New Mexico

Sandia Selfie

Sunset from the top of Sandia

I took a trip to Albuquerque, New Mexico last month, to do some work with my co-author, Joseph Rael (Beautiful Painted Arrow). My sister met us there and we did some photos and video in preparation for our upcoming book, Becoming Medicine: Pathways of Initiation into A Living Spirituality. I should be getting the final edit back any day now and will be taking one more review of it and then it will start getting formatted – it should be out in the first half of 2019. It is always a lot of fun working with Joseph and I am always learning new things and ancient things.

Joseph Rael (Beautiful Painted Arrow)

Joseph Rael (Beautiful Painted Arrow)

The area is very beautiful and my sister, Karen, and I took a couple trips, driving up the back side of Sandia Mountain and to Petroglyph National Monument.

Tree Spirit Sandia

Tree Shape on top of Sandia, a little snow in the background

We got up to the top of Sandia with about an hour or so left of daylight and we saw an amazing sunset and beautiful views.

Sandia Southern View.jpg

Looking South from Sandia

Sandia Western View

Kiwanis Rock House, Looking West from Sandia

Sandia Sunset through Trees

Sunset through Trees, Sandia

The next night we went to Petroglyph National Monument, again near sunset.




Sandia means “watermelon” in Spanish and you can see how this mountain got its name when you see it at sunset.

Sandia from Petroglyphs Sunset

Sandia Mountain at Sunset from Petroglyph National Monument

Having visited Sandia and Petroglyph several times, I always feel as if there is some kind of connection of communication between all the petroglyphs facing Sandia. This night there were light streamers visible above the mountain as the sunset behind us.


Sandia as Sunset Continues

We went to visit our friends, Mike & Marie Pedroncelli and spent some time in their Sound Peace Chamber, built with consultation from Joseph Rael and based on his visions he had in the 1980s of building circular structures, half above ground and half underground where men and women come together to chant for world peace. There are over 50 chambers on four continents that have been built.


View through top of Sound Peace Chamber



Journey through Cymru (Wales)

After visiting Little Solsbury Hill, we continued on to Cardiff (Caerdydd), Wales (Cymru), where we stayed with some friends of ours who had recently moved back to Wales after a number years in New Zealand. We spoke about transitions, about what “home” means, and about working to transform the health care system. They graciously let us stay at their cottage in Pembrokeshire (Sir Benfro) and we drove out to Pembrokeshire Coast National Park (Parc Cenedlaethol Arfordir Penfro).

First, however, we stopped in the town of Neath (Castell-nedd), which is where my Great Grandfather, Iorworth Roberts was born. He immigrated with his family to the USA when he was about four years old. A wrong turn and we ended up at Neath Abbey (Abaty Nedd), so we got out and looked around. The abbey was established in 1129 CE, disestablished in 1539 by Henry VIII, it thence became an estate and in the 1700s was used for copper smelting. It is now a ruins.

We then proceeded to the city where we had brunch, walked around and saw the ruins of Castell Nedd (Neath Castle).


Castell Nedd

We carried on to the cottage and I took a little drive around through Broad Haven (Aber Llydan) and Little Haven (which had the most hair-raising intersection – a narrow, blind T-intersection on a hill with a manual transmission). A lot of the driving was challenging – rather than a proper two lane road, I got to calling the roads 1.5 lanes, or 1.25 lanes, sometimes one lane, and sometimes it even felt like I was driving on a 0.75 lane road! I do recommend being very cautious on these roads. There are periodically little widenings in the road and if you meet an oncoming car, one or the other of you has to back up until you can pull slightly off the road to let the other car pass. I took a little walk along the cliffs, got some groceries and headed back to the cottage. The grounds had a beautiful mural of a badger on the side of one of the buildings.

View St. Brides Bay (Bae Sain Ffraid)

View of St. Bride’s Bay (Bae Sain Ffraid)

BadgerBadger Mural

The next day I headed up to the city of St. David’s. St David (Welsh: Dewi Sant) is the patron saint of Wales and lived c. 500-589 CE. He is often portrayed with a white dove on his shoulder and founded a number of monasteries and churches.

St David Stained Glass @ St. Non's Chapel

St. David Stained Glass, St. Non’s Chapel

Legend has it that St. David was born during a great storm on the coast at a site which now contains the ruins of the Chapel of St. Non, which was built on a pre-Christian site, in the centre of a circle of standing stones. A holy well is located to the east of the ruins.

The Chapel of Our Lady and St. Non was built nearby in 1934. When I was buying some chocolates in St. David’s city, in the course of the conversation I mentioned to the shopkeeper that my name is David and that I have Welsh heritage. She looked deeply into me and said, “You have to go to the Chapel of St. Non, it is a very spiritual site. You have to go there.” I was already planning to and it was a beautiful walk from the city to the coast and well worth it.

Cliffs St Non's

Cliffs Near St. Non’s Chapel

In the 6th century CE, Dewi Sant founded a community near the place of his birth. It was sacked by Vikings a number of times over the years. Construction of St. David’s Cathedral began in 1181 and it is still a functioning cathedral.

One of the reasons I wanted to visit St. David’s is that I have been working on my family tree and genetic heritage. I found a branch of the family tree that goes back to Rhys ap Gruffydd (1132-1197), leader of the Welsh kingdom of Deheubarth. He fought a long war with the English. He was defeated and imprisoned by Henry II, eventually released and won back his land. He maintained peaceful relations with Henry II after that, but went on the offensive and captured a number of Norman castles in a war against Richard I. Rhys ap Gruffydd is buried at St. David’s Cathedral and there is an effigy of him there. My sister thinks there is some family resemblance, particularly when I pull up my hoodie!

I drove out to Whitesands Bay (Porth Mawr) and hiked along the coast to St. Davids Head (Penmaen Dewi), a finger of cliffs that divides the Irish Sea (Môr Iwerddon) to the north from the Celtic Sea (Y Môr Celtaidd) to the south. This was a beautiful walk out to a site of a series of stone circles which were possibly the foundations of Iron Age buildings. There are also Neolithic structures, such as Coetan Arthur (Arthur’s Quoit) burial chamber which dates back to 3000 BCE. (I unfortunately didn’t realize how close I was to Coetan Arthur and did not see it and had to make my way back to meet my wife for dinner, I spent a lot of time sitting in the stone circles and climbing about on the rocks above them).

Sun Being

St. David’s Head

We had a lovely dinner at Druidstone Hotel and had magical views of the sunset from the cliff, our last night in Wales…

Druidstone Sunset

Druidstone Sunset

Druidstone Wall

Druidstone Wall and Steps


Trip to UK & Iceland

We just got back from a holiday to England, Wales, and Iceland. I’ve got quite a few photos, so I’ll post them in several batches. We had 5 sets of friends we visited, most we knew from New Zealand, although Roberto is an old friend from back when we lived in Chicago.

One of the most striking things to me was how familiar England felt, even though I had only been there once when I was 16 years old. That trip I was very focused on punk and new wave music and came back with a suitcase full of vinyl. I was also interested in castles and we visited quite a few of those. That trip with my family came about because my Great Grandfather, Iorworth Roberts, had passed away and left my mom some inheritance and she felt a good use of it would be to visit the land of his birth: Wales.

England felt very familiar this trip. I think this was partly due to all the accents we were surrounded with in New Zealand. Almost every place we visited reminded me of someone’s accent we heard in New Zealand. Forty percent of the population of Auckland, New Zealand was born in another country and there is a sonic landscape of different accents there. Another factor is that New Zealand, as a commonwealth country with close ties to the UK, has many cultural similarities with the UK. New Zealand also has many UK brands and shops and a few things I thought were New Zealand brands actually turned out to be from the UK, so even shopping at the grocery I found things that reminded me of “home” in New Zealand.

I will share with you, Dear Readers, some of the photos and itinerary of the trip. We will start with England. We took Icelandair, a direct flight from Seattle to Keflavik, with a brief layover (we stayed 5 days on the return trip), then on to Gatwick. I had come down with a bad upper respiratory virus, so the first week and the traveling was a bit rough. We first stayed in Sevenoaks, a little town south of London. We visited Knole Park, with its over 500 year old house.

Knole House

Knole House

Knole Park

Knole Park

We took a day trip to Hever Castle, the family home of Anne Boleyn, who was executed by Henry VIII who then took possession of Hever. Henry the VIII had 6 wives, two of whom he had beheaded, which was part of his break with the Catholic Church. Henry VIII also began the dissolution of the monasteries in the 1530s. Many of the Abbeys eventually fell into disrepair and are now ruins. It is worth noting how much chaos one man in power can create.

Hever Castle

Hever Castle

We took a day trip up to London on the train, disembarked at Charing Cross, walked through Trafalgar Square, through St. James’ Park, past 10 Downing Street, and back to the train. We stopped in a couple book stores and cafes along the way.

Train to London

Train to London

Picadilly Circus

Picadilly Circus

St James Park

St. James’ Park

After leaving the Sussex area, we hired a car and drove West, stopping at Little Solsbury Hill on our way to visit friends in Cardiff, Wales. This was the site of an Iron Age hill fort, dating back to 300-100 BCE. The name “Solsbury” is thought to be related to the Celtic goddess, Sulis, who was worshiped at the thermal springs in what is now called the city of Bath. The etymology of “Sulis” is as follows: “the exact meaning of the name Sulis is still a matter of debate among linguists, but one possibility is “Eye/Vision”, cognate with Old Irish súil “eye, gap”, perhaps derived from a Proto-Celtic word *sūli- which may be related to various Indo-European words for “sun” (cf. Homeric Greek ηέλιος, Sanskrit sūryah “sun”, from Proto-Indo-European *suh2lio-).”

Triangulation Stone Solsbury Hill, Bath

Triangulation Stone, Little Solsbury Hill, Bath in the distance.

Solsbury Hill was also the site of a spiritual experience that Peter Gabriel had around the time (1975) he was leaving the band, Genesis, and starting his solo career. He describes climbing up Solsbury Hill, seeing an eagle fly out of the night and having a visionary experience of hearing a voice that gives him guidance, saying “Son…grab your things I’ve come to take you home.” The song “Solsbury Hill” was his first solo single. Gabriel said the song is “about being prepared to lose what you have for what you might get … It’s about letting go.” The song also works with the theme of “home,” whether our home is here amongst our “things” or whether it is elsewhere.


When we climbed up on Solsbury Hill it was warm and sunny, skylarks were singing. I found a stone outcropping on the North side of the hill. I sat for awhile in the warmth and meditated, trying to reach back into the ancient past of the hill and the humans who have lived on and around it.

From Little Solsbury Hill, we traveled West and crossed the border into Wales and we will continue with the journey in the next blog post.

2017 in Review


Copalis Beach, Washington

2017 was a busy year with lots of things coming together and many things nationally and globally falling apart. I added a new piece to my job at the VA this year. I am speaking now, not as a federal employee, but as an independently licensed health care provider. I have a 20% position with the national VA Office of Patient Centered Care & Cultural Transformation as a Whole Health Education Champion. You can learn more about the VA Whole Health program here. This job entails traveling to different VAs throughout the country and learning how to teach the several courses the Office promotes. I traveled to Madison, Minneapolis, Little Rock, Boston, and New Jersey and I will be going to Nashville later this month. I continue working in Primary Care Mental Health Integration at the Primary Care Clinic in Seattle. With the University of Washington I have moved from an Acting role to an Assistant Professor this past year.

I continue my work with Joseph Rael (Beautiful Painted Arrow), and we are well into the work of our next book which should likely be out later in 2018. Joseph is a continual joy and inspiration to work with and is often sending artwork and ideas for us to use in the next book. We easily have enough material for several more books. Another piece of news is that Walking the Medicine Wheel is being published in Vietnamese! I have yet to see the book, though. This is very important as the land and people of Vietnam and the Vietnam War are intimately intertwined with so many of our veterans’ lives and the history of the United States.

DSCN2787 (2)

Joseph Rael (Beautiful Painted Arrow) walking into his garden dome to perform Arbor Day Ceremony, April, 2017

I did a book tour, of sorts, for Walking the Medicine Wheel: Healing Trauma & PTSD. I made the trip back down under and saw some old friends and made some new ones, too. I took off from Seattle, almost missed my connection in Honolulu and landed in Sydney, Australia on September 13th, 2017. I went there for the biannual Australasian Doctors Health Conference, my fourth time presenting (I blogged earlier about this here). The conference was held at Luna Park, an amusement park in North Sydney with a great view of the city. My mate, Hilton Koppe, and I presented a workshop “The Hero’s Journey of the Healer,” that used Joseph Campbell’s concept of the hero’s journey to look at burnout and mentoring in health care workers. I also presented “Circle Medicine,” bringing together the holistic approaches of the medicine wheel, the VA circle of health, and my earlier work with Re-humanizing Medicine. It was great hanging out with Hilton and co-presenting with him, it was an extra treat when he stopped through Seattle on his way to some conferences in October. Here is a link to one of Hilton’s written pieces.


View from my hotel in North Sydney, looking out at Luna Park (lit up), the Harbour Bridge, and Sydney.

I was also able to meet Father Gerry Arbuckle, whom I had been corresponding with for a few years via email. As well as being a Catholic priest, he has a PhD in applied cultural anthropology. He is the Co-director of the Refounding and Pastoral Development program. Gerry wrote a book called Humanizing Healthcare Reforms (2013) that I found very helpful in writing my Re-humanizing Medicine book. Gerry was also kind enough to write an endorsement of Walking the Medicine Wheel. His book Fundamentalism: At Home and Abroad is highly relevant to understanding political movements in the United States and throughout the world. I wrote a review of that book that can be found here. Gerry is from New Zealand, originally, and has now lived in Australia for many years. His next book is on loneliness and picks up on themes from his book on fundamentalism. He and I had a great chat, over 4 hours, and I hope we have a chance to meet again before long.


Berkelouw Books, Sydney

Dr. Asha Chand organised a talk for me at Western Sydney University (see earlier blog on this here). It was great to meet faculty and staff there and have a chance to talk about “Caring for Self & Others” which is an adaptation of Re-humanizing Medicine. My friend, Laura Merritt, in Seattle has done a lot of work with me on putting together a workbook version that I drew on for that presentation. WSU recorded the talk and Asha has said we can share the links to the talk for anyone who is interested:

Caring For Self & Others, Part 1Part 2, Part 3

After Australia, I flew over to Auckland, New Zealand and straight away met up with some of my best friends. I did a talk called “Life After Rehab,” at Buchanan Rehabilitation Centre, where I served as Clinical Director during my time in New Zealand. I also did a book talk at Time Out Books, where a group of us used to meet monthly for the Auckland Holistic Writer’s Group.


View from Te Pane o Horoiwi (Achilles Point), St. Heliers, Auckland, New Zealand

My next stop was somewhere I have never been, but have wanted to travel to: Fiji. I flew into Nadi airport on the Northwest of Viti Levu, caught a short flight to the Southwest, to Suva. Dr. Neeta Ramkumar met me there and she had organised a talk and workshop for me at the University of the South Pacific. The talk was called “The Transformational Power of Stories in Clinical Work, Teaching, and Community Building,” and the following workshop was “Bringing Ancient Traditions of the Hero & the Warrior into Modern Day Life.” I very much enjoyed meeting all the wonderful people of Fiji and the University of South Pacific and felt honored to be able to speak there.

Bringing Ancient Traditions

Finally, I had a bit of a break from the speaking tour and from all the busy socializing with friends. I took a 45 minute boat trip out to Leleluvia Island and just relaxed. I snorkeled twice a day at the reef just off the island. I walked around the island several times and also kayaked around once. Such a beautiful place! I’ll share some of the photos from the trip and I hope you enjoy them!

After Leleluvia, I went back through Suva, hired a car, and drove back to Nadi, seeing the Sri Siva Subramaniya temple (which was scaffolded under construction), but I still walked around and had a nice lunch there. I also stopped for a walk through the Garden of the Sleeping Giant with its orchids prior to heading to the airport, flying back through LAX and to Seattle.

This next year promises to be quite busy again with travel: Nashville, Portland OR, Madison, and back to the Boston area two more times. Joseph Rael and I continue to work toward peace and world peace. As Joseph says, “A lot of people have tried to bring about peace, and it hasn’t worked! But you and I are too far into it to stop now, so we’ll have to keep going.” May you find peace in your heart and in your life this coming year, and may we all have some peace in this world that seems so focused on the opposite of peace at this current point in history.


South coast of Viti Levu


Copalis Rock, Washington Pacific Coast

Palolo Marine Reserve, Apia, ‘Upolu, Samoa

Palolo Marine Reserve, Apia, 'Upolu, Samoa

About a 10 minute walk from our hotel in Apia, was Palolo Deep Marine Reserve. I went snorkeling every day and just loved it!

Palolo Marine Reserve, Apia, 'Upolu, Samoa

One of the things that I loved, aside from everything, was floating and staying still while these schools of little blue fish swarmed all around me. These little guys were generally out at the edge of the reef as it dropped down into deeper water. I tried taking several movies and photos of these fish, but that experience remains one of the most powerful and one of the most difficult to capture in images.

Palolo Marine Reserve, Apia, 'Upolu, Samoa

All my life I have had dreams about aquariums. Often, they would be neglected, I would have forgotten that I had them, sometimes the fish might even have gotten out of the tank and I would have to put them back, care for the tank and try to remember to take care of all these wonderful and strange creatures. I always imagined that these dreams represented finding lost or forgotten aspects of myself. I always had an exhilarated feeling of excitement that overpowered the feelings of guilt that I had neglected these animals in the dream.

Palolo Marine Reserve, Apia, 'Upolu, Samoa

Palolo Marine Reserve, Apia, 'Upolu, Samoa

After a few days of snorkeling, I started trying to figure out, in words, what it was I enjoyed so much about it.  Definitely there was the adventure, the excitement, of finding strange and beautiful creatures. There was a feeling of danger and fear, of what I might find that I didn’t want to find, e.g. a shark or a rip tide. There was also a feeling of having to be deeply in flow and harmony with the currents, the reef, and the fish as I navigated through, at times shallow waters without much maneuvering room, and other times, very ample space, too much space, as I worked to not drift out into the deep unknown and stay close to the edge of the reef. I noticed how the fish reacted to me.  Some quite curious like the little blue and the blue and black fish, others quite shy and difficult to photograph, like the parrot fish and some sort of long-nosed fish that always seemed to scoot away when I tried to get a good photo.

Palolo Marine Reserve, Apia, 'Upolu, Samoa

Eventually, I started to think about snorkeling as a trip into the unconscious, much like my recurrent dreams of aquaria. Peaceful and exhiliarating at the same time.

Palolo Marine Reserve, Apia, 'Upolu, Samoa

Palolo Marine Reserve, Apia, 'Upolu, Samoa

And for some reason, floating in the midst of a school of little bright, blue fish was one of the most fantastic experiences in the water. Like so many sparkling thoughts and ideas with my ego balancing and buoyed in the midst of all this activity. There was always more than I could consciously take in, more than I could see, always one more surprise, one more amazing fish, one more amazing underwater vista or panorama, continuously unfolding around me as the current pulled and tugged me one way then another.

“The sea is like music; it has all the dreams of the soul within itself and sounds them over. The beauty and grandeur of the sea consists in our being forced down into the fruitful bottomlands of our own psyches, where we confront and re-create ourselves,”

(C.G. Jung, p. 47, Carl Jung:  Wounded Healer of the Soul, by Claire Dunne)


Here are a few photos from our recent trip to Samoa. Samoa is about 3.5 hour flight from Auckland, and the population of the two large islands is about 180,000. We stayed mostly around Apia, the largest town, on the island of ‘Upolu. We drove out to Lalomanu on the Southeastern tip of ‘Upolu, went for a swim and snorkel, and then drove back up the Cross Island Road. We stopped at a few waterfalls along the way…




Orchids at the Piula Cave Pool





Fuipisia Falls

Whale Watching in Nova Scotia

Whale Watching in Nova Scotia
Whale Watching in Nova Scotia

I have quite a back log of photos from a few recent trips. I spent 2 weeks in Nova Scotia and a few days in the Boston area in June. In July, we had family visit and took a few trips locally, down to Rotorua, and to Wellington. Here are some photos from a whale watching trip I took with my family. We left from Lunenberg and saw Fin and Humpback Whales. The above photos are of Fin Whales, the second longest animal in the world.

Below are photos of Humpback Whales.

I hope you enjoy the photos…

The white in the photo is the large pectoral fin, with the head being to the left, under water.

We didn’t see any breaching, but there is a nice series of shots of a Humpback tail. I have found that for whale photos (as well as for a lot of wildlife) using the option of multiple photos per shot is quite helpful.

Whale Watching in Nova Scotia

Whale Watching in Nova Scotia
Whale Watching in Nova Scotia
Whale Watching in Nova Scotia

A Few Words About Language

I just had the most amazing meal. A Reuben sandwich (rye bread, corned beef, Swiss cheese, dressing, and sauerkraut) with potato salad (red potatoes, skin on, the dressing was pinkish, as if slightly colored by beets) and iced tea with refills. This may seem mundane, but it is a combination that I haven’t had in New Zealand, for all I know, I may not have had a Reuben in two or more years. Even if I did have a Reuben in New Zealand, it wasn’t this way, names can be the same, yet the content and experience incredibly different.  I had this marvelous lunch at the Moonkiss Café in Waquoit, Massachusetts. Walking out of the café, I saw a small sign tucked into the flower garden that said, “PEACE.”

I haven’t been back in the US for about a year. It doesn’t seem like a country at war, but we have been at war for 11 years, now. We are fighting terrorists, mujahedeen, who were previously freedom fighters against the Soviets. The Soviets were hostile occupiers, but the US is spreading freedom and democracy and killing “others” with machines that are growing in intelligence and deadliness (drones – definition). There is no sign of war here and no sign of deaths that are happening elsewhere. Peace:  a wish, a protest, a religious statement, or political commentary. The flowers bloom, regardless.

I have just set foot on US soil after almost one year away. I have been up in Nova Scotia, Canada for the past two weeks. On the way there from New Zealand, I was briefly in Sydney, Australia on a layover. I had four country’s currencies in my pocket, which I thought was very cool, until I tried to pay for something and three of the currencies had the English queen’s likeness on them. Does that make me a global citizen or a bumbling, economic colonialist?

I was at the ALIA (Authentic Leadership In Action) conference, which I will discuss in more depth in another entry. Here, suffice it to say, I spoke with people from all over, mostly Canada, Quebec, the US, Barbados, Australia, and even New Zealand. The first thing that was strange is when I got on the Air Canada flight in Auckland. First I noticed one person speaking North American English, then another and another, suddenly, I was surrounded by people who spoke similarly to me, the Aussies sitting next to me were more the minority with their pronunciation. I didn’t realize how used to being different, in the New Zealand context, I have become. I had a weird experience in a Tim Horton’s yesterday, after already being in Canada for a couple of weeks, of having that feeling of needing to speak quietly so that everyone doesn’t know that I am American and then I realized that I didn’t need to change my way of talking, as there isn’t as much difference between Canadian English and US English, as there is between the US and NZ. Still, I would rather not stand out as obviously American in another culture. Sometimes in New Zealand, people think I am Canadian, I generally take this as a complement, based on the perception of the US in the world. So, I have learned to speak quietly, pronounce many words differently, and to make this kind of “um” noise and to say “eh” (or someone said I should spell it “aye,” but it sounds a lot like a Canadian, “eh,” eh?).

But then, there are those Canadiens from Quebec, with not just a different accent, but a different language. As New Zealand is bicultural (New Zealand European (pakeha) and Māori), so Canada is bilingual (French and English). In New Zealand, I worked hard to learn some Māori words and phrases. I learned some Albanian from my Kosovar friend. I have worked to understand and even say some words in different English accents. At the conference, I think one of the most beautiful words I heard was the Zimbabwean pronunciation of the word “here,” which sounds more like haeare, and it reminds me of my friend in New Zealand who grew up in South Africa and England, as he says haeare in a similar way.

One is at a distinct disadvantage being in a bicultural or bilingual country and not speaking the other language or understanding the other culture. There are complex dynamics around this. Sometimes it seems that those who speak “the other” language expect you to learn their language, but there is variability in whether or not someone teaches you their language. I don’t understand the Anglophone/Franocophone dynamics in Canada enough to comment. Māori culture in New Zealand is somewhat closed, it is more collectivist and tribal in orientation, which tends to have stronger ingroup/outgroup distinctions. There is also both a dual expectation that you are sensitive to and informed about their culture, but there are barriers to learning it as it is something of their own that is not easily shared. As an outsider bumbling in, there can be a feeling of discomfort, ignorance, being disliked (perhaps for one’s group affiliation – rather than one’s individual self), with the accompanying projection that the other is proud, arrogant, disdainful, angry, or perhaps playful, or maybe just seeing what a newcomer knows. What is behind this interaction, what motivates someone to speak a language to you that they know you do not know? In a bilingual country, a visitor could reasonably be expected to learn a few words in the host language. I admit it bothered me when Americans would use American currency in Canada (which I also admit, I did a couple of times near the end when I ran out of Canadian currency), why not exchange money?  So why not learn some French, I ask myself. Well, I did embarrassingly learn “come see come saw” which means something like “I am so so,” (Ok, I know it isn’t spelled that way, but I am not sure how it is spelled, just how it sounds).  I should learn some French, at least a few words out of courtesy.

I am listening to Stereolab right now, mostly English, but some French songs, although I have listened to this band for years, I don’t know what the words are to the French language songs. I like Jovanotti and I have looked up the English translation of some of those songs sung in Italian. Sigur Rós, I have looked up the translated lyrics on a couple of songs from Icelandic to English.

It was easier for me to learn to speak a few phrases of Albanian in New Zealand than Māori in New Zealand, why is that? I developed a relationship over some time with someone from Kosovo at the bus stop every morning, and it just seemed natural to want to learn a few phrases. Most of my learning of Māori has been from reading books and learning certain terms.

Language is a touchy subject, a difficult subject, it allows for connection, it can create clarity or confusion, it also can be used for disconnection. I know that it took me about a year, maybe a year and a half of having to activate a little more of my brain to translate accents in New Zealand – the place I noticed this the most was in jokes, I would often be about 10 seconds behind the joke before I would get it. Being in a different culture is an adventure and it also entails a degree of isolation and difference. I have written earlier on this theme shortly after arriving in New Zealand, particularly the dilemma of having a tendency to feel like an outsider and gravitate to the periphery in one’s own culture and then moving to another culture and being perpetually an outsider. I have met Americans who have been in New Zealand for years, and even though they pronounce some words like a Kiwi, they don’t speak with a Kiwi accent, only those who come at a young age seem to be able to do that. There is something akin to aural butter in hearing one’s own language and dialect spoken, of speaking to someone who has a familiar rhythm and tempo in their speech, it is kind of like the meal I had for lunch today – it was really good, partly because it was expected and predictable, the variations maintained the essence of the food, whereas in another culture the name is retained, but something about the essence just doesn’t feel like the food you are used to. And yet, for many people, there is a desire for newness, difference, a change of pace, a new perspective – but all things are in a balance, it would be good if I could explain that, but I cannot, other than to say that I have felt at times a craving for sameness, security, the expected in reaction to a temporary state of being overwhelmed by otherness.

So, what do I say, “I am culturally insensitive because I am an American, and that is in fact our culture and other cultures should be sensitive to that?”  I don’t think that will fly. I will need to learn at least some conversational French before returning to Canada. But for now, merde (second favourite French word), I must work on my idée fixee (favourite French phrase), and I bid you adieuMon Dieu, I almost forgot my third favourite phrase! I also like the French pronunciation of idiot, which is probably fortunate.