An Unlikely Conversation

Rāpare, 21 o Hōnongoi 2016

First of all I tried to find the Māori word for ‘journey’ because we were asked to reflect on our ‘journey’ of learning Te Reo so far as part of our course. My little Dictionary of Modern Māori said ‘rerenga’ or ‘haere’ or ‘haerenga’. Which one should I use? So I back referenced and found that ‘haere’ is a verb, and ‘haerenga’ and ‘rerenga’ are nouns.

20160721_093224

Still not sure which to use I went to the online Māori dictionary and ….there were even more options! All sorts of nuances for the word journey!
Journey

I think that finding out which word to use in which context is the most challenging thing for me about learning Te Reo. I love that in the online dictionary there is so much detail, every nuance of how the word ‘journey’ can be used from personal growth, to setting out, to carrying responsibility, to sunrise and moonrise, to preparation, to actually being on a physical journey. It is fascinating reading all the whakatauki, and the kiwaha and the history around the words but sometimes I just want to know which word to use…quickly!! I think I have resigned myself to the fact that learning Te Reo is going to be a long journey, a journey of discovery. I have long believed that learning a language is far more than putting words together to communicate. It is about learning about the culture, finding out what makes a people tick, it’s about the whakapapa and the feelings and the memories.

Which brings me to an interesting conversation I had yesterday sitting in the hot stream at Spa Park as it flows into the Waikato River in Taupō. A group of Māori men ranging in age from mid teens to mid thirties, I suppose, were there. Some were heavily tattooed with what looked like gang insignia, others were not. This is an observation which has some relevance and is not intended to be a judgement. I will come to that later. They were doing what young men do – larking about, having fun, probably laughing at some of the tourists! One of the older ones was climbing up and down through the pools picking up litter and debris that had been washed down or left there.

20160221_082110

Normally, I am not someone who strikes up conversations with strange men and I have to confess that whilst I don’t believe in making judgements about people based on their appearance, given the negative media coverage of gang members, I would generally not have engaged in conversation. However, I ended up talking to him along with a young woman who was travelling around NZ from Australia. She was asking him about where he came from, the Māori language, she wanted him to teach her a few words.  After a few moments thought he asked her who she was and why she was there.  He seemed to suggest that it is not all about words, it is about who you are. He talked about Māori language being a ‘native tongue’ specific to who you are and where you come from.  He talked happily about how his family had lived in the area for generations, he was proud of his history, that his family had been Queen Victoria’s warriors, that his grandfathers house was over 200 years old – one of the oldest in the area. I didn’t hear everything very clearly (we had a waterfall pounding in our ears!) but he also talked about the difference between gangs and iwi and bloodlines and connectedness.

When she asked him what his relationship with the other men there was he said they were all brothers. She asked how many brothers he had. He thought for a bit, as if counting them up and then said that he had 9 brothers but he had lots more sisters. I wondered then at the different understanding of what ‘brothers’ might be. He may well have had that many biological brothers and sisters, but I think from what he was saying it was more the idea of brotherhood and sisterhood. The sense of belonging that comes from shared experiences, from a belief, from a shared history, something that comes from the heart. And he talked about everyone being answerable to a higher being – ‘rangatira’ – and how we had a responsibility to look after the land – he said that his ‘mahi’ of cleaning out the pools was something he did because it was part of who he was as a custodian of the land. He called it his ‘mahi whakapapa’ – a task that was part of who he was. It was fascinating listening to him and I think he would have talked happily all evening but unfortunately I had to go.

I take a few things from this experience;
1. My belief that you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover has been totally endorsed
2. Language and culture are inextricably entwined and the meaning of words is entirely dependent on personal experience, feelings, context and history.

3. My pondering is how on earth do I ever get to even scratch the surface of being able to communicate in Te Reo in any meaningful way if the language is so specific to whakapapa?

4. Learning a language is all about listening to stories, making connections, immersing yourself at every opportunity.

5. It’s weird how really interesting conversations can happen in the most unlikely of places such as sitting in a hot pool in my underwear in the middle of a river with two complete strangers!

Advertisements

#edcmooc Sleek and white – a utopian vision of the future

I just watched the first two videos for Week 2 and am struck by the sterility of the environments that are portrayed. Where is the reality of a world of busy people rushing her there and everywhere, living, playing, eating, making a mess for heaven’s sake?!  Is the message somehow that the arrival of these amazing products will make our lives serene, stressfree, and successful? I guess that is the utopian model that is promoted but maybe I am unusual in enjoying a bit of colour, dirt, feeling and real life.

Yes, I would welcome less stress and for centuries man has striven to make our working and home lives easier by developing machines to do jobs for us. I would not do without my washing machine, car, tumble drier, dishwasher now that I have them. I reckon that there is no way that women would be able to work full time and manage a house without those machines because, at the risk of upsetting a minority of good men (my husband included), the housework and cooking does, more often than not, still get done by women!  That these machines have had an impact society and the way that we live is incontrovertible. However, there is a long way between making my life easier and the anodyne, emptiness of feeling that is suggested in these films. I think there also comes a point when a machine can’t do a job better than a human. I think that the idea of soul, feeling, emotions has been touched on in many posts and we haven’t quite managed to invent something that can replace the human touch.

But what of education? What is being learned and taught? I like the way that the computers used by the family in the second film are used to connect the family even though they are apart. The child could research on the computer for a recipe but also involve her Mum and tap into her experience and knowledge. They connected in a real way – what is more basic than cooking? There was the opportunity for emotional connection, to nurture relationships. Much has been made of the social impact of absent parents, the effect absences have on a child’s emotional and social development. Maybe that is the difference these tools can make? Maybe that is the impact the will have to change society? I think it is important that in both these films the children are seen using computers in a supported environment, they are guided by their parents. And because the whole environment appears to be connected the idea of being raised as a digital citizen, learning to interact and react within a virtual as well as a real world, is evident. Will this technology help shape and hone the social nature man? Will it change the way we think, act, interact, learn, work, live and die?

The ability to collaborate, share information, talk, communicate, connect – all key skills. But I don’t really see how the hardware they were using does that any differently to the way we can do those things now. Yes the gadgets are prettier and shinier, they have more potential but unless we change the way that we do things and not just the gadgets we do them with, what is the point?  I like the practical applications of the tools in the second film especially at the beginning when the two people communicate about accommodation and travel arangements.  Communication is clear, concise, effective; real communication in a real life contexts.

I go back to the sterility of the environment though because it was striking to me. The work environments had white walls, white or glass benches and tables, there were no pictures, no external stimulus. Even in the house which had some warmth, everything was in its place, it was a house and not a home. The only break in the whiteness was the “living” wall; a wall made of foliage. A connection to the outside worlds, to nature. This motif apears again and again in the course videos; the connection or disconnect between technology and nature.  How can we maintain our humanity, our soul if we don’t connect with nature? Surely a dystopian vision?