Freedom and control

To Waitemata Harbour:

You have such
clever hands.

You hold the islands
on the tips of your
fingers, lightly so

you never submerge
them. Firmly enough that
they don’t float away.

If a person could hold
another person like that –
well, then

there would only be

– Sarah Quigley

Viliame asked the three of us, ‘would you like to take a ride on the bilibili?’

We said yes. We didn’t think too much about supplies, there was some debate about taking the camera. Viliame took enough mangos to keep us all fed.

We got on and pushed out, til we were some meters from shore. The ocean was still, peaceful in the quiet of the reef.

We three took turns replacing the key words of proverbs with the word mango:

‘a dime a mango’

‘you can’t teach an old mango new tricks’

‘plenty more mangos in the sea’

Viliame didn’t get our humor but he laughed anyway – a sturdy sort of laugh, quite different from our shallow giggling.  We asked if he like the jokes. He said, ‘No. But I am happy to see you are happy.’

We just sat there on the bilibili raft passing the time, the four of us.

At some point, I heard a far off drumming, ‘what’s that sound Vili? Coming from the villiage?’

‘That is the lali. It is beating to tell the villagers that it is time to pray, time for lotu. Everyone will stop now, in the koro and pray. We are doing this for one month.’

One of us had the good sense to ask Vili if he would like for us to stop too and pray.

‘Vinaka, yes’ – Viliame thanked us and prayed in a low, deep Fijian drone.

We sat in Vili’s prayer, upon his village raft, mango strings stuck between our back teeth, ocean water friendly and warm around our bodies.

The lali began to beat again and it was time for back to work.

Viliame asked us, ‘where would you like to go – where can I take you on this bilibili?’

It felt like the wrong question.

How could we know, the three of us? So fresh to this village, so clearly of a different place. It wasn’t just our pale skins – the way we wore our sulu, the strange inflections that haunted our attempts in the vernacular, revealed us every time. We weren’t tourists – so few tourists came to the Ra province that we had found ourselves in – but we weren’t local either. We couldn’t suggest a path through this water, we didn’t know it.

Viliame, on the other hand, knew the whole situation intimately. He had lived here all his life, generations upon generations of his family had swum in and fished this body of water.

Yet he had asked, and it seemed impolite to turn his question back on him.

So we took the freedom to choose that he foolish gave us; I waved vaguely in the direction of the coast line, where I thought the water from the reef met with a stream winding back into the hills.

Viliame accepted this suggestion and began moving the raft towards the stream.

He took us up the stream, through the murkier waters, criss-crossed with mangrove. He navigated a tenuous path for the three of us.

Viliame pointed out some of the beauties of his stream – the flowers, the edible fish, the good places to bathe. We screamed in mistaken fear at all the wrong things – spiders that were friendly, fish that were gentle. And, quite symmetrically, we tried to touch, and eat, all that we should have avoided.

Viliame just laughed and gently stared us the safer way.

At some point Viliame told us it was time to go back to the koro, and he took us.

We arrived: red with sun burn, and overfeed on mangos. But otherwise at peace with ourselves and the world.







Words from my ‘office’

In the last couple of weeks I’ve begun writing my masters thesis.

The masters program I am in doesn’t provide its students with offices. However, through some lucky connections, I have found myself a writing space in this office-hut.

It’s located near all the main university buildings, but kinda on the fringe, immersed in native bush, and prone to mold.

Close by my ‘office’ is the head quarters of Campus Care (which is kinda like Campus Security but also does some caretaking) and the mail room.

Over the time I’ve spent in my office-hut I’ve gotten to know the Campus Care guys a little and they’ve gotten to know me.

I wave at them every morning as they take the path past my hut, wondering where they’re off to, and why they carry walkie-talkies.

They wave back at me, with big smiles, no doubt wondering what I’m up to, sitting, typing in frustration at my computer all day.

And as they walk past, the words of their working day intersect with the many words of mine:

….Such a definition of security reveals realism’s deep statism, which sees national security, secured by military force, as the primary object for study…

‘Kia ora!’

…in Cox’s terminology, labelled ‘problem-solving’ theories. Having accepted the prevailing (state) structure…

‘He was wearing black glasses. Aviator types. Yeah.’

…This approach to suffering relies upon the liberal theorist occupying a ‘helping’ role, from which…

‘Liking those pants there sheila!’

…The work of Martha Nussbaum, for example, charts an alternative politics of cosmopolitanism through…

‘Okay. So. He’s our guy?’

…Critical Security Studies invites me into the thought of the Frankfurt School…

‘Screw work today. I just wanna have a picnic.’


In all the great seriousness and loneliness of writing thousands of words alone in a small hut, I am happy to hear the words of other humans, busy living other lives.

All my teeth metaphors at once


I dreamt that all of teeth fell out. Every single one of them spontaneously dropped from my gums. I caught them in the palm of one hand and stood helplessly.

I told two friends about my dream, one said dreaming about losing your teeth means that you’re lying about something, the other said it means you’re scared of aging.

In the dream, my teeth fell with little pain or mess. But my adult mouth was left with the toothlessness of a baby.

I think it was my baby teeth that I lost in that dream. They were small ones. Not strong adult teeth, with their long roots to hold them steady in the gums.

This tooth-dream got me thinking about growth. About transition.

It does strike me as a bit weird, the human tooth building process: We build a set of childhood teeth, lose them, return briefly to our toothless baby mouth, and then grow second, stronger set. Do other animals grow two sets of teeth like this? Or just us?

It’s a different metaphor for growth than the lifecycle of a butterfly for example – caterpillar, cocoon, butterfly – there are no awkward backward steps. All that good linear progression.

Not teeth though. No, to grow adult teeth one must move forward through an apparent regression.

I think I understand why the butterfly’s transformation is the more popular metaphor: In my own growth – intellectual, physical, spiritual – I’d rather not feel as though I am repeating the same stages. I’d like to avoid retracing my steps.

My dream leaves me with the question, does growing (up) sometimes require what looks like backwards steps?


Kelburn is a ‘nice’ suburb. It is the suburb where Victoria University of Wellington is located. So, purely for the sake of proximity, Kelburn is the suburb I’ve been living in.

Upland Road snakes its way precariously through the suburb. Down one side of the road is a steep slope, with just enough room for one row of big white houses. Their white gates are mostly closed. I spent a summer looking after one those Upland Road houses – it’s a bit like magic to slip behind such a gate; one can drop down the stairs and simply disappear.

Vincent O’Sullivan, describes rain in July as ‘a sheer glitter ringing about as if all the cutlery draws of Kelburn had been tipped out.’ I suspect there’s plenty of beautiful, shiny things that would fall out of Upland Road if you tipped it upside down.

I’ve come to think of those white houses that line Upland Road as rows of teeth. When I walk the road, I am walking the small gap between top and bottom teeth.



In Otago, where I’m from, many oamaru stone teeth line Dunedin’s harbour mouth. They are public a sculpture. A pun. The oamaru stone will deteriorate in the coastal weather over time. They’ll start to look rotten, bits will fall off, and eventually they’ll disappear.

The residents of Dunedin will watch the decay, perhaps over generations.


Another transformation – baby teeth, adult teeth, dead teeth.

It’s hard to imagine that death in Kelburn. It’s hard to imagine the pearly white houses decaying. Their whiteness is perpetual, simple; simply put on another coat of paint.

That leaves me with another question, does our growing involve some sort of death?

Math book art

I’ve been living in a very small space (31.5 square meters) with one other human for the last 18 months.

In such a small space you get to know each – and each others stuff – pretty well. Alexander, who I live with, likes maths and books. He has selves of full of maths books.

I’m not so into maths, my eyes are instead drawn to art.

The more I’ve seen maths books lying half-read around our tiny house, the more I’ve become interested in the art of their covers. Random swirls, personified numbers, and angry fish – it seems publishers are at a loss for images to represent abstract mathematics.

Here are my favorites. I hope you enjoy the surrealism.