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Whiti Hereaka On Going Home

The Shambaugh House blog's annual "On Going Home" series offers a glimpse of what returning home is like for authors who've spent nearly three months writing and researching in the U.S. as part of the International Writing Program's Fall Residency. This week's installment comes to us from Whiti Hereaka.

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I have phantom jandal1 syndrome.  I can feel the memory of them on me:  where the rubber straps that meet between my toes bites, where the straps have rubbed and calloused the skin on the sides of my feet. I have been wearing my cheap supermarket jandals daily during the New Zealand summer; but now the weather has started to turn Autumnal and I’m wearing them less often.

I’ve been back in New Zealand now longer than I was away. When I left America in November the first snow had started to fall in New York. I arrived home to blue skies and the beginning of summer. There’s nothing like an abrupt change of season to remind you that you’ve been on the other side of the world for ten weeks.

Ten weeks doesn’t sound like a long time. Ten weeks isn’t a long time. But it is long enough for the seasons to change and the earth to shift, long enough for subtle changes in my world to compound. My nephews and nieces were taller. My garden had overgrown.

But have I changed too?

Whiti reading at Shambaugh House (on the University of Iowa campus) during the 2013 Fall Residency.
Whiti reading at Shambaugh House (on the University of Iowa campus) during the 2013 Fall Residency.

“How was it?” people ask me ; as if I am able to compress the weeks, the continent, the people into a sound bite. The constant retelling reduces the experience to a laundry list of places and sights. The friends I spent my time with in Iowa are diminished to the short-hand of name, nationality and genre – there is no room for the nuance of individuality in the question “How was it?”

That’s what I miss most; the people. I will never go to another reading in the same way as I did at the IWP – surrounded by my new whanau2 of writers, supporting the ones whose turn it was to share their work with us and the public. I miss the impromptu dance parties in the common room – crowded around a laptop shouting for our favourite songs. I miss the good-natured mimicry of my accent when I’d say “eggs” or “seven”.

I've been home for months now, but I feel like a part of me is still at the Iowa House Hotel, or at Shambaugh House, or at Prairie Lights. I’m no longer in Iowa, but the memories of my experience and the people I met there have left their mark on me. I can still feel its influence lingering like a pair of well-worn jandals.

1 Jandals = "Japanese Sandals" what New Zealanders call "flip-flops" or "thongs" (which I find a more disturbing descriptor)

2 Whanau = "family" in te reo Maori

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