An excerpt from
Talking About: A Series of Community Conversations
compiled by Lorna Sullivan, published by Imagine Better (2013)
My name is Lyndsay Mariana Tahitahi. I am from Rotorua’s Hinemoa Point. In Hinemoa Point it was all whanau. We even embraced other whanau when the doctors started building their houses up at Hinemoa Point for the view. We didn’t exclude them, we embraced them in our community. We could go to the hospital and ask to speak to Dr Dempsey or ring him on his home phone. He wasn’t unapproachable.
For me personally, even though I had this strong sense of community externally, internally, in my heart, I couldn’t connect with it. At the age of two and a half, I was burnt, over 30 percent of my body with third degree burns. I spent two and a half years in hospital and my community became sterile and clinical. I was separated, taken out from my natural community.
From that experience I became very much a loner and very much alone. I was isolated in my heart.
I could move within community but I could not connect. I truly was afraid, convinced that the fire made me ugly. I feared rejection, and shied away from meaningful relationships, afraid of exposure. I had dreams, but never believed they would be fulfilled.
At seventeen I met my husband, the father of my three children. It was a dream realised. He loved me and accepted me. We shared sports abilities and I was a good caregiver. I looked after him well at home and our children well. I even left my whanau to be absorbed by his whanau and his Maori community, seven and a half hours drive from my own home.
This community at first wasn’t very kind to me. They didn’t accept outsiders. It took me three years to build relationships. What helped me connect was my work in the pub. I had a very strong work ethic and that was my door opener.
After work on the 31st of May, 1987, I had a car accident. I broke my neck in two places and now my experience is quadriplegia, paralysed from the armpits down, unable to walk but incomplete. I still have sensation so I can tell when my boots have fallen off the foot plate and where my body is positioned. I am very, very grateful for that ability to have those things.
My children were 6, 8 and 9 when I was taken from my family for a year, to Auckland’s spinal unit. One whole year away from my babies and from my community. Once more I was in a medical environment, a clinical situation, learning to adapt to a totally different lifestyle. While I was there my marriage broke up and I had to fight to have my three children all live with me. I failed but finally I took my eldest and my youngest home with me to Rotorua.
My whare tapa wha had collapsed. I spent three years not wanting to live, it was just all too hard. But a turning point came when I met God and my brother’s love, my elder brother’s love and concern for me was voiced.
Spiritually I knew I was accepted. I was wonderfully made, awesomely created, I wasn’t a mistake, I belonged, I had a purpose, I had a plan, I had a life to live, I had things to give. My brother’s love for me said, “Sis, you’ve become isolated, we need to get you back in the river of life. Let’s get out there again, let’s swim. I will support you.”
He introduced me to the tutor at Waiariki Polytech. When he gave me this choice, he was a bit of a bully. There was an undercurrent that said ‘you gotta go’. I respected my big brother, but the thing was it was a course called ‘Teaching People with Disabilities’. I took offence immediately, what can anybody teach me about my life experience? I was so pleasantly surprised. Three years of hard work, sacrifice, and energy, but so many good times. I received a Certificate and a Diploma.
Out of that we set up a Trust for monitoring and evaluating services and I went on to advocacy work. I realised that I could participate, that I could give, and I could share. I needed community, but community needed me too.
Reflections on Community
I want to reflect on building real, genuine communities and intimacy. Some people shy away from intimacy, but I can move up to someone quite easily. I can feel whether or not it’s appropriate and give them a big hug. That’s who we are as Maori, making that physical connection.
I love people, from all walks of life, all situations. I appreciate and honour their differences, whatever they bring and I really hope and pray that people feel the same way about me. So my community is very large now.
My life experience has broadened my perception and my outlook, and what you do. Many of my whanau have been in prison so I have become involved in the prison and court community where I go along and support my whanau. I am secretary of the Prison Fellowship in Tauranga. I go to prison and take prison services twice a month. I am involved with my church community and I am involved in my neighbourhood.
I came from Rotorua to Tauranga….years ago. My biological mum’s from Matapihi but I don’t know the Faulkners and I am just starting to connect with my whanau. When I arrived I didn’t know anything, I didn’t know where Otumoetai was, where Merivale was. I spent a long time just going round and round, because I was interested geographically where I was going to put down roots. I wanted to know where I was going and who I was going with, who was out there.
I moved into a street with beautiful views of the moana. It’s a peaceful, small peninsula.
Most of the people are school teachers, professionals or have businesses. I am the only Maori in the street. With that comes my kids and my nieces and nephews and, when Dad was ill, he came to live with us we looked after him as a whanau. There would be all these cars outside, you know. You would have the other places maybe two cars, double garage, that’s it, but there would be six or seven cars outside my place.
When we first moved in I would go out in my wheelchair to the mailbox. People would be out doing their beautiful gardens and I would wave out and I would get no response, absolutely no response. Because of my sense of community and connecting and what I had been through, I wasn’t going to lose it. I kept waving. Sometimes they would just lift their hand quickly and then move on.
I thought, goodness, these people must be afraid of me, and I don’t want people to think that way. I am a presence in the community that actually goes further than me. If I have friends around who have a disability, I don’t want them to feel like they are excluded or they can’t fit into my neighbourhood. I decided that I would go on the computer, put my photo up with my whanau, my dog and my cats and write something about myself and who I was. Then I wheeled around and put this in every letterbox in my street. I gave phone details, email details, but they didn’t have to contact me. I wasn’t looking for that, I was just introducing myself.
Now I know every one of my neighbours, and with some I have close, intimate relationships. When I get in trouble, like fall out of my wheelchair, get stuck in my vehicle, I can call on my neighbours. I can freely wheel around there and get waves, get plants, tulip bulbs. I get fish from one guy who goes out fishing and brings filleted snapper to my home. My son in law worked at the bakery and brought back big buckets of cake mix. I distributed them in my neighbourhood. Sometimes, for those who may not be able to do the baking, we baked cakes with the mix and took them around.
It is all about building relationships. Wherever I go, whatever I do, relationships are so important. It takes such a lot of energy, it takes time but it’s worth it. The rewards are manifold. The relationships bring mutual support, friendships and a sense of well-being, and these all enrich my life.