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Archive for the ‘Travel’ Category

I’ve spent this afternoon getting physiotherapy on my arm, and reading a most wonderful book. The story of an Afghani refugee and his family, After the Tampa, by Abbas Nazari, is taking me on a rollercoaster ride of emotions. Pleasure at reading of a happy childhood, but anger at yet another previously unknown (to me at least) story of religious and racial persecution that plays out all over the world, all the damn time. Followed by a nervous flight from Afghanisatan, Pakistan, and Indonesia. His story then reaches the global stage, as his boat founders in the seas south of Java, and the freighter Tampa picks up 450 refugees, bound for Christmas Island, the gateway to Australia. I remember well the notorious events of those early days when the Tampa was not permitted to dock in Christmas Island, when the Australian government claimed refugees (later disproved) were throwing their children overboard in an attempt to be allowed to enter, and the beginnings of the offshore processing of refugees (which Boris Johnson’s government recently attempted to mimic). The shameful actions and immoral flouting of international law by the Australian government at the time infuriated me, knowing that it would take more than 20 years for much, if any, change to be seen.

But there was pride in New Zealand taking most of the refugees, at the support provided to them by the government and community, and awe at the resilience and enthusiasm of their adoption of their new land. There are laugh out loud moments, including one involving Vegemite and a spelling bee, and later weet-bix and law school. Amidst the normal family tales, there is plenty of joy, pride in their achievements, a Christchurch earthquake and a massacre, and so much emotion I’ve used dozens of tissues, and I haven’t even finished yet. It was nice to find that I share common ground with Abbas – namely, summer work picking berries, and a history and political science degree from the same university.

I have some familiarity with the plight of refugees from my years in Thailand. I wrote about it in some detail here. I can never understand those who so easily dismiss the plight of refugees, when it is only a matter of luck, and maybe time, that it is them, not us. I’ve heard the stories of refugees, of their courage, and the unimaginable steps they have had to take to survive. It’s worth being reminded of this, in this world that increasingly seems to focus only on our own tribes, that love and strength and community are important wherever you find them. It poses a question, that is answered too, I think. What is home?

Every so often there’s a story* we should all hear, a story that educates and uplifts and inspires. This is one of them.

* If you’re not into books or can’t access it, then try the author’s Tedx talk.

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The doorbell rang and there was a knock on the door about 8 am this morning. I confess I was still in bed, though I was awake and checking on the morning news. It’s true! It was a photobook I recently completed and ordered. It’s the first book I’ve ever done with photos of New Zealand, as all my others have been around overseas trips. But over the last five years, we have taken longer trips around the South Island, especially last year’s pandemic trip that was taken instead of travelling internationally. Last year in particular, we decided to take a trip as if we were overseas, and we organised it accordingly. And so I decided it might be time to document our travels, and use the photographs that are just as stunning as anything we’ve taken overseas.

It looks beautiful, as beautiful as any coffee table book from a professional photographer, which is what I was aiming at. Okay, I might be biased, but (I think) you can check it out here.

In recent years, since I really started to enjoy my photography, I look closely at my environment, at the things around us, and at the light. I often wish I had my camera with me, and take snaps in my head. I realised this morning that I used to do this before, but in the early years of my blogs, I would try to describe what I had seen, and what I had heard and smelled and felt. I’m not sure when I stopped doing that as much. I suspect it might have been when I was in Italy. As some of you know, I wrote a trip blog at the time. My intention was to describe the little things I saw, and the feelings and sights and sounds. But no sooner than I had put up a few posts than I was inundated with requests for visuals. I caved, and I wish I hadn’t. It put so much pressure on me to take photographs, and then to find and edit the perfect photos for each post, that I lost the joy in the writing. The photos too, often excused me from describing where I was in any detail. Yet I love the photography, and I love the photos of my travels, as much as I love writing a post without a picture that explains where I am and what it feels like to be there.

On Friday, I went to an exhibition of entries in a Portraiture Award. The artwork was brilliant – such different styles, from photorealistic closeups of a child or the artist in the mirror, to a series of self-portraits painted on axe-heads, each one exquisitely rendered in tiny detail, to a huge black and white painting with only a few brushstrokes, that still made me feel something about the subject. I thoroughly enjoyed myself as I took in each portrait, even if I didn’t agree with the judges’ choices – but what do I know about art? To get there I wandered along the waterfront. I snapped a few shots of the perfectly calm harbour, the water reflecting some of the wharf buildings, the sky blue, and the air crisp and cool, a lovely winter’s day. I then picked up some lunch, and drove around the bay to eat it. I sat on a park bench, dedicated and donated to a man who had lived most of his life in the bay, and took in the view as I sipped my coffee. The fountain was beautiful in the sunlight, the water glistening as its spray was caught in the sunlight, reflected in the water right up to the sandy beach. Seagulls lined up along the sand, taking a break out of the water, or occasionally swooping around the fountain in search of food. Walkers were out in force, enjoying their lunchtime exercise, groups of young women walking in their exercise gear, a few friends on scooters, and several people walking their little dogs. There were even a couple of daring swimmers, though well covered in wet suits to protect them from the cold June water. If I hadn’t had the coffee, I’d have considered a gelato to finish my lunch; it was the kind of day that feels like summer, except for the temperature. There’s a special joy in days like that in the middle of winter in Wellington, when we relish the lack of wind, marvel at the clear, sparkling light, bask in the sun’s warmth, and appreciate the beauty of our harbour and city. Without the wind and rain (that is coming again this week), these perfect days would never be so deliciously sweet.

I posted some photos on social media. It was quick and easy. But I think I like my words here better. There’s obviously a happy medium between words and images. I need to find that.

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This Friday, New Zealand is celebrating the first public holiday for Matariki. It is a festival marking mid-winter and the Maori New Year, the beginning of the return of the light. Our public holidays have previously comprised religious holidays (in a country that isn’t very religious) like Christmas and Easter, colonial holidays such as Queen’s Birthday, and Labour Day (which rightly celebrates NZ being the first to introduce an eight-hour work day), and New Year. For years we have recognised 6th February as our national day, now known as Waitangi Day, marking the day that the Crown and Maori signed a treaty agreeing to share this land back in 1840. But Matariki will be our first home-grown public holiday, one that has increasingly been recognised over the last ten years or more. It marks a long overdue but welcome addition to our list of public holidays.

Matariki is the name for the star cluster others know as Pleiades or the Seven Sisters, that appears in the morning sky in New Zealand in the winter months. It is known throughout the Pacific, and is Makali’i in Hawaii, and Subaru in Japan. The reappearance of the constellation marks the end of the past year, and the beginning of the new. Maori mark Matariki in three ways:

  1. Remembrance by honouring those who have been lost since the last Matariki
  2. Gratitude for what we have, and celebrating the present
  3. Anticipation of the new year, and our hopes and dreams for it

The focus therefore is on whānau (family), on feasting, on learning, sharing, discussion, and decision making, often with a focus on the environment. It sounds like a pretty good mid-winter celebration, don’t you think?

I don’t have plans to get together with others this weekend, but I’m sure I can manage a feast with my husband. And although I haven’t lost anyone in the last year, I will take a moment to think of those I have lost, and those who have been lost in the last year in this pandemic, and those losses that continue. I’m grateful for my husband, my family and friends, my home, my health. I’m grateful that the world is opening up, and that we may be able to resume travel again soon. And I am filled with anticipation for the next year, for the changes I can make in my life, for the joy it might bring.

Mānawatia a Matariki!

(Happy Matariki)

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