A LETTER …
To Those Ngawha Children
Remember that usual morning chorus, right after my Vauxhall was parked?
Miss, may I take your hand?
Miss, I want this one!
Miss, Miss, Miss! Carry your bag, please?
Ah, yes; you made music. At unexpected moments these strains still come to me, maybe from the shiftings of my memory, or maybe they blow in from off the Pacific. Before they are gone I am back among you, my little Maori scholars of Tai Tokerau.
I used to think that with my native tendency to indulge children I was a treat for you. You surely were a treat for me. To have city school children in America run to me so in the morning didn't happen. And you were so willing to do your lessons that I became more ambitious myself. I remember the feijoas you brought me, the big gooseberries, the passion fruit, and especially those mushrooms, always with your eyes flashing. We had a good thing going, eh? In many ways you let me see that I was in the right post. For what I did, you gave me life dividends.
And after those three good, memorable months in school with you, up in that winterless north, which really was mild that year, remember?—it was time to go.
One of my keepsakes is that last sunset over Ngawha Springs. Have you ever watched that sun, slipping away behind its uncertain flush on the scruffy manuka? For some reason I like that. Steam was rising from the natural baths, and the people in them talked back and the forth as they simmered amongst the bubbles.
On that special evening, while you were out there somewhere nearby, around your houses, I tested the water in each pool until I found the right one, then I eased down into its dark warmth. I don't suppose the talk there would have impressed you, but to me it was new, and in its special turn of the tongue I found it lively and enjoyable. It wove and held the people together, like notes in a song.
From another layer of my mind, as energetic as rabbits in the hills my thoughts began jumping around, over both islands. Bingo! I was back in the Makado Cafe in Dunedin, where a tall American negro had caught me off-guard with his gleaming smile. Oh, how that smile made me sharply long for home! I ordered a hamburger.
Then, presto, I was forcing myself, by sheer desperate grit, to go on with the tramp over the merciless Milford Track. Say, those countless rocky stream-beds, those innumerable ups, and those mocking, smacking, deep-sucking slushes, well! And yet, it was during that sacrificial Christmas walk that I fell in love with your country: through its relentless demands and inflictions of pain, the awes and joys its beauties inspired, its unforgettably arch-cracking, blister-breaking, inescapable rocks, its fern frond wavings and pulsating bird calls, all going on at once and mixed up together almost forever—New Zealand confidently emerged, the conqueror. I was well won.
Back on O.M.S., my heart was light at the sight and sounds of teams of kids sprucing up their classrooms. And I was savouring my some-hundredth cup of sweet hot tea in very good company.
Actually, on that night while I was soaking and half-listening and relishing tender new memories, I was packing those memories—and impressions and images and the like—to take away. I had the thrill of the haka, put in a good place where it would always be handy. Near it was the excitement of seeing and hearing the elders' oratory on the marae, and I would also take the good feeling I got from the reception of your people at huis and in their homes. I knew I would want these treasures, and others like them, for a long time, so I settled them in my mind and heart
with special care. And remember the tape I had of your voices? That was the little pathway you have taken to America.
I got out of the bath. I had been well off before, but now there was an added something, in my blood it seemed, a welcome, giddy lightness that had reached into every fibre. I thought, ‘In the end, e hoa ma, when we say “goodbye”, just give me more of this good intoxication that goes with the tangs of tropical fruits, the feel of your firm full handclasps, that certain stimulation of the well-ripened pot of tea, the enchanting harmony of mountains and glaciers and rivers and lakes and hills, hills, hills, the elegant grace of the taller pongas in the ngahere, even the physiologic confusion of too many fish-and-chips, the fun of seeing all the bombs on the road, and yes, give me more of the magic that goes with the bite of the Wellington wind, and with that wrench in my chest at a tangi. And that wonderful spell of the out-pouring of good-will and fellow-feeling and generosity and utter warmth given to me by my little ones. That's you!’
When I left your country, I brought a lot more of all this back with me. Sometimes, even at night, as now, I sense the welcome echoes of the chorus—Riu wanting my hand, Phyllis running up for my bag, young Sarah, Garry, Davina, Gilly, Gus, Lucy, Karani, Chris, Terry, Richard, Sophie, Maureen, including the subdued sound of you, Peter, walking beside me without a word.
Peter, you take my hand this time. Of course you're three years older now, and there's all this space in the way. Still, maybe you are pleased to remember to kuramahita, Peter, and will be, even when you are a man. I hope so.
An even bigger hope is that I have left each of you with some lasting feeling that you are glad to keep. You gave me quite a few. And then, I hope that one day, I will be seeing your bright, winning smiles again, grown even fuller, and that your eyes will still be flashing.
‘Ko te hunga e whai ani i te huarahi atu ki te kotahitanga o te wairua; i roto o te aroha ki nga iwi Katoa o te ao, awhi ponotia enei tikanga, no te mea ma runga i enei ara e puta ai te rangimarie te whanaungatahitanga o te taha tinana me te taha wairua o nga iwi katoa o te ao.’
‘The followers of sincerity and faithfulness must consort with all the people of the world with joy and fragrance; for association is always conductive to union and harmony, and union and harmony are the cause of the order of the world and the life of nations.’—Baha'u'llah.
BAHA'I FAITHP.O. BOX 1906 AUCKLAND.