Monday, 16 November 2009

Burning Man.....

Burning Man is...

.... trying to explain to people before, and after, the event, is so ridiculously difficult! But if you have never heard of it then you need something to go on, right? My first knowledge of Burning Man came at a festival in England about 4 years ago where I met someone who was gushing about having just come back from the most life changing and beautiful experience, showing me videos on his iPod of this city that exists in the Black Rock Desert in Nevada that about 40,000 people call home. For one week a year. These people don't spend money on anything but ice and coffee - everything else is given as gifts to one another. They build massive pieces of art, one in particular being a sculpture of a man that lies in the centre of the city and gets burnt on the Saturday night, accompanied by huge displays of fireworks, performers, music, and people having a beautiful time together, loving each other and being free to be as expressive and explorative of themselves as they choose.

Burning Man is a festival like no other festival, where everyone is a participant. The story of my journey there involves a blog earlier in the year where I explained my part in Kiwiburn, the NZ regional event, where about 250 go and celebrate the spirit of the mother festival. So when the opportunity came up for me to get myself to the US at the right time, alongside my dear dear friends from Bournemouth (who have been going for the last few years and have fuelled my curiosity and desire to attend) I simply couldn't resist.

So now it's November and I still haven't written my Burning Man (which takes place in Aug/Sept) tale and feel I really, really have to do this, for myself if nothing else, for the memory, and for the reflection of what was one of the most epic and unique weeks of my life.
Evolution was the theme of this year's festival and the questions raised by the Burning Man website ( SUCH a comprehensive site for info and to help you get your head around it) were:
what are we as human beings
where have we come from
how may we adapt to meet an ever changing world?

My preparations for Burning Man, since I was in England before flying to LA (from where I would travel to the site) were all a bit rushed and feeling very incomplete because I was spending as much time as possible with friends and family and not organising myself properly so I actually felt really freaked out and unprepared when I left London. However, thankfully I had quite a few days in LA to sort stuff out and that included obtaining a bicycle (pretty essential for easy desert transport) and organising a ride to the site, as well as getting hold of the tools required to make my gifts of lighter and ashtray necklaces for people. One fantastic thing about BM is their Leave No Trace ethic which actually gets strictly adhered to by the public, yet smokers dropping cigarette butts is something that really grates me, hence the manufacture of ashtray necklaces with empty photo-film canisters (thanks Travis for getting hold of these), fishing wire and beads. So, a Burning Man bike needs to be beautified, and here's mine...

Photos of BM are endless, I only had my camera out on I think two of the seven days because it's ALL stuff that's worth photographing, everything is beautiful, there's so much you've never seen before and if you have seen it before then it's never in the context of this incredibly beautiful setting; so really you have to accept that you can't photograph it all! The link for my photo album on facebook is as follows and if it doesn't work because the date changes in time then add me as a friend (Kat Drew). For this blog I have borrowed a few from the dear Jim who gave me a ride to the fest because he's got some of the Man (I have NONE!) and photos can describe it a lot better than words can!!.... and the rest are taken from my facebook album and from friends' photos:

The photo above shows you the man and his complex lattice base made entirely of 2x4 planks that look so hickledy-pickledy in how they're joined together yet perfectly chaotic - actually you can see this better from the close-up below which also gives you a sense of scale in preparation for the photo later on of the man burning:

Right, enough Man photos, like i said i could go on and on with photos but this is a starter to give you a sense of scale, really i want to describe everything that I saw and that happened to me but i know this is impossible, yet i need to archive the memories and being the unstoppable mind analyst that i am, there definitely needs to be a certain amount of analysis as well, for my own self-indulgent psycho-therapeutic desires. I hope you understand.

So, now back to the Evolutionary questions....some sort of structure for me?!!
What are we as human beings?

Well in the Black Rock Desert we are many many things. First we are creatures of preparation and survival - it's a totally arid and hot environment 4000m above sea level with alkaline dust on the ground (this desert is a dried up lakebed, it's not sand, and it's referred to also as the playa, which would be confusing if you know Spanish since playa means beach, but I digress) so not only do you need heaps of sunscreen, water and nutrients you also need vinegar to put on your skin to neutralise the alkalis and if you go bare feet for any length of time they get dry and sore (this I did do one night, um I believe at the end of Naked Day, yeh that story is one that comes much later on...). Luckily as I said I had the time to sort out things beforehand and the ride I arranged to get me from LA to the festival (thanks Jim!) had not only space for me my bike and my stuff but a friend in Reno who we spent the night with and from where we had a base to get all the necessary food and water supplies before heading off to hit the festival when the gates opened at midnight on Monday 31st August.

The night-time drive in is the point here at which I am going to do my present-tense shift because I just LOVE writing as if it's happening now. It was now, then, if you catch my drift.

So anyway here I am in this truck it's a clear night sky with masses of stars and a bright moon lighting up the Sierra Nevada mountain range that we're driving near, along the single track road leading to what they call Black Rock City. The closer we get the more RVs, cars and trucks we see, some loaded ridiculously high with gear and bikes and all sorts of building materials, a long snake of tail-lights heading off like some sort of pilgrimage to the middle of nowhere. The excitement is...very exciting! I still don't know at this point how some of the other English contingent are going to get from the airports to the festival but as I have been informed and understand the truth of, the playa provides....

We join the standstill point of the queue in at doesn't take long to get to the gate, 3 or 4 lines of all sorts of vehicles inching along and I'm totally happily watching all the loads and wondering what everyone is planning on building with the stuff they've brought... it's nothing like an English festival where the general public bring a tent and sleeping bag and food and beer; at this festival people build entire theme camps, things you could not even begin to imagine anyone would have the idea or audacity to create, get created! Outrageous ideas carried out by people like you or me who have used nothing but their own ingenuity and motivation to make it happen! I have to pick up my sponsorship ticket so we get diverted into a different line and it takes a good while to get through it...whilst we wait I'm standing on the playa, bending down and feeling the dust between my fingers and the reality of what I have been reading about and getting actually quite nervous about, is right here and feeling great!

Once we're in we drive down the long track past signs displaying various thought-provoking quotes about evolution, the theme being set in our minds, I am gathering a sense of what this could all mean to me, the symbiosis of nature and technology...more on that to come. I go through the greeter gate at which point Jim explains to the greeters that I am a 'virgin'. So a box is drawn around my feet in the dust, I'm told that inside the box is who I am, outside it is who I may be, and to jump out of the box and hit the giant bell in front of me shouting 'I am no longer a virgin'. I scrub the box out with my feet instead, and wack the bell: YES I'm in! We find the site where Jim's friends have parked up and then Jim and I go on a bike ride to try and find Bacon Without Borders, which is the theme camp I'll be with. BWB is a camp that's been running for several years, based mainly out of LA, the contingent from the UK this year being bigger than ever as our trans-continental counterpart Olly has spearheaded the connection. There is such a massive backstory to all of this it's not even funny...I remember last year sitting with Olly on the bench outside Beechwood (our house in England) as he showed me his bar menu with all manner of different infused vodkas that he'd organised to bring to the festival; herbs, meats, sweets, allsorts! This year he's built a bar, alcohol is coming from many sources and much of it is infused with bacon! there's also PAIN - his bottle of vodka that's been stuffed with chillis for months.

Can't find the camp, seems not much of it is set up yet and no-one i know is here, so I go for a ride out to see the man and then return and sleep in Jim's truck, heading off in the morning to find camp. Waking up to see the playa in daylight I'm amazed and excited yet also quite hugely overwhelmed and daunted by everything, you know how it is when you just don't really know what to do with yourself because everything your senses are receiving is so different and alien and even though you know it's all good, it's still daunting? I find BWB finally and meet some of the folks there, get Jim to drop all my stuff off with them and start socialising but even when Lisa arrives all dressed up and excited to see me I still feel a little bamboozled and lost! Not worried though just unsure what to do with myself.....

So we go off on a bike ride and I recall my first time at Glastonbury when I went wandering with Sooz and felt so envious of her ability to go up to people and make conversation and get involved in things, I have come such a long way since then but feel that sense of shyness again for some reason! Like I said before, you don't spend money at Burning Man, everything everyone gives to each other is because of the pure joy of the act of giving and I LOVE this principal yet find it difficult to accept gifts...

As I type this I am listening to a DJ mix compiled by DivaDanielle, one of the girls within the bacon crew. So many elements to this part of the story - put simply, BWB is about bacon, booze and beats, so it features these three things mainly, and done well - lots of bacon cooking, a geodesic dome with a fat soundsystem, several really good DJs, a bar, bacon infused whisky, chilli infused vodka, a hexagon theatre with video projections, and two art cars, one of which is designed as Jabba's barge from Star Wars and carries a yummy soundsystem, so basically it's a moving party! The other is called Snow Job and sprays out snow made by pushing ice blocks through industrial fanblades. Genius!

Hearing this DJ mix is reminding me of the night I was out on Jabba while Danielle was playing the tunes, trundling along at 5mph with a perfect amount of fun bumpiness, having a boogie whilst watching the playa-by-night, a whole other world of neon-lit people, bicycles, mutant vehicles and art installations, sounds coming from every angle, wind blowing gently and a bunch of talented and individual people all riding together while this music plays and the lady playing it is clearly loving it and so are we and where else could anything like this ever occur but Burning Man?!! Anyway I digress here but this is going to be a tough one to explain as the memories come back in random order! Travelling on Jabba was so much fun, a great way to take in the event whilst being part of an ongoing 'something' and not having all your physical energy drained through endless wandering from place to place. Especially when we get taken to the giant astroturf slide!!

Cleanliness in the desert is so much less of a concern than you imagine it will be. Clothes get worn multiple times (or not at all as our pact to spend an entire day naked took place on Friday and yes we did go on the slide naked as shown above!), sleep occurs at random times, wetwipes are wonderful things and you can't do anything to avoid dust getting everywhere, especially when the high winds kick in and you can barely see where you're going. That's why goggles are an essential playa item as well as a constant source of water. It takes its toll though, after a few days the altered environment, sensory overload and sleep deprivation has an effect. So much so that I wake up on a drip on Thursday morning, having spent the night up partying and then gone to the Earth Guardians camp from where I had planned to join their ecological restoration project outside the city boundaries. I assume it was dehydration that made me pass out although I have no recollection of feeling unwell. After an hour and a half out cold and a load of fluid fed back into me via the drip, I return to camp and attempt to sleep. Sleep does not occur, but a lot of lying down with eyes closed and complete inability to switch off mentally from all that I think I am missing!

But wait, I have just skipped forward about 3 days! Well okay then, reverse, back to Monday...gradually i get to see everyone I know as well as Lisa, show up - UK folks Olly, Holly, Jon, Henna, Spud and Reza. Monday night....ummmm? General hanging out, probably involved a trip out on Jabba...need to check with the others. ah hahaha I remember managing to drag a load of people out to 'Mojito Monday' where we spent a good hour or so drinking shots of beautiful mojitos, during which Henna and I went for a toilet trip, she got her wedding dress caught up in her bike chain and then we're lying in the middle of the path in a bit of a dust storm trying to untangle her...random laughable events like this happenning all the time! I can't list exactly what happened can I, it will take too long. A big group of Kiwis are at the festival who I know from my involvement with Kiwiburn and they're camped really near BWB so I keep going to say hello to them which is cool although after a few days i realise I am really unsure of who to actyually stop and spend time with because there are so many people I know at this festival so decide I really should focus on who I am camped with...

I do random assisting jobs with the setting up of the BWB camp on Tuesday when the dome (above) and bar go up, I get to get creative with fairy lights on the roof of the dome. But these guys are really organised, I mean, everyone is getting stuff done and setting stuff up, it's so beautiful to see and be welcomed into. I am amazed at the amount of effort and thought and finance tht has gone into it all, the creativity, teamwork and fun as well....and hey let me just say a massive THANK YOU for welcoming me into the camp and for all your efforts was such a pleasure to be a part of...

Chronology is proving to be impossible and I am in tears right now as I write this, I am not entirely sure why. There were times I was in tears at Burning Man as well. One was at sunrise on Sunday morning after the night of the man burn, I can hardly remember it besides being in absolutely intense floods of ecstatic tears of joy, when asked 'what's wrong' saying 'nothing's wrong, everything is perfect'! Another time of tears followed the shot of Olly's PAIN vodka which sent such intense spice through my body it had eyes and nose streaming for a good 5 minutes and proved to be a very effective cleanser for all that playa dust that was clogging my system.


So why am i in tears now? Because I know I can't put words to all of this, because I am scared of losing the memories but don't just want to write down a list of what happened, because I am scared of what opinions I might uncover from my mind? Or because I am actually really not ready to analyse what doesn't necessarily need analysing anyway.

The temple was immensely beautiful....i cried every time i went there and I've not ever even had to deal with a close personal loss...

Perhaps it's because the emotions and events of Burning Man were so vast, varied and intense that going back into that headstate right now as I type this is too much to handle. May sound crazy to the reader but it's the explanation I am coming up with.

How do I explain the pant-wetting joy of the Saturday night burning of the man following the day where I was 'best man' at Jon and Henna's third and very wonky wedding at the Mom sign, acid sugar cubes, my glowstick knot of confusion, the dust storm of complete and utter white-out no-one knows where the f**k they're going, following a whole night awake where I shed tears with Jon at the temple for his mum who left her bodya year ago, following naked day and the most intense full-moon-rise, following Infected Mushroom live and a night in the hexagon theatre.

I am telling this story backwards and realised what a massive chain of events occurred and how emotional and varied and intense (using those words again) they all were yet how I really cannot explain them, and do I even need to?

Here's the man burning:

Remember the photo earlier showing you the people standing by that latticework? Can you even begin to imagine how immense it was to be there when THIS was happening, after a dust storm in which you couldn't see a metre in front of your own face and where a group of us somehow managed to find ourselves standing in front of a giant metal sculpture of a woman holding a ball of fire, then the dust cleared and ALL the art cars are in a huge circle, people everywhere, fire performers everywhere, the biggest fireworks display I have ever seen in my life, music, lights, fire, vodka and vodka with Lisa and Spud, the man taking soooo long to burn and topple it was amazing, llike the best foreplay - seriously I know it sounds weird likening it to sex but there really were intense physical feelings associated with the burn and not in a sordid way - just really deep, visceral....

So....walking up to the fire when it had finally become something walk-up-to-able, seeing people running through it, round it, lying naked next to it, standing still in the middle of it, I walked around talking to Douglas a man in his 12th year and it felt so good not having to have small talk conversations because this was someone deep...the crazy and beautiful timing of him saying 'you feel like jumping on an art car' and 30 seconds later me turning round and seeing Jabba, screaming out BAAAACON and jumping on board...then dancing to the oozy orgasmic dubstep of Bassnectar, so loud, so deep, taking Henna crowdsurfing. Passing out on Jabba and missing sunrise and the next thing I remember after that is lying on a giant trampoline having some of the most beautiful hugs and kisses of my life with Joel...this continued into the morning/early afternoon on Jabba whilst Reza DJd from the dome on earth can I explain any of this? All i know is my realisation for this boy having the most beautiful eyes and hugs I have ever known, happened somewhere during the early hours of that morning, and developed from there, VERY intensely.

I am sorry this blog has become a really disjointed and somewhat chaotic/panicked affair (at least that's how it feels as I am writing it) but at the time of writing I am on the last few hours of decent computer time I am likely to have for a while and I want to get this ON here but reeeeally having difficulty knowing how. Hence the splurgeyness of it.

My attempts at decent descriptions began but didn't continue. So many things keep popping into my head at each and every moment I type another word, flashbacks of things that happened, tiny moments shared that would take 1000 words to explain, the order of events is becoming more clear to me but in reverse!

I can imagine myself back into these moments, for some of them like I was not even within myself when they occurred but was observing myself from another perspective, yet at other moments I was so completelty present and aware that I had no thoughts or worries beyond pure love and joy for the moment. Like dancing with my Beechwood family to Infected Mushroom and feeling the urge to kiss them ALL; not that that's the important part; what's important is how we were all so happy and dancing and loving it together and the music was incredible...

I suppose my questionning arises from the wondering of purpose. What purpose does this serve? What ARE we as human beings? The fueling of positivity is a great one to be a part of but it DOES take up a lot of money and effort for just that one week of Burning Man and so where is the 'real world' benefit? Burning Man call it the 'default world' - I like this - you know what, there were many instances at the festival where it felt like we were on a different planet, it seemed like being on the moon at night-time (the fact we were blessed with moon all night to light the way and be so beautiful - sunrise, moonset, sunset, moonrise, from total opposite sides of the sky, that's how it worked) - but point being that the instances where i thought hey maybe all us burners are really from another planet and this is our annual get together party only we don't realise it, or we do realise it but we can't comprehend it to a great enough extent to know WHY? Or maybe that's just me and my own confusion. I remember having a very distinct sense of our convergence being because we were about to be risen to some other place, dimension, planet....hmm, maybe if I explain now that the way the sky looked at night, the amount of stars, the moon, the size of Jupiter - the vast expanse of flat white land and crazy neon lights everywhere - the symbiosis of nature vs technology thing that I mentioned at the start - this is what I mean. Not that I am really explaining it of course, because I don't think I can, or know how. But it's left me with an even more open mind and greater misunderstanding of myself. Of the self i thought i had got to know so much over the last year. That sounds really odd I am sure.

In fact right now I am reaching a point where I don't think I can write anymore. Going to slot all the photos into different positions and make sure some sort of sense is achievable from reading all this, time is nearly up for me with this computer and who knows when a good time will come again. So many beautiful memories and so much not shared here, which hey, is fine, but still, my analysis feels incomplete!

The photo below was taken just before the first of us to leave left the site on Monday. The whole Bournemouth Bacon crew together for the last time in who knows how long, we're now spread between UK, US, New Zealand and Australia! Love you all, it was EPIC...x

To reiterate the questions on the theme...Where have we come from and how may we adapt to meet an ever changing world?

Good questions eh. I have no answers, only, that there are no answers, just more questions. Every Burner knows that right? The art is in the ceaseless asking of the questions, and the beauty of the exploration. Do we even want the answer? Maybe it wants us. Maybe I am being just ridiculously ambiguous because I am tired and have been working on this for so long. Well whatever the case i know I have only lightly touched on responding to the questions yet at the same time my level of emotion and experience variety is in itself an answer...actually I think possibly the Burning Man experience for me has been about something beautiful shared with friends, some new very strong bonds made, countless moments of utter joy, many moments of fun, some moments of sadness, confusion, all moments of interest and value. A lot of something that can't be grasped. A lot of it. Like being opened up in every aspect, masses of information thrown in but no comprehensible way of explaining it! And perhaps no need to. Learning to live more in the moment, helping to sense the non-existence of time in preparation for our minds eradicating it...?


little extra section....
other interesting memory-triggers for me and thought-provokers for the reader:

female ejaculation workshop, limosine portapotties, best toilet experience ever - i had my own red light/bouncer, backwards walking and amazing shadowgames with jon, almost ending up in the orgy dome, bacon-infused Jack Daniels, peeing outside the trash fence, endlessly beautiful skies, Shqwine, Top of the Biscuit, healing(or not so healing as it turned out) zone, finding the couchsurfing camp completely by mistake exactly at the time i wanted to know where it was for the psy-trance party, sweet kiwi Al coming to find me, dream theater shadow puppets, actually the dream theater in general had many moments, bacon and plantain, mystical misfits camp and swing, digging out the tent stakes, this list could go on forever.......

Sunday, 19 July 2009

3 weeks in Japan on NZ$500

Right now I am sitting in a house in Tokyo just a day and 2 nights away from my birthday flight back to the UK and THE BIG SURPRISE when I show up un-announced at various places around England. I can hardly contain the excitement but then life for me is one big endless exciting thing so as you can probably imagine I am walking around nearly exploding the whole time!

If you're reading this now then you're either a) one of the recently surprised-upon people, b) one of the people who knew about my plans or c) someone else with no idea what I am going on about. Whichever way here's a brief explanation... back in April Mum proposed an idea. Stating that she knew not when she would ever see me again she offered to pay for me to fly to England for a short while during the summer. So I thought about it and before long the following plan came to mind - do it (obviously!) but not tell anybody there about it! Hahaaaa! But wait, that's not = get a ticket for my favourite UK festival; Secret Garden Party, where I know a heap of my dearest friends will be. Next = figure out places to stop and explore en-route to and from England. The 'from' is the easy part - go via the States and get myself a ticket to Burning Man, the massive arts festival in Nevada in Aug/Sept. The 'to' was a toss-up between Hong Kong, Shanghai and Tokyo (the options with Air New Zealand's cheapest flight offer). Hong Kong I have visited already, and for whatever reason I opted for Japan, and three weeks. Knowing very little about the place. Just a random 'what the heck' idea....


Next equals cue for endless quotes of 'oh my god do you know how expensive it is to travel in Japan?!' So here comes the fun part - I set myself a budget of NZ$500 (about £200) for my three weeks in this 'notoriously expensive to travel in' country.

NZ$500 worked out to ¥29000 (yen). As I sit here now with one day and two nights remaining in Japan, I have about ¥6000 left. In the last three weeks I have eaten more food than ever before in a three week period, with more first-time-ever-trying food experiences than I can count on all fingers and toes, I have bathed in natural hot springs, stayed with Japanese families, bathed under a remote mountain waterfall, learnt origami, visited the oldest castle in Japan, used the biggest and busiest railway station in the world, navigated various railway and road systems, climbed to witness snow and ice in the Japan Alps at the beginning of summer, learnt some of a new language, visited beautiful temples and shrines and been blessed with the company of some of the most intensely kind-giving people I've ever met. There have been so many first-time-ever experiences, such richness of new culture, that I swear I must be guided by angels.

I want to explain how this has all been possible on such a small budget. I guess it's a bit of a boast about how I have accomplished something seemingly impossible to many with such a long list of wonderful experiences to show for it but I make no apologies because I am bloody delighted and want to share my joy about my adventure and the wonderful people and places I have encountered, and show people it's possible to have massively fulfilling adventures on a very small budget!

Can I just say that the weekend before I left New Zealand I was actually pretty apprehensive about the whole thing and still knew very little about the country and how I was going to spend three weeks there without spending a fortune, letalone where I was going to go and what I was going to do and how I was going to deal with the language barrier. So a few days of intensive internet research and some last-minute decisions were what occurred!

I will move into present-tense now as I think it makes for a better read and conveying of story...

So on this frantic last-minute internet-search sitting in a freezing-cold room in Christchurch New Zealand I sign up to WWOOF Japan, the organisation I have been utilising in New Zealand; they have branches across the world linking travelling organic-loving people like me with host families/farms who need extra pairs of hands in exchange for food and accommodation (and a whole lot more besides!) and frantically send messages to people up and down the country. I research language essentials and the transport system, freak the hell out about the amount of and price of trains, the number of people in Tokyo (36million in the Greater Tokyo area, the centre of which has twenty three special wards which each currently have the legal status of cities), marvel at all the amazing things that this country has, that I knew almost nothing about when I booked the flight, and consequently have serious nervous decision-making-incapability. At the same time I'm aware that I set myself this challenge and the nerves are all part of the experience, that I need these 'jump in at the deep end' experiences, that it's an adventure, that it will be a huge learning curve and much progress will be made from it.

I leave NZ with my now-weighing-21kilos backpack (it was 16kg when I left UK) plus six A6 pages of notes, a handful of New Zealand stones, some apprehension, an open mind, and a VERY open book in front of me! On the aeroplane I indulge in quite a bit of brandy (making the most of the free stuff!) whilst I make my little gift parcels; pieces of paper on which I draw the kanji symbols for peace, love and happiness, and the symbols for explaining 'this stone comes from New Zealand', which I asked a Japanese air steward to write for me to copy. I then wrap each stone with each piece of paper and secure with red rafia (kinda like straw). These are my gifts (I was told the Japanese adore gift-giving) for host families and hitch-hiking lift-givers (more about that to come!) and whoever else I want to indulge in the joy of giving them to! Reeeally coool thing about Air New Zealand is that their in-flight entertainment system is super loaded up with New Zealand music - having still no personal mp3 player it's an absolute delight to get to listen to some of my new favourite music - Tiki Taane, Kora, Shapeshifter....

I step outside Tokyo Narita airport a little dazed through brandy, sleep-deprivation, plane air-conditioning and Japan's heat and humidity. Having thought I'd spend my first night sleeping at the airport I decide against it, get handed a phonecard by a Japanese policeman (I have no idea how it happened either) and make the call to the one hostel whose number, address and directions from the airport I have written down (which also happens to be the cheapest in the whole of Tokyo by far - and proceed to make my way there. This requires a fair bit of faith and intuition, a few changes of train and walking and, well when I actually find the place there's a sign on the door for me to say they'll be late back. No worries, I rest and wait. I am actually by this time pretty delighted that a) I have a room for the night, b) I found the place and c) how beautiful my little walk from the station to the place was and how colourful and surpassing of worrying expectations my first sights of Tokyo are! It's 10pm by now. The hostel people return, are LOVELY, and I get guided to a different building which is where I will be staying, down a host of lovely little quiet streets with more greenery and quaintness than I would have ever imagined encountering in a huge city.

Hmmm, at this point in writing my story I am beginning to realise that I have a LOT to share about this country and yet again am going to make statements about trying to keep it short and concise and etc etc etc....

So how to experience Japan on a shoestring point 1 = stay at the cheapest accommodation you can find! This place was soooo lovely too!

Next = eat cheaply, and this is actually quite possible since convenience stores here are full of chilled meals that are good. Well now, the food in Japan. This has got to be one of the best things about this place. So much stuff I have never seen or heard of or tasted before. I am so glad that dear friends of mine back in England (you know who you are) have prepared my pallette for this! The best food experiences though, come from the families I stay with whilst WWOOFing...

So I only spend one whole day in Tokyo and literally wander the streets with no real agenda and just soak up the newness of it all, and the joy in the fact that local to my guesthouse are heaps of tiny traffic-less hickledy-pickledy streets full of beautiful old buildings and tiny ornate gardens. I then visit the free observation 45th floor of the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building and gawp at the sprawling expanse of the city, which goes on as far as the eye can see in all directions until no more can be seen due to the cloudy-mistiness that it merges into. More wandering the streets follows, plus the investment in a language book and map of Japan.

Next day I call and arrange to head to Numata, the location of the first WWOOF host I'll stay with. My decision-making process had gone something like: must get out of city soon, must get train but not far because far equals expensive, and must go to WWOOF host that I actually have the contact details of (it's kind of a lengthly process to get the phone number for WWOOF Japan hosts), and... know not to worry about it because whatever I choose will be new and therefore interesting and good!

So I negotiate the trains (had looked up route, time and cheapest fare on internet, then spent quite a while at the station trying to explain my ticket needs in Japanese, we got there in the end due to the fact that people here are lovely, I'm trying real hard to speak the language and it's not as important to speak well as it is to try and make yourself understood and make the effort and be creative with how you do it), then I negotiate a bus (with no English words written or spoken to guide me besides the limited directions of the WWOOF host), and somehow get myself to the right place to be picked up and driven to arrival at the beautiful big traditional wood-built thatch-roofed tatami-mat-floored rural house of Sayoko and Kotaro Fujii. Short chats (they speak enough English to make understanding between us), a shower, the revelation that they have a tap with fresh mountain water coming out of it that is ALWAYS on because that's how much fresh water there is running through their property, and an early night. I'm in a state of continuous amazement at the beauty of everything and feeling a real presence, meaning that I feel so very much in the present tense, everything is new and interesting and beautiful and I'm feeling really aware and awake and alive because of it and the challenge is enthralling and does this girl ever stop going on about how great life is?!!!!!

If I were to list every new experience with no description or story behind it whatsoever it would take another 2 or 3 times as many words as I have already written probably. How am I going to work this?! Can you follow this flitting between me, the narrator sitting here at the laptop and me, the person having the experience that you're reading about? Having an experience is one thing and takes a certain amount of time (not that time really exists but let me not get into that one), but writing about it in the present tense is basically reliving it mentally but with only words as a way of sharing it meaning in theory not just the same amount of time as the experience took to have but much more is needed in order to convey it. Umm...I don't have another 3 weeks to sit here and I am sure you don't either. What on earth am I going on about, sorry, interval, as Kat ponders the dynamics of journalising her travels. Cigarette break methinks.... ah okay okay I am not trying to promote smoking but they have a brand of cigarette here called Peace. How cool is that?! I don't even really like cigarettes but how could I not try these? They've got Hope ones as well! There are endless, endless quirky little things about the Japanese that I simply ADORE!


As I thought may happen...weeks have now passed and I am in England and have many more adventures under my belt since Japan! Life is one big big adventure I say, everything is there to be relished and enjoyed, even the down times can be learnt to be enjoyed through knowledge of what learning they will bring and the need for contrast to make the highs appreciable... I know it seems like I am in a constant state of high but there have to be times of frustration, daunting-ness and self-doubt to be overcome for the highs to be felt.


NOW - it is September and I am back in Christchurch New Zealand. Oh my oh my so much has hapened since I started this blog about Japan, it has been totally full on non-stop adventure, beautiful places and people and experiences, wow I feel so privileged and lucky to be alive!!!

Hopefully soon I will have a bit of time to sit down and write all about England, LA, Burning Man, Vegas, The Hoover Dam and Grand Canyon, San Francisco and all the incredible journeys between, through and in these places. Right now I just want to get something posted for anyone who's interested, to have a look at.


Saturday, 27 June 2009

Meditation, band-touring and snow loving....

Yet again quite some time has passed and I have had a multitude of new and vaired experiences and no idea how to squeeze them into a relatively short piece of writing. After completing the meditation course in Wellington I wanted to sit down for at least a day and try and write about the experience, and now as I sit here sooo much has happened since then that it is hard to summarise.

Mind you, perhaps it is easier because it's further away in the distance of time. So basically the idea behind the meditation course is that we're taught the practice of Vipassana meditation - an ancient Indian technique - to then go away and continue in our daily lives. In order to learn the technique we are required to adhere to 'noble silence' ie. no communication of any sort, with anyone, for the entire 10 day period. It's so that you can go inside yourself and feel alone, but to be honest the awkwardness of sharing living, eating and bathroom space with a whole bunch of people without even being allowed to smile at each other was a bit much!

Roughly summarised the practise is an exercise in tuning into the body's sensations and bridging the mind / matter gap, that any cravings or fears felt in the mind are also present as bodily sensations and by observing the body's sensations whilst meditating, and not reacting to or judging them, one is tapping into the subconscious and removing pains built up over time in the mind. 10 days with your own thoughts - what do you reckon would occur? For me it was a time for looking over the events of my recent travels and thinking excitedly about what's to come. Apparently this is because I have a 'chattering' mind and the aim of the exercise is to quiet it down. But I enjoyed the thoughts! One thing I definitely gained was learning how to 'observe' the intense pain felt in the legs from sitting cross-legged for an hour at a time without moving. When I managed to do it, there were times that I really felt totally disconnected from my body, I wouldn't go as far as to say it was an out-of-body experience but it was quite a fun mind-over-matter game.

I really wish i could share more but there's so much more since then that I have to catch up on...

One of the things that camne to me whilst meditating was the idea that I should ask the band that my friend Owen had told me he was going on tour sound-engineering with, if they needed anyone else to assist. This I promptly did when I came out of the course and the way things worked out, yes they did! So about a week after meditation course I am on the road again!

I'm not really feeling in the best mood for articulating my experience right now but this is the only good chance at some long internet free-time I'll have in a while so I will do my best!

Basically the next two weeks I spend living out the back of the van with some wonderful musical people, sharing some great fun times, some hard work and some beautiful music. I work for the band by looking after door takings, merch sales, helping carry gear, set-up and look after lighting them as best i can with what's available at each venue. Also general helpfulness such as cooking and remembering things that people forget. It's a great way for me to expand my music-related experience, I've wanted for a long time to go on the road with a band and see things from the perspective of being on the road as opposed to fixed in the one venue like I was back in England. It's very easy to understand how bands find it so hard to arrive 'on time' now, with some nights not finding sleep til 4am then an 8am start to drive to the next town, stops en route etc....

The band's called Hikoikoi, they're based in Wellington and are getting some great press and reviews, it's tough to categorise their music, it's rootsy New Zealand music with dubby, jazzy, reggae vibes and conscious lyrics. (New Zealand has some sweeeeet music by the way, I have found so much amazing stuff since I've been here and the people here are well into their multi-genre music appreciation!)...I couldn't have wished for a better first-time on the road, we all gel so well together and share some beautiful times....natural hot springs in the moonlight, after-hours drinking/chatting/jamming, van/trailor loading jigsaw puzzles, sleeping on floors & sofas, picnic by lakes & oceans, radio interviews, swine flu pollination (the running joke about the cold I dealt with half-way through the tour)... ah yet again too much to be able to summarise. Getting to know a band at the same time as their music, watching them evolve through each live show and being a constructive part of that evolvement in various ways is an incredibly rewarding thing to be part of and a blossomming mutual joy!
If you are on Facebook check out Owen's tour pics at:

The tour takes me as far south as Queenstown at which point I bid the guys farewell and hop into my next place of lodging - with dear Bryce and Alex. From their beautiful flat overlooking the beautiful Lake Wakatipu and Remarkables mountain range, I venture out into the surroundings and complete the following tasks:

Bungee jump -
Heading straight for the big one, the 134m high Nevis canyon jump. Sorry to say it but I wasn't as scared as I thought I'd be and so it perhaps was a bit of a let down. My god is there no end to my thrill-seeking?!, on Bryce's advice I ask the guys at the jump-site about the rumour I heard that it was possible to jump a second time for free if you do it naked. It just so happens that AJ Hackett's (who invented the bungee jump) dad is present and he agrees to it. Now THAT is a liberating experience! Bloody cold, and a real buzz, flying free through the air with just a harness and massive elastic cord attached! For once I purchase the DVD of the experience to send Mum as a surprise birthday present!! Okay enough of naked's the start of winter in Queenstown, there's snow on the mountains, it's time to get up into the snow....

The mountain -
Being led on a starlit forest walk at 3am and connecting with the sky in a way I have never done before - something about the southern land, the high altitude and the frostiness, this was the closest I have ever felt to the stars, the most clarity I have ever seen them with. Staying up to watch the dawn of another beautiful blue-skied day. I cannot explain how epic the scenery is around here. I get a ride up to the skifield to have a look around and it's all pretty daunting and ridiculously beautiful. I have many photos but am unable at the mo to get them online due to a lousy net connection. Look up Queenstown Remarkables or Coronet Peak to find images!

Snowboarding -
If I am going to spend a winter season working in a snow resort and learning to ski or snowboard then I need to see how it feels before I make the investment. So hiring of a snowboard, boots, borrowing of some padded trousers, gloves, goggles, and a few pointers and I head up the mountain to try it out. What FUN!!! Firstly, being up in the snow on the mountain is something I have never experienced in my life so that in itself is amazing! I am actually really enjoying it and not caring about falling on my bum (thanks to the towel padding I have shoved down my leggings!)..... I spend the day walking up the shallow slope and trying to figure it all out by myself so as to save the expense of lessons and lift pass. Beautiful sunshine, beautiful views...indescribable really.

Skiing -
The following day I repeat the exercise this time with skis. Much harder. Possibility of legs going outwards in opposite directions very scary and falling over much harder to get up from! It's really frustrating, the boots are super uncomfortable and I am annoyed. I watch and listen to the lessons taking place and eventually manage to get the hang of turning and stopping but it feels way less comfortable than snowboarding. This I find amusing since almost everyone I spoke to before trying either, said snowboarding was harder to pick up. Now I've tried both I know which one feels better, so two days later I return to the slope with the snowboard and continue to practise...

At this point I reckon I have pinpointed my issue with physical / extreme activities - what I need is something like snowboarding where I am actually in control in order to get that real rush. Jumping out of a plane is fun, don't get me wrong, but once you're in someone else's hands there's not really anything to conquer because you've already signed your life away, as it were. So the next step for me has got to be to take up snowboarding seriously and overcome some barriers.

So that's the super brief version of what's been going on with me over the last 6 weeks. It continues to be very exciting and this country has no end of amazing experiences to be had. New envirnoments are everywhere and I am well and truly in love with the mountains and the snow. And no the cold isn't bothering me now because down in Queenstown you're only cold when you're outside and that's only to go from one warm place to another! It's the first time in my life I have been somewhere that people are excited about the start of winter and I am really feeling it too! Of course it helps that nearly every day has been blessed with beautiful blue skies and sunshine!

Okay enough for now, surprises await.....

Wednesday, 13 May 2009

A poetic something...

I am on the verge of attending a 10 day Vipassana silent meditation course ( in Wellington. I am very very much looking forward to this!

I wrote the following piece last week, kind of as a resolve to myself whilst going through some tough times emotionally. All part of the learning process, do not worry! Anyway I want to share it with you, it's inspired by my beautiful friend Phil Rickard...

Distraction from the core, no more detracting where others reacting take the fruit away. Regrowth begins today, maintain the strength that's always there, deflect the cycles before the spiral envelopes and hangs you up to burn. Oceans inhabit the soul, the fish they swim free inside of me and inspire me to be a glider too. The sharks they circle in their consistent threatening masses but collapsing is something beyond possibility. Keep moving beyond the stiff cold and feel as you know you always have the boldness to swim through the circle, embracing the waves, gliding with them, playing in the surf like the dolphins do. Smiling, she continues, upholding the resolve to ponder endlessly the positivity that's the key, it's at the heart, come back to the start, where all this began, through love and compassion, reflective connection, mutual separation, embracing solidarity in solarity, clarity in solitude, empathy resumes once more, the neverending quest to relate, to communicate. The best things are never served on plates, no, give me a bowl, and a fork, it's fun to be challenged, so much fun to climb the mountain, so much beauty to be found when you surround yourself with puzzles. Or is the puzzle within? Whatever the case, strength and peace is at heart, there are no wrongs but for lessons not learned. This one is of endurance, patience, and what the hell is 'common sense' anyway? Save the tears for another day, for I am not sad, just in need of some refuelling, and resolution. The resolve is here, there is no fear, or at least none that cannot be embraced and enjoyed. You have more than enough love to fill any void.

Tuesday, 21 April 2009

The word beauty is used a lot in this one...

OK! Here goes. The last 3 months have been so incredibly packed with beautiful experiences, amazing people, creative expression, freedom, excitement, massive learning curves, fun... I could not possibly explain it all here, especially since right now I am being distracted by other people's conversations. I would listen to music but 2 days ago my mp3 player's hard drive packed in so now I have no music to take on my travels. Looks like I will be spending more time playing harmonica then! Which is cool because I bought a new one, in a different key to my last one. At first I thought it sounded really sad when I played it and was gutted that I hadn't just got the same key as before, however I persisted and now think it sounds even better and I am constantly surprising myself with my ability to come out with great sounds!

So...let's go back in time, back to where my Parihaka blog left off (though if you haven't read the other short blog I posted recently then do that before starting here). I am really excited to be able to tell you loudly and proudly about all the things I have been doing, it's been immense....

I return to Auckland to write the epic Parihaka blog and also work at Big Day Out, a one day touring festival where I take part in the first year of their Eco Team, aiding the public with making decisions about which bin to put their waste in (recycling/compost/refuse). The festival featured The Prodigy as headliners; the first band I ever saw way back when I was about 16. And that gig led on to so much for me, in fact it was a seminal event in my life when I look back and see what choices I made and experiences I had as a result of it. So to see them again with all this new perspective on life is amazing. I get right to the front section of the Boiler Room (a huge hot and sweaty dance marquee!) and fully let go with all the sweaty crowd, massive elation is felt by all!

I travel to Wilderland, an organic farm / hippy commune in the Coromandel Peninsula. Full of beautiful old plum and apple and orange and avocado trees, a huge variety of different vegetables. I get to stay in my own little wooden house which has plants growing into it through the walls and a deck overlooking the estuary. It was serene and beautiful, a total wonderland. Great to be out of the city and back looking after plants and swimming in the sea to keep clean.

At Wilderland I assist a fellow called Tim with the construction of a giant fabric pyramid for the festival Kiwiburn. Kiwiburn is the New Zealand regional version of Burning Man. Burning Man is a huge arts festival lasting 6 days in the middle of the Nevada desert, where the theme is community, radical self reliance, creative 'anything goes' expression and fun! It also involves absolutely no commerce, people take what they need and give to each other, the only thing you can buy there is ice. I really want to go to Burning Man so thought Kiwiburn would be a great way to get my head around the concept and reality of what Burning Man would be like. Burning Man is about 60000 people, Kiwiburn is 250 - a perfect starting point and way to experience the root essence of Burning Man!

I take driver's seat for the 4-hour van mission from Wilderland, we arrive at night, one of the first vehicles to arrive for set-up. Over the course of the next few days we finish the pyramid, sewing fabric together with an OLD and almost dead sewing machine. Its base measures 13 metres and the fabric is bright white so sunglasses are essential! The pyramid construction is an EPIC mission, and once it's actually up, which takes about 3 days, I am exhausted and proceed to get stupidly drunk at the free bar night held by next-door neighbour camp SkullFuck. Someone shows up with a soundsystem for our pyramid, a guy called Owen who becomes a very important character in my life - Owen is the only person with the patience to listen to my moans and give me lots of cuddles, on the one day I feel really drained and vacant. The following day I get up early and go all out with decorating the inside of the pyramid with strips of fabric, silver ribbons, balloons, and other people show up with lights, lasers etc. It looks so beautiful! It's impossible to describe, or explain it all, I could write 10,000 words on the festival. It included such activities as a tea party full of cakes and chocolate and men dressed up as women, naked jelly wrestling (which I take part in!), a sail upon a makeshift pirate ship on a lake, a giant circle of people watching as the huge wooden 'man' burnt on the last night, fire spinning (I now own my own fire staff). Beautiful people, giving, partying, expressing themselves. It is also my first experience of San Pedro cactus juice - mescalin. This is a naturally produced perception opening substance that gives me a wonderful insight into my ability to create my reality as I wish it to be, to remember that this life of mine is my own experience and it's all about the choices I make and what I want to see in the world is what I can create. Like I keep saying, this is impossible to explain without many many more words!!! One thing I will say is it gave me the 'what the hell' attitude and confidence to stand in a field singing at the top of my lungs the verse of Guillemots song 'We're Here' which goes as follows:

"Oh yes we're here, free to run and cry, obliged to try and nothing is worth winning without a fight, oh yes we're here, free to go insane, joy and pain I'll find it in the corridors inside, cause we are just seconds, seconds in a day....."

Applause breaks out as I come to the end of my singing and I run away sheepishly but laughing and feeling super chuffed with my free expression!

I stick around til well after the official festival ending during which time I assist with the packing up, the MOOP patrol (Matter Out Of Place - ie. litter - the Burning Man ethos includes an absolute Leave No Trace attitude), and the consumption of all the food and drink that had been donated by people as they had left. A LOT of fun was had! Another important part of the ethos by the way is 'If you see something that needs doing, do it!'....

You can see a great photo album of the festival at the following address:

From Kiwiburn I travel back to Auckland and then jump on the ferry to Great Barrier Island, a 5 hour journey offshore. It's a huge island (do not associate with Great Barrier Reef!) with no connection to the main power grid. People are pretty much self sufficient over here and make their own power via solar panels, wood and hydro-wheels, there's some tar sealed roads but mainly they're gravel. SO it's rough and rustic and just what I need ... The landscape is big, the nature is dominant (only 600 people live here and it's a huge island), I stay somewhere where I have my own little cabin and separate outdoor kitchen and toilet, there's a creek running through the property which all the water I drink comes from and which I access by climbing down a bank through some trees, to find massive purple boulders, a waterfall, and a tiny cave with glow-worms in, a beautiful place to bathe and find solitude. One day I decide to scale the ridge on the other side of the creek as I am desperate to get up high and see some views. So barefoot I climb this steep bank through all manner of trees and shrubs til I reach the top and see stunning views of the tropical blue oceans and green mountains all around. I then find a different way down and go skinny dipping off a pier I find, then, still barefoot, climb round a load of rocks in search of the sunset but alas, the headland is too big to make it. On return to the house I meet the lovely Andy, one of the locals who a few days later I hook up with and spend a beautiful weekend with which involves getting a wonderful guided tour of the island and climbing to the highest point, Mount Hobson, from which the views of the island and the east coast of New Zealand are STUNNING. A very special connection was made with Andy and with the island. Oh gosh I nearly forgot, oh man how did I almost forget to add this...on the way to our little mountain climbing trip we drove past a bay where dolphins were swimming. So I stripped and got in and swam with them. Just me and about 8 dolphins playing in the waves. At times they were SO close I thought they might crash into me. I jumped around with them and stuck my head underwater and heard them calling. At one point the water went really still and they were circling me. Craziest thing is that when I was on the ferry on the way to the island I remembered having had a dream the night before in which I was swimming with dolphins, then a week later, it's what I am doing. The sunset from the mountain that evening is one of the most beautiful I have ever seen and, wow I am gushing with the memory and wishing I could express my excitement more!

After 10 days on The Barrier and a much needed return to nature, space, time with myself and lots of amazing ornagic food, including heaps of fresh fish, some of which I caught and gutted myself, I return to Auckland and the next morning go to the airport to meet Mum, who is flying over to see me. I make her a sign and scream and make a massive fuss when she walks through the gate. She's just done a massive thing to fly over here on her own so deserves a big fuss, none of this quiet polite hello stuff you normally see at airports!

During the space of 2 weeks Mum and I drive 3000km in our beautifully spray-painted rental camper van. Our journey takes us first to Tauranga where we spend some time with Owen who is such a beautiful positive inspiring person: when him and I are together we create this wonderful loop of inspiring ourselves to be ourselves more and it's all so positive and magical! Owen assists me in helping Mum to relax into the mode of freedom I am currently existing in and how to embrace change and be excited like a child at all moments you encounter. We take her to a bar to watch a big fire spinning performance put on by the fire performance crew he's involved with (many of whom were at Kiwiburn so it's good for me to see them again!).

Mum and I then travel to Rotorua and vist all the steamy lakes there (it's a very volcanic region). We go to the natural hot pools, I teach Mum how to dig a hole in the bush to poo in (when you gotta go you gotta go, it's NATURAL) and then I learn how to breath fire. Mum watches as I stand naked in the hot pool at night blowing flames across the water. Epic! Next day we vist a beautiful volcanic valley and watch geysers and gorgeous rainbow coloured stones and visit a massive cave. Then after the short boat ride back to the van a heap of rain comes through the valley and once it's passed us we see what I'd rate as the most intense rainbow I have ever seen. A full rainbow that is so bright and whose ends actually go into the water that is only a few hundred metres away from us. Magic!

The next day the impossible occurs. Mum does a skydive! I do one too, of course, and even manage to persuade them to let me do it barefoot (yes I have a bit of an obsession about learning to do things barefoot, and naked, as you will have gathered. Trying to be more natural!).... but yeh, wow, GO MUM! Needless to say she loved it! The next day we go on a trip to White Island which is an active volcano off the east coast that you can ONLY vist with a guided tour because it's actually the crater of an active volcano. No molten lava here but instead a multitude of different coloured stone, steam, acid lakes, wow it was so beautiful. The living Earth. Oh how I love it!

We then drive to Gisborne, in order to see the sunrise over the sea the next morning from what is the first city in the world to see sunrise. We don't actually make it out of the van to watch it properly but are parked on a clifftop and at least peer out the window at it before drifting back to sleep.

Heading to the south we stop in a town and pick up bakery delights from the place that won New Zealand's Best Cake Award. Pick up a hitch-hiker who tells us some wonderful stories of his travels, then visit a friend I made at Parihaka, in Otaki on the west coast. Spend an afternoon beach combing for driftwood, pebbles and watching birds and the ocean. Next day we hit Wellington and catch the ferry to the South Island. By the next morning we are in Nelson stocking up with organic veggies and beautiful food at the market. We take the drive to Golden Bay which is gorgeous and visit Pupu springs - the clearest natural spring in the world! Then we head to the west coast. Rough, rugged and stunningly beautiful. The South Island landscape is HUGE! We visit a seal colony, some incredible rock formations, camp by the beach, see some stunning coastal scenery and head south to the main destination for Mum - the Franz Josef Glacier. The day our glacier trip is booked for is rained off so we get kitted out with waterproofs and do the riverbed walk to the glacier face and get SOAKED, spend the rest of the afternoon drying out and drinking tea and the next day.....THIS happens:

Awaken to sunrise looking at Mount Cook and the Fox Glacier, go for a walk around Lake Matheson, the famous 'mirror lake' which you see beautiful mountain reflections in...go and get kitted out and jump on a helicopter which takes us half way up the Franz Josef Glacier, where we get our cramp-ons (spiky ice feet) on and spend the next few hours stomping around on the ice, climbing through holes, surrounded by gorgeous bluey white ice and steep rock faces. It isn't even that cold, we're only just inland from the rainforest and here we are walking on a massive glacier. It's insane. It's beautiful. The helicopter ride back takes us over a ridge at a rate which pulls more G force than I have felt on any rollercoaster and invokes some intense screams of laughter!

After the trip we head north again and stop in time to watch a beautiful sunset over the ocean. A perfect day. In the morning we see Kiwi birds in the local sancturary then head east accross the country through a massive variety of neverendingly beautiful scenery til we hit Christchurch and stay at Tim's house. Next day Mum catches the plane home after an action packed few weeks and here's me, back almost to where I began my last blog from.

In Christchurch there has been a load of stuff happenening for me. First off is the realisation 'Oh my god it's COLD!!"'s Autumn time, the clocks go back, there are a lot of English trees around here so I get to experience the Autumn colours after a summer which has lasted since last May/June time. It's nice to experience the seasonal change and the casting off of old and looking towards the cosiness and dealing with coldness of winter. I am excited by it. The cold is difficult to deal with but it's a challenge I relish along with all others. Life is here to be enjoyed regardless of what is thrown at you you can make good and fun out of it...

I spend my first week in Christchurch feeling a little vacant after Mum has left and take the opportunity to contact friends and family and catch up on emails etc. I also get involved in helping a beautiful couple to pack their shipping container - they are in the process of moving from Oregon to the Pacific island of Tonga. Out of this I make $200 and inherit a bike, which proves to be a great use to me as Christchurch is a flat city so with a bike I am totally sorted for getting around. I proceed to spend a few days relaxing in the Botanical Gardens which are full of a multitude of amazing trees, plants and flowers. It is in these gardens that I finally crack the art of bending notes on my harmonica.

I learn how to dumpster dive (ie. fish out all the perfectly edible food that supermarkets throw away each day, from the dumpsters at night-time), I visit the art gallery, socialise with the array of lovely people I am currently living with and then have the absolute pleasure of watching the pianist David Helfgott performing in a tiny venue in the city.

This is an epic night, I travelled alone on a bus to the Royal Albert Hall in London at the age of 17 to see this guy play, such was his level of inspiration to me, and now he's here doing an informal recital in Christchurch. What are the chances?!! There's an amazing story behind this but I might leave that for a while to keep the length of this blog down (it's long enough already I know!). Suffice to say; I not only get to speak to and hug him, but also am privileged enough to kneel beside him at the piano whilst he plays the piece by Rachmaninoff that I used to be able to play myself. His words to me are "Keep on smiling, and seeing into the future to keep on smiling! Positive is the key"... I am gushing and crying with joy when I leave the place!

And next on the story is one that will surprise people the most - I'm sitting outside the library one day and look over the road to the sign saying 'Striptease'. The idea pops into my head 'hey I wonder what it would be like' followed shortly by 'maybe I should give it a go'... I sit on the idea for a few days until I realise I have thought about it too much to NOT attempt it! So I rock up to the strip club and ask if they need anyone to work. They say sure and I am welcomed in. What proceeds is such an interesting and enjoyable evening that completely defies all the negative warnings and advice I had been given by people and all the judgements I can almost read your mind that you are having right now as you read this! The place is beautiful and the people I work with are lovely. They really help me out and make me feel welcome and when it comes to getting up on stage I just go 'okay, here I am, it can't be that hard, just get up there and dance and feel sexy and take off your clothes and people will give you money'. Doing any moves on the poles is extremely hard and I have utter respect for the girls who can do it! I have so many interesting conversations that night, no sleazy men, just grown-ups having fun, it's exploitation of men more than women I reckon but regardless it's a whole lot of fun and a real confidence booster and yet another step in my learning curve of becoming comfortable with my own body. Also I walk away with about $200. I was actually doing it more for the experience than the money but of course it's a bonus! The girls are really into my individuality which is fantastic.

A few days later I go on a camping trip to Mount Cook with another Kiwiburn friend called Munk. He's a DJ from San Francisco and is a beautiful soul I'm delighted to have got to know, and we have a fantastic time getting out of the city and spending some time next to the snow capped mountains, walking along a river bed next to glaciers and coming across a glacial lake with icebergs floating around it. Despite the hot ginger wine with cinnamon we freeze at night and wake up to frost but are blessed with beautiful sunshine throughout the days. We then head back towards Christchurch driving past this incredible glacial lake that is HUGE and the most intense blue it's almost the same colour as the sky, I am ecstatic at its beauty; we meet up with yet more Kiwiburn friends on the way. Party time at the weekend involves going to my first outdoor dance party, which is about an hour out of town in beautiful surroundings in a gorge. I take acid and dance (listening to trance music going 'I cannot believe I am not hating this!') and look at the stars and laugh and fall in love with nature yet again! Watching the sunrise and the scenery unfold is so joyous, I am walking around with such a grin on my face and such excitement and wonder about life and existence and the beauty of nature. Acid is an amazing drug and anyone with preconceptions about it due to lack of knowledge or experience would do well to try it, or at least read some of the positive stories about it and keep an open mind because my experience of it has been one of complete and utter beauty, joy, wonder and happiness!

Back in town I am being indecisive about what to do next, and consider staying around since there's now a spare room in the house that I could actually call my own for a week and after some really helpful chats with a lovely man named Phil, I decide to stick around for another week to further my progression and save some money. So Kitten the stripper continues to play! I am glad of returning to the club because there is more to learn - more moves, more physical exercise, more opinions and interesting conversations, more to learn about myself, more feeling sexy and confident, and reconnecting with my music (I get to pick my own songs to dance to). I spend a wonderful week dancing and having fun at the club and also connecting with Phil, a wonderful soul who writes fantastic creative philosophical poetry that I gel with very intensely. "Freedom is past that wall in your mind. So why not go there and see what you find?!" ... We go through a lot together in a very short time and learn from each other and inspire each other and do a lot of positive goodness for each other. I love the fact that I keep on making amazing connections with people over here!

And that pretty much brings things to right here right now sitting finally typing this up and figuring out what next. Do I stay and strip some more and earn more money (I have completed my initial goal of saving enough to pay for my visa extension, bungee jump and new harmonica) or do I head south, to the mountains, which are calling me to go pretty darn soon. They are so beautiful, I have never before in my life seen proper snow capped mountains until the last month.

So we shall see.

Thanks for your patience. I wish I could write more, actually I will....

In conclusion what I will say is that I have really only touched upon the depth of my experience and learning and fun by describing what I have done over the last few months. Most of the REALLY interesting stuff ie. the big stories and emotions behind it all, are not really there in the list of happenings. People who read this might be a bit surprised at the variety and intensity of all the experiences listed here and wonder how on earth such things are possible and how do I get the courage and the time or how do I manage to find out about this or that etc. All I can say to that is that the more you believe in yourself the more good comes to you, the more you push yourself the more you learn and progress, the more positively you look at each situation the more you can gain from it. Also the more you desire to do good to others and look after them and to look after the planet, the more you get looked after! Of COURSE there have been times of sadness and doubt and indecision and confusion but they're all there to be embraced and learnt from and enjoyed as well. I am free and loving it. Anyone can do this if they want to. Your life is yours to make up as you go along. It's so much fucking fun!!!!

I love you all

Tuesday, 14 April 2009

3 months later...

Hi... shy yet cheeky smiles as I look at the date of my last blog and realise it's been nearly 3 months since I wrote about Parihaka. I have been aware of the time delay yet wondering how on earth I am going to condense all the adventures, progress and inspirations into something that you will all be able to find the time to read!

Hence I have been putting it off. And I still am in fact since it's a sunny day outside and I need to go and buy a new harmonica as well as socialise with the people outside the house I'm currently staying in. It's a huge place with 8 bedrooms in the city of Christchurch(NZ South Island), a massive old house with loads of character - it used to be a brothel! Most of the people living here are training at Circus School and involved in all manner of creative and socially conscious activities.

There is a lot of partying here too! You know what, I may end up telling this story backwards, a section at a time.

Right now I am actually about to go out and try and buy a new harmonica, since mine vanished a few weeks ago just days after I had finally managed to get the hang of note-bending.

Blog might resume piece by piece this time, but I have broken the first barrier at last!

Monday, 19 January 2009

An English heart flooded by Maori spirit: Parihaka and its International Peace Festival

It is with great trepidation that I begin this attempt to put into words some sort of summary of the events spanning the 10 days I spent at Parihaka. I think back to how wound up I became when writing a few months back that what I could express of my experience as conveyed through words seemed so far from the real truth of what I wanted to share. I felt (and still feel) as if the residual background worry of not being able to do justice to my experiences by trying to capture and share them with words or photographs, was actually hampering my own experience of each present time I found myself in, twisted as that may sound! So, I decided I needed to be free from that worry for a while and forced my own removal from the internet and mobile phone world, I’ve hardly taken any photos either, for the last 5 or 6 weeks. It’s greatly increased my clarity of understanding of life; living pure and simple, feeling more in tune with myself and nature, and such magical flow has happened. But returning to the city, to technology, the internet, to this piece of writing, is a sacrifice I am delighted to make for the people of Parihaka, I know I cannot convey all of my experience but my aim is to get the message across that deserves to be spread; even if just one person reading is inspired by it.

Parihaka is a Pa site in Taranaki on the West Coast of the North Island of Aotearoa (the Maori name for New Zealand, meaning ‘land of the long white cloud'). This is the fourth year of Parihaka International Peace Festival. 3 days of music, eco workshops, films, healing and speakers’ forums to celebrate and promote a unified consciousness with all races of the world in our quest for peace amongst us all. I could never have imagined quite how actively this message is promoted by all that is said and done at Parihaka.

The site is beautiful and very unique. The mountain of Taranaki looms in the distance. It’s a classic volcano – a big point on an otherwise mainly flat landscape. Past eruptions have dispersed volcanic flow which has settled across the land in the form of beautiful little hills. So as far as layout for a festival goes it’s great because the music stages can go on the flat bits and there’s plenty of hill space for people to sit on and take it all in, plus a creek running through the middle. The snow-capped volcanic mountain sits proudly in the distance to the east, the ocean to the west. Small boulders are scattered around which artists have carved intricate designs into, and up by the community buildings are nestled the remains of stone walls built in the 1800s.

Parihaka is a very important site in the history of the Maori people. Over a hundred years ago it was a thriving Maori community from which people were captured and sent to the South Island to work as slaves for the British colonists. Many never returned. The Maori, who at first welcomed the British onto their land to share in its benefit, were robbed of that which is most sacred to them – their whenua (land) and their whanau (family/community). It was at Parihaka in the 1800s that the Maori elder Te Whiti was the first to ever use the art of ‘passive resistance’ – peaceful protest and complete passivity in the face of oppression, a practice that was adopted by Gandhi yet its birthplace here is a fact omitted from most history books.

I could now go on to recount the many horrors and wrongs done to the Maori race – the tribal people who lived in harmony with nature on this island for many years before Captain Cook ‘discovered’ it – and in particular with reference to this site. But as is the message and spirit I have come to understand from the community living at Parihaka now, there is little point in dwelling on the past, and every point in focussing on the now and building for a unified future.

I arrive in Parihaka at 1am on the Sunday night before the festival weekend ( Fri 9th-Sun 11th January), to volunteer during the week with the set-up. My first time ever in a Maori community, I am welcomed into the marae - the building into which people in the community come to eat, drink, relax, discuss, play music and generally meet and be together. Considering what the English have done to the indigenous races of the world I was a little apprehensive as to how my arrival would be greeted, but could not have been more warmly received, as if I was one of the family.

There is a lot to learn from the Parihaka story and the Maori people....

Ko te poo te kai hari it e raa
Ko te mate te kaihari it e oranga

The beautiful classical language of Maori uses the words above to describe that “Just as the night brings forth the day, death brings forth life” – that through the depths of despair, one can discover the vitality and joy of what it is to be alive. The Maori struggles of having land seized, people imprisoned and killed and freedoms quashed, have only made stronger their spirit and resilience to move forward. Despite countless tales of abuse the prevailing sentiment here amongst the people is still one of such positive spirit, a view of humanity as one race and an actual living realisation of this belief through kindliness to and cooperation with all who come to visit, no matter what colour or nationality.

Maoris have a strong sense of their tribal identity and this is displayed in their upkeep of customs which they take delight in sharing with everyone they meet. For example the powhiri welcoming display and speech given at the beginning of the festival to welcome all the visitors to the land, the greeting a Maori gives when they meet you; a touching of the forehead and nose and a sharing of the breath, which they say is so that the spirits of two are united as one. I have a strong sense of déjà vu on a number of occasions in this place and soon feel very connected with the land and people; perhaps there’s something really deep causing this, or maybe it’s because the whole community is so welcoming that everybody feels very at home and comfortable here; their stated intention.

Meal time in the marae consists of the ringing of a bell to round everybody into the dining room area, followed by a short speech delivered in Maori giving thanks for the food provided. Then it’s an orderly queue as everybody digs in to the feast on offer: salads, stews, curries, vegetables, bread. Young and old, national and international mix and talk over their meal and each person does something to help with the tidying up. Everybody is concerned for everybody else’s enjoyment, assisting each other with pleasure, and it is a delight to be involved in. This feeling resounds throughout practically everything that occurs here at Parihaka!
Evening times often involve music jamming and it is here that I somehow find the courage to just go ahead and play my harmonica in front of people (almost a complete first for me). Guitars are played, tobacco is smoked, tea is drunk and stories are shared. Laughter abounds and getting to know the characters here is a pleasure. For the first couple of nights I sleep in the marae’s communal sleeping space where I set up a mattress on the floor. The walls are lined with framed photos of deceased ancestors of the community. This community may be poor but they have a lot of pride for their marae and for their ability to look after guests by maintaining mutual respect and care for the space and tidiness of the communal areas. Everybody here says hello to each other, smiles and chats. In Maori ‘Hello’ is ‘Kia Ora’. The community kids run around all over the place and nobody locks their doors.

Each day in the run up to the festival, more volunteers arrive, hailing from Germany, Switzerland, Australia, Italy, France, Bolivia, Canada and USA. Communal breakfast time is set for 7am, and on Tuesday since I’m one of the first in the kitchen I decide to attempt to make a pot of porridge big enough for about 40 people. I get the quantities a little wrong but am thanked sincerely for getting involved. We have an hour or so to eat and mingle before a meeting is called to discuss what needs to be done for the day. Signs need to be painted, caravans towed, fencing built, wooden seats erected, gorse cleared, flags put together and up. The whole process is very organic and people disperse into teams, everybody is here with a common purpose in mind and nobody needs to be hounded into working because we’re all here to help make this festival a success. Still, I don’t grasp the concept immediately, the days are long and I end up trying too hard to do too much and worry about how it’s all going to get done in time, I try my best to help everybody and by the time Thursday arrives I have a stinking cold. I put this down to a general lack of sleep and exhaustion from doing/worrying too much (the week before I arrived here I was at another festival where I worked, partied and had little sleep also). I make hot lemon, garlic and honey drinks to fight it off.

By the time the welcoming powhiri on Friday morning begins I’m sitting amongst Maori elders feeling very emotional (I feel really ill and tired today, I’m surprised I woke up feeling worse). I don’t know exactly what is going on or if I should be sitting on the opposite side of the grass but I am assured I am fine where I am since I have been helping all week. Well over a thousand people have gathered for the festival’s opening ceremony. From the side I am sitting I watch as various members of the community here stand and call out over the gap, in a combination of spoken and chanted Maori, and then some of the women start to sing/chant, from both sides of the grass. I am not sure why but tears are rolling down my face, it’s not that I am sad; I am in fact enjoying the experience. I allow the emotion to be felt as some sort of deep connection is occurring here! Much is spoken in Maori and I take the general gist of this to be about giving thanks and welcoming visitors to the land. Then the queue commences as each and every one of the people who have recently arrived at the pa are individually greeted; hugging and exchanging breaths in the traditional way with the 5 or 6 representatives from the festival / pa community currently standing to welcome them. It’s a beautiful thing to watch.

I am reassuringly told by several people that I should relax and enjoy the festival; my physical and mental energy are very much depleted meaning I have little choice BUT to relax. So the festival commences and I sleep for a while in the giant marquee that’s been erected for volunteers. Rather than trying to help everybody all of the time I decide that it’s obviously meant to be a quiet one for me and that I will spend time listening to the various public speakers that are planned and continue in my course of learning about the Maori culture and the true meaning behind the festival .

At the opening discussion in the festival Speakers’ Forum, Te Miringa (festival director) speaks of Parihaka’s focus on the kinship of humanity as one whole, and discusses what is most important to the Maori - the whakapapa – this word encompasses their ancestry, their land, their sense of place, and sense of belonging. In discussing this he reminds everyone to think about the importance of knowing where you are, who you are and how you’re going to be who you are. I know it’s the reason I am travelling. And to consider far enough back in time is to know that all of us share common ancestors anyway, we are really all cousins who have come from out of the forest; nature put us here, not the other way around.

The message is of togetherness and united humanity, I am so happy and in agreement I want to cry!

Of course the musical acts performing at the festival have their own messages to give as well and the first bands on Friday night reawaken my joy at being involved in the set-up of the festival as most if not all of the bands appearing have conscious / socially aware lyrics, as well as some fine dancing tunes which hype up the crowds and fill me with new energy. There’s truly some great music in this country!

I wrote this in my notebook on Sat 10th January:
“What stands out the most about this festival are the Maori and the young. It’s a steep learning curve and I am enchanted by the welcoming, friendliness, approachability and concern of the Maori people to everybody they meet. And their youngsters, who from the outside could so easily be judged for their appearance and perceived ‘attitude’ (hiphop stylee) are all so friendly, easy to talk to, respectful and kind to all. I have heard and seen no harshness towards me (the outsider, the English girl) and feel a deep affinity with these people. I want to learn more and to help protect their culture, history and traditional it feels a shame that I’ve had little energy to fully experience and engage in the festival, the music, the eco forums etc, I know not to worry because in doing so I have had a subdued status which has allowed another side of things to become apparent – that of the beauty and plight of the Maori people. They care so much about every individual’s enjoyment of life and all they really seem to want is to enjoy their lives, protect their culture, families and future. I think it’s beautiful.”

I also listened to Hone Harawira, member of Aotearoa New Zealand’s Maori Party, who delivered a heart warming, personal and honest speech the likes of which you could never imagine an English MP making. Jokes, swear words, even self ridicule! He discussed the goings on in the Middle East and suggested that the only way New Zealand can help is through the premise of ‘Helping yourself before you can help anybody else.’ Meaning for everybody in the country to focus on looking after each other, so that New Zealand can realise its potential to become a unified country and stand as a beacon for the rest of the world. There is plenty of conflict within the country including a lot of racial prejudice towards the Maoris due to gangs, violence and drug taking in the cities. And to be honest I don’t find it hard at all to understand why young people become a part of this - domestic violence, drug and alcohol abuse in their families, combined with a deep subconscious lack of belonging stemming back to when their tribal rites were stripped by white colonists – being part of a gang must somehow fill that gap, especially if they’re stuck in the city far from nature. I imagine growing up in that situation how hard it would be to break the cycle. Yet I have met Maoris at Parihaka who were previously caught up in all that and are now dedicating their time to their community and the education of their young. ‘Leading by example’. Here on display is the true nature of Maori spirit, showing that the only way individuals can help with these issues is to put positive focus into their own lives and communities, whoever they are.

Being immersed in this Maori community has shown me how the simple act of believing in the genuine desire between humans to love and help each other, and seeing and feeling that in action and being a part of it, is creating a ‘virus’ of positivity that I feel certain to be causing positive change further afield.

At Parihaka they are actually doing something and BEING the positive change they want to see. Community, togetherness, respect for one another and for nature and the land. Sharing; shared struggles and strifes, shared laughter, shared music, shared food, shared duties and tasks, shared burden, shared enjoyment. Shared ideas, shared knowledge, shared understanding that everyone is an individual and needs their own space and identity and freedoms, whilst existing as part of a community where the whole functions beautifully outweighing the sum of its parts.

There is no sense of class, superiority or prejudice here. People have roles within the community but all are considered as important as one another. In terms of the festival, the volunteers who help to pick up litter are treated just the same as the performers – with respect, welcoming and an open heart. Everybody is valued for the part they have to play in making the event a success. Massive credit to these guys for organising such an excellent 3 day festival with no previous experience, and portraying such a strong and important message with such grace and passion.

On the final day of the festival, high winds cause the main stage framework to buckle and the stage has to be cancelled. No-one’s spirits seem affected by this, as Te Miringa explains: “We organically adapt and use obstacles as opportunities”. As I finally am feeling a bit better, I find myself being offered work at another festival the following weekend but it would involve me leaving here on Monday. I decide I want to stay a bit longer, to learn and connect further with the people who live here, and to help pack up and clear the site of litter. By the time I reach Wednesday I am walking around an empty site collecting plastic bottle tops and ringpulls and breathing in the air full of renewed spirit and positivity. It is from atop the hill overlooking where the main stage recently stood that I witness, for the first time in my life, the sun setting over the ocean.

As the immensely long list of different personal encounters, conversations, musical and visual experiences whizzes around my head I feel an overwhelming sense of joy and kinship. I feel a striking affinity with these people, and their ‘facing the challenges, being a part of the solution’ approach to life; demonstrating that love and peace when combined with positive intention, education, resolve, compassion and action, are the seeds of a bright future where humanity lives in harmony with itself and nature. Why not?