Yours Truly on the TV

A few months ago I did an interview with NationTV 22 in Bangkok for the show Mong Rao Mong Lok / มองเรามองโลก.

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me & Veenarat Laohapakakul, who asks wonderful questions

Here’s the full show that aired this weekend in Thailand –– it’s in Thai, but the interview is in English with subtitles! Hope you enjoy:

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Tui in Whanganui

The bird life in this hemisphere is outstanding. Here’s a tui singing at sunset above the Whanganui River.

Whanganui, New Zealand
December 2015

This video made possible by supporters on Patreon.

https://www.patreon.com/posts/3954730

If this blog is at all a source of inspiration for you, please consider popping a tip in the proverbial jar — any and everything keeps me going on the move.

Also also…!

I have a piece about a water story from Nukuloa-Gau, Fiji, coming out in print & online with No More Potlucks on New Year’s Day. I’m looking forward to sharing that audio recording & story with you all.

P.S. Someone on FB commented on the video above that they would “love to hear the bird minus the road sounds.”

To which I replied: “We live in a world where birds and cars coexist. The beautiful thing I find about recording sound is that it’s all there, even the messy / ugly bits. Recording gives me permission to listen more carefully. I can’t manufacture sounds. I listen. Birds are notoriously difficult to record — it was lucky that this one was so close to my friend’s balcony.”

If you want to hear *just* birds, though, this website is a great resource for native bird songs in New Zealand:

http://www.doc.govt.nz/nature/native-animals/birds/bird-songs-and-calls/ 

DKL, over and out.

x

People’s Climate Movement

Hey world,

I’m riding my bicycle to the People’s Climate March in Christchurch, New Zealand on Nov. 28, 2015.

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The Places I Have Listened: collecting stories at Monsavu Dam, Fiji / November 2014

Last September I attended the People’s Climate March in NYC among a crowd of 400,000 activists. I was a drop in that ocean.

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yours truly with the epic organizer / magician Collin Rees (@collinrees) / NYC People’s Climate March / September 21, 2014

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September 21, 2014: I was there. I marched. I listened. I recorded 3+ hours of stories from the people I met. I cried three times. I danced. I was silent and I was loud. I have never felt such powerful energy in my life.

Will you be attending a People’s Climate March this weekend? There are events kicking off all over the globe. Check out www.peoplesclimate.org to find an event near you. There’s a map of locations here: www.peoplesclimate.org/actions/map/ 

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“Water is worth more than gold.” The People’s Climate March in NYC was electric.

Keep on keepin’ on. Your voice has value.

To change everything, we need everyone, everywhere.

Tell your story.

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“No More Denial”

Over & out,
Devi on Wheels

 

In Case You Missed It

I wrote a piece for the Guardian that went live a week ago:

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Check it out: http://www.theguardian.com/environment/bike-blog/2015/sep/21/one-bike-and-1001-stories-on-climate-change

A big THANK YOU to everyone who has supported me and continues to support me up to this point, esp. to Peppe and Jeanie, who let me stay up late for three nights in their kitchen in Mackay writing this thing, and to Caitlin Kelly, who coached me through it.

I love writing in kitchens.

Balancing three time zones (east coast USA friends to help edit, editors in London, and myself here in Queensland, Australia) was no easy task but I’m happy to say that I’m alive and kickin.

Thank you.

I couldn’t do this without all your help.

More soon.

xo

d

Christmas Island

As ever, I am interested in the intersection between poetry and storytelling, how the voice in a poem can leap from the page (or screen) and tell a story of its own.

This story that Nacanieli Seru told me in Nukuloa-i-Gau, Fiji has been haunting me for nearly three months. While I didn’t have the audio recorder on while he told it––it’s not explicitly a water story or a climate change story, either––I think it belongs here.


 

Christmas Island 

They told us to turn our backs. We stood on the beach, all 300 of us from the Fijian Navy Reserves. It was a beautiful, blue day on Christmas Island, the day they tested the British hydrogen bomb.

I could feel the heat. The top of the explosion was like ice cream. Billowing fire.

Some of us, when we came back, our hair fell out. Most of us, when we came back, had miscarriages.

I knew something was wrong when albatross fell out of the air, dead. Birds farther away flew into buildings, blind.

My son was born two years later. He was always sick.

Sakiusa Seru died at age forty-nine. In the autopsy they couldn’t find anything wrong.

It’s a thing you wouldn’t wish on any parent, having to bury their child.

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Tagimoucia

We walk with dawn at our backs towards the promise of flowers, red flowers laced with a tragic love story. I have heard two versions of this tale told by village elders:

In one, a village woman fell in love with a chief, but was forbidden from marrying him by custom. When her wedding day with another man arrived, the woman fled up the hill we now climb with a knife in her hand. People from her village pursued her, and at the peak she stabbed herself. Rather than blood, streams of red flowers flowed from her chest. They bloom every year in December, a reminder of the woman’s suffering.

In the second telling, her lover was a man of low status who her family detested. The two escaped up the hill together. The villagers, noticing their absence, pursued and killed them both as a matter of honor. The lovers’ wounds form a blood-red chain of intertwining red flowers that bloom on vines every year.

“Horticulturalists from New Zealand and Australia have tried to take specimens of the flower back to their countries to grow,” the second storyteller chuckles from his belly, “but all the flowers died. Taveuni is the only place that tagimoucia can survive.”

~

Three of us trudge up the hill: myself, Eleni, and a gangly guy in orange basketball shorts. He doesn’t talk much and we never learn each other’s names. The light is pinkish and fresh in the haze of early morning. With each step I wake up into my body and my voice.

Talking is a good way to keep from thinking about the enormity of the hill that surrounds us. On a particularly steep slope, Eleni turns to me and huffs: “You won’t believe this, Devi, but back in 2003 a whole group of kids snuck out of their village at dawn and walked up here alone.”

As if on cue, a light rain begins to sprinkle on our arms and day-bags. Looking up, I see nothing but cloud and the long legs of our companion some thirty steps ahead. I gave up long ago trying to keep up with his exuberant strides.

“I think about them in this rain,” Eleni shivers. “They were so young. Ten kids, the oldest not more than eleven years old. They wanted to see the lake for Fiji Day.”

Lake Tagimoucia, nestled in volcanic rock, is Taveuni’s pride, named for the telltale flowers. Barring a daylong, circuitous bus trip to the north, you can only see the lake’s shores from the top of the hills that surround the main harbor. We would be able to see the lake from the summit of the hill we are climbing, were it not for the thick fog.

“When is Fiji Day?” I ask, eager to change the subject. The forest around us seems haunted, suddenly, with more than the breath of raindrops.

“September tenth? No, October tenth!”

Our footsteps leave squelchy marks in the soil. A few minutes pass without comment.

“But the kids,” I have to ask. “What happened to them?”

“My grandmother, the one who just passed away––she was one of the first who found them. Search parties were called off after a week, and it was a month before anyone heard of them. Then one day, a raggedy group of kids stumbled into the village.”

We stop walking for a moment to take a drink of water.

“They were cold. She welcomed the kids into her house and wrapped them up in blankets straight away. When my grandmother called the police to say that ten lost kids had showed up in her village, they thought it was some kind of joke. She had to persuade the officer to come and see for himself. Then she did what Fijian women do best: she gave those ravished children something to eat.”

Eleni pauses, the tang of the memory clear on her face. “The whole island celebrated their return. Everyone feasted. Our joy changed even the taste of the air.”

We have only been walking for an hour, and already my stomach is hollowed out with hunger. Eleni digs in her shoulder bag for a mango and tosses it my way. I peel off the skin and let the juice trickle down my arm to the elbow while I eat. We continue walking in silence.

“And all the children, they all came back alive?”

“They all came back alive.”

~

Several false-summits later, we find the flowers.

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The fog, by late morning, is dense and our bodies are coated with a film of rain. I can’t see more than five feet in front of my face, but somehow the guy with the orange shorts has catapulted himself up into a tree, machete in hand, to bring back a few of the tagimoucia flowers. They are smaller and more stunning than I had expected, each bloom a story.

The farther we climb, the more the barriers between us disintegrate. The guy with the orange shorts starts to open up, though I am still too shy to ask his name.

“See up there?” I follow the line of his finger up to the tip of a cloud where a metal structure barely points through the fog.

“That’s the Digicel tower. You can’t see the Vodafone tower, but it’s over there.” He tugs a faded navy blue beanie over his ears and launches into a story.

“The fist time I came up here I was a teen. My friends and I woke up and just decided to go. There’s a saying among the elders that if you plan to come, it will rain; if you wake up with the idea on your lips, the weather will be good. It was a clear day, windy too. We climbed up the service rungs on the Vodafone tower, took a picture with my friend’s cell phone for proof, and walked back to our village by the sea.”

I nod, in awe. After climbing this high, the last thing I can imagine is scaling a cell tower.

“I haven’t come up here in a while,” he continues. “It is a holy place.”

~

A few mangoes later we climb back through the cloud. I lose my footing and almost fall several times, only just managing to stay standing by some grace of rock and tread. Eleni, without fail, has a story to distract me from the descent:

“A man from my village went fishing one day with his two kids. They were chasing the big ones, far out beyond the main reef. The fish get bigger the farther out you go from the shore.”

The clouds have just started to lift, or we have descended far enough to be out of their tendrils. I look out at the sea, squinting in the sunlight, imagining the pan-fried fish we will eat for lunch. My t-shirt begins to dry itself of sweat and rain. If I almost close my eyes, I can see the little boat.

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“Their engine cut out and they couldn’t make it back to shore. The man and his kids drifted to sea. Everyone was praying. We sent out a search party but after a few days, they were declared missing. Weeks passed. No word.”

I stop to steady my feet. Eleni looks out at the water.

“One night my mom and I were praying for their return and we heard this whistle at the door. It was exactly like the whistle that the missing man used to make when he was coming over for tea. We rushed outside and searched everywhere but couldn’t find a thing in the dark. But my mom said, right then, that the man and his kids were still alive. They had to be.

“Sure enough they were found somewhere up near Samoa, far away from Fijian waters. They had been living off of fish for a whole month.”

A truck passes us, ambling up the mountainside, just as the story ends. We walk for another hour in near-silence, until a rumble from behind announces the same truck’s descent down the loose gravel. The driver pulls over so that we can hop in the back seat of the cab. The guy with the orange shorts opts to take a spot standing up in the bed.

“More fresh air,” he mumbles.

We bounce our way wordlessly towards home.

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Two Tongues

“Ox tongue for lunch!” Annie calls in from her kitchen in Suva, Fiji. Early afternoon light filters in through the rose-pink shades, casting the whole room in a peachy glow. “Would you like to join?”

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While I am a proud vegetarian in the states, I have a policy of accepting any food that is offered to me while I travel. Normally I can pull this off with grace. Chicken curry? No problem. A whole fried fish on my plate? Sure thing, as long as I can leave the delicate head and intestines for my host.

My stomach turns, though, at the thought of an ox tongue in my mouth. Would chewing be like kissing an ox? I am conscious of the presence of my own tongue, which feels five times heavier than usual.

“Maybe in a bit,” I manage. “I have to work up my courage first.”

I pick my way through a bowl of green beans and rice, slipping into memory.

~

December 2013: my girlfriend and I take a break from writing our theses to venture out to Brookline, Massachusetts for a book talk. The author: Sue Monk Kidd.

I loved The Secret Life of Bees; my partner did not. When I first read the book in middle school, I took to squeezing honey straight from the bottle into my mouth, if only to savor the sweetness of how it was made. My girlfriend ripped through The Secret Life of Bees in half a day over winter break and pronounced it “contrived,” though she agreed to come with me to the Brookline Booksmith reading. We hadn’t had a date in a while, we reasoned, and this would be a good way to get us both out of the house.

Sue Monk Kidd’s latest book, we learn, depicts the unlikely friendship of a white girl and her slave. The audience in the bookstore basement is almost entirely white and unfazed. We leave before the signing, my girlfriend in a huff. On our walk home, she launches into a diatribe about race in America:

“White women think they know all about black people,” she near-shouts, her voice forming puffs in the cold, “and have the privilege to take the voices out of black women’s mouths. It’s sickening, really.” She turns to me for my approval, which I give by means of a small nod. “It was all I could do not to walk out in the middle of that reading.”

A huddle of winter coats at the bus stand, presumably with people beneath, turn towards us to stare. We trudge on, arm in arm, sidestepping patches of ice.

“Rather than Sue Monk Kidd, we should be listening to what black women have to say,” she continues. “There is nothing romantic about slavery whatsoever. It’s frankly disturbing that you could like anything this woman writes.”

In five months of dating, I have learned not to interrupt her when she takes on this tone of voice. What I hear as argumentative, challenging, she interprets as normal speech. Chalk it up to her Russian parents and my New England upbringing, but more days than not, we have difficulty communicating. She was a debater in high school, and I am a quiet poet who likes to take on difficult subjects without a near-yelling tone of voice. Needless to say, the relationship did not last a year. Fortunately this line of argument is sensible, though I wish she would come down from her high horse.

“I don’t think I understood race when I read The Secret Life of Bees in middle school,” I near-whisper. “I just wanted to keep bees.” She looks at me with a pitiful stare. We leave each other to our own thoughts for the next two blocks. I rub my hands together in an attempt to stay warm.

~

Brookline, Massachusetts is a haven for Russian Orthodox Jews. Even when the wintery weather is too miserable for sensible folks to be out walking, this fact of the population is evidenced by the proliferation of shops with Russian names and consignment stores selling menorahs.

My girlfriend grabs my hand and leads us into a mom and pop Russian grocery. The door opens with a tingle of an overhead bell. We stand at the doormat, stomping our boots free of snow. A woman behind the cash with a topknot and penciled-in eyebrows eyes us from the edge of her People magazine and flips the page nonchalantly. We are the only customers.

Dodging the cashier’s suspecting gaze, we duck into an aisle of Russian sweets where my girlfriend, elated, picks out a handful. “The strawberry ones are the best,” she reasons, “but I’ll get you a chocolate to try as well.”

She wanders through the shop, letting her hand glaze over the Russian words. “My parents used to pack a whole bunch of these candies for picnics at the park.”

I love her, I think, because I will never know her completely.

Having traced the entirety of the store’s three aisles, we find our way to the wall of refrigerators. “Oh, Devi you have to try the tart yogurt. It’s like kefir but even more wonderful.” I nod and take the bottle into my one free hand.

“Do you want to try a tongue?”

“What?” I laugh, wondering if this is code for French kissing in the middle of a grocery store.

“A cow tongue, silly,” she says, walking with purpose towards the frozen section. She opens the frosty door and points to a word in Russian written in sharpie over a lump of whitish things wrapped in plastic. “It says tongue. We’re doing this. I’ll call up my mom for the recipe.” She winks like she does when she’s up to something and we walk out into the grey snow, arms full of possibility.

Back in the kitchen of our cooperative house, my girlfriend sets down the frozen tongue on the counter and calls up her mom in New York to get directions in Russian. After a minute, she hangs up and translates: “Boil for an hour. Smother with salt. Cut up widthwise and eat. Oh, and she wants to hear how it turns out.”

We get the biggest pot we can find from the rack on top of the fridge (this tongue is huge) and set the pot to boil with the tongue inside. Having nothing else to do, she and I retreat to the living room to write a few sentences on our theses while the hour ticks past.

After 45 minutes, the house is starting to smell of boiled tongue.

Our friend Keerthi comes in and peers into the pot. “What are ya’ll making? It looks like a phallus.”

“Gee, thanks Keerthi.”

But then again, we are three queer women with an extremely limited knowledge of phalli, so we call in Matt, the resident expert, to ask. He doesn’t look too happy to be interrupted from his philosophy textbook.

“Matt, you have a penis, right?”

He nods.

“Does this look phallic to you?”

“Yes.”

“Oh god.”

My girlfriend wrinkles her nose as she stirs the pot with a serving spoon. “It doesn’t smell quite right, either. And for some reason there are white tendrils in the water.”

“Well, what can a tongue smell like?” I ask.

“Not this.”

Another fifteen minutes pass without incident, though word has spread throughout the house that we are boiling a cow tongue that may or may not have been a penis in another life. A few other housemates come by to look on. The whole situation is very serious.

My girlfriend drains the tongue of its murky water through a spaghetti strainer and sets it back in the pot, alarmed. Her hand is poised with a pair of tongs. She has just turned over the tongue.

“Devi. C-come here.” she commands, her voice trembling a bit.

“Hm?”

“Our tongue has legs.”

I look down in the pot in a state of disbelief. Curled into our tongue are two front and two hind legs: tiny, jointed lumps with tiny, claw-like feet at the end. I mentally place in where a head might have been.

“I think we boiled a bunny.”

She drops the tongs to the floor where they clatter and stay silent. We both take a step back. A few minutes later, Matt relegates the freshly-boiled rabbit to the fridge where it stays for two weeks until someone has the courage to throw it out.

On the other end of the phone in New York, my girlfriend’s mom can’t stop laughing.

Coda: Though my girlfriend and I are no longer on speaking terms, I hear from a friend that she has a new pet bunny. I wish it a long and joyous life.

~

December 2014: three Fijian women eye me expectantly as I lift a fork to my mouth with the tiniest bit of ox tongue on the end. My teeth collide and mash into something tender and salty. I chew, trying to keep my face neutral.

“It tastes just like any other piece of beef, doesn’t it?” Annie coos. “The poor girl, we’re probably scaring her half to death.”

I nod and swallow quickly, giving them all the thumbs up. “Vinaka! Thank you. That was… new.”

Annie’s sister and mother laugh with the whole of their bodies. In this house of women, I somehow feel free.

Wherever I move, my memories move with me. Travel is, I am coming to find, a process of becoming more present in my own past. Daily I tack back and forth between the languages of memory. Part of who I am and where I have been––the tastes and textures of my life––only come into focus when I welcome the new with my mouth wide open.