Wednesday, February 28, 2007

A Perfectly Good Plane

For years, my mom has casually mentioned that she's always wanted to go skydiving. But it's always sort of sounded like one of those "Someday I'd like to..." things. Then a few years ago my friend Erica and I went skydiving to celebrate graduating from college, and when I showed my mom the video, she reiterated how much she'd always wanted to try. We talked about going in 2005, but never found a good date. So obviously, when she and my dad decided to come visit me in New Zealand, I had to put skydiving on the itinerary. Taupo has the cheapest skydiving in the world (don't worry, it's not as dodgy as it sounds. It's just because the airspace taxes are low), and it has other activities to entertain the non-skydiving half of our family.

To be honest, I wasn't 100% sure she'd go through with it. Jumping out of a plane at 12,000 ft is not for everyone, and it's pretty easy to get scared off. I've done it before, and I was getting pretty nervous in the days leading up to our jump. No matter how many times you do it, there's always that feeling for about 45 seconds that you are falling through mid-air and you don't actually know yet that your parachute will work.

But all the parachutes opened that day, and it was awesome. It's hard to explain just how awesome skydiving it is, so probably better to just watch for yourself. I have to say, though, that I'm not sure whether it was more exciting doing the actual jump myself (complete with some serious spins and flips during the free fall, plus a hit-the-ground-running landing), or watching my mom. See if you get as excited about it as I did.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

New Zealand, Phase 2

Finally moving on from the "living" part of my time here and moving on to the "traveling." I finished work at the Ministry of Health last Friday, just in time to meet my parents' plane on Monday. Now we've been driving around hitting all the major tourist attractions, packing in as much as possible in their two weeks here. Hence the lack of posting.

So far we have seen beaches (black sand, golden sand, oceans, lakes), waterfalls (big, small), animals (glow worms, wetas, birds, seals, penguins), rolling hills (green, brown, tree covered, grass covered), and heaps more. Pictures coming eventually, although I possibly broke my camera today when a wave came over the side of our sailboat.

And my mom and I jumped out of a plane.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Glow Little Glow Worm

My friend Anina is on this kick of wanting to get out and do things. Which I can't be opposed to. So this past weekend she suggested we take a trip down to Waitomo (about 2-2.5 hours south of Auckland) to check out the glowworm caves. Even though I will be going there next week with the family, I thought it would be worthwhile to test out the activities before their arrival. (For anyone searching for stuff to do in Waitomo, I highly recommend the Raft, Rap n Rock company).

The caves don't exactly stick out from the rest of the landscape. We drove down this windy dirt road in the middle of nowhere and the driver parked the van at a dead end. Either we were about to see something really cool, or be the subjects of a new horror movie. Fortunately, it was the former, but only if we learned to abseil properly. Here I am practicing on some rope tied to a fence.

Abseiling was pretty much the only option for getting into the cave, 27 metres down.

There are underground rivers and streams and whatnot that take you through a series of awesome caves. This is perfect for what they call "black water rafting", basically floating around on an inner tube in pitch black caves. There are no rapids, unfortunately, but I think going over rapids in pure darkness might be too much for me. As you can tell, I was pretty busy running into rocks as it was.
I guess to say that it was pitch black is not really accurate because the cave was lit up by millions of little glowworms. Despite being really amazing, they're actually just maggots with excrement that happens to have wierd chemicals in it. Here are some of their little webs they use to catch flies.
Here is perhaps my favorite picture that I've gotten from the past year of travelling. Click on it to open it up and get the full effect. Pretty sweet, eh?

Also in our journey underground, we got to pretend that we were real-life spelunkers. There were all these little crags in the walls that I would never have noticed and the guide would just point to it and tell us to squeeze through.

Getting into and running around the cave was the easy part. The only return trip to dry land was to rock climb back up the 27 metres. It was not as difficult as I expected, but I was still cursing myself that I had not taken up Anina's invitation to go to the rock cimbing gym the week before (especially as I watched her scramble up the cliff with no problem).

Overall, a highly action-packed day. Mom and Dad--think you'll be up for it?

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Lessons from Waitangi

The most interesting part of my Waitangi Day experience to me actually happened after we’d left Waitangi and were stopped at The Warehouse (more or less a Kiwi equivalent to Kmart) to buy some dry clothes. We were browsing around the CDs when three women asked us if we knew where some Mariah Carey CD was. Their features could easily have passed for Maori, so they didn’t stick out until we heard their American accents. The women were from Native Americans from San Diego who had come all the way to New Zealand just to show support for other Pacific Rim indigenous peoples. Wow. I’d noticed an American flag in the hikoi (protest march), and was proud that some of my fellow countrymen/women were involved, but it didn’t occur to me that people might have come from the US just for that purpose. I wish I had gotten to talk to the women for longer to learn more about how they’d gotten connected to all this and what they do in the US.

This is no criticism of the women I met, considering that I know so little about them, but I found it interesting (and sort of disappointing) that American people of color were flying halfway around the world to support anti-colonization in other countries, yet it’s so difficult to put together multicultural coalitions in the United States. True, there is something unique connecting one indigenous group to another, but there are also a lot of things connecting American people of color together. Not to mention the obvious common goals around fighting racism and achieving equality.

You could argue that the women I met should be spending more time focused on the struggles faced by their own people—it’s not like Native Americans are faring too well. But I don’t doubt that these women are involved in their own communities, and more importantly, it’s more than possible to empower your own group while still being an ally to others. There’s no reason why it should be some sort of competition; it’s not like there is a limited amount of justice to go around. Success of, for example, Asian Americans does not have to come at the expense of Blacks, and vice versa. Divisions between people of color groups only serve to support and reinforce domination by the white power structure.

So although I did not make my journey to Waitangi with quite the same level of purpose as the San Diego women I met, I am still proud to have shown my support as a person of color. The effects of colonization that I experience may be different, but my understanding of the need to undo those effects is no less relevant.

Waitangi Day

Unfortunately, it seems that when I want to be in a particular location on a particular day (i.e. Gisborne for New Year’s Eve), New Zealand likes to make things difficult for me. Waitangi Day was on Tuesday, and ever since my boss Geneva offered to take me up to Waitangi for the day I’d been super excited about it. However, an overload at work coupled with some seriously bad weather devolved our plan from a fun little overnight trip into a three day solitary excursion to Kaitaia in a massive rainstorm (about 5 hours north of Auckland, as opposed to only 3 to Waitangi), with only about 2 hours actually spent at Waitangi.

Rather than give you background on Waitangi Day, I recommend reading the Wikipedia entry. Long story short, Waitangi Day celebrates/commemorates (depending on who you ask) the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi, which established joint rule of New Zealand by the Maori and England back in 1840. From what I could gather, the events at Waitangi (where the treaty was signed) are a cross between a carnival (lots of activities and food stalls), a jamboree (people camp out for a couple nights), a government spectacle (lots photo op appearances and patriotic speeches by politicians) and protest demonstration (see if you can find footage of when Queen Elizabeth visited and got stuff thrown at her). So obviously I wanted to go.

I was fortunate enough to go to Waitangi not really as a tourist, or at least as a tourist in disguise. Instead of just braving the activities myself, as I saw other tourists doing, I was fortunate to have an insider edge. My friend William, who is very involved in and well-connected to the Maori community, took me around and provided access to people and places that most tourists would not be able to approach.

A few entries ago, I wrote about how my race creates a different experience for me over here than if I were, for example, white. Like a lot of situations, both here and in the States, things would be easier if I were white. However, at all the Waitangi Day events, I couldn’t help but think about how being a person of colour was actually very much to my benefit. Not that William or any of the people I met would exclude a white person, but I was able to more easily slip in and out of interactions because I did not immediately stick out. I was introduced to some people as being an American, but people who I just said “kia ora” to and shook hands with may have been completely unaware just how much of an outsider I really was. Granted, my 6+ months of working in Maori health has taught me a lot of general protocol, but a white person who knows Maori protocol still sticks out more than a brown one.

There’s not that much to say about Waitangi Day, since the rain washed out a lot of the festivities and we didn’t stay for that long. Attendance was low, most of the tents/stalls closed down early, and the sea was so rough they had to cancel the wakas and the Navy salute. Fortunately, I still managed get some pictures of all the Tino Rangatiratanga flags.