A weekend of down ‘n’ dirty … KIA ORA!

October 1, 2018, was the date marked for me to start my 6-months sabbatical/study leave. However, a clean cut from my role was not going to be the case so I weaned myself from my whānau in the Centre for Learning and Teaching (CfLAT) at AUT, through brain dumping on our newest member. Māori, native te reo speaker, an educationalist, and creative I don’t think there was anyone else who I would be so happy and confident to continue the mahi/work that I had started with our team in building a culture based on manaaki and weaving in mātauranga and tikanga Māori. For 5 days spread over three weeks, I worked with him whilst tidying up loose ends so there was as little as possible for the team to have to pick up.

After my final day, I messaged my supervisor in Scotland, “I need to download!” I got a day to myself (kids at Puna/Daycare) I was exhausted, so I spent the rest of the day laid out on the couch watching Netflix.  My body was physically sore. I was grumpy and struggling to process it quick enough so that my girls did not end up with a grumpy māmā. The next day we (my supervisor and I) were Skyping with a 12-hour time difference. She let me purge, all the bizarre happenings of my last month. As I purged to her one phrase came to me “we were running interference on bad behaviour” and one kupu/word, whakatika/restorative justice.  That bad behaviour we unpacked was corruption and sabotage. Hearing those words in our conversation and reflecting on what was said I felt icky. You know that feeling when your whole body squirms as well as nauseous. I needed a cleansing but I needed nurturing too.

My supervisor assigned me to NOT write. Instead, I was to find what I needed to get out of the academic development headspace and into my researcher-writer space. She even warned that I should do this before I carried out my interviews. So I thought … what could I do? Maybe painting. I’d love to get back into my painting 🙂 but I don’t have the room to do my style of painting and if I’m still in my head I don’t enjoy it. Or maybe, “The Lake” (Whanganui Bay)! What I wouldn’t give to go there and just swim and unwind … but I would need to take the girls and I’d likely become more stressed. It was a long-weekend, Labour Day and I prefer to stay off the open roads, away from the holiday traffic. In the end, my girls decided what I needed to do. They were going to start off my weekend of “Down ‘n’ Dirty”. A whānau trip to Ambury Farm. It was great! It had felt like ages since we had had a whānau outing. We had serendipitously timed it well so the girls got to see, for the first time, the cows being milked. And it is Spring, baby animals were out feeding and willing to be petted. It was a great few hours on the farm then coming home the essential cleaning of footwear was my first task. The girls had their gumboots and my partner and I had our trekking boots.

Down ‘n’ Dirty Task #1: Note to self… Buy some gumboots! Cleaning pooh from the tread of hiking boots is a mission. As I sat on the ground, over a bucket, scrubbing into the tread with an old toothbrush I thought to myself “Well, that’s one way to get out of my head!” A metaphor to remove shit from the crevices in my mind. That evening we had a BBQ at my sisters. Their whānau had spent the day laying out their new garden. Right, that inspired me to get into my garden and clean it up.

Down ‘n’ Dirty Activity #2: Fix and empty the compost bin and tidy up the garden beds ready for planting. The girls had stayed at their aunty’s house to hang out with their cousins, leaving me the day to get my hands into dirt and compost. I love my compost. I’ve had it since I started my PhD in 2015. There is just something therapeutic when you bury your hands into that wet, cold, black, worm-infested earth. The girls’ old plastic clam-shaped sandpit became my mixing bowl. In turns, I mixed together the compost from my bin and the dirt removed from the garden bed, giving life to the dried-out earth. The garden bed needed the mint roots removed – and those who have experienced mint, that plant needs containing otherwise it can take over everything – a possible metaphor for colonisation. So I uprooted them and they went into the compost to be broken-down and repurposed into nutrients that help others to grow – yes, this a metaphor to what I feel needs to happen to some of our systems and structures. By the end of this task, I was ready to pick up my girls and feeling stronger, lighter, and happier within myself. “Kia ora Piki”. I’m leaving the mixture so the worms can continue to do their business until we are ready to use. The girls and I have decided to plant strawberries; peas; lettuces; cherry tomatoes, and herbs so that will be done this coming weekend.

Down ‘n’ Dirty Activity #3: With such a cleansing and grounding few days I promised the girls we could walk the neighbour’s dog (the girls love this dog and it helps our elderly neighbour who can’t walk her dog as much after having a fall). A walk around the waterfront to the play park was great fun. Stone-throwing into the water, seeing baby ducks following their māmā, climbing frames, finding treasured shells, and having friendly conversations with strangers were reminders of what really matters in life – what mauri ora/wellness and prosperity looks and feels like. In the afternoon, after a well-deserved lunch and rest, I pulled out the remaining “Little Gardens” we had from last year and the girls and I got planting. Water and dirt mixed and then mushed into the tiny pots. These are great fun and we have been doing these for the last three summers. so we will watch them grow as they sit on our window sill.

KIA ORA:  Today is Tuesday, and here I am writing this blog. Have I completed what was assigned to me by my supervisor? Not quite .. yet! There are a few residue threads of attachment lingering but I know they will dissipate in time, and especially once this week is over and I am not scheduled to see my CfLAT whānau. My Down ‘n’ Dirty weekend has given me a renewed sense of life. I wonder if this process is a kind of pure, a sacred cleansing or purifying Māori ritual. Post-war this was a ritual undergone by our warriors to release the traumas of war and to align them to a healthier way of being conducive to the communities they were re-entering. Is pure a decolonising practice? I will investigate further for my thesis and share here later.

But to recap the process I went through in my Down ‘n’ Dirty weekend:

  1. Remove shit from crevices in my mind.
  2. Identify the sprawling plant that inhibits fruit and vegetables to grow – uproot it, break it down, and repurpose to help others grow!
  3. Connect with my community!
  4. Plant seeds to help little ones grow!



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