I’ve moved location very recently. Back to the home place, my ūkaipō, but away from my home of the last 15 years, the community, the whanau whānui, where I came to belong and felt totally and utterly connected.
The choice to move was the proverbial no brainer. Retirement meant we needed to get our own house to live in. We longed for our maunga awa moana, for the land and waterways that were simply part of our being because that is where we each were born. The adopted maunga awa moana of Te Tai Tokerau will always be special to me. They and their people have been so welcoming and inclusive in their manaakitanga and whanaungatanga. The land and waters of the north are heart and soul of the people who tell me now that they miss me heaps. (I’m still sure that I miss them more!) Thanks to social media we can stay connected and tautoko (support) one another.
“Stay-well connected” was what I said as last words in my final service with the parish and community last month. My task is make good connections in a new place – newly in my old place, the part of the country where I grew up.
We change, so it’s never a matter of slipping back into old connections and certainly not into old ways of thinking. The old connections of family are a real blessing. There’s an assurance for the long-term when you are with your own people. But the biggest disconnection for me is in world-view, attitudes, and language. That’s how I feel the dislocation most.
Here in Central Otago and the Southern Lakes it’s like Kerikeri without Kaeo, the socio-economic upperside without the socio-economic underside, mainstream NZ (“we’re all New Zealanders”) without the Whangaroa reality of Māori and Pākehā in tension yet striving for partnership. Residing within a white world where diversity stems mostly from tourism, from a constantly changing human populace rather than from the tikanga and culture embedded in the land and its tangata whenua, I feel dislocated.
What we see and experience in our corner of the world is not the whole world. This is especially important for those who are part of the dominant culture, the so-called “mainstream”, which really is only a “different stream” from the streams that flow in and around this motu. Enclave-living does not suit me now, if it ever did. I can’t live with just my people, my own kind. My own kind has expanded such that I feel I have multiple kinds, that is, I belong to multiple communities.
What seems important is that we find space wherever we are in which to imagine differently from what is immediately in front of us. Space in which to scheme and dream alternatives and space in which to include those whose lives are different.
In a new place, this means taking the time and effort to make connections with the people of this place. The fact that they can feel “other” to what has become familiar is itself an opening for conversation. Who are these people? What are their stories? What are their aspirations? What are their fears? Here’s what I read some years back from wise rural writer Wendell Berry:
Community, I am beginning to understand, is made through a skill I have never learned or valued: the ability to pass time with people you do not and will not know well, talking about nothing in particular, with no end in mind, just to build trust, just to be sure of each other, just to be neighbourly. A community is not something that you have, like a camcorder or a breakfast nook. No, it is something you do. And you have to do it all the time.
So in some ways things haven’t changed. Connection and belonging are always being worked out. Never static, never fixed, and definitely without walls that exclude and create community that is secure but closed.
Who is my neighbour? My neighbour is the next person I will encounter. And I will treat them as a person worth encountering. That’s whakawhanaungatanga wherever we are – building community.
It’s a work in progress – like our wee house. One day we’ll be able to move in and really be in our new place.
Rangimarie Peace Shalom