Tracks of time – Containment (Nauru)

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In 2008 I was invited to join a board called Global Dialogue Foundation (GDF)[u], which at that time was gearing up to spread its wings across the Pacific Basin to help with the redistribution of surplus resources from hospitals first, and then schools.  I was instated as the coordinator of Pacific Operations.  I was recognised because of my link, passion and involvement with Kiribati and Tuvalu, the primary props for the international debates on Climate changing, environmentally challenged zones of the remote Pacific.

I was also working at Ernst & Young(EY)[v], looking after Partner Matters, where my daily role and annual KPI’s was to deal with all administration of the Partners databases and HR protocols, inductions and annual assessments.  I was inspired by the 447 Partners I looked after, throughout Australia, New Zealand, Fiji and Jakarta.  I saw where big monies were set as targets and quality performance with integrity was the final sign off for annual bonuses.

While I appreciate the EY tag was a big drawcard to my name, I honestly believe that those who knew me, trusted me to be doing to the right thing for my people (The families in Kiribati and Tuvalu) and was not on a self-promotional campaign to increase my own popularity.

However many people in both my own Kiribati and Tuvaluan communities, based here in Melbourne, would utter the whispers that ‘It’s just Emeretta trying to promote her MerethanVision business’.  I initiated MerethanVision when both communities would not become incorporated with an Australian Business Number – and the organisations that could offer funds for performers needed that string of numbers (ABN).  MerethanVision was merely a blanket to cover the Youth I called to represent their Kiribati or Tuvaluan connections.  So that NGO’s and Councils could refer to an ABN in their administrative red tape of processes.  To this day, it is merely my personal email address.  Not really a business.  (I was constantly reminding myself, Light does travel faster than the speed of Sound – people often missed the Enlightenment, but jumped at the Sound)  

In attending board meetings with GDF and sharing the developments amongst any who would listen at EY – I was motivated to keep pushing for a robust activity, where the communities in Melbourne, could engage with a transport company, to distribute surplus materials to their own needy regions.  Partners and Hospitals came to the table of initial discussions.  “The Can-do” cards were played and the lists of sponsors and contributors began to take form, to make a difference in the regions that needed the most help.  Starting with Kiribati.

Kiribati Independence 2009, I won the round trip ticket to Tarawa and there was the final tick for me, personally, that I COULD DO THIS!

December 2009 I headed off to Tarawa with my 7 yr. old son and began the many conversations with Ministers and officials in the Health Sector and Transport Industry about bringing containers of supplies.  More ticks, more personal motivation.

Jan 2010 – after New Year’s celebrations, I was afflicted with a mosquito bite that festered in the tropical heat and became the size of a big biscuit in 7 days.  The angry, blood and pussy crater was the result of a common virus that eats flesh and had evolved aggressively due to the higher concentration of salinity in the rain or fresh water catchments in Kiribati.  Lucky for me, I was heading to Suva for 2 weeks, some R&R with my son.  I spent 6 days in Suva hospital and had a chance to think and reflect.  This is yet another tick in my quest to improve things for Kiribati.  If this is what happens to me as an adult, what about the small children and babies who couldn’t speak?

I returned to Melbourne with a healing gaping sore on my right shin.  It healed eventually leaving a scar that looks like a purple full moon on my lower right leg.  I see it every day as a reminder that children in remote communities suffer.

March 2010, As Pacific Operations Coordinator for GDF, I had promoted that GDF had a container earmarked to leave Melbourne for Kiribati.  However, there was a strategic change of plans – and GDF were no longer looking at container movements, rather, they were going to focus on their alignment with the UN-Alliance of Civilisations (UN-AOC)[w].  A conference called ‘101010’ was the new priority.  Meanwhile my words in Kiribati circles – promising a container seemed to fall to the ground and in my heart made a sound of emptiness.

GDF CEO Peter Georgevski is a man of his words; he introduced me to North Essendon Rotary who took up the mantle of sending a container to Kiribati.  I Introduced the Melbourne Kiribati Community President to the Rotarians and left them operate at their own accord.  Through fundraising and networking, they have already sent 2 containers to Tarawa.

September 2010 – I resigned from the GDF Board, as the priority with UN-AOC didn’t match the outcomes I was intending to facilitate – container movement.

My peers at EY reminded me that NGO’s are a dime a dozen globally, but EY success as a global firm was primarily because they have a stringent selection criteria and they hold their values in the highest stead.  Individuals in the company are a priority and while the clients and accounts remain their economical modus operandi, their targets and goals are shared on a whole.

During this time – EY experience a major shift in geographical terms of business zones.  Our Oceanic region became Asia Pacific.  My 4 countries of Partners became 22 – and the numbers of Partners we administered to went from 447 to 572.  My Executive Director (I reported to the one person) became head of HR Oceania and our workload became immensely detailed.  I was given the option of choosing another division, or changing my flexi-attitude from juggling community engagements and focusing totally on the role.  A pay-rise would have been in order and my reputation would have been catapulted in wider parts of the company.  I am a natural at being the centre of attention, if I want to be.   (My Octopus-like aptitude of changing between cultures, a gift from God – I believe quintessential gifts are meant to be shared.)

In another blog – I’ll relay the period between my exit from EY to the community sector.

Time has a magnificent way of making one realise they are traveling on an endless train track.  Often running parallel to other trains that vary in sizes and colour.  On tracks that are Inter-weaving, or smoothly passing another train going in the other direction.  Picking up and dropping off passengers you meet along the way.  Many times solitary, over vast, desolate plains where the threat of a breakdown is risky, but the challenge to reach our final destination is the priority.  Picking up something new, not in age but in learning and dropping off excess baggage or people when the carriage is heading for havoc.

The news of refugees in Nauru[x] is what is making me scratch my head.  The history of that island, ravaged by the mining of their rich phosphate and the economical vantage they held during the 70’-90’s where empirical towers were built in capital cities around the world – the Iconic Nauru Houses, which have since been refurbished or sold by mostly government sections of Planning.

I wonder.  How come we had no Advisory capacity where dialogue has existed for a number of years to connect the tracks of containers and surplus resources to those regions that need?  Why is there a knee-jerk reaction to dealing with the influx of refugees from the various regions that are having difficulty?  If the Australian government thinks our voice will be heard on a UN-Security Seat[y] why can’t we demonstrate that we know how to fix that state that Nauru sits?

My communities in the regions would be able to offer support, in building and security.  Employment for those regionals has been offered by DEEWR to bring islanders to Australia to pick fruit[z].  In both Kiribati and Tuvalu, the Public Service Office (PSO) manages a register of Human Resources, who are skilled and versatile, adaptable and quite compatible with the weather conditions in Nauru.  There is an available task force in both Kiribati and Tuvalu, to manage, counsel and support the needs of the refugees who come from different terrains, cultures, religions and above all things; they are from a strong Patriarchal order.  The respect and dignity that men lack in detention would be freely administered, by likeminded men.

When Australian’s land in Nauru, they are first met with a blazing heat, which quickly turns to motivation for them to hurry back home.  As contractors, they do their job and move on out.

From Corporate to Community – lots of money is spent on talking, but nothing coming to fruition for the people who need real direction.

[u] http://www.globaldialoguefoundation.org/

[v] http://www.ey.com/AU

[w] http://www.unaoc.org/about/high-representative/

[x] http://newmatilda.com/print/12880

[y] http://www.heraldsun.com.au/news/breaking-news/pm-says-un-does-matter-to-australia/story-e6frf7kf-1226505454720?sv=36909a2a042d0efc592ee4cbc9914448

[z] http://www.deewr.gov.au/Employment/Programs/pswps/Pages/default.aspx

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Rise of the Backbone

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performing the Rise of the Backbone (in Federation Sqr)

Saturday 16th June 2012 will forever be etched into my mind, as I had my first ‘tatau’ etched into my skin.

Most people, who have found inkling for inking, go to a parlour and have a yarn, flick through some albums and machine the memories for future sake.  However, I had mine done in Melbourne’s Central Business District (CBD), smack in the middle of Federation Square, in an artistic installation, erected for the Winter Solstice Festival, called “Close Encounters”.  If you remember the movie cover of the same name, there was a spaceship, with a bright round white light, beaming down on a little boy.  This is what my platform resembled.

Ironic, because the closest thing to an actual ‘Close Encounter’ with an alien craft was the invasion we all know about.  When Christian missionaries arrived on floating vessels, which appeared over the horizon and grew.  They brought biblical references, to change what we did as Indigenous cultures.  Since we didn’t have literature, and they provided the ‘word of God’ (translated by King James.  Well he authorised a bunch of scholars and librarians to re-write it for their modern language, which included the ‘thee’s and thou’s’)

What my ancestors from Tuvalu took quite seriously, was the rituals of marking one’s body with ink to bear lines of genealogy and passages in life, were deemed to be desecrating the perfect form of the Human Body, as it was created in the form of God.  So my ancestors stopped all together.  I have been told my Nuian ancestors had the most stunning tattoos in panels under their arms.  I want to find out more about them.

Considering I am also Australian (white) I felt strongly that it is my position to bring back the custom of tattooing, with purpose and significance.

Personally, it is like re-birth, only not so dramatic, with the tight squeezes.

The preparation process was a mixture of information from my own knowledge and instructions from those who have taken the journey.  Complete abstinence. Fasting, meditating and clearing one’s mindset for the learning curve.

Once the tattooing began, it was not as painful as I thought it would be.  Like an ongoing pinching feeling, with the occasional sensation of touching bone.  The serrated teeth of the bone tips tapped a rhythm that felt like it flickered on my skin.

Te Rangitu Netana invited my brother Ben to participate in spreading the skin.  It was the best thing for both my brother and I, as I didn’t realise how natural my brother would be and able to get into it.  His touch gave enough taut to work efficiently, not repeating the strokes.  He didn’t weigh on my rib-cage by leaning into me.  I felt the difference when my partner, Danny, who is a massage therapist, leaned into assist with ‘stretching my skin’.  His normal practice is to use his body to get into muscle and tissue massage.  The other ‘assistant, also named Ben, didn’t lean into me, but I felt my skin was not stretched as my brother did it.  The other Ben was great at reading me and checked or reassured me, as he has ‘tamoko’ work already done on himself.

The days agenda – we were to start tattooing at 3pm and finish at 6pm for a grand finale with indigenous collaboration and fire talks.  I (personally) needed to say thank you to the Koori mobs, their Elders, for allowing us to perform the ritual on Boon Wurrung and Wurrundjeri grounds.

There were some major portions of the days planned agenda which didn’t come off, because I didn’t get to finalise the meeting with Aunty Caroline Briggs and Aunty Di Kerr.  After having that dialogue, I would be better equipped to ask my islander networks to participate.  In the end we put it out there.

Our approval to go ahead with the tattooing performance did not come through, until the 6th of June.  10 days before the gig.

Part of the glitch was around authentication and validation on Te Rangitu’s training or certified application of tattooing artforms.  When they also realised we were going to use bone tipped tools, the Regulatory Officers had a mind job.  Apparently a team of people spent 5 days straining to get authority from City of Melbourne (Councils permit and regulatory officers).

Of course I was asked:  “Why don’t you use a local artist from around here, plenty around with portable machines!”

From my point of view, it highlighted how we need to have validation for traditional artists who have reputable trainers and experiences.  To avoid offending an artist who is an established identity of knowledge and skill, although not recognised in Academia.

I was also informed that there was no funding for Community groups to invite an International Artist to participate in the Festival.  Guess we have all the talent we need right here, waiting to volunteer.

(A new priority – to officially have the dialogue.  Between Te Rangitu, myself and the Kulin Senior Elders.  To explain our purpose and significance.)

My sister’s and their children were all there.  They began singing Kiribati songs.  I was moved by their harmonising.  Even more struck by my youngest sister Reese leading the singing.  She knew her words and she was having a great time.  Helen harmonised beautifully, as she does.  Lis, another sister, had a horse riding accident and hurt her back, came to the square on crutches and sat with me for half an hour.  So moved by her determination.  Made me less worried about the tolerable, rhythmical tapping into my back.

Te Rangitu’s two-year old daughter, Kowhai, began singing her rendition.  Sounding like a sweet baby matriarch, doing a call out, singing to spirits, her own thoughts and sounds.  I relished her dulcet tones.  I began thinking of the young girls (and boys) who start with so much talent – when they are supported and allowed to simply be their age, they are such a joy to be around.

My son Ethan, what a real trooper he was.  As soon as I lay down, he was by my side, instructing me who has arrived and rubbing my hand for my assurance.  I know he inadvertently was able to dig down deeper and realise a real meaning behind my actions.  He listened, intently, when Te Rangitu explained the symbols and design.  I was ecstatic, when he did the detailed explanations to those who asked.

“These big stars are big turning points in my mum’s life, I am one of them.  The dotted line is her journey here, where she has learned things.  It’s not finished yet….”

I was lying face down; however, I was able to look at the faces in the crowd, who were watching the work on my back.  I could see their faces from under my brother’s thigh, I was stealing moments and their expressions were priceless.  I had my own private reality show, just watching the crowd move around me.

The only excruciating part was the last twenty minutes, when all 5 senses clashed and I had to toughen up.

My right eye, which has scarring on my retina, flared up aggressively because I was slowly dehydrating.  No fluids during a certain period.  I was feeling, growing pains in my eye, as it began to weep involuntarily.  Then somebody began speaking with Te Rangitu and asked some inappropriate questions.  They kept talking, on stage, in the final stages of my public outcome.  Then some musical juncture erupted with African and Indian drums booming in all of a sudden.  The Tapping was hitting a bone.  My mouth felt like an acidic dry-wet space in my face.  The rain began to drizzle, coming through the hole in the middle of the ‘Close encounter’ space (ship/donut) …it began to send uncontrollable twitches which start in the arch of my left foot.  The whole foot started to spasm, so I called out for somebody to massage it.  My sister Reese responded.  It helped a little.

I tensed up my body from my buttocks down to my feet.  I was a hard board, attempting to relax only where the tattooing was happening.

Finally, I heard young Kevin singing with Massive Hip-hop Choir.  My cue that we had to rise up.

Young Ceecee (aka: Casey) was my spokesperson for the event.  She provided the occasional update and was inspirational on her own. She sang a healing song she had written.  She sounded amazing.

Ceecee came to me and looked me in the eyes, she was mesmerising.  A beautiful young woman, doing all she could to support me and my self-ordained role for the Pacific Islander groups. She escorted me and Uncle Larry to the ceremonial fire bed.

I thanked those who were there – as I had wanted to, although I feel there are the Seniors I need to converse with still.  I then offered my grass-skirt to be burned as a symbol of cutting my strings from my mother’s watch.

Ethan lit up when I asked him to go burn the skirt for me.  He was solemn in his calmed walk to the fire and as he placed the skirt, he carefully backed away as the embers lit up.

I have many words to describe the euphoria of being able to perform a ritual like this.  It wasn’t my plan, this time last year.  It evolved from the question Robin Archer asked us back in November 2011 – “what does literature/reading look like/mean in your culture?”

I answered:  “We (Oceania Indigenous/Pacific Islanders) are oral transferrers of knowledge and our literature was ‘Tatau’s’ for our genealogy and journals.  I think a Fashion show of Body Art would demonstrate our customs and be great to explore our Intellectual Properties.”

Now I have a copyright tatau on my spine and some young people asking advice on how to get their tattoos.

Wonder what next year’s theme for the Gift of Light will be?

Dreams of film reels

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As you know – my situation every day, is acknowledging that my people (Kiribati & Tuvaluans – along with Carteret [PNG] and Maldive nations) will be displaced.  Perhaps in the future we will making references to a “Cultural ground zero”  (i.e. HOME in the islands). 

Teaching the next generations, will be a challenge to sustain.  What happens then?  For us how to preserve our heritage, traditions, customs and language, etc, what is the best way forward? 

It’s a subject that applies to all ‘Indigenous Cultures’ 

When I refer to Indigenous I mean:

  1. Anybody who comes from a community who defines their leaders through life-time achievements and RESPECTs THEIR ELDERS.
  2. Anybody who comes from a community, who acknowledges their SPIRITUAL responsibility for being STEWARDS OF THE LAND.

Recognising that literature played a significant role in structuring European societies to date, while Indigenous customs relied on oral dictions and family trait skills and customs. We can see through history the methodology of preserving customs has been a culture on it’s own.

The difference with living in Australia and living in the ‘islands’ is equal to the length of a piece of string….how long is that?  Who knows? 

The best way I see myself being helpful, is not being rewarded through money, cos that only makes more people want to be my friend so they can take take take.  But if I use entertainment to my advantage, I can personify a significant story, and hopefully sew seeds for the next generations.  Preserve my heritage, help my people through digital archiving – for generations to come.  So my costs equate to the cost of producing a cheap film or a big budget blockbuster….as you can see I am starting small – in Community & Art. 

The ground work is the circle of Matriarchs, who take weaving to be the vehicle to bring young people and other communities, to experience a new way of listening.  From there I get the stories, that are relevant and make the films.  Creating jobs through productions that everybody enjoys. 

Need to get Corporate funding for the filming ventures which are event on their own.  I plan on kids running the show and filming during school holidays….instead of long-winded production schedules, I’ll be working a tight time frame, rostering film companies who are available and interested.  I also have droves of budding film makers who want to make ‘cultural’ cohesive and inclusive films. 

Oxfam - Climate Change Campaigns

Would like more people to understand those needs for a sustainable community and how they are going to engage properly, respectfully.

KISS-ing games and broken dreams

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Take it from me, the winner of spinning complexity, who barrages oneself with the multitude of earth-changing ideals, as we roll on in life, forever forward.  Well I hope we are moving forward!

It has occurred to me, that I am far from being simple.  Perhaps it’s the legions of friends and the droves of family, who have said, many times, “M can you keep it simple?” 

Truth is – I have tried to keep things simple!  I have attempted to apply that KISS theory, ever since I heard it sprouted in a Sacrament meeting, in church (Auckland, New Zealand)  when I was 12 years old.  In a sermon where the comedic old adage was revised to suit the LDS congregation.  A wife stood in the back of the chapel and held up the sign for her Bishop-husband – spelling “K.I.S.S.”  After the meeting a counsellor appraising her wifely supportive manner, was informed it wasn’t anything to do with actually kissing her husband, but in fact telling him to Keep It Short Stupid! (KISS)” 

Thirty odd years later, that still gives me a chuckle.

How about applying that to life?  How about trying on a KISS day at the office or at work?  Where you do your job between normal hours and simply clock off or log off, go home and do whatever normal people do. 

resolved to speaking to myself….”Emeretta there is nothing simple about you”.

Nothing is simple when you are born and raised equally, between three cultural differences.  Australian, Tuvaluan and Kiribati.  When relatives refer to you as ‘White/Imatang/Palagi, when they are dark-skinned, free-spirited islanders. On the other end of the ethnic spectrum, having been enviously referred to, by my blond, blue-eyed cousins in Australia,  “the one with a permanent tan”.

There is nothing simple about explaining your birthplace, when it is an island located on the equator in the Central Pacific Basin.  All your life explaining. Whenever saying the name of my birthplace, to have resounding replies, along the lines of “Where is that?  I have never heard of it!”   It was beyond my comprehension that I was to one day be a pivotal stop for queries about this remote location.  I am not a scholar, or an anthropologist.  I am not even a crusader for humanities.  I couldn’t help it, I had to become versed in sprouting geographical and logistical dimensions that exasperated the listener’s even more. 

“How did you get here?”  “Why did you leave there?”  “Do you have any family left there?”

The name of the island – Ocean Island, has a name that sounds like something you would get from a mediocre budgeted, comedy romance, made in the 70’s.  Ironically it’s would have been the perfect setting for the old ‘Fantasy Island’ sitcom, except back then, you travelled via Cargo ships instead of a little plane.  Instead of hearing Tattoo squealing “the plane the plane!” You were welcomed off the old WW2 barge, onto the concreted boat harbour, another monumental erection from WW2. 

Depending on the level of the tide, you could be caught in a splashing wave as you disembark. The barge smelt of salt permeated varnish on oaken planks, saturated and dried, old fish stench, which actually made us hungry for dried fish and fresh coconut.

My parents would travel back to Australia, once a year, on which ever cargo ship came to port.  The Valetta and The Triadic had my favourite crew.  They came to drop off supplies, mail, food and bring incoming expats.  Then taking back our phosphate, to nations around the globe, who still, to this day – have no idea where Ocean Island is.

People around the world eat vegetables, corn especially, which has the remnant fertile nutrients from bird shit, taken from an island smack in the middle of no where.  An island which homes the modern-day humanitarian catastrophe, exemplifying the crux of Global empirical dominance on a nation of people displaced, to serve a theory on fertile farming in developed countries.  As the home land of the isolated Banaban nation, a population of less than 4,000 people, were relocated, or rather, hopefully left to be forgotten on Rabi – another island, in Fiji

As a kid I was always ‘accidentally’ missing the dry step and would fall onto the landing.  While adults created a human chain to retrieve our cargo of gifts, I would be sensationalistic a swim with lurking dark bodies of huge fish, sharks and stingrays, in the mouth of the boat harbour. 

After a month or so in Australia, I was getting back into the ocean spray and the throngs of ‘cousins’ who wanted to see and hear all about the life in the ‘world outside Ocean Island’.  That was when life was simple.

Now I am living in Australia – the fantastic memories of the island I was born on – serve to remind me that here is a struggle.  Nothing is simple.  Back then I had powers to imagine I was a Goddess on an equatorial escape.   Now there is nothing but broken dreams.  Banaban’s are still displaced.  The Kiribati and Tuvaluan are threatened with being displaced if the world succeeds in labelling them the ‘first Environmental victims’. 

Is there anything we can do?  Yes KISS AND LET LIVE.  …or die happy trying to live the dream.