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HE TANGATA: Chapter 3: From Cage to Carriage

Usually an exchange of smiles is all Aucklanders can handle with strangers on public transport, but this afternoon was different.

My smile was met with a friendly comment about the weather, followed by an eye-opening personal story that I have never forgotten.

“Gees it’s cold out there tonight, isn’t it?”

My acquaintance for the journey offered a warm, genuine grin, with firm but kind eye contact. The ‘Maori Wardens’ uniform he was sporting suited his strong, fit build, and his scars and missing teeth perhaps have a possible insight into his past.

“Yes, it is!”

“Where are you from, anyway?”

“Right here in Auckland.”


The gentle hum of the moving train enticed my body to sleep-mode, as the Warden and I watched trees wisp by in silence.

I’ve always been intrigued by the Maori Wardens program…

“Hey, what made you decide to work for Maori Wardens, if you don’t mind me asking?”

“They found me, actually. I was a cage fighter.”

“Oh wow.”

“I wouldn’t have lasted much longer. That stuff is bad for you.”


This encounter sparked an uncomfortable picture in my mind. One of this poor gentleman caught up in the life of what is deemed the most dangerous sport of all. Succumbed to the expectations of those around him. Needing the money maybe. Unable to see a way out.

Of course, this is just an assumption.

But regardless of the details of his story,

Imagine having a life like that.


Side note: For those who are unaware, Maori Wardens are an amazing organisation who serve our communities in numerous ways. They provide our people with new skills and ways forward, and train them to volunteer in our communities providing health, safety, and community development services. Check out their website if you’d like to support them or find out more: 



HE TANGATA: Chapter 2- Alone

While living in Timaru this year, I noticed that “How ya goin?” or “How’re ya?” are used more commonly than “Hello,” and that Timaruvians are much more friendly to passersby than Aucklanders! With every person I passed on the street, a friendly “Howsit goin” was exchanged, with no expectation of a reply. I loved this(once I had gotten over my presumed need to answer the apparently rhetorical “how are you”!), and since returning to Auckland I have tried to apply the same social mannerisms, with very little success. Most strangers in Auckland look at me as if I’ve got a carrot for a nose if I try to greet them, and others prepare themselves as if I’m about to perform a violent attack.

One sunny Timaru morning, as I boarded the bus to the doctors, I greeted the man sitting across from me in the usual Timaru way. Except this time, my rhetorical question was answered! The answer was unexpected, personal, brave, and raw.

To this day, I still wonder what made this gentleman want to share, and feel so comfortable to share, such a personal part of his life with me- a stranger on a public bus. It could have been desperation, or loneliness, or spur-of-the-moment auto mode. Whatever the reason, I am blessed and honoured to have shared such a raw moment with him.

“Well I’m not that good actually.”

What do you say to that? “Poor you”? “Me neither”? “Why”? 

“Sorry to hear that.”

Luckily, he elaborated, otherwise I would’ve had to decide whether to ask for the reason for his not-good-ness or not!

“My wife passed away two days ago.”

Okay, now what do I say? Deep breaths, Cara. Pretend it’s one of your students telling you this.

“Oh my goodness I’m so sorry to hear that. How awful for you.”

“Yeah I’m very depressed actually.”

“And fair enough too. Do you have enough support from loved ones?”

“Nope. I’ve got no family. No friends. It was just me and her. Now it’s just me. I’m all alone in the house. I’m all alone everywhere. I don’t even know why I’m on this bus. I don’t know what to do. I just don’t know.”

There is an incredible beauty in sharing in someone’s deep sorrow. It is such a raw, unique connection. So incredibly painful and difficult, but so incredibly beautiful.

I don’t know what to do. I just don’t know.

I know that feeling.

After offering a hug and suggesting he ring up a counsellor or the local FamilyWorks agency, I had to disembark and leave the lonely man alone once more.

And it felt terrible.

It was the first time, and only time, in my life that I have felt the desire to take a man at least four times my age under my wing. I wish I could have protected and looked after him.

I wish I had done more.



HE TANGATA: Chapter 1- Joyologist By Day, Superman By Night

Point Chevalier shops bus stop on a very hot December afternoon. Slurping a juicy mango in the most uncoordinated manner possible.

“You know, you can sit down.”

“Oh yes, thank you very much. I just didn’t want to spray you with mango juice!” I replied.

“You seem cheerful and full of joy!” remarked the smiley man, who seemed cheerful and full of joy himself!

“Oh yes well the sun is shining, and I found a mango for $1 at the supermarket!”

“Yum I saw those,” said the smiley man’s wife.

“I’m a joyologist,” said Mr Smiley.

“Me too!” added Mrs Smiley!

“Haha, I love it!” I said, with a giggling grin.

And it was here that Mr Smiley began his autobiography and collection of answers to life, with no prompting or questioning from me:

“All we need is joy, and so that’s why I’m a joyologist. I’m an expert on joy. There is not a second in my day that is not filled with joy. Joy is the most valuable thing you could master. All throughout the Bible joy is proclaimed. To be with God is to be filled with joy. Are you a joyologist?”

Before I could answer, Mrs Smiley affirmed her husband:

“Yes, joy is everywhere! Keep smiling!” she chirped.

“And at night, I become superman. I fly to the Grand Canyon, and Great Barrier Reef. I zoom all around the whole world and make it back by morning. I believe in perspective and adventure. No point wasting my time staying where I am. Might as well be superman. I see everything, learn everything. Adventure is the most worthwhile thing you can do. Don’t go and buy lots of plastic crap- go on adventures instead! Last night, I went to Italy and Greece. The Good Lord says put yourself out there!”

I finally managed to fit in some minor contribution to the conversation:

“Wow! So do you do this superman thing in your dreams?”

“No?” he replied, confused. And then continued:

“I have the best life ever. The best of both worlds. Joyology and adventure is all one needs. God bless you!”

And just like that, with a pat on my shoulder from Mrs Smiley, the pair hopped off the bus and strode through the busy Auckland traffic, smiling their infectious, and seemingly permanent, grins.


He Tangata.

He Tangata

He aha te mea nui te ao?

He tangata, he tangata, he tangata.

What is the most important thing in the world?

It is the people, the people, the people.


This Maori proverb has always spoken significantly to me.

When we shift our focus away from ourselves, away from material things, and away from our addiction to busyness and success, we are left with something quite beautiful, and much more meaningful.

He Tangata.

If we really make the effort to venture deeply into the observation, celebration, and connection of the beings around us, it is incredible the beauty we encounter. It is a unique kind of beauty. A beauty that is vast in all ways. A beauty that can only be experienced in the depths of the heart, and can only be ingrained in the depths of the mind.

He Tangata.

Maybe I’m observant, or maybe I’m nosy. Maybe I’m approachable, or maybe I have shaky boundaries.

Whatever it is, I seem to often have very interesting encounters with people, the most interesting often being random members of the public. Some are fun, some are uncomfortable, some are sad, some are educational, some are hilarious, some are particularly deep and meaningful. But there is always one common factor. ALL are beautiful. ALL teach me something new about how human beings operate. ALL fulfil me deeper than any other worldly experience.

He Tangata.

People are worth celebrating! We are all so unique, and providing each other the chance to express ourselves authentically, to connect deeply, and to learn from each other is, I think, one of the most worthwhile ways to spend our time.

So I’m starting a new series of blogs, called He Tangata. In this series I will share snippets of my interactions with people in my travels through life, in the hope that others may realise the beauty in connecting with random members of the public.

So stay tuned!

He aha te mea nui te ao?

He tangata,

he tangata,

he tangata.




Safe Place

I think I’ve found my safe place.

A place that, although technically public land, feels like mine alone.

A place where no one else seems to come.

A place where the gulls, fantails, bell birds, wax eyes, ducks, and geese feel free to be themselves.

A place where I feel free to be myself.

A place where all I hear is the powerful crashing of waves and the joyous chirping of manu*. There is no doubt they’re singing “bring on summer!”, providing a powhiri** for the new season approaching.

A place where I cannot hear the sounds of the modern messed-up world which, in this moment, I forget I belong to.

A place where the fresh sea spray, crisp south island breeze, and rejuvenating sun rays cleanse me of my hurts and frustrations.

A place where the overwhelming cliff faces and vast oceans humble me down a few notches. Nothing can compare with Mother Nature. And nothing can stand against Her creator.

Oh how I wish the real world was like this…

…Oh wait. This is the real world.

We are living in the fake world we have made for ourselves.

Now, don’t get me wrong- the whare*** where I sleep and wake is not unsafe. It is far from it. I love the home in which I live and the wonderful people whom I live with.

But there is something different, something special, something magical about this safe place. It has the same effect that the secret bay I used to bush-crash to get to as a child did- a place empty of people, expectations, and material things- a place full of peace, beautiful wildlife, and natural wonders. A place that I felt had never been visited by anyone but me.

Toku wahi.

Toku wahi haumaru.

My place.

My safe place.


*manu– bird

**powhiri– official welcome

***whare- house

How my veganism is healing me

TRIGGER WARNING: This article mentions compulsions related to eating disorders.


After too-ing and fro-ing for a long time with a vegan diet, I finally fully committed to veganism in January this year. It has been absolutely amazing, and my only regret is that I didn’t go vegan earlier! My veganism is truly healing me in so many ways:

Goodbyeee gluten intolerance!

Five months into being vegan, I had been reading about how some people were gluten intolerant were able to eat gluten again after changing to a vegan diet. So, I thought I’d give it a go again, after three years of going off gluten. I was a little nervous, as in the past gluten had made me feel very sick, with headaches and nausea being the main consequences.

I started off slow, limiting myself to only one glutenous food item per day. I had absolutely no reaction! It was as if gluten had never been a problem for me in the first place! I was so excited, as eating vegan and gluten free is sometimes difficult, especially when eating away from your own home.

So, over the past month or so I’ve been slowly increasing my gluten intake. Turns out I don’t eat many simple carbs anyway, so gluten isn’t a particularly huge part of my diet. But now I can confidently say that I am no longer gluten free! I am so excited by the fact that a change in my diet healed a part of my body that was limiting me and making me sick. Being vegan reversed a dysfunction in my body, and I think that’s pretty cool.

Me being me, I really wanted to know the science behind how this had happened! Here’s what I found:

(if sciencey bits bore you please feel free to skip past this bit):

According to research carried out by the North American Vegetarian Society(NAVS), maintaining a healthily-functioning intestinal lining(or “gut wall”) is essential to preventing food sensitivity reactions. If holes are made in this lining, mostly due to lifestyle factors, diseases and food sensitivities are paved a way to make it into our bodily systems, causing not-so-fun reactions. The most common lifestyle factors that can cause a broken gut wall include use of drugs, chemicals, radiation, or antibiotics, excessive intake of sugar, alcohol, or antacids, inflammation caused by illness, or stress.

Considering I started reacting to gluten after a very stressful and traumatic time in my life, I think that stress was probably the main cause of my ill gut health. Anyway, evidence has shown that our intestinal walls can heal themselves, if we provide them with good nutrition and a healthy lifestyle. Overtime, the holes can be filled, and therefore our food sensitivities and susceptibility to diseases may disappear. The main nutrients that are needed to repair cells in our gut wall are complex carbohydrates, minerals, vitamins, proteins, essential fats and phytochemicals. All of the best sources of these nutrients are found in a well-balanced plant-based diet.

This fully explains why after going vegan I am no longer gluten intolerant! I have managed to let my gut heal by providing it with a lot of the right nutrients needed to repair the damage I have caused in the past. Awesome aye!



Helloooo bulletproof immune system!

My immune system has always been reasonably weak. Strep Throat was common, and varying degrees of common colds regularly made their way into my system whenever I was around anyone else carrying the disease. I was never sure why this was, but figured it could have been because of my very busy, activity-heavy, and often tiring lifestyle(all self-inflicted of course!).

However, since eating vegan, I’ve only had a cold once this whole year, and haven’t contracted Strep Throat yet(I used to be guaranteed to get it at this time of year, every year). The only sickness I’ve had is migraines and as far as I know they aren’t normally linked to a poor immune system. There have even been times when almost everyone else around me has been sick(eg at work or in my house), and I haven’t caught the bug at all!

Why is this? My hypothesis, before I do some research, is that since I’m not eating any animal products, I’m just automatically eating more fruits and vegetables. Fruits and vegetables are packed with so many nutrients, vitamins and minerals that boost the immune system, as well as many other bodily functions.

Here’s what I found on the net(again, skip this part if it’ll make you yawn):

The Physicians Community for Responsible Medicine have researched and conclude that “the immune-boosting power of vegetarian diets is partly due to their vitamin content, their low fat content, and perhaps other contributors, such as reduced exposure to toxic chemicals and animal proteins.”

They also add a fun fact that: “fats impair immunity, and cutting fat out of the diet helps strengthen the immune defenses against cells that turn cancerous.” I personally think that fully cutting any kind of nutrient out of the diet is unhealthy, but it seems that reducing fat intake(but not cutting it out) boosts immunity, and eating vegan just naturally reduces fat intake.

A vegan forum called “Vegaprocity” have also done a lot of research on the link between a plant-based diet and immunity: “your immune system is only as strong as the food you use to fuel it. Studies discovered that macrophages, a type of immune cells, slowed down in people with a high cholesterol level. Cholesterol is chiefly found in animal based foods.”

“Micronutrients such as vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals, found in fresh fruits, vegetables, and grains, are essential for the healthy functioning of the immune system.”



Goodbyeee ED voices

Well, sometimes. Getting rid of the evil eating disorder voice isn’t as easy as that. But, when the ED voice is telling me to restrict, I find the compromise of restricting animal products(and nothing else) quite helpful. When feeling vulnerable or fragile, I kind of think of it like I’m already restricting animal products, so I’m eating healthier anyway, so therefore there is no reason why I need to restrict further. I have made a deal with myself though: if I’m going to let myself restrict animal products from my diet, I am never allowed to restrict anything else. Being vegan has made me feel better about eating foods I sometimes find particularly hard to feel okay about eating.

Please note: I have never been too seriously sick with an eating disorder. However, the eating disorder voices have been in my mind over the past few years, and have caused various patches where unhealthy compulsions and thinking patterns have made their way into my life.

DISCLAIMER: I am in no way saying that veganism can hands-down speed or help recovery of an eating disorder. I know that some survivors have found this lifestyle change helpful in their recovery, and others have found it detrimental due to the triggers that come with restricting any part of your diet. Everybody’s experience is different, and I am only speaking for myself; no one else.


Hellooo fitness+strength

I’ve always been keen on exercise and sport, and have always made an effort in making sure my daily exercise is reasonably high. However, I’ve never managed to become noticeably fit or strong, despite my efforts. I thought this was because my exercise goals were only ever high enough to stay sane and healthy, not to improve at or pursue any particular sport. I also decided I just wasn’t naturally sporty.

Since going vegan, I haven’t upped my exercise intensity or quantity. I’ve continued with my yoga, walking/running/cycling, and netball at the same levels I was before. However, I have noticed a huge difference in my body’s reaction to my exercise since I’ve been vegan. My muscles have never been so toned before. My stamina in my exercise routines has never been so strong and consistent. I have never noticed a difference in my physical appearance due to exercise until I went vegan- I’ve burned more fat and gained more muscle. When I have large gaps between workouts for whatever reason, I don’t feel anywhere near as behind/weak/unfit as I used to if I missed days in a row.

My general energy levels have also increased, not only during exercise but throughout my daily routine. In my very un-scientific opinion, I think this might be because I need to eat more frequently and more quantity to keep myself full, so this regular energy input helps to boost my energy output. Also, a lot of animal products are very heavy and stodgy, and often leave you feeling bloated or heavy. Plants don’t make you feel like this, so generally I feel a lot lighter after meals, which helps me to continue with my day much more easily, as opposed to feeling like you need to sit around or lie down for a little while after eating.



Without trying to sound like the proud, annoying vegan many of people stereotype vegans to be, I highly recommend adopting a vegan lifestyle. It won’t be as hard as you think. Do your research beforehand, so that you know how to be healthy and how to respond to the inevitable “why are you vegan?” questions. Ease into it if that works best; for example cut out meat first, then eggs, then dairy, rather than cutting it all out at once. You will be surprised at how much better you feel, both ethically and physically.

Everyone except for a small few that I know that have gone vegan rave about how much better their lives are, just like I do. The small few who said it didn’t work for them either didn’t research well enough and therefore didn’t know how to be healthy with their diet(ie maintain crucial vitamin/mineral/nutrient levels), or purely couldn’t for practical reasons(eg parents not allowing it, constant travelling or being hosted by others, etc).

I challenge you. Do it. If you do it right, you’ll never look back.

Featured image: I had this amazing black rice porridge at a cafe the other day! Black rice cooked with coconut milk, topped with nuts, fruit, coconut sugar and coconut yogurt. So yummy!!

Dear Creator

Dear Creator,

This weekend I’ve seen so many beautiful things.

They’re not new things. Mountains, snow, ducks, waxeyes, fantails, lakes, tussocks, sunsets…

But this weekend I’ve seen new beauty in them. My mind is blown at the intricate detail of beauty; the many many different levels and layers of beauty around me. I feel overwhelmed when I think deeply about Your power and beauty reflected in Your creation. I am reminded that You place beauty right in front of my eyes every second of every day, yet I forget to focus my lens. Forgive me.

I also learn that if You have put this much effort and love into Your creation of the beautiful things around me, the amount of effort and love you’ve put into Your creation of me must be





You must love me more than I could ever imagine. And that’s really quite an overwhelming thought. I don’t think I realise how much love, care, and hope that has gone into Your crafting of me.

Surely, one can only craft as much love into others’ lives as she understands is crafted into her own…

You are the potter who creates uniquely beautiful mugs, in the hope that one day they will be the source of life and replenishment for those with whom they cross paths.

As I take a moment to fully take that in, I find myself close to tears. Surely I don’t deserve this. Why do you love me so much?

“I just do.” I hear you tell me.

“All I need is for you to accept it.”


My gratitude is out of this world. Not only for Your creation of me, but for the beauty You have surrounded me with.

You are truly…

…there’s not even a word. Powerful isn’t enough. Magnificent isn’t enough. Wonderful isn’t enough.

And as a word person this really frustrates me!


“All I need is for you to accept it”, you repeat.