Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Invading one's space

My first day of service learning was not what I expected it would be since the students I was with had a test. However, I found out that connections could be made with the second part of Grace’s ‘‘Potiki.’’ As a matter of fact, I could observe what happens when a stranger enters or invades the space of a community, a classroom in this case. I was in the same position as the Dollarman or the foreigners who visit the place where Toko’s community lives. Contrary to the community’s response that was the same for each individual, the students I met reacted differently. For instance, when I entered and introduced myself as a teacher assistant, some welcomed me into their space with a broad smile, other made noises to express their joy, others seemed indifferent. I had the same experience with the other class I met : as I was leaving, one student showed interest and asked me where I was from. Another one said : ‘‘We hope to see you again’’ and I heard another one saying : ‘‘I don’t’’. At that moment, I felt both welcome and unwelcome.

Moreover, like Toko’s community, I could feel that there was a kind of symbiosis between the students and their environement, the classroom : at the end of their test, the teacher asked them to clean their classroom and all of them participated. I could tell that it was THEIR classroom and not that of another grade, because during the test, they would get up and walk about in the classroom. When we went to another classroom with another teacher ,because their teacher had to leave, their behavior completely changed : they were quiet and remained seated while some students from the other grade would get up to pick up things. They were no more in their space.

As we have mentioned already, the issue raised by my experience are : how does a community react when its space is invaded by an element that does not define them. And also, to what extent does a place define a community ?

In the case of Toko’s community, the invasion of their place by somebody who is not from the community causes different reactions, depending on the motives of this latter. For instance, they clearly reject the Dollarman who came to exploit their ancestral land. They don’t view the land the way the Dollarman views it. As we have seen in class, the Maori feel that they belong to nature, that they are connected to it. It is the locus of their identity. There is such a symbiosis that when the workers start changing the landscape, Roitama writes that ‘‘it shifts the insides of you’’ (Grace, p 151). This is also in line with what Hemi tells Toko : ‘‘the land and the sea was our whole life, the means by which we survived and stayed together.’’ (Grace, 98) The use of the verb ''to be'' is noteworthy, because it refers to what is inherent, essential to something or somebody. In other words, their homeland is what constitute their essence, and if it is harmed, the community is also harmed.

However, when the Dollarman mentions the fact that by preventing him to build his hotel, they prevent other people to enjoy their space or homeland, they answer : ‘‘We’ve never told anyone to get off the beach or to stop catching fish We’ve never preventing them from cooking themwelves in the sun (…) We’ve always allowed people to come here free…’’ (Grace, 92). To a certain extent, Toko’s community is ready to welcome someone who is not Maori, but also to share their culture with this person, as long as their identity, their culture and traditions are not threatened. Interestingly, they all have the same attitude: if the community decides to reject something, all the individuals have to reject it. As I previously explained, there were different reactions in the classroom, each student expressed something different, though they shared a common sense of identity (all of them were African Americans). Contrary to the Maori culture in which the community matters more than the individual, Western societies tend to underline the importance of the individual , rather than that of the group. And I think that it explains the fact that the students were not scared to express their different views when I invaded their space.

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