much more violent upheaval in Christchurch, and aftershocks continue to rock that city. Political and economic aftershocks for the entire country are just beginning, and it seems from watching the Middle East that the world is in upheaval. In case anyone in power is listening, this isn’t a job for Team America or any other outsider, but be prepared that neither outsiders nor insiders may like the results these rebellions bring.

Increased oil prices from damage to infrastructure, as is taking place in Libya, may lead some of us in the Western world to question our own ruler’s spending priorities (if we don’t already) and their willingness to keep increasing our debt. The Arab world has oil to fund its spending (while holding us hostage) but none of the West’s governing powers seem truly willing to commit to alternative fuel research. In tandem with the amazing medical advances that are part of any war, a push for alternative fuel sources and energy saving may be the good to come out of America’s prolonged wars in Iraq and Afghanistan (with enemies they helped to place in power, yet another reason to keep Team America, or any other nation-builders, out of Libya). See http://www.nytimes.com/2011/01/13/opinion/13anderson.html

In my opinion, Americans don’t really “do” irony, especially Alanis, but the superb irony may be that a war begun to “stabilize the oil region” (told me by a White House energy consultant at an after-show party I crashed after a course I didn’t attend at the War College in Carlisle, PA), results in some real pressure for the US to get out of bed with big oil and try to find an alternative. Let’s pray they look for a clean and sustainable one.

So, I spent a busy few days in Christchurch, plus hitched both ways to talk with people about how they were doing and what mattered to them in life. Then returned to my friends’ organic farm, where those are the normal conversations. And here there is always honest work to be done, which connects one to the real world. I’ve also been living much of my life online or on the phone, as I post and manage this blog, respond to friends (and follow Doctrine Man! – what a hero) on Facebook and try to arrange funding for a project I plan to undertake in the US in May. While trying to rake in enough cash for the airfare at least because, for the past four years, I’ve had an annual date with friends and my U.S. whanau (family) at Myrtle Beach Bike Week. I’ve enlisted the aid of one of those whanau, a retired Navy Seal (and the under-achiever in his family – both sisters made Navy Captain and his big brother flew choppers and retired as an Air Force Colonel). He’s putting some figures together for me so I can work out logistics for the project.

It’s a great life balance, in the extreme way in which I do balance (i.e. if I’m on the edge equally on both sides, I must be balanced, right?). I weed the garden, make notes on the project, check e-mails and Facebook, collect cow shit, type and upload a blog post, gather food and start the fire and dinner, and read guidelines for a possible funding source. I’ve also downloaded an academic treatise a friend wrote about Twitter (not on Twitter, you understand, academic treatises don’t fit well into 140-character tweets).

As I wrote, I do an extreme version of balance, as I tend to do an extreme version of life. I understand patience and have practiced it often. I endured six months flat on my back with a fractured spine after a horse-riding accident (I stick to motorcycles now) and, believe me, having to stay immobile while not feeling ill teaches patience. I’ve also crewed small yachts between Thailand and Kenya and being becalmed for days at sea, a full week’s sail from anywhere, is not for impatient souls. Dealing with bureaucracy, in whatever country I happen to be in, requires a special patience of its own (or masochism, perhaps?).

And on my friends’ farm, I’ve learned that to cook the food we must first provide energy to heat the fire, so we plant and nurture trees for firewood and building. And to grow the food we must nurture the soil, so we prepare compost layer upon layer, gathering ingredients as we go.

The contrast to that grounding peace of honest work is the instant gratification of the blogosphere and social media. I’ve read so many writers complain of the shortened attention span they’ve experienced with increased Internet usage and how they find it hard to relax with a book any more. (Not a problem for me, and I’m catching up with many of my unread books while home. Feel free to ask for recommendations.) I’ve also seen first-hand how Korean students, living in the most-wired country in the world, have lost their ability to focus in line with their constant computer game-playing. So I cringe when I have the urge to check my e-mail, Facebook and blog stats constantly (I’m resisting Twitter) and make myself alternate each online foray with some hard labor.

Today’s task is grubbing hore-hound from the Chicken Ranch, and it’s time I got back to it. But first I need to check my e-mail to check plans with friends for the weekend. Coffee dates, a theater production and a trip to a vineyard in Alexandra, Central Otago, are in order, where I’ll write two stories for local publications while doing final interviews by Skype for an international publication. Then back to the Otago Peninsula for a jazz house concert at an amazing home in Pukehiki.

Life is grand!

Monday, March 7, 2011

Talking Dirty

We’ve been talking some serious shit around the dinner/breakfast table recently.

At the weekend, herself cleaned out under the chookhouse and added it to the compost heap, I cut comfrey (oh, for a scythe) for the next layer. One of my tasks today is to gather cowpats from the top paddock to be added. Everything is a cycle, and good gardens require great compost. It’s all about putting food on the table, and shit from chickens and cows is a boon there.

Whanau members visited for a few days with a health scare that required coming to the big city hospital for a colonoscopy. The daughter, a fae  sprite, was phobic about the bucket toilet out back. She elected to stay and entertain the pups and I yesterday while her parents went to the city and toileting would be needed. We walked the dogs, talked about how dogs  needed to be exercised and toileted, and discussed why she was afraid of the outhouse. She was afraid she would fall in, which is a horrible thought, I tell you. I asked if she had ever fallen in her flush toilet at home (“Of course not, silly!”), explained that the seat here is smaller than on a flush toilet and all was well again with her world. When she needed to go, I offered a peg for her nose if needed and she came back proudly to tell me she didn’t even need to block her nose.

The health scare appears to be just an irritable bowel problem, (blessedly) and the person concerned asked the IB nurse what foods she should avoid or eat. The nurse told her that what she ate was irrelevant. Excuse me?!? A quick Google gave patient reams of information that the medical profession here seems to view as irrelevant. Not a very holistic view of health, and certainly not a promising one for the nurse’s patients. 

Aforementioned bucket toilet is precisely that, a bucket that gets emptied into a hole and covered with dirt. It’s not a pleasant task and one I’ve managed to avoid every time but one, but when I had to do it, I ladied up and did so. It means you deal with the fact that human animals, if they’re fortunate, consume food and liquid and it gets expelled. Most people in the world don’t have flush toilets and how they deal with their waste is, in my mind, a better indicator of civilization than the size of their cities. In Jakarta, many thousands of people live on the edge of reservoirs and waterways and use the water to bathe, toilet and wash clothes. (Check out http://www.thejakartaglobe.com/waterworries ) A new house is being built where I am that has to have a flush toilet included, but I'm confident the bucket will be here to greet me when I next visit.

There’s a conversation that’s been going on in Aotearoa of late about “freedom” camping and the fact that many campers defecate wherever they are and leave it. There’s a carpark at the bottom of the hill for a beautiful track and often, when himself takes the dogs for a walk, there is human excrement and toilet tissue strewn there. It incenses me that anyone would come all the way here to one of the most beautiful spots in the world and treat it as their toilet. The mindset to do that must view it as not their home, as I doubt they shit in their own front yards, but isn’t Papatuanuku, the earth mother, the only home we have?

In Christchurch at present, there is a severe toilet problem and it’s not being handled well. Thousands of chemical toilets have arrived from as far away as the U.S. but no provisions have been made for emptying them and people are trying to empty them into Portaloos. Thanks for sending them folks, and thank you everyone else who has come to the aid of Christchurch BUT many people are simply using chemical toilets, which add chemicals but leave waste PLUS chemicals to be disposed of, which creates its own health issues..

The Otago Daily Times yesterday had this quote: 

“I live near a woman in her 70s who broke down crying, too embarrassed to go to the toilet in a bucket.”

I’m sorry lady, toughen up. (And while we're talking dirty, ladies, find a pleasant place to squat, the bucket is for solid matter - my favorite here has a view worth millions and an inquisitive pup to hold away, Take your tissues away with you, or use mallow leaves which are soft and silky.) 

I understand that the toilet problem is just one more straw added to the many that Christchurch has suffered since September and I don’t deny or attempt to belittle the magnitude of the trauma that all are experiencing. And, aware as I am of NOT being part of the immediate community, I'll quote Joe Bennett, a brilliant Lyttleton writer who experienced the quake and the recovery first-hand. In his most recent column, he wrote about how whanau and tribe responded. The entire column is worth reading (can't find a link sorry), but two sentences summed it up for me:

“On the second day power was restored. We were then better off than most people in the world.”

To paraphrase  him (kia ora Joe, great party you guys and the Navy put on last week), if we have a bucket and a spade, we’re better off than most people in the world.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Maori Gods

Unfortunately for me, I was not raised in tikanga Maori (the culture) or Te Reo Maori (the language). Fortunately for me, I have wonderful friends and whanaungatanga (extended family) who were, and who gift me the taonga (treasure) of their knowledge.

One such is my sis, Mars, who I first heard of when I returned to Jeju Island and another beautiful wahine, Marama, asked if I lived near her. "I don't know Mars," I answered. An hour or so later, my phone rang.

"Kia ora, this is Mars," I heard, "I hear you need a motorcycle."

It turned out Mars lived a few blocks from where I was camping (thanks Sherrin, your heart has always been in the right place) and had a bike she didn't know how to ride. I looked after it for the year I was back on the Island, and Mars and I recognized each other as sisters.

When I arrived in Christchurch the day after the quake, P told me he had been unable to sleep the previous night because of the violent aftershocks. I asked Mars for a karakia (prayer) to soothe Papatuanuku, the Earth Mother. This was her response:


Kia Ora Sis

Ruaumoko is the atua of earthquakes. Here is a karakia for you.

E te atua Ruaumoko, kua oho koe i te koopuu whenua o to matou whaea Papatuanuku, kua ruu te whenua. Hoki atu ki te moe, e moe, e moe kia pai ai te ao hurihuri.

E Rauamoko, you have awakened in the womb of our mother Papatuanuku and have shaken the land, return to rest, rest, rest so the changing world above can be well.

Hope that suits, just made it up for you. Thinking of you and your friends in Chch and hope you are all managing okay.

Big Maori hugs from Jeju
Mars

I googled Rauamoko, learned a lot, and posted the karakia as my facebook status. Rauamoko rested that night, as did we.

How do I best say thank you in te reo, e kare? (my treasured friend)

Friday, March 4, 2011

Notes on an Earthquake

I pondered a lot before uploading my quake posts, as there's more than a little venting going on in them. They are what I wrote while there and part of the process, so I decided to post them regardless but will add some notes with the benefit of hindsight.

  • ALL of the people I dealt with, at Civil Defence and elsewhere, were doing their best in a bad situation. My frustration was not with any of them personally. However, having worked as a volunteer American Red Cross Emergency Services Caseworker and having been involved with the US military monster in other capacities, I understand what it means to be prepared for any eventuality. CD, at least what I saw of it in Diamond Harbor, was not. I created templates for information simply because none existed in the CD master book. 

  • I have also been harsh on the ivb and want to state that she seems a lovely woman but was unwilling to delegate and unable to make a decision and stick with it. In my view, once that became obvious, as it did, she should have been replaced by someone perhaps not as nice but more efficient. The help I saw offered was wonderful and many people came offering whatever they had - water, hot showers, food, accommodation, labor and equipment. Enabling them to help others is a large part of the recovery process and those people I enlisted to help me were grateful to have a job to do. Giving people a sense of control in a natural disaster, where there is such a sense of no control, is part of the healing process.

  • The NZ Navy was amazing. Lyttelton, the epicenter of the quake, was fortunate that the HMNZS Canterbury was docked there when the quake happened and the soldiers and sailors onboard helped  immediately. The navy (Canterbury was replaced by HMNZS Otago while she went to Wellington for supplies) also provided meals for residents of Lyttelton and Diamond Harbour. A community meal is a chance for the community to come together, talk about their experiences and connect with each other. It seemed to me, a trained observer, that some at the Diamond Harbour Civil Defence Sector Post were discouraging people from attending these meals. Proof, if that sounds harsh: I was asked to create and print a sign advising "Community Dinner Provided by NZ Navy at Church Hall 6 p.m." I watched it get taped to the hall door and it was removed within five minutes. I do not know who removed it. I also heard CD volunteers telling people who asked about the dinners that they were primarily for the elderly, ill or disadvantaged. The family next door to where I stayed, new arrivals to the community after the September quake damaged their Lyttelton home, were never informed by CD of the meals. 
  • The Diamond Harbour CD response had the feel, and this is a comment from a community member, but one I agree with, of a church hall meeting. If you were part of the group, you got the information. Examples:
  1. Shortly after I arrived on Wednesday evening, a lady who had just been at the sector post came to tell P (my friend and host) that the water reservoir was empty. I later went next door for other reasons and mentioned it to them. They did not know. The next morning, while at CD myself, I told the shift supervisor that people in the community were unaware the reservoir was empty. Her response: "They'll work it out." I explained that all the older houses had header tanks, as was required when they were built, so residents would not be aware of the urgency of water conservation. The supervisor was distracted by another matter she apparently thought more urgent than water conservation. 
  2. I offered to print fliers with contact information (physical address, phone, e-mail and website) and urgent advice (water, toileting, food, petrol, sewage) for distribution and asked who had the phone tree/neighborhood support information. Unfortunately, NS was in the process of an upgrade, which was merely bad timing. People offered to distribute fliers in their immediate community but offers were mostly rebuffed as it needed to go through proper channels. All good IF proper channels exist but they did not. Some people took it upon themselves to distribute information anyway, well done!
  3. Information was consciously withdrawn (i.e. toileting info) "just in case" it was wrong. In emergency response situations, decisions are needed. They may provide less than the optimum result but 95%, or even 80%, is better than zero.
  4. Well-established members of the community were well looked after, as I witnessed with the stream of calls and visits to my host, who has lived there for 57 years. Newer members (the neighbors) and visitors were overlooked. A neighborhood watch man did visit the neighbors on Friday afternoon, three days after the quake, he did not tell them a meal was available that night provided by the Navy, he did not visit the store (the owner said), an obvious communication point.
  • Last point. I can be forceful in trying to get things done and that is not the "Kiwi way." I know that upset some of those I abraded with while in DH and Lyttelton and am sorry, most of all, that they assumed ("accused" was the term the ferry driver used) I was a "loud American." I offer no apology for upsetting them and it was probably a great thing that they had someone physical to be angry at - anger is therapeutic. I do apologize to my American friends for (unintentionally) adding to the "ugly American" stereotype (but at least I didn't give Maori a bad name, hehe).