When Heroes Fall

My Grandfather passed away this past Friday. The morning he took ill was unremarkable. It seemed like any other morning. Grandpa was out and about with a friend from church, having some lights installed on a camper. There was no urgency to the project, but it was something he wanted to get done – like a million other projects that he had prioritized over the course of his life.

Somewhere along the way, my son and I got around and went to Lawton to pick up his Mother from the airport. They had planned to spend a couple of days here on the farm before catching a flight back to Indiana. We didn’t get very far along on our way back to Walters when I got a call saying that Papa wasn’t feeling well and that he was going to the doctor – like he had so many times before. At the age of 88, Papa had had his health battles. But they nearly always went away. A day or so in the hospital max. A dose of antibiotics. He was usually good to go.

The Fall

So, I didn’t think much of the situation when he was first admitted. My Mom decided to spend the night with him. We prayed and went home with a promise to relieve Mom in the morning. But something odd happened during that first night. While he was alert and talking when we left, his blood pressure started to drop during the night. His breathing grew more difficult. The doctors threw around the word sepsis. Quite unlike the many times before, Papa wasn’t getting better. I started to get concerned. A nagging worry that maybe something was different this time. A quiet unease growing at the back of my mind.

Tuesday bled into Wednesday. We were back at the hospital as soon as we could. Before we got there, he was moved to ICU. My nagging unease transformed into a mountain of worry as a hive of nurses flitted about with concerned looks. Papa was still talking and alert but he wasn’t allowed food or water. There was talk of a potential procedure but no concrete plans. Food and water were restricted in hopes that they could operate. Nutrients and antibiotics alike were administered through an IV.

Most of the family was exhausted by the time evening rolled around. I offered to stay with my Mother at the hospital for another night to help her get some rest. Everyone went home to rest and to pray. For me, it was a sleepless night spent walking the corridors of the hospital between nursing rounds. When I was in the room, Papa shifted often and wanted to adjust his position in the bed to be more comfortable. I moved him. When the nurses weren’t badgering him for blood draws and vital checks, I talked to him about football and Thunder basketball and gave him water when the nurses weren’t looking. Just little sips to wet his mouth and to quench his thirst. As the night wore on, he talked less and less. I didn’t realize it at the time but those conversations with me would be his last words. I wish I had asked him questions that were more profound. I wish I had talked to him about things that were more consequential.

By Thursday morning, he had finally fallen asleep but his breathing had gotten worse. The doctor recommended a ventilator. We agreed. After a few hours on the machine, his condition stabilized enough that the doctors could run the emergency procedure that they had been planning – a procedure to hopefully address a blood clot resulting from the sepsis. The thought was that the clot was causing some of the problems with his breathing. By now, the prognosis was grim and the surgery odds were a even 50-50 given that he would need to be sedated. We waited and prayed. As the afternoon sun faded into night, in characteristic fashion, Grandpa pulled through. Our spirits lifted with hope that his blood pressure might rise once the sedative wore off. Eventually, his blood pressure did become more stable for some time in fact. But he didn’t wake up. As advised by his care team, we all chalked it up to him needing to get more rest. So, we went home to do the same.

I woke early Friday morning to a phone call. In a situation like this, phone calls early in the morning are never good.

His nursing team had kept watch during the night while his condition deteriorated. The ephemeral “they” ran another emergency scan and found a new rupture internally. He was losing blood. Fading fast. There was nothing they could do. We raced to the hospital. I hoped for a miracle that was not to be. By the time we arrived, loved ones had started to gather. The only option presented was to remove the machines. Before the vitals went flat, we all had time to say our brief goodbyes. There wasn’t nearly enough time. Never is.

Once the ventilator was removed, Papa slipped away quickly. The warmth in his hands – hands that had held mine hundreds of times before – gradually grew cold. In a matter of minutes, he was gone.

A Hero’s Life Remembered

The days after are a blur. Funeral arrangements. Video tributes. Visits from loved ones and friends. At one point, we participated in an all night wake with him. The details of those days are fuzzy. At some point, the task of writing Papa’s eulogy fell to me. Any one of us could have done it. When you live a good life, it’s easy to say good things. But how do you summarize the life of a giant? Someone, who in life, always seemed larger than life itself? The effort was a fool’s errand. There were numerous stories to tell. Countless acts of kindness to note. Innumerable lessons learned at his table over coffee. Hours spent fishing at the ponds, soaking up his wisdom – all in blissful ignorance of the reality that it would one day end. Even the obituary that was put together, which accurately and thoroughly stated the bare facts of Papa’s life, seemed inadequate. His parents, wife, and survivors were all mentioned. A handful of his accomplishments graced the pages of the local newspaper. But neither the eulogy nor the obituary even remotely approached the totality of the man he was.

As a family we planned Grandpa’s funeral. It was a service that was quintessentially him. The historic country church that our family calls our spiritual home is not necessarily one that has embraced the digital age. There are no projectors and screens adorning the stage. There are no cameras. The dark wood paneling of the sanctuary harkens back to an understated elegance that seemed to permeate rural construction at the turn of the 19th century. Yet, the congregation agreed to have the internet installed so that we could livestream Grandpa’s prayer service and funeral for his many friends and family from across the Nation. I think that Grandpa would have gotten a kick out of this bit of logistical planning, and the fact that his funeral was the first to bring the Church, as we call it, into our modern, technological era.

We were careful to call the prayer service and funeral “celebrations” of his life. The use of the word celebration is really just an exercise in semantics but we wanted people to reflect upon Grandpa’s life and celebrate the work of a faithful servant of God and of a life lived well, as opposed to treating the occasion as than an opportunity to mourn his passing. In truth, it was a mix of both. Still, it was a service that befit the person Grandpa was, and it involved many of the people that he cared about and that cared about him. If the goal of such a celebration is to honor the memory of the loved one who has passed, then I think we succeeded.

But to me it still didn’t seem adequate for a giant. For a hero.

A Hero’s Farewell

It wasn’t until the funeral procession to his grave that I began to feel like Grandpa was recognized for the hero that he was. It’s true that Grandpa was a proud veteran of the Korean War. He served his country bravely as a combat engineer, and instilled a similar sense of service in each of his grandchildren. My oldest younger sister is a foster care worker who has devoted her life to protecting children. My youngest sister will soon be a teacher. He never said it in so many words, but the message from our Grandfather was always clear: serve a cause greater than yourself.

But beyond this, he was our rock. There was no situation in life that I couldn’t bring to him for wise counsel. There was nothing he couldn’t fix. No problem a bit of his common sense couldn’t solve. He mentored me without the need to call it mentoring. He encourage me. He pushed me to do things that were well beyond my comfort zone, the lot of which have made me a better person as a result. He didn’t fight villains at night. But he knew how to fight the enemies of self-doubt, insecurity, and intolerance. Like a true hero, he conquered all of these with a sword of love.

Our family buried Papa with full military honors. As we made the descent from the church, down the hillside to the cemetery, located about five miles away, we were escorted by the Oklahoma Highway Patrol. The trooper’s lights flashed as cars pulled over to acknowledge the passing of a great man: a man whose greatness can be attributed simply to the fact that he loved God and loved others. As we pulled into the cemetery, American flags waved proudly long the cemetery’s fence line. Their vibrant hues of red, white, and blue provided a stark but fitting contrast to the solemnity of the day.

Far too soon, the officer’s car came to a stop blocking both lanes of traffic along the country highway leading into town. As we passed, the officer stood at parade rest, his head bowed while the procession made its way through the gates. Gradually, the hearse would wind its way along the narrow lane of the cemetery, and I saw a lone bugler standing off in the distance. There would be no faux recording of taps at this funeral. When we arrived at Grandpa’s grave, the military color guard stood a short distance away, at the ready to pay one final tribute to a fallen warrior.

We removed Grandpa’s flag-draped coffin from the hearse and carried it to its resting place while the color guard stood in salute. At the exact moment the interment ceremony began, quite by happenstance, an Air Force jet flew low and overhead. Our family likes to think that we have a number of friends, but we certainly don’t have the military connections to secure an Air Force flyby. We had a good laugh later when folks asked how we managed to do it.

Although it was not planned, I viewed the flyover as a special nod from God, and perhaps from Papa himself, and made my peace. If anyone could talk the Lord into sending a jet over for his service, it would be him. It may seem like a cheeky ask of God during Papa’s first few days in heaven, but I wouldn’t put it past him to find a way to comfort a broken-hearted grandson like yours truly.

When the guns blazed in salute and as taps played in the distance, I internalized the fact that Papa was gone. As we lowered him into the ground, there were still plenty of tears. Even from me. But when the final spade was turned and his body buried, I couldn’t help but smile a bit wistfully.

Papa had gotten a hero’s farewell after all.

 

A Dispatch from New Zealand


The Tukorehe Marae is an unprepossessing structure. Nestled behind a grove of lush palm trees, its paint is gradually fading, unveiling layer upon layer of cosmetic efforts past. The predominance of white paint is strong in the front. But in the back, it yields to flecks of salmon, and some of the wood has worn itself bare.

Our host at the marae is a man named Shawn, or “Papa Shawn,” as the kids call him. And while he’s hardly the garrulous sort, he clearly loves this place – a place that he simply calls home. 
Māori in New Zealand often call a particular “mare,” such as this, home. For the descendants of Tukorehe, a Māori ancestor from the distant past, this marae is theirs, carrying with it all the trappings of ownership as if they had helped Tukorehe himself hew the logs that support its roof. 
By way of explanation, the focal point of the marae grounds is the meeting house, or wharenui, which resembles a small wooden chapel that congregations in the Southern United States might have used over a century ago. However, far from practicing Christianity, Māori consider their meeting houses to be the living iteration of their ancestors. Photos of deceased relatives line the wooden walls of the wharenui, each ancestor looking after the occupants in a very literal and symbolic way. The walls themselves are ornately decorated with wood carvings and flax tapestries that tell both the exploits of the ancestor, as well as the philosophy/theology that undergirds the Māori worldview. 

The marae, then, is not so much a chapel as it is a cenotaph dedicated to the presence of the absence of ancestors who never truly left to begin with. 
If there’s a nugget of wisdom I’ve gleaned from the complexities of the Māori cosmology (one I will, admittedly, never fully understand), it’s that they do community rather differently than we do in mainstream America. 
I won’t say it’s better, because I’m not sure it is. But it is different, and special. 

The first difference is the Māori emphasis on all things communal. Sleeping in the marae, for example, is a wholly collective affair. The end result is that our group of ten from the University of Wyoming have spent the past three days sleeping in the wharenui, sharing snores, showers, and sleeping patterns alike. This is, of course, a stark contrast to America where privacy is the order of the day, no matter how much the NSA might say otherwise. 
The second difference is in the Māori emphasis on social extroversion. Back home, my normal routine involves quiet, reflection, dedicated time for writing, and the occasional game of Call of Duty
For Māori, nearly every interaction is focused on the shared, lived experience of family or whanauFamilies and extended families all come in equal turn on the marae, sharing meals, entertainment, and social activities in common. Needless to say, this American’s time for reflection has been almost non-existent, and in all honesty this has taken its toll on my frazzled nerves. It seems I crave quiet in the same way Māori crave togetherness. I suppose both the individual and the collective have their place and needs. 
Of course, I knew all of this coming in. The marae was never a mystery to me given the year/plus that Gwyn, Clark and I lived in New Zealand. But perhaps the difference on this trip is the presence of the absence of my own whanau. While the Māori ancestors look after us from behind their frames in the wharenui, my own family is ensconced miles across the mighty Pacific, visiting family back in Indiana. 
It seems this is the real lesson from Māoridom. There’s precious little that’s more important than family.  Of course, we all take this to different extremes. 

Silence, God, and Fish

Flowers Beside the Lake
The other day, I read about King Saul and his efforts to consolidate power once he was named the King of Israel. He was a man who ruled with ruthless abandon, harassing his enemies at every turn, driving them out of the lands and territories that the King had claimed for his own. And yet, for all of his struggles, warmongering, and folly, King Saul sought God often. As it happens, however, God did not often answer him back (I Samuel 14.37).

Saturday, I took a break from preparing for classes and ventured into the Snowy Mountains in Medicine Bow National Forest. The past week had found me feverishly reading Blood Struggle: The Rise of Modern Indian Nations. It’s one of the assigned texts for my classes, because it vividly outlines the plight of American Indian tribal nations during the systematic destruction of their governing institutions. Much like King Saul, the young American Nation consolidated power over American Indian tribes with ruthless abandon, harassing them at every turn, and driving them out of the lands and territories that the budding Nation would claim for its own. As the story goes, the tribes were driven further and further westward, until they were summarily rounded up, and placed on increasingly smaller reserves of land. Or as we call them today, reservations.

I suspect for anyone, the book might make for a bit of a dour read – particularly the early chapters prior to the Government’s major shift in Federal Indian policy. Tale after tale of lost lands, disease, and poverty had left me quite nearly moribund myself, so when the invite from a friend came to head for the hills (literally), I was more than happy to leave my work behind.

Now, when I fish, it’s normally my habit to focus intently on the fishing. I tend to analyze each cast, and ponder over bait options, all in hopes of snagging a big fish. But on this trip my approach was different. When we first arrived, no one was at the lake. The sounds of the waves lapping against the rocks, and the rustle of the wind were all I heard. Every so often, I could glance and see a bald eagle soaring high overhead, looking for an opportunity to demonstrate who the true fisherman was. It was serene, and I allowed the quiet of the mountains to consume my morning.

I asked no questions of God in that quiet sanctuary of nature. Even if I had let my mind wander and permitted myself to conjure up all of the academic questions posed by my textbook, or considered the dilemmas that consume my own existence, I suspect my answers from God would have been the same as those given to Saul: complete, utter silence. I say this not on account of my own warmongerings, but because sanctuaries are fundamentally places for worship and contemplation. The sanctuary of nature I visited, set against the craggy face of the Snowy Mountains was no different. Words would have been an injustice in so beautiful a place.

And so I was silent. And God was silent. And the fish never stirred.

It has taken a while, but gradually I’m learning that the silence of God can be just as tremendous as the voice of God. Silence leaves the questions and matters that beset us wholly open to interpretation. This space provides opportunities for us to create our own solutions to existential quandaries – as opposed to having a determinist God prescribe our every waking moment and then some.

Given this, I think what our collective lot needs is more of what philosopher/theologian Paul Tillich famously described as The Courage to Be – mustering within ourselves a courage to confront life’s ordeals, as much as a courage that allows us simply to be at peace with ourselves. In other words, only when we embrace the silence of our existence, can we find peace amid the chaos of life – a peace that allows us to simply “be.”

An Ode to the Rising Sun

 
It’s a drop past 4pm here at Will Rogers Airport in Oklahoma City. As the canard goes, it’s not lost on me how ironic it is to name a state citadel of aviation after a man who died in a plane crash. 
 
Airborne
 
A few hours ago, I said goodbye to Gwyn, Clark and Fan after a bittersweet farewell in Walters with Dad, Mom, Papa, Andrea, Jacob, Garrett, Seth, Chelsey, and our sister Randi Lynn and her son Drey. I made this latest trip home to see exactly this set of people. If there’s anything one can count on at all in matters of Comanche culture, it’s the opportunity to see family when one comes home. 
 
And so it is at the Comanche Homecoming Celebration, going strong some 63 years after its first incarnation welcoming home veterans following their service in the Korean War. 
 
Last night, sitting at our camp, with a canopy of stars under the dark Oklahoma sky, I was able to sporadically reconnect with friends and family alike – some of whom I had not seen since the last time I attended the Comanche Homecoming Celebration in 2005. Soaking up the moment, I was pleased to chat with long-time family friend, Tom Kavanaugh, a former Anthropologist and Curator of Collections at the University of Indiana’s Mather Museum. Tom is nothing if not friendly and blessed with a keen sense of storytelling, wrought from forty-odd years of accumulating insights into the history and culture of the Comanche People. His knowledge and enthusiasm is infectious. 
 
After listening a good while, I asked what someone with his experience would miss the most about the old days of the celebration and the old ways of doing things. True to form, Tom answered without hesitation, “I miss the people. They Keewainais (keh-why-nighs) who are no longer here but should be.”
 
I didn’t have much of a reply. It’s sometimes hardest to respond when a person is so strikingly correct. 
 
Later that night over cigars with my brother Lucas Davis of Houston, TX (a distinctly Comanche brother who shares neither my tribal identity nor even my ethnicity), I thought about the event and its ability to pull together so many people, from so many places, and allow them to be a family. 
 
While I watched the crowds of people milling about the dusty creek bottom, I found that I couldn’t escape my conversation with Tom. A small place in my heart pinched at the thought of families and friends forever seared into my heart and mind – the ghosts of celebrations past who are forever sitting around the arena in Sultan Park. 
 
My son Clark received a Comanche name earlier in the day, one of the principal reasons hastening my return home. Such events are rare in life, watching one’s firstborn and his ascent into the ranks of warriors past. Fortunately, Clark was well-served in his naming by family friend/relative and my personal mentor Bernard Kahrahrah – a former Chairman of the Comanche Tribe. After much prayer, Bernard gave Clark the name Thaiori (Thy-oh-rē), which translates to the sun is rising.
 
Denver
 
I didn’t realize this at the time, but Clark’s name gives me a great deal of solace as I struggle to make sense of life, and all of the changes and opportunities that lie ahead. I think that even when one becomes melancholic for the ghosts of the arena, perhaps it’s wise to follow their example and pray for the generations that are to come, rising like the sun in the east, calling us to embrace the future of a new day.  
 
It’s always a good thing to come home – no matter how difficult it is to leave. 

Life: Standard or Fast?

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I mailed a letter to a friend Friend back home the other day.  When I looked at the New Zealand Post mailbox outside our student centre, I reveled in the appropriateness of their signage.

Over the past year, my life has been lived on the ‘fast’ side of life’s mailbox. Looking back over my 31st year of life, I can see that it would really serve me well to downshift to ‘standard.’ I suspect the fare would be cheaper to boot. Beginning with Clark’s birth, extending to our relocation from Tucson, and finally to our re-relocation to Hamilton, New Zealand, looking back over the past year the lone thread that ties it all together is how unexpected the whole lot of it was. And seeing as I entered my 32nd year of life this past week (or turned 31), now seems a fine time to think on such things. Here are three lessons I’ve learned from the past year. 

1. Life’s Uncertainty Is the Norm Not the Exception

If there’s a lesson I’ve learned this year, it’s that life is veritably unpredictable. When 2012 began, I had little thought that I would be a father the following year, and even less thought still that I would be leaving for life in a new country roughly 13 months hence. In fact, had you brought any of these eventualities to my attention, I suspect that my reaction would have been to promptly enter a catatonic state induced by a debilitating panic. My comfort zone was something to be guarded rather than deserted, something to be kept neat and tidy. Kids, by contrast, are messy and international excursions messier still. They have socialized medicine here!

And yet, here we are – with a perfectly healthy son, now one year old, and plans to stay here in New Zealand for roughly 18 months time, returning to America in June 2014. None of this was planned, per se. It just happened. And slowly I’m coming to realize that that’s okay.

2. Embrace New Opportunities by Letting Go of Expectations

The second lesson I’ve learned from life in the fast track has been that expectations are really illusory. While it’s wise to plan and anticipate the futures we would like, it’s important to keep in mind that all of this planning we do on a daily basis is with a grain of salt. Planing is always done “Insha’Allah,” or ‘Lord willing’ as they say in the Muslim world. Following the completion of my SJD, I expected to remain in the U.S. and teach at a tribal college close to home. Had I stubbornly clung to this expectation, I would have missed out on the opportunity to live abroad and gain first-hand insights into the situation of Indigenous governance in a country I had only seen in the Lord of the Rings. Now, I actually live in the Shire. And, more importantly, I would never have met so many of the individuals we now consider dear friends.

Letting go of my expectations was honestly the best outcome that could have happened. 

3. Enjoy the Day

Earlier I mentioned that I’d like to downshift from the fast iteration of life I’ve been living to something more pedestrian. While I’ve come to terms with life’s uncertainty, and the need to be somewhat flexible in my expectations, I still feel like there’s something to be said for living and enjoying a slower life.

The first point to make is that it’s dreadfully easy not to live a slow life. Recently, I read a fascinating essay in The Chronicle of Higher Education on Michael Ignatieff, former opposition leader of the Canadian Parliament. The biography highlighted the career of Mr. Ignatieff, detailing his swift rise in academia, and his slower, gradual ascent to political power – before ultimately documenting his resounding defeat at the hand of Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper. The theme of the piece was how rapidly a career can peak and plummet. Not exactly inspirational material. 

What I took away from this past year, and the unintentional case study of Mr. Ignatieff, is that the best way to navigate life’s vicissitudes is to simply enjoy the day you have. Our ambitions may fail. Our best laid plans may be upended like a landslide, Canadian electoral loss. So, really the best we can do is focus the madness of existence through the lens of the now, and enjoy the moment of life we have – however fleeting and uncertain it may be.

I don’t know that I’ve shared the details of our son, Clark’s birth before. But toward the end, just prior to his successful delivery (viz., everything turned out alright), his heart rate began to drop. Gwyn had been in labor north of 30 hours and the stress had taken a toll on Mom and Baby alike. When the doctor’s brow furrowed and the medical team began to discuss emergency procedures, my heart sank and fear set in. There was a moment in the delivery room when I would even have given my own life to buy a bit more time for my wife and son. It was a primal, visceral reaction to situation and ultimately completely needless. But it was also telling. Seldom does a day go by that I look at our healthy, happy, and beautiful baby boy and don’t think about how fortunate we are that the moment came to pass so favorably for us all.

Enjoy the moment. Enjoy the now.     

Resurrecting Pax Plena

In sum, I’ve learned much this past year and have more or less put Pax Plena and blogging on hold as a result. My plan, wholly bereft of certainty and expectation, is to begin blogging more frequently. Toward this end, I also plan to teach a course on behalf of the University of Wyoming this spring semester and hope to use the blog here as a way to transmit supplemental information and connect with students, whether through social media or comments on reactions to readings, etc. This means that I’ll be culling some of the old posts and generally trying to whip this nearly 10 year-old project into shape. My hope (as opposed to expectation) is that this will provide a way to reconnect with blogging as a genre of writing and as a means of living life in the slow – a way to remember that in the end, the tortoise wins. 

Public and Private Life

My wife, Son and I applied for an extension of our visas today. Coincidentally, today is also the four year anniversary of our marriage.

If you had told me on our wedding day that four years hence we would be living in a foreign land, with an infant son in tow, I would have promptly asked you to leave. Our wedding was dry and, clearly, you would have been drunk.

And yet, sometimes reality is even stranger than the fictions we create. So, here we are, sitting in an outdoor cafe, enjoying blue New Zealand skies, while Clark enjoys a bottle. Not only have we been away from America for six months but we have just applied to remain away longer – and during football season to boot.

If there’s a comfort to be had in our absence, it’s that the public sector services here in New Zealand are just as dreadful as they are back home. There’s no more depressing place in earth than your local DMV. The same can be said for the New Zealand Immigration Office, Hamilton Branch.

I won’t get too much into the weeds, except to say that only the government would make paying fees a fiasco and couple this inanity by referring patrons to a call centre rather than addressing questions in person – the presumptive point of having an office in the first place.

Contrast this with my experience at my local (viz., private) bank in the same building only a few floors below. Prompt, courteous service. Happy to answer any questions Dr. Fodder. I’m not even the kind of Doctor that helps people and the staff was still deferential and unfailingly polite.

All the same, it’s been a consequential four years to say the least. A good four years. And that’s not ever an easy or glib thing for me to say. I am blessed.

– Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

The Lone Star Restaurant, New Zealand Style


Having long grown tired of my much-too-small flat, I decided to brave the wilds of public transport and mosey on down to the Lone Star Cafe & Bar.

As you can see in the photo above, the decor is almost spot on. Wood floors, exposed beams on the ceiling, and above all American country music blaring on the speakers. Granted the music is country music circa 1990, but it’s still quite good relative to the rest of New Zealand.

Naturally, while the restaurant excelled in ambiance the food was sorely lacking. The first tell was the sign in the photo above. No self-respecting, Texas-imitation restaurant would ever advertise lamb as their special of the day. That’s much too ‘high falutin’ for Texas. Most Texans can barely spell lamb. Needless to say, when I saw the sign above, alas, I knew I was doomed.

The second tell was the arrival of my burrito meal, which was inexplicably served with what was billed as the New Zealand equivalent of cold slaw.

My “burrito” meal is below.

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Having lived in Arizona and having there enjoyed some of the best Mexican food there is, I’m obviously not an objective critic. But even by frozen-Mexican-food-from-Wal-Mart standards the burrito was subpar.

For starters, the alleged burrito contained BBQ sauce on the inside, a holy accoutrement that should be reserved only for steak and ribs – as all good Texans know. Unless of course one is from Austin, in which case, the bar for knowledge is considerably lower.

The meal did get one thing right, however, and this impressed me greatly. It was served with a small cup of sour cream and salsa, just like God Himself intended. How the Lone Star got this detail right and, nonetheless, put BBQ Sauce on its burrito, is something I’ll never understand.

As I alluded to earlier, the frozen Chimichangas at good ‘ole Wally World are a better substitute for the burritos at The Lone Star Cafe & Bar in Hamilton, NZ.

But I heard Johnny Cash’s Jackson in New Zealand. And, by God, that ain’t bad.

– Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Postcards and Pints

Today is a University holiday here in Hamilton. With the day off and nothing to do, I popped into a local pub to draft a few postcards to family and friends back home.

The Abbey is a most agreeable establishment. Sponsored in part by Stella Artois, the Belgian brewing company renown for its premium lager, the pub has all the features one might expect of a quaint pub including wood floors and dark paneled walls.

As I sat at my table and began to write, I could not think of a better way to while away a lazy fall afternoon. There’s something eminently appropriate about a pint and a pen.

And whilst I wrote to my family, I couldn’t help but think of life in America, of life back home. The nostalgic trip down memory lane reminded me of how much has changed in recent months.

Roughly six month ago, my son was born in Tucson, Arizona (10/15/12). At the time, I could not have forecasted that six months later I would be writing postcards in a pub in New Zealand having missed his first Easter.

“Oh the places you’ll go,” as Dr. Seuss said.

Like most extended separations, the time here is bitter sweet. It has been a tremendous opportunity to be here and serve at the pleasure of the Centre and my colleagues. Yet, it is difficult not to miss home and family and friends. Particularly when things settle down on days like today.

It’s interesting that my Māori friends so often inquire as to my family’s welfare. Their culture is one that values family, or whanau, above all else. To see a new father, so far from his family is a difficult thing for them to process. I suppose things in America and New Zealand are not that different after all.

And so I’ll draft and mail my postcards with fond thoughts of home. I will down a fine pint imbibed in a foreign land to steel my resolve. And I will say a brief, post-Easter prayer with love for their well-being – because when one is so far away, there’s not much more one can do.

– Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

My Neighborhood

Silverdale, Hamilton NZ

I don’t have many friends here in New Zealand. In fact, aside from my colleagues at the school, I’ve met hardly anyone. This dilemma is the three-fold product of not having a vehicle, awaiting my first pay stub, and working full-time. But the longer I’m confined to my corner of town, the more I find that belonging to a place is a funny thing. And, in fact, this sense of belonging is not terribly difficult to achieve if one tries. 

Consider my almost daily trip to the carry out place down the street, or as they say here in New Zealand the “take away.” By the by, I can’t say I understand the nomenclature. But then again, I can’t understand why Kiwi drive on the left side of the road and substitute the letter “s” for “z” in ways that make no sense. For example, if New Zealanders had the word in their vocabulary, “privatize” would be spelt “privatise.”

I suppose it’s not only the nomenclature that makes little sense. They play cricket here too.

God bless America.   

Anyway, back to my take away shop.

It’s difficult to chat sometimes with the amiable proprietor given our language barrier. As noted, I speak American whilst they speak English with inflections of Vietnamese. But I come in often, and I feel rather comfortable here. They’ve also gotten to know me quite well and usually fire up a cheese burger when they spot me crossing the street. 

The place is run by a father, his son, and his wife – who, incidentally, speaks way better English than either bloke. But it’s the father who’s the chatty sort. He likes to give me a hard time for ordering the cheapest, least healthy thing on the menu. I can’t understand him all the time, but those times I can’t, I’m pretty sure he’s saying in Vietnamese that I’m going to give myself a heart attack. I respond to his shenanigans by reminding him that my consistent patronage keeps him in business. This always gets a good laugh.

Tomorrow, we’ll repeat the schtick. Because, after all, we both know I’ll be back. 

And that’s the funny thing really. My analytical mind knows that this is a transactional relationship. He and I chat because we both want to continue the arrangement: he provides a service and I pay him for providing me with food. But in nearly all ways, it’s a perfectly honest, open relationship. Does that make it less of a friendship because its transactional? I don’t think so.

The bottom line is that they are keeping me well-fed and I am helping to keep them in business. And when you share a small corner of the globe in a small corner of the country, in a small corner of town, well, that’s just what neighbors do.

– Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Happy Waitangi Day

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You can be forgiven if the salutation above means relatively little. If I hadn’t the day off, it’s quite likely the day would have passed from my radar too. Even so, Waitangi Day is New Zealand’s celebration of its founding document the Treaty of Waitangi. The treaty marked an 1840 agreement between the Māori peoples and the “Queen of England” that permitted the Brits to establish a civil government in New Zealand in exchange for the recognition of Māori ownership over their lands and other property interests. 

Unsurprisingly, there has been much disagreement on the contents of the treaty – the lot of which makes my job here possible. Of principle importance is what exactly both sides ceded in the original understanding of the treaty. The Māori contend that they did not give up complete sovereignty to the Crown such that their traditional governance entities would be rendered moot. The British Government and, subsequently, New Zealand’s constitutional monarchy contends that, in fact, the Māori did just this.

Of course, the the matter isn’t quite so black and white. Consider that the New Zealand Government established the Waitangi Tribunal in 1975 to hear Māori claims of violations of the treaty. To date, some $700 million have been spent by the Government on reparations to the Māori in the form of land and property transfers, and formal apologies for violations of the treaty, all with the consent of the British Monarchy. Such payments, however, have stoked the resentment of some non-Māori New Zealanders who allege that the Māori are simply exploiting the treaty to obtain special privileges from the Government. The Māori claim that such concessions by the Government are simply what is appropriate given the destruction of their culture and governing structures.

As an aside, my work here will focus on the restoration of traditional Māori governance structures and their long-term viability. To wit, concerns about extant Māori governance entities have reached such a pressing level that the University of Waikato’s Māori and Indigenous Governance Centre has committed significant resources for examining the best practices of tribal governance from around the world in hopes strengthening Māori governmental institutions at home. All of which is a very long way of saying that my work here will focus on finding ways to help create stable governing entities for Māori peoples. 

Taking a step back, as an American in New Zealand, it’s a bit odd celebrating another country’s founding. But I tried to get in the spirit by having a lunch of what the locals call fish and chips – or what I routinely call fish and freedom fries much to the confusion of my local restauranteur – who happens to be a Vietnamese immigrant that speaks only limited English. To compensate for my foolishness, I make it a point to leave a tip. Unfortunately, I think this further confuses him since New Zealand isn’t a country that tips its service industry workers. Strange, I know. 

In all, it has been a relatively agreeable Waitangi Day. I met a number of colorful characters, including a neighbor named Jared who tells me that he has an aunt who is Sioux. Incidentally, I met Jared when he dropped by and woke me up, around 8am this morning asking to for a spoonful of instant coffee for his coffee mug. I suppose I’ll have plenty of time to sleep when I’m dead – although sleeping in would have been quite nice today. I was also pleased to make the acquaintance of Syd, a local, Indian entrepreneur who runs the quick-mart only a couple of blocks away. The Simpsons would be proud.

And with such august company, I have to say that the national holiday/day off has been quite nice. From the Southern Hemisphere to you, Happy Waitangi Day.