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.

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