Wednesday, 28 November 2012

The Scent of Rosewater: A New Zealand Bride in Iran - Anna Woodward Swinburn

This is really a love story, a truthful and moving and quite educational story, and a beautiful and elegant book.

It is also an interesting and sympathetic look at Iran and the people of Iran during the time of Ayotollah Khomeyni's leadership of that country. Anna writes simply and gracefully of the wonders of Iran both old and new, and the rich culture of the Iranian people.

How it all came about: Anna, while overseas in the UK on her OE (kiwism for overseas experience) met Bijan, a handsome Persian from Iran. After living together quite happily for a number of years in England and in New Zealand, Bijan became increasingly worried about his family back in Iran. He had been parted from them all through the hard times of the revolution that had taken place there, and the difficult years that had followed.

Anna and her family, knowing the importance of family ties in his culture, supported his decision. Unfortunately, what none of them realised what might happen, did happen, and it was on the very day that Bijan flew away that the war between Iran and Iraq exploded, and once Bijan set foot in his own country he became trapped. His passport was removed because all young Iranian men between the ages of fifteen and thirty were forbidden to leave in case they were needed for war.

My friend Maryfaliha (if she ever reads this) may be interested to know that Bijan's father was a Kurd. Several centuries earlier a number of Kurdish families had been persuaded by the great Shah Abbas to leave Kurdistan and settle, in return for land grants, in the north-east of Iran. They were to be a buffer of warriors against the Turkmans, who for centuries had plagued plainsmen by carrying of their livestock and women.

Anyhow, Bijan tried to escape Iran but was thrown into prison. Another attempt would have cost him his life. So Anna finally went to him, after two years of waiting for her visa to come through. This book is the story of her life in Iran with Bijan, her learning of a new culture and of how she coped with life in Iran, and the people she met and learned to love. She learned to speak Farsi and married Bijan while she was in Iran.

After he turned thirty Bijan was given his passport back, and the couple returned to New Zealand. Later Anna was diagnosed with an aggressive cancer (in 1991). She was to die in June of 1993 with Bijan by her side holding her hand.

Realising how important the project was to Anna, her mother, Mary Woodward, from a not-quite completed manuscript, took on the task of completing it, using notes and letters and diaries of Anna's.

This book was published in 1998 by Shoal Bay Press.

Tuesday, 27 November 2012

My Anti-Smoking Rant 2007 - 2012

Just now, as I was sitting here in front of my computer I happened to look up and outside of my house on the footpath in front, I saw a young girl - she looked all of about 13 maybe - lighting a cigarette. It made me shudder.

It is quite some time since I had an anti-tobacco rant but because I saw her, and because right now I am in process of deleting all my remaining Multiply posts I offer edited versions of past essays with update.


I started smoking when I was sixteen. I had already left school for a year, I had a 'steady' boyfriend and all my friends smoked, my boyfriend smoked, his friends smoked, my parents smoked; in fact it seemed like everyone around me had fags hanging out their mouths except me. So it wasn't that I especially needed to smoke or even that anybody pressured me to smoke, it was just that I felt like such an idiot back then, not smoking.

I was addicted from the first cigarette.

The book, Allen Carr's Easy Way to Stop Smoking is not the flashest written book by a long shot. It is not even overlong. In quite simple terms Allen Carr discusses smoking as an addiction, how this particular addiction works to keep the smoker under control so that they keep on smoking, and then by following Allen Carr's instructions, how the smoker can stop smoking successfully.

Allen Carr himself was a smoker, smoking for over thirty years and smoking his way through up to one hundred cigarettes a day, an amount which even I can self-righteously find incredible, but when, as a smoker, you read his story and his instructions for stopping smoking and know that if he can do it you can do it too, the whole idea becomes at least credible to you. This is not some posh doctor pontificating from some high-up pedestal, telling you, the smoker, how bad you should feel about yourself. This is another human being just like you, who has fought the same demons that you are now girding yourself to fight and reaching out a hand to show you how. That's part of why the book works.

Smokers are not actually idiots, (well maybe some are, but most aren't). They all know, even if they won't admit it, that smoking is expensive and unhealthy. Most wish they had never started. Smoking is a drug addiction just like alcohol addiction or heroin addiction. Being addicted means that a substance is controlling you and your behaviour. It means that no matter how you run your budget the biggest priority of a smoker is always making sure that there is enough money to run the addiction, even at the expense of your family and the people you love. In this respect a smoking addiction is no different from any other addiction. It still amazes me how much more money I have to spend on basic things now that I should have been able to buy all along. I am feel so much richer.

Actually it still amazes me that I am not still smoking too, and the fact that I am not smoking is down to this book by Allen Carr. "The object of the book" wrote Carr, "is to get you into the frame of mind in which, instead of the normal method of stopping whereby you start off with the feeling that you are climbing Mount Everest and spend the next few days craving a cigarette and envying other smokers, you start off right away with a feeling of elation, as if you had been cured of a terrible disease."

"If you follow my instructions, you will be happy to be a non-smoker for the rest of your life" reads the blurb on the back of my copy of the book. It's true too. I have been a non-smoker after reading this book since the 2nd of February 2007 and I do not feel 'deprived". He does indeed offer a unique method without scare tactics which focuses on removing the psychological "need" to smoke.

There is a political side to all of this.

Most support structures around now, (government-run or otherwise), that exist to encourage people to not smoke any more, focus on supporting a smoker to "give up" the terrible vice. They wind up subsidising the nicotine drug in another form such as nicotine patches or gum.  Allen Carr argues that this is why they have such a low success rate. A smoker "giving up smoking" in this manner only ends up feeling "deprived". Moreover, the unwitting smoker who may not only be failing to 'give up' smoking is also in danger of becoming addicted to wearing a nicotine patch or chewing on the nicotine gum during their working hours. In effect they may become doubly addicted.

All this may well raise some interesting thoughts about the politics of governments and corporates and the way in which pharmaceutical companies are gradually wresting the nicotine industry from the tobacco companies in western countries at least. Allen Carr touched on these ideas in the book as well and on the website.

So nicotine doesn't disappear from the shelves. You just find it on different shelves.


Imagine selling a product where you know every user will eventually die sooner than they would have otherwise because they use your product. And in the nature of Capitalism you are working to expand your customer base and 'grow' your company and your profits. How do they sleep at night?

In the most appalling acts of cynicism and greed for profits above all else, these companies like British American Tobacco now target young kids in African and Asian countries. In these countries the number of smoking-related deaths are expected to double in the next twenty years. The tobacco companies want the young ones addicted because they will take longer to die from smoking related diseases than older people so they will be customers longer. Its evil.

Tobacco exacerbates poverty. The World Health Organisation (WHO) tells us that “tobacco and poverty are inextricably linked. Many studies have shown that in the poorest households in some low-income countries as much as 10%, (and the rest - in some households it will be a much higher percentage, depending on the price of the cigarettes and tobacco in each country), of total household expenditure is on tobacco [and therefore] there is less money to spend on basic items such as food, education and health care. In addition to its direct health effects, tobacco leads to malnutrition, increased health care costs and premature death. It also contributes to a higher illiteracy rate, since money that could have been used for education is spent on tobacco instead.”

Even more insidiously tobacco is also contributing to world hunger because it diverts prime land away from food production. Land that has been destroyed or degraded to grow tobacco has effects on nearby farms too, decreasing even more food production. As more forests are cleared to make way for more tobacco plantations then the soil protection those forests provided is lost and the soil is more likely to be washed away in heavy rains. This leads to more soil degradation and failing yields. Large amounts of wood are used to cure tobacco leaves and tobacco uses up more water, and has more pesticides applied to it, further affecting water supplies. The hard cash earned from this “foreign investment” is offset by the costs in social and public health and the environment. In effect, profits are privatized; costs are socialised. They make the money, the rest of us throughout the world pay the costs.


For Hone Harawira, now leader of the Mana Party here in Aotearoa, Tobacco Production and Marketing is a Colonisation issue. In a speech he made in 2006 he said:

 "Liberals will say though that smoking is about Maori people making choices. But I say no. HELL NO!!! Smoking is a part of colonisation. Tobacco has had its day in America and Europe, and now they are looking for other places to conquer; places like Africa, Asia, the Pacific, and now China. They're colonising places even America can't get into. And smoking ain't a choice; it's a disease. And just like the flu came with colonisation, so did tobacco. In fact, at the launch of the 2001 Maori Quit campaign, even the Prime Minister admitted that smoking came with the coloniser.

Addiction to cigarettes is also part of institutional racism, because tobacco companies use their structures, their policies and their practices to oppress our people in the same way as government agencies have. These companies are owned by white people driven by a lust for profit. They have no conscience about selling a product that kills our people, and in case you don't believe me, here's a quote from a Tobacco Company Executive who said: "We don't smoke this shit - we sell it. We reserve the right to smoke it, to the young, the poor, the black and the stupid."

Hone pointed out that there is untold money spent on debating and on legislating the health warnings on cigarette packets, and then restrictions on points of sale, and then on smoke-free workplaces, and then smoke-free bars. Hundred and thousands of hours and millions of dollars are being poured into smoking cessation programmes as well. What this has done is to simply create one industry to manage another.

Which is so true. Back to Allen Carr who argued that instead of nicotine addiction decreasing through all those smoking cessation programmes what was actually happening was that pharmaceutical corporations were taking over control of the nicotine substance from the tobacco companies. Probably the same rich guys have money in both. Allen Carr stated:  "Many of those who championed NRT (Nicotine Replacement Therapy) as an aid to quitting are now backtracking. Nicotine, they argue, should now be administered to addicts, not as a means of quitting the drug, but merely as a “safer alternative” to smoking. So, the objective of nicotine treatment is soon to become a long term (in other words lifelong) maintenance programme with a variety of nicotine products provided for addicts to use for the rest of their lives."

Thereby keeping those companies in the money forever. Oh goody.

Nicotine is a poison. No matter how you wrap it up, no matter how pretty the package, it is still a poison. All they are talking about here is making a more socially acceptable form of a drug so that non-smokers won't be bothered by cigarette smoke. I cannot see any other benefit.


In Aotearoa/New Zealand the current government has agreed in principle to introduce a plain packaging regime for tobacco, subject to the outcome of  a consultation process. The consultation process closed at 5pm, 5th of October 2012.

The Ministry of Health is now analysing the submissions and working with other government departments including Treasury, Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade and the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment to prepare a report back to Cabinet before the end of the year. A summary of the submissions will be placed on the website of the Ministry of Health following the decision of the Cabinet. There were 292 individual submissions. In addition more than 20,000 people and organisations expressed a view on the proposal through pre-printed postcards, letters, and petitions.

Unsurprisingly British American Tobacco aren't happy. They argue that plain packaging is an infringement of their intellectual property rights. “Packaging is an important element of any company’s intellectual property. A government prohibition on a company’s right to use their own intellectual property constitutes property removal and sets a disturbing precedent for businesses throughout New Zealand. “If government is prepared to do this today, are the next logical steps to force alcohol, fast food, salty or sugary products into plain packs as well?” said Susan Jones, BATNZ’s Head of Corporate and Regulatory Affairs.

Frankly, Susan, I don't give a damn. 

Friday, 23 November 2012

Te Tangata Rongonui Korero

Kia ora koutou.

At the end of our year of Te Ara Reo Maori (The Path to the Maori Language), we were required to write and present (korero) a speech completely in te reo Maori, no less than three minutes long, in front of our class, with "props" such as pictures or powerpoint.  Below is my speech which I presented on Tuesday just past.  For this post, I have interspersed with some explanation.  The pictures shown are pictures which I used on my powerpoint.

   Tane Mahuta, the largest Kauri tree still living in Aotearoa. His roots are in the earth, his branches reach to the sky.

The speech begins with the whaikorero (the first paragraph you see) which was written for us.  It means "The first word I have to say, I send to the Creator.  He is the beginning and the end of everything.  To the ancestral house that stands here I greet you.  To the sacred earth that lies outside, I greet you also.  To those that have passed on, go forth, go forth, go forth.  Go to the home that our Creator has constructed for all of us.  Leave the deceased to be with the deceased.  To all of us, the living gathered here, greetings greetings, greetings to you all. 

Ko te kupu tuatahi ki te kaihanga.  Koia ra te tiimatanga me te whakamutunga o ngā mea katoa.  E te whare tu nei, tēnā koe.  Ki te marae e takato ana ki waho rā, tēnā koe.  Ki ngā mate, haere, haere, haere.  Haere ki te kainga i whakaritea e tō tātou kaihanga mō tātou katoa.  Rātou te hunga mate ki a rātou.  Tātou te hunga ora e huihui mai nei.  Tēnā koutou, tēnā koutou, tēnā koutou katoa.

The next part is my pepeha, describing where I am from.

Ko Aoraki te maunga.  Ko Waimakariri te awa.  Ko te Moana-nui-a-Kiwa te moana.  Ko Martha Ridgway te waka.  Ko Ngāti Pakeha te iwi. Ko Elizabeth Odell tōku ingoa.

Me and my children circa 1996

This part tells my whakapapa.

Ko Lawrence Patrick Odell tōku matua.  Ko Eveline Rollinson tōku whaea.  I te taha o tōku whaea, ko Albert Rollinson rāua ko Clara Bailey ōku tipuna matua.  I te taha o toku matua, ko Stanley George Odell rāua ko Eileen Ross ōku tipuna mātua.  Ko Jenny Odell tōku teina.  Ko Geoff Odell tōku tungane.  Ko Justin rātou ko Melissa, ko Joseph, ko Jacob, ko Christopher āku tamariki.  Ko Caleb rātou ko Mya, ko Kade, ko Skye āku mokopuna.

 The first thread of my family arrived in Aotearoa in 1840 on a ship (waka) named the Martha Ridgway (the three masted ship left of the flagpole)

I te taha o tōku matua, ko James Wright raua ko Hannah Austain oku tipuna mātua.  I haere rāua ki Aotearoa, ki Whanganui-a-tara, ma runga waka Martha Ridgway rāua, haere ai. I taenga rāua i te marama o Whiringa-a-rangi, kotahi mano, e waru rau, e wha tekau.  Ko James rāua ko Hannah tekau ma iwa ana tamariki. Ko Sarah Anne Wright ānā mataamua.  A te rua tekau ma iwa o Hakihea, kotahi mano, e waru rau, e whā tekau mā tahi tōnā rā whanau. Ko ia te tangata tuatahi i whanau mai i Aotearoa o tōku whanau.

In the next part of our speech we had to talk about a famous person. I chose to korero about Metiria Turei, co-leader of the Green Party Aotearoa, a woman whom I highly respect.  

Ko te kaupapa o tōku korero ko tetahi tangata rongonui ko Metiria Leeanne Agnes Stanton Turei.

Ko Richard Ropata Eruera Turei tōna matua. Ko Janice Lake tōna whaea.  I te taha o tōna matua, ko Te Oti Rangitekaiwaho Turei rāua ko Agnes Piupiu Taputoro ōna matua tipuna.  I te taha o tōna whaea, ko Len Lake rāua ko Gwenda Lake ōna mātua tipuna.  Ko Warwick Stanton tāna hoa rangatira.  Ko Piupiu Maya Turei tāna tamahine.

Ko Tararua ko Ruapehu ōna maunga.  Ko Ruamahanga ko Whanganui ōna awa.  Ko Takitimu ko Aotea ōna waka.  Ko Rangitane, Ngati Kahungunu, ki Wairarapa ko Ati-hau-nui-a-Paparangi.  Ko Ngati Moe ko Wainuiarua ōna hapu.  Ko Papawai me Upokutauaki ōna marae.

A te tekau mā toru o Hui-tanguru, kotahi mano, e iwa rau, e whā tekau tona rā whanau.  Nō te Papa-i-oea ia. Kei Otepoti tōna kainga inaianei.

He Paremata tōna mahi.  Ko tōna umanga hei arahi toranapu Kakariki.

I ako ia te kowaruwarutanga o te ture i te Wananga o Tamaki-makau-rau, katahi ka poutoko ture tōna umanga Simpson Grierson. I tenei wā, he kaitauko ia mo nga hunga kore mahi me ngā tangata whai pānga, katahi ka tumuaki ia i Te Iwi Māori Rawakore o Aotearoa.  He kaiwhakangahau tōna mo te rōpu Random Trollops.
I te tau, kotahi mano, e iwa rau, e iwa tekau mā toru, he kaiwhakauru ia i te McGillicuddy Serious Party, kotahi ka, kotahi mano, e iwa rau e tekau ma ono, he kaiwhakauru ia te Aotearoa Legalise Cannabis Party.

I te tau, e rua mano, i uru ia ki rōto i te Pāti Kakariki, katahi ka, i te tau, e rua mano mā rua, i uru ia ki rōto ki te Paremata, ā muri i tera, i te tau, e rua mano mā iwa, Metiria rāua ko Russell Norman he kaiarahi rāua mo te Pāti Kakariki.

He wahine ātaahua a Metiria.  He wahine pukumahi ia.  He tino koi hoki tōna hinengaro, he ngākau māhaki. He arahi tōrangapu tino kaha ia.  He pango ona makawe. He pakaka ona karu.  He waha tōna korero. He nui tōna menemene. He rua ōna waewae hei kanikani.

We end with a whakatauki (proverb).  I chose the whakatauki below which means " Follow your dreams, if you have to bend or bow, let it be to a lofty mountain."

"Whaia te iti kahurangi ki te tuoho koe me maunga tei tei." 

Nō reira, tēnā koutou, tēnā koutou, tēnā koutou katoa.

Monday, 19 November 2012


inside every woman is a sappho loving her own
image. let us say then, for the sake of argument,
that i am a mirror. and that in me you see yourself.
why do you suppose i live behind locked doors?

inside every woman is someone's little girl gone
bad or mad. this is what she told me and i believe
it to be a truth.
and inside every woman is a scribe wanting to
set the record straight.

in rooms and cells up and down the country women
whose throats are dry, who are unable any longer
to speak, pen notes to themselves. they tell tales.
and in the night, in the deep part of the black
night the women come and go, doing a soft shoe
shuffle. walking down valium alley heads bent
and penitent. keeping an eye out for angels and
the night nurse riding his charger. and in the
night when the corridors sting with silence they
come and go, lulling each other. eyes zipped wide,
they go in file down librium mile and back.

and in one-roomed flats and beazley homes they
sit in locked lavatories scribbling fast in time
to children. they write poems on tables littered
with crumbs and jam to the beat of the AM band.
they record the songs of all the women in the
each one an image of her sister.

Mike Minehan (1990) Embracing The Dark.

The first time I came across Mike Minehan was in 1992 after I had left the hospital finally and come home with my twins. It was a cold June that year (winter in NZ of course) and I was completely focused on my two new little boys. I had no time for anything but feeding and changing it seemed, and when the wee lads were finally sleeping I would rush around getting the housework (especially the laundry). For company I turned on talkback radio and there was Mike, her slow careful voice creating a community amongst her listeners. It was probably the nicest chat I have ever come across. Outside was dark and cold, inside we were caught up in the cosy world that Mike created. Once when an old lady rang and said she was listening from her bed because it was her only way to get warm, Mike and her husband John Blumskey took firewood round to her the next day. We knew this only because the old lady rang that night insisting on telling the rest of us about their kindness.

I later found her poetry book, Embracing The Dark, (from whence came the above poem) and bought it.

I believe (although I cannot verify this) that her first marriage was to an American and she lived in the US for a time. This is an excerpt from a very long poem...

 san francisco bay blues

... a young girl i lay in the arms of a man old enough
to be my father and he played me like a harp.
he dressed me in fur and fine wool. he placed
a diamond on my finger and signed a contract.

i married an old man who steered ships by the
stars but who never managed to navigate my harbour
of silences. he said i was his lorelei. the song
i sang lured him onto the hard rocks of his own
despair. i was a siren killing him with lyrics
he had no stomach for ... in a tongue he could
not master...

... and a letter arrived from Saigon.

i did the dishes and cut my hair and burned rags
and incense for days. i bought max factorand
prince matchibelli. i opened an account at magnins.
i trimmed my toenails and shaved under my arms
with a remington. I stocked up on steak and whisky.
I read newspapers and watched merve griffen. i
bought a nightdress instead of fires and changed
the sheets. i hid my poems in an old shoebox and
dusted off the piano.

and the old sea dog who was tired of fighting
wars, returned, to talk of battles and bombs
and saigon bars and dance hall girls with long
black hair that fell about their faces like a
veil. brown eyed girls who lay down for sailors
on american flags and watched napalm blister the
river and light up the city.

and when i lay in his arms i smelled smoke. as
i lay loose in his arms i smelled death. he slept
on my breast heavy and spent and as old as sin.
and as i watched his slack mouth open to snores
i thought of other breasts his wet lips had suckled
in my absence, the brown bellies he has seeded
in his truancy from my bed. his moist tongue
tipping as he probed smaller ears than mine and
how this was the way of things...

Mike Minehan (1990) Embracing The Dark
Much later I realised that she had once joined that famous New Zealand poet James K Baxter at his commune at Jerusalem, Aotearoa/NZ. I think this was after she returned to NZ from the US - after her divorce. She gave birth to his son. (He of course, was married to Jacqui Baxter at the time - another man who had no idea of not straying). She wrote about this experience many years later in James K Baxter: An Intimate Memoir - O Jerusalem (2002)

What happens

... He says in a manner of speaking he has,

'Look sister' and she does. Into her heart and his and she thinks she
might follow where he beckons and listen to the music of his language,
his words, and find a place for her soul's rest, for a time, somewhere
up there in the hills he speaks of and this becomes a decision and she
makes it there ...

Mike Minehan (2002) excerpt from James K Baxter: An Intimate Memoir - O Jerusalem.
Getting back to the Sappho thing, I think this short and succinct poem is one of my favourite poem of hers.


one morning i woke &
told god to bugger off
i packed his bags &
gave him a one way ticket
& a cut lunch
i swept the cave &
lit a fire
invited some women to share a meal

we sang & told tales till dawn

Mike Minehan (1990) Embracing The Dark