13 February 2013

Camp Mother Faces Her Fear

Grown ups are meant to be brave. Mothers especially. We are meant to be the ones who instil confidence, face difficulties stoically and be the rock upon which our little people lean, the safe place for them to land when they fall.

But sometimes mummies get scared too.
Sometimes we are the ones who are curled up in a fetal position, sniffing and wailing, I don't want to gooooo...!
Oh, not you? Fine, just me then.

OK I may have exaggerated slightly, it may not have been the fetal position or the wailing, but on Monday morning as I faced the prospect of going away with Miss Fab as Parent Help on her Marae* Camp, I was overwhelmed and terrified.
It wasn't the prospect of meeting and mixing with the other parents when I have been feeling less-than-confident socially, lately.
It wasn't even the prospect of sleeping on a mattress in the Wharenui with sixty boisterous children.
It was Fear of the Powhiri.
Protocol HeebieJeebies.
Culture Terror.

[the Wharenui]

I haven't always been this way.
Going onto a marae used to be no big deal for me. I've lost count of the number of trips and camps we took in my youth work days where we slept "Marae-style" under one big roof in the Wharenui.
I knew the basics of the protocol.
Shoes off at the door. No sitting on tables. Ladies at the back for the powhiri. Hongi the men, kiss the women.

Sweet. No losing sleep over the prospect of a marae trip back then.
Until the fateful day it all changed.
The day of my Humiliation.
The day I ran weeping from the building never to sit through another powhiri again... until now.

[sleeping "marae-style"]

What happened, Simoney? you may be asking.
What turned your love and fascination for Maori culture into stomach churning, knee-knocking fear?

It happened like this.
It was February 2000. I was handing over the reigns of CLS, the education programme I started back in the Nineties. I had started my new job, and all that remained was that final official farewell.
It was being hosted at our Centre out in Otara and the centre leader at the time had decided to hold a Powhiri. She had invited local Maori elders and dignitaries to come and take part; there would be the usual karanga, speeches, waiata... and then it would be my turn to speak, I was told.
As the founder of the programme, this was my swansong, my farewell. My Goodbye.

[weaving a cord for the poi]

I wasn't seated with the dignitaries even though I was the founder of the programme; I can't speak Maori. I am a woman.

I sat listening, thinking of all the things I would say.
Karanga. Speech. Waiata. Speech. Waiata. Pause.
Ahhh, that must be my turn to speak now.
I stood, and made to go and stand at the front when a harsh voice rang out through the room.
I froze. Heat rushed to my face.
She was talking to me.
This woman who had absolutely nothing to do with the founding of the programme. No blood sweat and tears of hers had been shed. Yet here she was, calling me "GIRL" and shouting at me to sit down.
I sat.
I tried my best to hold back the tears.
I had breached protocol somehow, and paid the price with my humiliation.
Finally the incomprehensible speeches were over and the harsh woman was addressing me again.
"Girl, if you want to say something, now you can."

[making rewana bread]

I walked up to the front on unsteady legs. My stomach was a knot. My face was on fire.
I was a girl.
Not the person whose dream to help struggling kids had made it possible for all those people to be there in their pride of place.
Just a girl.
No name. No honour.
I opened my mouth. No words came out.
I stood there looking around the room and all I could think was, "This is IT???"
I gulped and blurted, "Be good, do your best, I'll miss you all..." and then turned and ran from the room, tears streaming.

Thirteen years later the prospect of returning to a marae, to sitting through a powhiri, to stumbling my way over culture and protocol... it undid me.

But I had to go.
My girlie was so excited that her mama was going to be camp help.
She had no idea how afraid I was, how sick to my stomach.
I had to pull myself up by my bootzips and just get on with it.
Go. Stay at the back. Where a long skirt. Keep your head down.

Oh. Am I glad I went.
I faced my terror, I pushed through the memory of my humiliation... and on the other side I found...
Gracious hospitality. Warmth and humour and a kiss on the cheek.
Smiles, and bare feet, cutoff jeans.
Our Maori hosts were nothing like the people from That Day.
They asked us, "Did you understand what we were doing just then? Do you know what we were talking about?"
They explained things, interpreted things and made us feel at home.
No being afraid of doing the wrong thing.
We belonged there now. We were part of their family.

[Poi making]
It was.... healing.
I sat there with a huge smile on my face.
And I enjoyed every minute.
From the poi making, to the potato peeling, to the late-night card game to mattress sleeping.
Nothing to be afraid of.
This is a true Marae. A place with open arms and hori kitchen equipment.
A place where kids can fly kites and if you forget to place the koha, no worries.
A place where they love to welcome people and let them taste the richness of their heritage (and rewana bread).
A place connected to the community, where the people have big hearts.
A place where nobody called me girl.


You can read about how I started CLS here: The CLS Story


  • Maori: New Zealand's indiginous people
  • Marae: A Maori centre of family and community
  • Wharenui: The Sleeping House, with everyone sleeping under one roof on mattresses. Also used as the Meeting House. Literally, "Big House"
  • Powhiri: Welcoming ceremony where visitors are called onto the marae
  • Karanga: The call to strangers to come, "Haere Mai", or prayer
  • Poi: A soft ball attached to a cord; Used by women in traditional Maori dances
  • Waiata: Song (in a powhiri, a waiata is sung after a speech; each side takes turns making speeches and singing waita)
  • Koha: a gift, (placed by the visitors at the feet of the hosts during the powhiri)

FOLLOW ME ON Facebook // Twitter // Instagram // Bloglovin //

No comments:

Post a Comment