I never intended to teach Te Reo Māori to adults! Like ever! And yet here I am, fully immersed in doing exactly that. It has changed my life forever.
I trained for many years as a doctor. For all intents and purposes I was going to be a Māori doctor serving her whānau (maybe as a Psychiatrist but most likely a GP, some of the whānau wanted a plastic surgeon haha). I had wonderful and dedicated colleagues, mentors and teachers, I had the most amazing and unforgettable experiences. Several times I saved a life, delivered babies and held people's hands as they received life changing news. Some of my experiences were not so amazing, some things were tiresome and soul crushing, but the drive to keep serving pushed me on.
For a few years, I felt like the ambulance at the bottom of the cliff, triaging, fixing, mending. But this wasn't a new and lone experience. All of my colleagues would have felt this at some point, it was just the nature of the environment.
There wasn't one specific point in time where I ever felt that medicine wasn't for me, it was more of a gradual realisation that my chosen career path in medicine was probably more for my whānau then for me. And I love my whānau, they are my everything but persisting in something that didn't fulfil my own passion and desires meant I wasn't really being there for my whānau, I was only giving them half of me, the half I thought they wanted.
My first steps in Te Reo Māori were as a baby, I was lucky enough to start my life with Māori as my first language. I was a kohanga baby, my mum and her mum were reo speakers. Mum eventually went on to be a Te Ataarangi tutor so the reo was never foreign to my world, neither was tikanga. Something that I cherish today.
I took time off and tagged along with my best friend to an evening Te Reo Māori class. I had some reo already, albeit a bit rusty, but she was a beginner. We were a little nervous but excited! I had grown up with the reo, it was my first language, I attended Kohanga Reo. However it had taken a backseat to my medical studies and career for well over a decade.
We loved the classes and learning, we kept going, week after week, building up our vocab, learning more sentences, more waiata, more karakia, more tikanga! Soon weeks turned into months, we were addicted. It was like I had found myself again, the true me. I no longer felt lonely, the reo had given me the ability to voice my thoughts in a language that made sense to me.
I saw in my friend a huge change. She blossomed! She took it all in! It was really amazing to see how much the reo changed her perspective on her world. And it did something for me too. It reminded me that I wasn't just a doctor. It reminded me that I was also the mokopuna of native reo speakers, it reminded me that I was a kohanga baby and that I had another privilege, I could speak Māori. The reo gave me a different voice and it had a distinct sound. It sounded warm, it sounded nurturing, it sounded like me.
After a few years of attending these night classes, our dearly beloved kaiako moved back to her tūrangawaewae and my friend and I were asked to help the new kaiako. Well we knew a few basic things colours, numbers, some basic commands. We had no idea how good we would be but we were encouraged all the same. To say the rest was history is an understatement. We both found our calling! We loved it! The joy and satisfaction of teaching people the reo was immeasurable. It was addictive. Our knowledge increased exponentially just through teaching and our own reo rocketed through the roof. Suddenly weeks merged into months and my Wednesday nights were now solely dedicated to teaching.
A wonderful thing started to happen. I started to become more confident. I started to have a sense of belonging. I started to see the affect on the people I taught. I saw happiness, love, gratitude and fulfilment on a weekly basis. The reo would heal people's shame, appease their guilt, inform the ignorant and mend generations of hurt and misunderstanding. And I became acutely aware that I was no longer the ambulance at the bottom of the cliff, but I was now at the top diverting people away from the edge.