Saturday, November 24, 2012

Thankfulness: arrivals, departures

It's the day after the day after Thanksgiving here in Hawai'i.

This means the fridge is still full of leftovers (just because we didn't host Thanksgiving doesn't mean we don't have leftovers - people here are so generous that Vula and I were sent home literally with boxes of food), we've got a shopping bag at the end of the bed from a shopping trip yesterday on 'Black Friday' (the biggest shopping day of the year apparently), and I've got a giant pile of essays to grade because it's nearly the end of semester.

So much for starting to blog again! I posted twice earlier this month and then was distracted by life for a while. I keep going to things or thinking thoughts or hearing things and thinking 'I should blog about that!' but I haven't done - not yet. Yesterday Vula reminded me that I should start blogging again and so now, as people outside our window are making the first signs of waking up and Vula stretches out next to me, gently sleeping, I'm making good on that commitment.

Thanksgiving is such a tricky day, so deeply saturated in Americanness: excessive food, excessive travel, close family time, and an invented story of Indigenous hospitality which is not false in its claims about Indigenous gifting of food as much as in its implied extrapolation to a story about the gifting of a continent. Canadians have their early October Thanksgiving too,  called 'Canadian Thanksgiving' as is the way of countries which don't get to call theirs 'Thanksgiving' in an unmarked way... but (at least in its most explicit level, because surely empire is central to any story of natural resources in a settler colony) it's more about the harvest and less a story of white inheritance.

And yet, and even though many of my Indigenous mates on facebook over the past few days have asked about what it means for people to only practice thankfulness as an annual event rather than a daily practice, I find myself wanting to write about a few things for which I'm, well, thankful.

I'm thankful Vula is here.

I'm thankful for the launch of Once Were Pacific at Revolution Books two weeks ago. That one, given the focus of this blog, deserves a post (albeit belated) of its own, and it will get one.

I'm thankful for my students who keep me accountable: here in Hawai'i and at home in Aotearoa.

I'm thankful for good friends here in Hawai'i who have been, and will continue to become, family to Vula and me as we live here in this beautiful part of our ocean.

I'm thankful that we have tickets to fly home to Wellington in two Mondays (3 Dec) and am hopeful that Vula's visa will be processed by the NZ consulate in LA in time for us to travel together. I can't wait to see Matiu, Megan, Mum and Dad as well as everyone else. It's true that there's no place like home.

I'm thankful for the new babies in our families: Pania in Newcastle and Jemaima in Suva. Two new nieces for us to adore  :)

I'm thankful for health and whanau and food and more besides.

But today? Today we're taking Daren for breakfast. The charismatic, kind and energetic Daren, known by Vula as a boy he grew up with and known by me as a Pasifika poet and now known by both of us as the cupid who introduced us to each other, is flying home to his family in Aotearoa tonite. He has had a busy and engaging three months in Hawai'i as the Fulbright/Creative NZ Pasifika writer in residence, and is heading off with his own kete full but also having replenished the kete of several people here. This is A Good Outcome. Haere ra Daren - safe travel home to Grace, your boys, and Aotearoa.

I'm thankful for the ocean. While we think about arrivals and departures - standing on wharves to wave at passing ships - it keeps us connected: Aotearoa, Hawai'i, Fiji... and all the other many places in our vast, moody, navigable, immense blue home.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Someone is watching Obama

It turns out that I am destined to listen to American presidential election results on the radio while driving around city streets. Today I was driving out to the post office next to the Honolulu airport to send off some more documentation Vula needs for a visa, and listened to NPR calling the election for Obama while the sun set over this part of the Pacific.

One of the people who will benefit from Obama's second term of presidency is a little New Zealander who is now guaranteed to spend all of his remembered childhood years taking for granted that the president of the USA is Barack Obama. Back in 2008 the US election was held the week before the New Zealand general election, and I spent a few evenings leading up to our election at home delivering Māori party pamphlets to voters on the Māori roll who live in Lower Hutt. (Aue, Māori Party - I had such hopes!) We were both working full time so we drove in the early evenings, Megan driving and reading the list of where Māori roll electors lived, me jumping out at various places to post the pamphlets in various letterboxes. Matiu was three years old, and sat strapped into his carseat while we drove around the network of concrete roads which is his to inherit through our genealogical links to the land underneath. When the time came for Obama's acceptance speech we sped home to Waiwhetū and piled out in time to breathlessly - and, yes, tearily - watch history.

A couple of hours earlier I had left my office at university, where I'd been glued to the updates on the first Obama election, and raced into Matiu's Māori immersion preschool to pick him up. I hurried him along while he slowly plodded around picking up his things... when he asked what the rush was for, I told him "I think Obama is about to be the president." Once he was buckled in and I was in the front seat, he asked what that meant, and I explained it the way anyone would explain such things to a three year old: "America is a big country and in most countries all the grown ups get to decide who's going to be their boss and although lots of different people live in America the boss has always been a white man and today the adults have decided that Obama will be the boss and that's very exciting because he's not white - he's black. So that reminds all of us that anybody can be the boss of the country, not just white men."

The thing about Matiu is that he's Māori and Pākehā through our side, and we have worked hard to ensure he is exposed to his own Māori language and culture and community, but he is also Eritrean from his father's side. It is easy for us to see him as a Māori kid but we are also deeply aware that he is an African kid too, and this is a side which must also be nurtured. As we drove down the hill to pick up his Mum, my sister Megan, from work so we could head out for another night of pamphleting, we both listened to the radio coverage and they announced that Obama was most likely going to be the president. I was crying - tears flowing down my face while I edged us down the hill towards parliament - and heard a small voice from the back seat. A small, proud voice.

"I'm black too."

Monday, November 5, 2012

Once Were Pacific.

It was Matiu who first called it 'the wharf.' A wooden deck and stairs Dad added to the front of my house in Waiwhetu juts out over the grass lawn with no walls and Matiu, who has spent significant time in his seven years waiting at the Queens and Days Bay wharfs for ferries to Matiu/Somes Island, made the link immediately.

Actually he first called it a wharf when he came in to wake me up when I was still at home in August, waiting for my visa to be processed so I could come and take up my position here as Associate Professor of Pacific Literatures. I'd arrived home from Australia the night before and had announced to Mum and Dad that things were serious with the lovely Vula who I'd gone over to visit again - marriage serious! - and the next morning Dad told Matiu to wake up his sleeping Auntie Lala and say congratulations. Before hearing any more details, enthusiastic little Matiu came charging into the room where I was staying, jumped into bed next to me (frozen feet, wriggly legs, and all!) and loudly proclaimed "congratulations!" Confused (as I often am first thing in the morning), I asked him what for... he looked a bit confused himself, searching back over the things we might be celebrating, and said "for the wharf!"

The wharf, with its inevitable associations of coming and going. I've always lived in liquid cities, shaped by harbours, lakes or the ocean. The wharf. Arrivals and departures happen here. We are people who are always on the move. We always have been: we once were Pacific.

My decision to move to Hawai'i was complex but, by the time came to finalise the decision, obvious. The marae at Victoria University of Wellington, where I spent seven years teaching Māori, Pacific and Indigenous writing in English, is called 'Te Herenga Waka,' the hitching post of canoes, and as I prepared to unhitch my waka from that university I knew I'd be back again another day. Arrivals and departures are like that: you can't have one without the other, and any of one suggests the possibility of more of the other.

Last year I kept another blog, 'Te tau okioki: the sabbatical diaries,' while I spent my sabbatical year in Sydney and Toronto and several other places. I loved the blog because it became a place where I could write and, of course, to think. My last post was written when I landed at home in mid-June. The blog post was short: "I'm home in Aotearoa. This is where things make sense: this is at the centre."  I have missed blogging but my 'blogging time' has been spent doing other things: moving countries, starting a new job, reconnecting with friends in Hawai'i, building a relationship with Vula up to (and beyond!) our wedding a week and a half ago, working on research projects with deadlines, hanging out with friends and whānau who have visited me here, and all that sort of thing.  Every once in a while I'll be at something and think 'I should blog about this!' but the moments pass and the days go by and I have tended towards simply taking photos and uploading them to facebook with short captions instead.

Today, however, it's time.

I wanted to call this blog 'Once Were Pacific' because that's the name of the book I published earlier this year with University of Minnesota Press, and I recognised that the claims I made in the book - about Māori connections with the Pacific - would be the foundation of many of my experiences here in the region. I knew I'd find lots of things to write about if this was the general theme. It's the right time to write about the Pacific.

It's time because I'm out of time. I ran out of time. I was late.

Just about an hour ago I was refused entry into an auditorium on campus where Benedict Anderson is talking about nations and nationalism... I was refused entry because I was late... and I was late because I was getting some more paperwork sorted to support Vula's applications for visas into the US and NZ. The irony is astounding: it's so harsh and clear it's almost a cartoon. It's the theoretical catch-22. Nations are imagined - the US isn't 'real' in any natural form but rather it's a fiction that we all agree to through symbolic means and practical behaviours - but national borders mean Vula can't be here beside me. We're all refused entry: me into the auditorium, Vula into the US. The borders are policed in ways that are invisible to those people who are already inside, enjoying the airconditioning, wondering why on earth people who want to attend such lectures don't get there quarter of an hour early like them.

Vula and I have chosen a future in which we will stand - sometimes confidently, sometimes precariously - on wharves. Arrivals and departures. We once were Pacific. We still are.