Tell me a story. It's something we start asking for as children and hopefully never grow out of.
The internet delivers an infinite amount of information and allows us to immerse ourselves in other people's lives. We get snapshots, rather than in-depth knowledge. It's like eating candy floss when I know I need fruit and veges.
Substance and depth are reasons to love podcasts. One of my favourites is called The Moth, where people around the world tell true stories in front of a live audience. For years, I've thought about how something similar might happen in the Bay of Plenty. Someone should host a story hour, I thought.
There are times when you realise you could be someone who does what you've been waiting for. As a journalist, I've told other people's stories for decades. I wanted to provide a platform where people could tell their own tales in person.
Earlier this year, I applied for and won a grant with the Creative Communities scheme through Creative Tauranga. It was a low-risk way to hire a venue and launch the project. We call it Tell Me Tauranga/Kōrerohia Mai.
Trying to host an event during the pandemic is rough. The committee and I started planning during the blissful interregnum between two nationwide lockdowns: the one that started in March, 2020 and the one that began in August this year. It seemed as if the Bay would stay in level 1 forever. It did not. Level 2 forced us to host a smaller-than-envisioned evening at a different venue.
Last Thursday at the Tauranga Club, eight local speakers told stories with the theme of new beginnings in front of a crowd of about 80 people. They shared a time when their perspective or their whole life changed. They had chosen, or were forced, to start again.
I think about the contrast between taking time to listen to someone's story and the anti-vax protests erupting like a rash in pockets around the country. It's sad and frustrating that a small, loud bunch of, in my view, misinformed Kiwis are imitating the misinformed Americans in my home country. New Zealand is too small and too well-connected to survive a Yankee-style culture war.
This is why it was refreshing to spend a night listening to stories about something other than Covid-19 and vaccines. People really leaned in - the room was still as the audience delivered storytellers that rarest of gifts - undivided attention.
Amanda Lowry told us what life was like after breaking her neck in a surfing accident. She negotiates the world as a tetraplegic, swimming competitively and playing wheelchair rugby. She said it was wonderful to enter a disability sporting arena venue where the non- disabled people with working legs were "the odd ones out buggers."
Dr Andrew Corin talked about a project called My Best Day, where he asks patients to envision what their best day looks like. He uses the practice to help people make medical decisions near the end of life.
Amelia Hirota's talk gets the best title award: "Confessions of a Breast Milk Trafficker." She told us how she travelled half-way across the globe with a suitcase full of frozen milk en route to adopt her second son in Malaysia.
Steffi August took us behind the Iron Curtain in what used to be East Germany, detailing her escape from communism and how the event helped shape her perspective to see every challenge as an opportunity.
Rhys Johnston had a new beginning on the running trail. Rhys won the men's division of the 2021 Tarawera ultramarathon, running 102km in nine hours, 39 minutes. He told us how he battled injury and self-doubt to cross the line as a winner.
Ange Wallace told us how childhood pain can boomerang into adult life, causing chaos. Spoiler alert: it's never too late to have your little kid wish fulfilled.
Stephen Wilson took us on a journey with the onion. From cutting onions at his father's restaurant in Mount Maunganui as a boy to raising his own family in Paris while co-owning a restaurant, Stephen started with the humble allium and eventually grew his own business and social enterprise catering operation.
Saima Anis quit her corporate accounting job to focus on studying organisational psychology and societal change. She talked about reinvention and self-discovery in the face of childhood trauma. And for one minute, she sang a beautiful, haunting snippet of Asian classical music.
I hope we can allow stories to bridge our differences. Sharing our struggles - without technology, in person - can help us see how similar we really are.
What's your story? Find Tell Me Tauranga/Kōrerohia Mai on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/tellmetauranga