Creative: Artist, Writer, Media, Spoken-word Poet
Tokelauan, Samoan, German
I was born and raised in Wellington. I grew up in a quiet, little, southern suburb called Happy Valley. The area was largely a new development of houses over a mountain range that had a valley running through it. My school was in the valley and my childhood home was situated on one of those hills overlooking the coast. It sounds like a fairytale and it kinda was.
Funny, as a kid, I used to think that Fräulein Maria lived on the mountain facing my bedroom window because it looked just like the one in the movie ('The Sound of Music').
Every weekend, Dad - an avid fisherman, would go diving and netting for our food by the Red Rocks. Sometimes he took his beloved boat out. When I was six years old, I remember running around the foundations of our home as it was being built and trying to dart the floor plans which my parents had helped design together. It was really a blessed time and those memories are among my fave. I have eleven other siblings and I'm the eldest. I'm of half Tokelauan descent (from dad) and a quarter Samoan, and a quarter German (from mum).
What were the greatest challenges for you growing up?
My parents separating when I was twelve years old really rocked my world. My mother moved away with my baby sister and my father raised myself and two other sisters from then on. We spent the years that followed trying to navigate a new way of living and being a family. It was strange, painful and daunting. I don't know how we managed. Actually I do - God! We aided each other with so much love (Dad did such an amazing job of showing us how) but struggled in it too because, I think, the natural instinct in these situations is to overcompensate for the lack. As the first born, I was always trying to mask the obvious need for a mother, but we survived.
Ironically, the second greatest challenge was us becoming a different kind of family. One with step-parents and step-children. Often these situations mean that people are thrust into one another's lives and expected to stick beautifully. Yet I don't know why we assume that when we know that relational dynamics can be so complex. I guess everyone is always hoping for the best. Our family experienced what I believe is common in these situations; an unspoken emotional imposition. In hindsight, we could have really done with some trained mediating and coaching to support a healthy transition. We took the hard route.
I am so grateful that we've made it out of both challenges with restored relationships. God really enabled that. But I'm always sobered by the reality that the frame of family affects the picture of self. We really need love and wisdom to help protect the vulnerable. I hope we can get better at supporting these various frameworks, as a community, in our country.
What do you love most about your culture(s)?
It's the intrinsic value of my culture that I love the most. My father's example to me was that culture is less about a way of doing or being, and more a way of carrying. Dad carries his home - Fakaofo, Tokelau - in his heart and spirit. I know no greater way to describe it than that. When dad speaks of Tokelau his eyes immediately water, his shoulders roll back, his countenance lifts and his brown skin radiates with deep fondness. And he sings! His homeland is so dear to him. Growing up, Dad would tell me boisterous stories of fun and misadventure, as well as deep stories of intrigue, bond and sadness. He has always spoken of his seniors with such pride.
Just thinking about what Tokelau means to dad makes me tear up. I've never been there but I feel like I have. The culture of Tokelau is one of sincerity and simplicity, musicality and generosity in the spirit of joy and love. We are few in number, but mighty when counted.
See Te Vaka in 'Moana'...I was so empowered by their creative contribution in the Disney film.
What I love about my Samoan culture, through my mother's eyes, is the resilience and resourcefulness of a people who have a strong sense of familial loyalty. There are no limits to what we'll do for one another. The oral traditions, that I've only observed from afar, are an extremely beautiful element of our culture too. I'd love to learn more.
What are the greatest lessons you have learned (in terms of life lessons)?
Freedom is forgiving.
Despite some rough years, the dreamer in me always believed that I was destined to live a great life. Straight out of high school, I set out on a quest to find what I could only describe as my freedom and road to the dream life. But after almost a decade of roadblocks, I realised that no matter where in the world I went, there would be no great life because there was no freedom on the inside. I had carried around a debilitating bitterness for years over the disappointments from my youth. It showed up in my rabid emotional turmoil and chronic sickness as an adult. The injustices kept me so bound. At 26, I discovered that the freedom I craved could only really be satisfied by a deep trust and acceptance of God's love. Liberty really is that simple.
The love of God is like a satiating water fountain that fills every depth and crevice of your heart (oddly but perfectly, my absent mother's name is Paepaepuna meaning 'spring of water'). Once I chose to completely side with God's truth and forgive, the healing busted in and freedom busted out (Hello, dream life!)
Don't bend to blend.
We live in a culture where it's hard to be you. I've had to practise not letting the world around me dictate or define the one on the inside. Over the years and in all sorts of ways, I've felt so much pressure to change what I value just to be accepted or to subtly blend in. Being brave in those moments has helped to define me. My voice is something I've had to fight for. I'm a spoken word poet, but I learned the value of my voice on the pavement of life, not on a stage. At times, I've had to stand up and stand alone for my views. Other times, I've just had to quietly determine in my heart who I was and hold confidently to that, despite naysayers. Don't be bulldozed out of your own unique skin! Each of us is here for a unique purpose and we won't fulfil that purpose being someone else. I remember once, caving into the pressure and blending in. It was a slow death. You lose your sense of self, as well the peace and the joy that's attached to your identity.
It's depressing and not worth it.
Integrity is everything.
I really believe integrity breeds excellence. It's something I try to holdfast to and helps me manage the small things; keep myself in check. Success is in the little things! There is a biblical adage 'faithful with the small, ruler over much' which nudges at my conscience constantly.
It holds the idea that taking care of responsibilities honestly, however seemingly unimportant, will open doors for you. I've known this. Big comes when you can handle it. Go hard on the small stuff. Integrity is a good way to school yourself.
Last year you traveled! Can you talk about where you went and some of your incredible experiences on that trip?
Yeah, it was a dream! 14 countries over a span of 7 months, but my particular highlight was smashing out Turkey, Spain, Greece and Africa within a 3-month period.
Turkey was right in the middle of political strain and threats of terrorism when I traveled over. Many international travellers were cancelling their plans, but I couldn't. I really felt a strong sense of purpose to go there and it didn't disappoint. Over 2 weeks, I covered 2000 miles of Turkish country and got to know the way of the people. I loved it! Had tea with the locals, traversed mountains, sat in ancient ruins, braved the markets, explored historic caves and stood tall in Gallipoli.
Because I'm an artist, the vast forms of craftsmanship there were thrilling to me (literally cried!). From the weavers that ached just to thread fine mats, to potters sculpting masterful pieces to make ends meet; the high fashion fanfare with their relentless sellers, to the simple street swag of common Turkish ladies. Inspiring! The fear portrayed by media news about Turkey was nowhere near what I experienced. It's a place full of history, nature and colour.
Their food is the best of all the countries I travelled to. And the hot air ballooning in Cappadocia, along with 50 other balloons, was breathtaking.
Greece was a symphony of simplicity and stillness, heightened by a basic colour palette and the most killer views. I found my favourite place on planet Earth right here while sailing around the Greek Islands. Mykonos!! An island characterised by its sugar cube stone housing and narrow cobblestone paths, designed to keep the neighbours in close proximity to one another. So Greek! The stores are rustic and quaint, and the cafes and restaurants on the water seem to go on for days. It's a writers dream. My favourite bit of all was my own personal room that looked like it had been chiseled out of the cleft of a rock. It was nestled under a refurbished windmill. I watched large ships come in and out like I belonged there. Wow, I haven't even mentioned Santorini...
Kenya turned my heart inside out. Next to my work in the arts and media, I've had a burning passion for orphans.
When I was a youth, I watched a documentary about orphans in Romania and it did something to my conscience. With their stories and mine in tow, I've long carried a conscious message of hope for anyone who has ever felt forgotten or abandoned - 'You have a home!'
I was so blessed to be able to embody this message for a few precious babies in a little orphanage in Kiambu County in Kenya.
Their names were Kent, Robin, Valerie, Prince, Yann and Quinton. I felt like a lion surrounded by these little cubs. I got to hold them and pray for them, speak seed words of life into their big brown eyes. It was home for me in a way that I can't say about any other time in my life.
Tanzania took me on an intrepid journey that I never thought I'd be ready for. Lol. You see, I tend to prefer the finer things in life, so I don't know what possessed me to sign up for a safari in the wild - ghetto styles. I camped, for the second time ever (first was like over thirty years ago) out in the Serengeti, smack bang in the lion's circumference, with no fencing between me and the wildlife of lion, buffalo, hyena etc. During the dark, my friends and I were walking back-to-back in secure clusters, shining torches in every direction. During the day, zebra chilled out and grazed close by, while we dodge their animal poop to get to our meals. No camp experience will ever compare to trying to sleep under an African sky and being startled by the sound of a herd of gazelles running through the night. It was crazy thrilling!
I realised one definitive life lesson in Africa - we are capable of so much more than we think. #zawadisha
Where do you see yourself in 10 years from now?
The precise problem with visionaries - Where do I not see myself?
Life experience thus far lends me to believe that I couldn't even begin to conceive what awesome things lay ahead. I never could have dreamt up what I've lived so far. But, if I was a betting woman, I'd say that I'd be living in another country, with an exquisite colourful family, a few published books and have produced some of my script work for film.
I see some other things on the horizon, but I'll let the heat of the sun/Son bring them up!