Living signs

As if in a dream my arms are no longer white and thin. I stand lion strong limb limb. (Alastair Galbraith)

Wednesday 28th January, 2009:

Last night in my dreams were a parrot, a tiger, and two black panthers, all roaming over the sheltering hills which we used to explore as children. The parrot perched in the walnut and fig trees at the front of our house. The panthers, which I saw from the window, were not really black, but the colour of smudged grey charcoal. I felt a surge of alarm, but knew soon I would go out to where they wandered shoulder to shoulder, quietly slipping against the summer hills. My heart said white and green, like a flash; violet and smudgy grey, like a velvet shadow; dust-pink and tawny, like the hibiscus with a sunrise flush at its centre.

My heart says no more daydreaming please.  My eyes can’t slide sideways anymore, to the shining world inside my head. I have to look out now, into the real world, with attention and care, and see real people and speak to real people and mean it in these times.


Saturday 31 January:

Classes start Monday, and I need to think about the year 11’s. A double period of Social, Monday morning – and on my class list are Dimario and Alexander. The kids who are already, by the age of fifteen, totally not into going along for the ride. Dimario – I taught him in year 9 – will occasionally do the most painstaking and beautiful work, otherwise (and usually) nothing. Alexander is a friend of Dimario’s – I’ve seen him around. The teachers say all he ever does is tag.


Looking out something in a box of school stuff, I find the ‘Indigenous Knowledge’ assessment from last year. Certain lines stand out to me now like they’re written in magical letters:

When it gets cloudy and you can’t use the sun or the stars all you can do is rely on the ocean waves. If you can read the ocean, you will never be lost, when the sky gets black at night under heavy clouds, and you cannot see the swells. You cannot even see the bow of the canoe, you can just feel the different swell patterns moving under the canoe and can tell the canoe’s direction lying down inside the hull of the canoe.

Living seamarks are called ‘aimers’ and are such things as a tan shark making lazy movements, a ray with a red spot behind the eyes, a lone noisy bird, a swimming swordfish, and so on… these seamarks are found along routes between islands and indicate to the navigator that he was at a certain point along his route, for example the seamark called ‘the swarming of beasts’ consisted of an extraordinary number of sharks and indicated the canoe was a day’s sail downwind of land. Other marks include a region where flying fish leaped in pairs, a zone of innumerable jellyfish… an area of sharks and red-tailed tropic birds… a place where pairs of porpoises point their heads in the direction of the passage into Tarawa lagoon.

Once the canoe is in the vicinity of its destination, the navigator starts looking for land.  Islands are usually found in clusters – if the navigator can hit any of the islands in this target screen, he can reorient the canoe.

I feel really nervous now, about school tomorrow. But I know that will pass as the day goes by. As yet it’s unknown, that first class, and I can only get it known by ‘feeling’ it,  like a living dynamic which starts and shifts.


About this blog..


For a long time, more than five years now, I’ve been writing this stuff down. So let’s begin anywhere.

I could sum it up like this, I guess: I work in education. ‘Miss’ – or ‘Ms’ –  is what I’m called, most of the time.

But an educator is truly the last thing I am. ‘The’ job is not the same thing as my job. It isn’t the same thing at all.

At first I used to just wonder why I didn’t get it; why I didn’t  like what teachers like. I wondered how I could try to understand, and just do things the way that teachers are supposed to do them. Then I moved on from that line of thinking, and started trying to understand what I was supposed to be doing in this place – a place which manages to be both sentimental and brutal at the same time. I felt like a spy in the camp. And then, one day… I just crossed straight over some line that I didn’t even know was there. It was just one little step. I didn’t even realize it till a while after, but at that moment everything changed. That was July 1st, 2009.

But I want to start before all that.

Like I said, I’ve been writing this down for a long time. So I’ll start telling the story of us: the campaninos. I don’t know if that’s an actual word. I tried looking it up, but couldn’t find it anywhere. But I mean me and my comrades; the company I keep.