So, why indeed?
I’ve always had an interest in languages. I speak fluent Hebrew – which I learnt the immersion method i.e. living in Israel for 12 years. I’ve thought of other languages that I’d like to to learn like German which is both my parents mother tongue. Spanish and Japanese would be interesting too. But I live in Aotearoa and the first language here is Maori. Since I’ve been here I’ve been drawn to the Maori culture and I passionately believe that its important to preserve this language – the whole culture of a people is embedded in the language. Lose the language, lose the culture. Living here, I feel its my responsibility to do my small part. It dosn’t really feel like my learning Maori could make any difference but hey I guess if everyone said that about what they believe in, nothing would happen. I suppose I feel a bit like an ambassador but that’s just the start of it. There are many other thoughts and feelings that I have as I continue on this journey.
Of course I’m also doing this for my own personal reasons. I want to feel as though I can achieve something. My sense of self worth has a low default setting. Having past the 50 year old mark, I’m probably going through a mid life crisis – I have questions about the purpose of my life and what it is that I have achieved. I brought up my beautiful son as best as I could. I worked as a counsellor/ support worker/ advocate for people who were marginalised either by disability or difference or trauma or any combination of those. Maybe I made a little bit of a difference.. ? Maybe very slightly with a couple of people for a short time. Now its time for this new journey, wherever it takes me.
At the end of the day when all is said and done I am falling in love with te reo Maori and every day I learn a little more about the culture, the tikanga and I love it all the more. Can you have a love affair with a language?
What is it like – this “immersion” into Maori culture/language?
Its like getting into a waka and going to another place, a different country.
Where the language is Maori.
The customs are Maori.
The rules are Maori.
I am a foreigner, a Pakeha.
Welcome but nevertheless a foreigner.
Well not really, a bit, sort of… well actually no, not yet.
The path this waka takes is pretty stormy.
Its filled with emotion.
This is what its like to be a new immigrant
in a land where my language is not dominant.
Te reo Maori is taking me over
It really is immersion
I want to run away
I feel like I’m not in control
My brain is straining, hurting, stretching
Is this how it feels when new neural pathways are being forged?
I feel slow
I feel old
I wake at night a lot
Hot flashes ( what a punishment)
Heat radiates from my core and out to the rest of my body
Then, kupu Maori enter my befuddled brain
Bits of this and bits of that
A word here and word there
Random and in no particular order
A tune of a Waiata but I cant remember which one it belongs to
Bits of Karakia
I try to make sense of what we are learning
I can’t so I get up make a cuppa and read, if Im lucky I’ll fall asleep for a couple of hours till the next hot flash, Torture!
Is this what its like to learn a new language.
February 2012 (entry 1)
I am not sure how normal it is that it is soooo hard to retain the new words I am learning.
I take say, four words of a song I am learning. I say it a few times, I say it many times. I go off and do something else. I come back to it – I’ve forgotten! So I look again at the words, I say them another few times, I try to find little ways of remembering. Thinking of a rhyming word or associating it with an English word, and so it goes on, its like pulling teeth. I come back to it later – forgotten! I’ve never been one for patience. Little by little I remember a word, a phrase, I get used to the sound of it. Repetition is the only way that works over and over and over again. Then there’s some young people in the class- they pick it up and REMEMBER! That makes me feel my age.
So slowly I move along, word by word. I am only at the beginning and I feel there are challenges on many levels. I find myself really hoping I can persevere for a whole lot of reasons I will go into more about later. Like I remembered from my few past experiences I love the waiata and seem to do better at learning words when in the context of music. Music has always been a great passion of mine so no surprise there.
February 2012 (entry 2)
Feeling really blah about it today.
Every day I am trying to memorise words and my retention is so slow. I get it, then the next time I try to say it, its just not there. Is my age, menopause or just my brain not being used to work? Maybe its a bit of all of the above. In any case it of course makes me wonder why I am doing this – what for? Where am I going to use it anyway? Who do I think I am? Its way too early for me to be feeling despondent – I knew I would hit walls but surely not yet… and the group thing. I am so not a group person – I seem to lose myself when in a group. And of course this type of immersion learning IS all about doing it in the group. So can I be part of that? Really? As a Jewish, neurotic, reclusive, menopausal Pakeha woman???? Hang in there!
So Oy vey in wikipedia is:
Oy vey (Yiddish: אױ װײ), oy vay, or just oy—or even more elaborately oy vey, oh weh!—is an exclamation of dismay or exasperation like “woe is me”.
The Maori dictionary simply translates Ka pai as:
ka pai 1. good.
The “ka” actually indicates a future tense so I would say it was also “it will be good” or maybe even a kind of “She’ll be right”
These two things are almost like polar opposites. Hmmmm Me learning Te Reo? – This could make for an interesting experience.
Here I was a 50+ year old Jewish/Pakeha woman muddling along in life, constantly questioning my identity and my purpose in life. I was working part time, and still am, at the Library following a severe car accident 4 years ago which has made working full time difficult.
The calling towards the Maori culture has been with me since I arrived in Aotearoa and after reading an article in the local paper, about 3 years ago, about a family who were learning te reo Maori on a local Marae, I decided to investigate. It took me a while to make contact and when I did I was told in no uncertain terms that I had to be 100% committed in order to do the course. I was told that although was a part time evening course to allow for people who work, it demanded a lot of work outside of class hours as well. I was to find out how true those words were. As it was already part way into the year, I had to wait for the 2012 intake but I was invited to attend the Matariki celebration happening soon.
I still remember literally shaking when I went down to Te Herenga Waka o Orewa for Matariki that morning. I had no idea what to expect and I felt like some sort of intruder or imposter. Somehow I managed to push through the discomfort and as an observer enjoyed the day. Of course as soon as the powhiri and waiata began I was hooked.
I guess I have a brave side to myself that does push through all sorts of insecurities that has served me well in the past and helped me to achieve small but significant things. So, with all of that, this neurotic Jewish woman persisted for many different reasons and enrolled later that year into the certificate course ” Te Pokaitahi Ngapuhi Nui Tonu – Te Reo” (Level 3).
My parents are both German-Jewish survivors/immigrants of the Nazi regime and the 2nd WW. I was born in Melbourne, Australia then moved to live in Israel in 1978 at the age of 19. My Son was born in Israel and was 4 years old when we came to live in Aotearoa in 1990.
I remember early on feeling attracted to the Maori culture. My son went to Freemans Bay primary school for his first three years and I remember the Maori immersion unit there having a powhiri which we attended. I didn’t understand the process or content, but what I do remember was getting really emotional when they did a karakia/waiata. I felt all choked up, it hit me deep inside. To this day Maori waiata continues to have this effect on me.
My next memory is when I was studying Psychotherapy at AUT. (1992 -1995) An emotional roller coaster in itself, right from the outset there was a Maori component to the course. This has changed and grown incredibly since then and I believe the course now has a Maori pathway in its own right which is a great achievement. Back then though we did some learning of tikanga Maori concepts and with a noho marae for a weekend each year. These hui were held at Hoani Waititi Marae and were quite intense and memorable experiences.