Over the course of the last week Hongi 2018 had the privilege of learning from and living with the Maori people. My main takeaway from the experience is that people are amazing. I have always admired people because I think the things they do are incredible, but this week I felt like I was just in continuous awe of how this culture lives. We arrived in Ragland (or Whāingaroa as the locals call it) last Tuesday and we were greeted by our local contact Tiaki. Throughout the week he introduced us to all the families we would be staying with as well as educating us on the progression of the Maori culture. He also reminded us of good human values that I think a lot of us forget in this crazy world we no live in. Values like love, compassion, passion, oneness, and respect for ourselves, and everyone and everything around us. As I write these values I realize that many of us have probably not forgotten them, but we fail to incorporate them in every single thing we do. In the moment I had not realized so clearly, but the two families we stayed with opened their homes which are considered sacred to eleven strangers because they wanted to. The Maori have really embodied the meaning of I am my brothers keeper or I am my sisters keeper because to them we are all one gigantic family and everything we do has an impact on someone or something else. We stayed with our first family for 3 days and we did a lot of learning in that short period of time. The girls learned how to make poi which were traditionally made as weapons and to strengthen warriors wrists for battle. While the guys learned the Hakka that is used by the All Blacks rugby team before games. I encourage you to look this Hakka up on youtube, but just know ours was cooler. This Hakka is used traditionally on many occasions from times of celebration to before wars and battles. Something that was really hard for me to get down was that apparently when doing this chant, the uglier you are, the sexier you are and my nickname in my high school yearbook was the light skin princess. As you guys can imagine it was a pretty drastic change in direction for me. Nonetheless I got onboard and we nailed our Hakka in less than two hours of learning. We even got a chance to perform them out in the rain and at the end of the Hakka we all have to look as fierce(ugly) as possible and hold it and when we did this in the rain, I crap you guys not, thunder and lightning went off behind us. I have added that to the many unforgettable moments experienced on this trip. As you guys know it was Thanksgiving this past week and we were able to share a bit of who we are with the Maori people by inviting a couple of the people we have learned from to our feast. This was really special for me because I had no idea how we were going to give thanks to these amazing people for all they had done, but this felt like a way to give a small token of our appreciation. We made so much food, and we laughed, and shared stories, and it was pretty awesome. It has been a longtime away from home and it felt like a real family experience. I could go on and on about this, but unfortunately I think these blogs have a character limit. The next people I would like to highlight are a couple named Rick and Liz. They own a permaculture farm and were refreshing people. When they spoke they spoke with such passion about what they do and this dream they had. Rick said that dreams are not just some fantasy, they are an action and if you have one you must continue to act on it every single day. Well their dream was to give back to the land that they and everyone has taken so much from. In the Maori culture their gods all represent things that are truly bigger than us. Like the Earth, the oceans, the sun, the moon, the wind, and almost anything you can think of. They will pray to the gods for protection and guidance and if they are going to use them they share their respect for them. I have never been a religious or spiritual person, but these peoples spirituality really spoke to me because they are always connected to their gods and I love how they treat them with so much respect and if they are going to take than they always give back. Well going off this spirituality we got a chance to take part in a sweat lodge ceremony and embark on a vision quest. First and foremost I would like to say that if you have ever complained about the heat, you do not know true heat. With every breath I could feel my nose hairs being singed and I would have cried, but I had already sweat out all my tears. However, within this lodge we began by bringing in our ancestors. In Indigenous culture your ancestors are always with you, guiding you, and looking over you. So when you entered the sweat lodge you had to say all my relations which calls in your ancestors. Then we said thanks for all the things that we love so much in our lives. Following this we let go of all the things we had been holding on to that were holding us back and brought in the things we wanted to replace them with. It was a moment of very good reflection and was a perfect segue into our path to finding ourselves. On our vision quest we went out onto the hills and found a nice quiet spot and just thought. I thought about relationships, ones that I knew I had to ponder so I could move on myself and in turn hopefully fix it for the both of us. I also thought about ones that before this trip I would have never questioned, but it was very enlightening and I am glad I had the opportunity. I also thought about my purpose and rediscovered a dream that I had given up on or forgotten about and when I was up on that hill the universe spoke to me and I realized the direction my life needs to take and I am ready to step forward. From what we shared with the group I can say that everyone else went through some pretty life altering realizations. We closed out our week by helping Tiaki on his land, clearing weeds for some trees that he and past carpe groups had planted. He sent us off with some wise words that I think will stay with me for the rest of my life. Life is not about improving yourself, it is about uncovering yourself. I think everyone should hear this in their life because we are all born with this amazing energy within ourselves and our journey should be spent trying to find what is already within.