Monday, June 26, 2017

New Zealand, ISA Bridging Cultures Program.

Before you read: This is the best condensed version I could do of my first partial week in New Zealand. It might be a bit much to read for one post, but if you do you won't regret. If reading this is too much, the pictures can be found on my Facebook profile! Ginny's photos

First Day in Auckland
Upon landing in Auckland (and taking about 30-ish minutes to get off the plane) around 8 in the morning, the other interns and I made our way to the hotel to drop off our bags and begin our day. I wanted to fall asleep as soon as we got on our transit bus, but I also didn’t want to miss a moment of being in the land of the long white cloud (Aotorea). Just the drive from the airport to the hotel was like no other. Being from East Tennessee, I thought that I was used to seeing a lot of green. But this…this was something I’d never imagined. The only way I could think of to describe it was like a jungle had asserted itself into the city. But as I came to see on my walks through the city, I noticed that the way that Auckland was built was the opposite of my assumption. Auckland had somehow managed to establish its urban network without disturbing the natural life that’s been present for hundreds of years and there was no way to not be in awe at every turn. I also saw a Target on the way in.

While the first day was mostly uneventful (the ISA mentors thankfully taking pity on our post-international flight state), there were still many memorable points. With one of the other interns (Charlsie), I visited a convenience store in lieu of a lunch and perused the snacks that had been recommended to us by one of the locals like Tim-Tams, Pineapple Lumps, and Chicken Chips. It was the first time I got to spend the gorgeous currency that is the NZD even if it was a bit confusing.
The walk-through Auckland was also the beginning of the pleasant realization that Asian culture is a prevalent component of the culture here. At one point, I went down a street that contained at least 5 Asian restaurants in a row. Additionally, the convenience store had more than a few of my favorite Asian snacks that are such a rarity back home.

This day came to an end with a brief learning session about what to expect with our respective internships and some preparation for our hongi for the visit to the Aut Marae the following day. Per tradition, this consisted of denoting a male chief of our group along with the song that we would present to them. After deciding and practicing for a bit, we made our way back to the hotel to freshen up for dinner at the Fortuna Buffet in the Sky City Hotel.

Y’ALL. If you think you’ve been to a good buffet, think again. This is the BUFFET OF BUFFETS (in my humble opinion). The Fortuna Buffet was housed in an opulent building of which during our ascent, we passed by a casino and several niceish bars. Eating at this place has begun a questioning of the way that Americans do food. Upon eating to my heart’s content, I returned to the hotel and immediately fell asleep. 

Walk to Aut Marae and Then on to Rotorua
In the heart of Auckland, there is a marae which is a communal sacred place for the Māori. According to Jason King, a Māori lecturer with the Auckland University of Technology, this is a rarity for a marae because they are usually in the more rural parts of New Zealand.
To enter the marae, guests must first be called by the “grandmother” of the house which is done with a Māori song. But this is only where the welcome into the Māori house begins. As the grandmother sang, we (the other interns and I) removed our shoes to enter the communal part of the marae with the women entering first and the men at the back as the protectors of our tribe. The men of our group then took the front row of our side as the spiritual protectors while the women sat behind them. Jason later elaborated on why we sat on our respective sides as being related to the location of the statues of the ancestors. Because we were outsiders to this marae, we sat on the side with the ancestors of the outside tribes watching us from behind.

Jason then spoke to us briefly in Te Reo to welcome us further and then our elected male “Chief” gave a speech in return that spoke of our background and our gratitude for being welcomed into their house – which quite frankly it was. Even with my limited knowledge of the Māori culture of this point, I was still excited and honored to be a part of a cultural event properly. The grandmother and Jason then sang a Māori song to us after which we sang our chosen song in return: “Follow Me” by Uncle Kracker. Not the entire song, but enough for Jason to recognize which I found surprising. Luckily, this means that he’ll at least remember our group for years to come. After this exchange, we partook in the part of the ceremony referred to as hongi (which is quickly becoming one of my favorite aspects of Māori culture). The act itself is quite up close and personal, but the meaning of it is something I find beautiful. The physical part is the touching of nose to nose then forehead to forehead, and then a kiss on the cheek but this seemed to be specific to this marae. The nose to nose represents the sharing of the breath of life – like the first Māori woman created from which all Māori descent – while the touching of foreheads represents a sharing of minds.

Following the hongi, we shared some snacks as the ceremonial “breaking bread together” part. This was the part where Jason told us that we were now part of the house FOREVER but I didn’t really mind. Becoming a part of something bigger seems to be an important part of the Māori culture and this goes way beyond just the elaborate welcoming ceremony. In fact, the house itself is designed to reflect this. At the entrance outside into the communal space of the marae, there are arms that beckon out to guests to come into her embrace, or rather, into the house which represents her womb. On the inside of the roof, there are rafters in the colors of the rainbow that represent the different international communities.

The mainstay of the marae. 
Women in Māori culture play a very important role in that there are some ceremonies that cannot be done without them – like the welcoming into the marae. Jason aptly put it this way: “Men teach their sons, but women teach nations.” In fact, the mainstay of the house (aka the part of the house that the ENTIRE house leans on) is a wooden carving a woman holding a baby. This isn’t as common for marae, but I think it was a good choice.  

The remainder of our time before the hangi (sharing of a meal) in the marae was spent in a fast-paced, condensed version of lessons that Jason teaches about Māori culture to his university students or members of the Māori community. We learned how to say various Māori phrases like our name, colors, and sing a love song. We even practiced a game that Māori children use to hone their hand-eye coordination which involved simultaneous singing and perilous throwing of wooden sticks. At the end of the learning sessions, we explored the marae and took pictures with the various murals of the demigod Maui as Jason explained what they meant and why Maui is so important in Māori culture. In short, Maui messed with the wrong goddess (Goddess of Death) in a bid for immortality is, failed, and is now the reason that mankind is not immortal. 
Me with the statue of Maui transforming into a lizard to try and kill the goddess of death.
Fun fact: Maui's fish hook is believed to be his grandmother's magical jaw bone. 
To my disappointment, our time at the AUT Marae came to an end and it was time for us to head out to Rotorua.

To Rotorua (Hobbiton)
 So….our ISA chaperones/mentors thought it necessary that we spend the bus ride to Matamata in Rotorua watching Fellowship of the Ring. Following my newfound appreciation for the Lord of the Rings, I’m glad we did because it makes the films even more enjoyable. My conclusion at the end of the tour: Peter Jackson’s unheard-of level of attention-to-detail is undoubtedly what made Lord of the Rings so memorable and one of the few book-to-screen adaptations to be regarded as better than the book.
I still may not know as much a LoTR fan, but here are some pictures with some reasons why and for your enjoyment.
This cat is a long-time resident of the Green Dragon. 

The fake oak tree with 20,00 fakes leaves wired in and individually spray-painted different shades of green and gold.
The hobbit hole of the Baggins'.

Learning the Ka Mate Haka
In Māori culture, a haka is typically a war cry or dance of honor. The modern concept of this has developed into a pre-rugby match ritual of the Māori All-Blacks as a proclamation of their strength and prowess to let the enemy (the opposing team) that they’re out for blood (metaphorically, mostly).  But learning a haka is more than just learning the words and learning the moves and doing them all together as loudly as possible. As we committed the words to memory, our teacher Tiki explained what each line meant and who the haka was honoring. The haka “Ka Mate” was written by Te Rauparaha when he was hiding from an enemy tribe. He was in what seemed like a hopeless situation and was saved by the power of a hairy woman who caused the sun to rise again which allowed him to step out of the darkness to live another day. The movements that accompanied each phrase made it rather easy to remember. For example, at the line “Whakawhiti te ra”, you raise your arms and look to the sky to symbolize that the sun is rising.

After we had practiced many many times, one of Tiki’s coworkers (aka Bros) informed us that we were going to perform for a small crowd visiting the Tima Tangata exhibit. Then they geared us up in traditional Māori costume (halter top, apron skirt, and headband for the ladies and fur pelts for the dudes) and painted our faces with ta moko (chin for the ladies and full-face for the dudes). Before going out for the big performance, Tiki gathered us all in a circle in something akin to a prayer. But this wasn’t so much a prayer so much as it was a moment of remembrance. Before you can even think to perform, you must think of who you are honoring and channel their spirit. According to Tiki, what makes a haka good is when “you are so filled with the spirit of your ancestors that you can’t be contained.”

Our audience for the haka was a local special needs school who enjoyed our performance enough to perform a song for us in return and engage in hongi. After our performance, our ISA chaperones gave us enough time to change out of our haka-wear and properly explore the Tima Tangata exhibit. Tima Tangata is an ongoing exhibition that is in honor of the Māori history of rugby. While looking around, I took a chance to speak with Tiki’s colleague (whose never I, unfortunately, cannot clearly recall) who had a partial moko on his face that seemed to extend over his chest and arms. I had the assumption that ta moko is something that a person must earn but to him, it is ultimately up to each person to decide when they are ready and how to they want to show theirs. He told me that he came from a bad life and made a lot of bad choices that he had to keep working past to become better, or worthy of his moko. Related to this, the steps refer to stepping up (like haka) and realizing that things are bigger than just yourself and our responsibility to be better for not just ourselves. His example of this was that rugby had changed him for the bitter and he wanted to give back by helping with the exhibit. This belief of wanting to give back to something bigger is something that comes up in Māori culture a lot and just goes to show how immersive and united their culture is. 
The Tima Tangata exhibit sign. 
Keep an eye out for my link to the video of my group's haka!!!

Going to Wai-O-Tapu 
So fun fact: there are natural geothermal mud pools that are basically giant boiling pots on the route to Wai-O-Tapu. It was really dark and didn’t smell very pleasant, but still, a fascinating sight as you can see. 

Coming up next: sad Ginny in a heavy downpour as an explanation for why she doesn't have many pictures of Wai-O-Tapu with her fancy camera. 

And last day that part of NZ at the Hamilton Gardens can be seen in one of the albums the link above!!

Thanks for reading and stop by later this week to hear about my first week as an intern in Wellington!!!