Tribute To A True Friend

I wrote this piece for a beautiful friend of mine who recently chose to end her life. I met her in Golden Bay on my first journey to New Zealand, and it was friendship at first sight. Cheyenne had a troubled background, and growing up she suffered severe trauma and abuse. Despite these hard odds, she was an inspiration and a joy to be around and I am honored to have known her. This is my tribute to a brief but powerful friendship that etched a strong impression in my being…

I could tell straight away that she was on a journey of sorts. Outside the nightclub, the fireplace in the cosy yard had caught her full attention. All around us carefree people were laughing and drinking, but as she sat on the ground and stared down the flames, her face was grave, with a strange hint of awe. I was a stranger in town and took my beer in a corner, observing the scene in silence. Suddenly she caught my eyes and fixed me with the most intense stare – piercingly hard and straight through me – yet it wasn’t aggressive but somehow almost pleading. Unusual. I could only return her gaze in hypnotic surprise. She was in a cosmic state of mind and seemed to be navigating a particularly rough patch of universe just then. A solitary psychonaut making her way home through a soulful storm.

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Eventually I sat by the fire next to her, but there wasn’t much of a conversation between us, just an easy, quiet understanding as we tended the fire. She asked me where a foreigner like myself was staying in this dull country town, and I told her about the building site where I had spotted a discreet place to take cover for the night. Her face lit up in approving recognition; she knew exactly what spot I was talking about. She told me she had never used it, since she already had a home. She looked proud of that, and offered me a place to stay for the night. I didn’t know it then, but even though she was a decade younger, she had at least a lifetime on me when it came to survival skills. I took her offer and my life is richer for it.

I stayed in the Bay around 3 months that first time, and I made a bunch of new friends. Cheyenne stood out amongst them all. She had her own category, like a beautiful and exotic migrating bird that you can’t look up in the book. What irony then, that she was truly the local. At the same time, she definitely came from a different world. The darkness and strife, that she had already lived in her young and intense life, were casually referred to in our conversations, but I knew I could never fully comprehend the pain that had been inflicted on her, even if she told me her story in detail. Somehow the Bay and its happy people seemed too innocent for Chey with her instinctive eye for conflict, always scanning her surroundings, unaccustomed with the absence of ill intent. As a man, and cursing my violating brothers around the world, I often felt honoured to have earned her trust.

One time, while I was hitch-hiking into town, she suddenly came speeding over a hill on a mountain-bike, drenched in sweat and cursing her form, but so proud of herself. By chance, we were exactly at her favourite spot on that stretch; a cliff-head by the sea near Pohara, where you can climb onto a ledge and take in the full view of the Bay. Despite her self-proclaimed lack of agility, she led the way like a puma and I scrambled after her. We had a smoke and spoke freely about what it feels like to be a human in this world. We never small-talked, and our conversations invariably turned spiritual. She had the wisdom of a warrior and the makings of a shaman inside her. She was a natural born poet.

She was healing herself, and – ever in my own healing process – I shared my own experiences of depression and substance abuse. They could never compare, of course. On so many levels we were opposite; from each end of the world, one brown and one white; one woman and one man; one younger and one older; one from a happy family and one from a broken home. I was often aware of my privileges, but Chey never seemed to care, except that she was always curious about my travels. She wanted to see Europe more than anything, and I recognized the look she got, when she dreamed of going abroad, as the look of a compulsive traveler. Takes one to know one.

There are other ways to travel than purely physical and we both knew that. She had tried every available substance to alter her mind, and I wasn’t far behind. Still, the gap was wide; I have never known the tight clutch of opiate addiction. We did share a love of entheogens, though, and she had clearly benefited greatly from journeying through her inner world, poring over questions unavailable to the daily self, as one does when ingesting psychedelics with intention. The world of ancient spiritual practice, and the millenia-old use of healing plants reverberated with her own experiences. She was well on her way to find peace, I thought.

I only met Cheyenne 8 times, and I remember every encounter clearly. Her mood could swing at any given time, but mostly she was level, and in any case she would nearly always welcome a laugh. Being around Chey was never boring. One time in sleepy Takaka, she was dressed like a proper punk going off to a drunken riot. She spewed on the pavement and sold me a bag of weed in a crusty back alley – all just for fun, she said. Another time we met, she was wearing a most colorful hippie getup and we drove to the top of the Hill where she wanted to show me the mummified cow, and go for a stroll in the bush.

Another time we hung out in the cosy bus where she lived, and she showed me an art-piece she had made. It was a collage of news-scraps and pictures detailing a terrible story of abuse that she had been subject to. It was a very powerful piece, to say the least, and a very honest and clever way for her to purge and share her story without alienating herself. There is no doubt in my mind, that she was both more intelligent and more able to think with her heart than most people will ever be.

Back on my own road again I was rarely in touch with Chey, but about a year later I came back to New Zealand for a few weeks. She had moved to Nelson where I was going to pass through at end of my trip. I had a late start that day and poor luck with getting a ride, so it wasn’t until I stranded in Nelson just after dusk, that I got a hold of her on the phone. She was working all night, but she promptly arranged for me to stay in her room that she was renting from two ”weird, old and uneducated crackheads”.

She had only been there for a week, but she was dead-on with her description of her flatmates. Their living room was literally a grungy crack-den, but Cheyenne’s room was a different world to that. There were stacks of books on spirituality, filosophy and great works of literature. Incense sticks and pretty rocks adorned an improvised altar under a Bob Marley poster and her amazing wardrobe made a feast of colour on the shelves. Once again my saving angel had come to my rescue, and I felt such gratitude as I fell asleep in this little oasis.

She didn’t wake me when she came back in the early morning. When I did wake up, we only talked for half an hour before I had to catch my bus to the ferry. That was the last time I saw Cheyenne. It was a beautiful half hour. She told me that she was saving up to go North, and that she was in love. She was straight as can be, despite her circumstances, and once again we spoke of following our dreams and navigating life and focusing on love. I am so thankful now, that our parting words were; ”I love you!”.

Cheyenne did go North shortly after that, and she reconnected with her whanau and worked on her her artisan skills. She learned more of her native tongue and, as far as I know, she worked out any outstanding matters with the authorites. She took her life back, slowly but surely. I drifted on in my restless fashion and by way of a broken heart, I ended up back home in Copenhagen, Denmark.

When, recently, I suddenly found out that Chey was in Wales of all places, my heart took a leap of joy for so many reasons. She had made the long and exciting journey to Europe, motivated by love, and she was happier than had I ever heard her; clean, relaxed, in love and enjoying her daily life. She had outsmarted the grim immigration system and found her own way back to her love, and I knew that she had found a happy, peaceful place inside herself. We talked excitedly about visiting each other, and I have learnt a painful lesson now, that I didn’t just buy that flight.

Not long after, and for reasons only known to herself, my beautiful sister in spirit, sweet Cheyenne, flew off on her final journey in this realm. She left behind an indelible impression in me, of a soul so strong and kind and loving, in a world so broken and evil. She proved to me that true friendship has no limit and that love conquers everything. She had as brave a spirit as I will ever meet, and it lingers on in the way I live now, as I am certain countless other very fortunate people carry her inspiration and power in their hearts.

You can say that life overcame Cheyenne in the end, or you can say that she overcame the final fear that we all have. Ultimately, death is only for the living, but life is also for the dead and Chey is still among us. She has joined our ancestors, who brought us into this world and who are all around us and inside us. She is no where and every where. She is in my heart. I see her in the clouds sometimes. She is making faces and traveling the sky at her own will. She was, and is, a Free Spirit.

Safe journey sister,

Love you forever!

cornelius

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Tui Turns 30!

Almost 9 months ago, I promised you to write about my experience of living in one of New Zealand’s most remarkable communities – Tui. Then life happened and swept me onto new adventures and I forgot all about it. But as Tui is turning 30 this year, they have asked friends of the community to write a little something for the occasion and I realized that this was my chance to both give them my story and redeem myself to you, dear reader…

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Daylight full moon rising over a corner of Tui with the Abel Tasman National Park in the back.

 

Here is what I sent to the Tuis:

 

My name is Cornelius and I am a Danish globetrotter and community enthusiast who first learnt about community-living in the 1000-people strong Freetown of Christiania – a famous and controversial community in the middle of Copenhagen. From small grungy squats to large scale utopian projects around the world, I have since visited and studied a great deal of communities. Some of them – like Tui – I visited for the purpose of making a radio documentary. My focus with this is to document intentional communities that are long-standing and non-religious, in an attempt to uncover what makes an alternative and individually diversified community last through the generations, without succumbing to the all-too-common problems of fanaticism, commercialism and inter-personal conflict.

 

Stumbling Upon A Gem

I was hitch-hiking near Nimbin in Australia, when I first heard of Tui,  A lady who picked me up, turned out to be a fellow community aficionado and I told her about my community documentary project and that my next destination was New Zealand. Her response was to tell me about one of Tui’s founding members, Robina McCurdy, who happened to have just visited the Nimbin area to give a talk about permaculture. She then told me about Tui community and I decided then and there to visit the place, as soon as I got to New Zealand.

My second impression of Tui came from their website. I was curious to know a bit more about the community, and keen to arrange for me to stay there for a while, so I tried googling them. Having seen so many unkempt community websites over the years, I was very impressed with Tui’s home in cyberspace. Here was a community that, not only updated their website more than once every couple of years, they had also posted relevant information and up-to-date contact details!

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Me and my favourite three co-wwoofers; Ine, the Beast & Mari. A very special time that was for 4 strangers turned family.

I wrote to Tyson, the current (excellent!) visitor coordinator, and told him that I was hoping to do some work, in exchange for a few weeks of accommodation and possibly some food. I also wrote that I was interested in conducting a few interviews for my community documentary. Little did I know that I was going to spend 3 whole months there, working for the community as well as nearly every household, doing more than 20 interviews and no doubt winning some genuine friends for many years to come!

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New Zealand Snapshot Stories

Sometimes it is so much more descriptive to explain a story from a picture, and sometimes there are too many stories too tell in one blog post. So, I have put together this little gallery, showing you some of the memorable people and places I met and visited in New Zealand. There are scores more apart from these (I have had a very busy half a year in terms of meeting people) but I only had a camera for half of the time…

Anyway, hope you enjoy, click on a picture to begin!

Leaving New Zealand aka Paradise On Earth

Last week I left the End of the World (aka Paradise on Earth) with a little lump in my throat. After riding a magnificent ½ year long wave of  luck and friendships, bureaucratic regulations finally put an end to my legal stay in New Zealand and so here I am in Sydney, contemplating my next move.

It’s going to be very difficult to match anything like what I experienced in New Zealand. In fact, I am even finding it hard to stop thinking about all the beauty and the good times I saw across “the ditch” – the Tasman Sea between Australia and New Zealand.

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On the edge at the end of the world.

What makes New Zealand so special? The innocent and incredibly ingenious people? The absolutely STUNNING countryside? The friendly presence of freshwater everywhere – and ditto absence of poisonous critters? The crisp, clean mountain air? The unique mix of Maori and European culture?

It is, of course, all of that in a perfect blend. Yet I think the main reason behind the country’s magnificence, is its isolation.  Since New Zealand broke free from ancient Gondwanaland, there has always been a couple of thousand kilometers to the nearest mainland – Australia.

Almost everywhere you go in New Zealand there is a creek, a lake, a waterfall; the sensation, sound and life of water is never far away.

Almost everywhere you go in New Zealand there is a creek, a lake, a waterfall; the sensation, sound and life of water is never far away.

As the last large land mass to be populated, New Zealand just hasn’t had that much exposure to the destructive human civilization – or mammals in general for that matter. There are no overgrown temples in the rain forest, no millennia-old trade-routes cutting north to south, just bush and mountains and beaches, and lots and lots and lots of it.

It is such a new place for us humans,that we are still exploring it. Here is space to live. About a thousand years ago, the Polynesians who first arrived in their Waka’s from the pacific islands, must have marveled at the size of these new islands. Today, immigrants marvel at the low population density.

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Even the parliament building (the so-called “beehive”) has a backdrop of wild bush!

There is a promise in the air of unpolluted nature, sustainable lifestyles and egalitarian politics. Following the global trend, all of that is rapidly being undermined by corporate governments. But when the shit hits the fan New Zealand – with its low population and relative isolation – strikes me as the perfect hide-out for survivalists and doomsday opportunists.

Leaving this land of lushness and opportunity was a strange affair; part of me was sad to say goodbye to all the amazing new friends. I also haven’t seen more than a fraction of what I wanted. But another part of me was thrilled to be going back to places with more people and more of a cultural flow.

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No matter where you are coming from, New Zealand is just far away. Nearest neighbours are Australia and even more remote Antarctica.

But perhaps this could be a place for me to settle down one fine day, just like my 67-year-old Danish friend Walter who moved here 15 years ago after more than 30 years on the road. I like the way he put it: “Once you have seen all the gurus and all the holy places and the monuments and you have found your spirituality inside you, New Zealand is where you go. Here is only the spacious, gentle land as a beautiful blank canvas, quietly supporting you and accepting who you are”.

Waitangi Day – Day Of The Wailing Waters

Just the other day it was Waitangi Day here in New Zealand and I bet you have no idea what that really means. And if I tell you that Waitangi means ‘waters of sorrowful cries’ in Maori, you’re probably still none the wiser. For most New Zealanders, Waitangi Day is just another welcome day off, yet for those in the know, this is a day that marks either a celebration or a lamentation of historic proportions.

It is often said that out of all the European colonies, New Zealand treated their indigenous Maori population best. Many Kiwis will happily reiterate this statement, often pointing the finger at their barbaric neighbours in Australia who still hold one of the worst track records in terms of racism and inequality. Compared to the Aussies, New Zealand is a veritable role model and a text-book example of how to establish a colony while still respecting the native population. This is certainly a convenient truth for the less than 170-year-old New Zealand government, largely consisting of European descendants…

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One of the ways this popular belief is upheld is by marking February the 6th every year. A public holiday in New Zealand, this day commemorates the signing of a treaty – the Waitangi Treaty – between some 45 Maori chiefs and the Queen of England, who thus annexed their land and made it part of the British Empire.

While the Waitangi Treaty has had obvious benefits for the Maori – such as being recognized as humans rather than animals like colonial powers did in South America, Africa, Australia etc. – the treaty was by no means a just affair, nor is it even, to this day, part of the domestic law of New Zealand.

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A Burner Is Born!

A first-time Burning Man participant shares the magic of New Zealand’s regional Kiwiburn. Meet the Festival Community at the frontiers of culture and see why burners never look back… A 15-minute engaging read, written to the soundtrack of Black Napkins, Happy & Solsbury Hill.

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This guy is what it’s all about. Photo: Randy Brophy

A Passionate Preface

I have lost my virginity to a burning sensation. My mind, body and soul has been cleansed by a week of thorough debauchery so spiritually charged that my life feels many times enhanced. Henceforth I shall identify as a “burner” with the explicit aim of setting large men on fire all around the world. Have I joined a cult? I really couldn’t care less, I just want to burn!

They say that burners leave a burn with instant withdrawal symptoms. I couldn’t agree more. I am literally dancing down the street looking by-passers in the eyes with a big smile for a gift and a heart so open you could pass a galaxy through it. Is this an addiction? I really couldn’t care less, I just want to burn!

Burn those old patterns away, burn away the barriers in my brain and burn up my life in a singularly meaningful, intentional and inspirational blaze of creativity and love. In other words; if you ever doubted that I had gone stark raving mad in the elusive eyes of society; doubt no more, because; I just want to burn!

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Okay, here’s your “naked” shot, now go perv somewhere else 😉

I honestly thought I knew what it would be like to go to a burn. Silly me. I have lived in communities for the past decade, steadily putting on festivals and parties and however many crazy concerts and ceremonies. In my life I have travelled and lived on 5 continents and randomly connected with thousands of beautiful strangers. But I have never seen anything burn so pure as the burning man at Kiwiburn.

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Christchurch Rising From The Ruins

This is a piece about a broken city where socialists are saints, where scaffolds are high and the church is made of toilet paper rolls.

My traveling compadre Javi and myself (aka Beauty & The Beast) get a 6-hour ride to Christchurch with Doug – a Kiwi Philosophy Major turned concrete truck driver and quad-lingual tour guide. We pass through the stunning McKenzie Country and behold the vast mountain-rimmed glacial plains while discussing ethical dilemmas and etymological theory. In true Kiwi style he puts us up for the night and after a lovely family pancake breakfast, we go busking in the streets.

Playing Up The Strip With Cliff Richard

City Mall is a vibrant oasis in a strangely desolate cityscape. Javi and I play our quirky music to hundreds of by-passers. Enough people smile to make us continue for hours, and enough people throw a coin or buy our CD to make it worth our while too. We sit in the improvised main street where brightly colored shipping containers make up a funky shopping environment and buskers on every corner vie for attention.

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Past meet present on high street Christchurch. In front of the spiced-up shipping containers, native plants like flax has been planted.

The old pop-singer Sir Cliff Richard (who obviously had a paid gig) also walked this strip recently, and remarked; “it looks fantastic. I think you should keep it that way.” Being the one and only place in town where there is some kind of business-as-usual feeling, the place attracts everyone out for a downtown stroll.

Eventually it is time for a picnic in the park. As we enjoy our lunch, Wiremu comes to the creek for a smoke. We offer him some tea but he’s alright. It is Sunday arvo and the weather is fine. His son is stoned on cheap wine and doesn’t say much, but father likes a yarn: “Wheah yu from den ae? Nut from around hia are yuz?” Maori English never fails to charm me. Especially when spoken by a friendly face like Wiremu’s.

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Beauty & The Beast Records Album In Quaint Queenstown!

I met Javi in the neatly utopian community of Tui in Golden Bay, where we were both WWOOF’ing (Willing Workers On Organic Farms). It turned out that, not only did we have a mutual friend back in Australia, we were also both on the lookout for a fellow musician to travel with. After a month of jamming around the campfire, we decided to go on a tour of the South Island – it was to be the most epic hitchhike I have ever done…

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Beauty & The Beast at the “Half Way Around The World” point of their “Friend of a Friend of a Friend Tour”

The tour could well have been called The Friend Of A Friend Of A Friend Tour, because so many times we got picked up by amazing Kiwi’s who not only transported us but also fed and sheltered us and finally passed on the contacts of their friends who in turn did the same. And so it was that a sister of a friend in Tui, offered us to stay in their family’s beautiful old town house right in the center of the quaint little tourist trap of Queenstown.

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The Hitchhiker’s Promised Land – A True Story

You are standing in the prettiest place in the world. Sun is up, and filters pleasantly through an elusive variation of clouds. The camp-fire smell in your clothes reminds you of the glorious conversations and last night’s one-pot stew. This morning’s cowboy-coffee takes the edge of the relentless sand-flies’ bites, but you don’t really care:

In front of you is Mount Cook and his range of snow-capped alpine cousins. Towering so near – pouring clean, crisp water down their arms, and into the hands of the forest and the bush. Silent lakes and strong-headed rivers. Drowsy pastures and the odd farm-house. Over litter-less beaches and into the patiently pulsating Pacific Ocean. This is the last place we got to – the freshest land on the planet.

Back down again, Javi and I are setting out on an epic hitchhike down the most beautiful part of New Zealand; the West Coast of the South Island. Unfortunately without a camera...

Javi and I are setting out on an epic hitchhike down the most beautiful part of New Zealand; the West Coast of the South Island. Unfortunately without a camera…

Time is not an issue. Your thumb is the agenda, and your camp is on your back. Cars passing by allow for another tea and another story – another belly laugh. Nature talks back with subtle critters in the grass, whooshing leaves and the distant crash of tidal waves. The road is warm and life is happy. Someone always picks you up.

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Lake Angelus Calling…

I’ve just figured out how to make a gallery, so here’s a few snaps from my latest tramping trip to Lake Angelus near Nelson.

I went there with the amazing Gourmet Tramper Inna from Tui, and my new friend and travel buddy – Javier the Drummer.

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