Tuesday, 25 October 2011

The Limping Angel

A few years ago, I celebrated the anniversary of my birth by going to watch a Cirque du Soleil show called Varekai. The most memorable performance for me was one called "The Limping Angel” which was performed by a dancer who is almost completely paralysed in his legs. He dances on a pair of crutches to convince a crippled Icarus to rise and attempt to walk after he fell from the heavens. The dancer was Dergin Tokmak. And he was not only magnificent; he was most impressive and inspirational. 
"My message as an artist is to show the world that there is a creative soul in everyone with or without a handicap." - Dergin Tokmak
What captured my interest when I did more research on Dergin was not so much his dancing but his amazing ability to do it considering his history with Polio. Poliomyelitis is a viral disease that can affect nerves and lead to partial or full paralysis. Dergin contracted this virus when he was a child and since then lost complete use of his left leg and most control of his right. He survived by learning to walk on his hands and to rely heavily on his upper body strength in order to move around.

It wasn't until he was twelve when Dergin started experimenting with crutches. He achieved great balance and learnt how to dance by throwing his body around in graceful (albeit limited) motions  whilst supported only by his arms. Soon after, he developed his own form of break-dancing and performed all over Germany under the name 'Stix'. He took part in many competitions, performed on various stages and television shows, and even toured Germany with Run DMC.

Dergin’s story hit close to home for me since my father was also afflicted with Polio when he was younger. He lost the use of muscles in his left leg and some all up his left side including the arm. With his weakened arm, I highly doubt that my father would have been able to dance on crutches but like Dergin, he did not let his condition overshadow him.

Growing up, society tried to make me believe that having a cripple for a father was an embarrassment but I never understood that attitude. My father faced many battles (including discrimination) and I am very proud that he managed to get through them the best he could. This also makes me incredibly proud of Dergin and it truly touches my heart when I read about him being a role model for others who may have been discouraged by a handicap or disability.

I've had some correspondence with Dergin but the language barrier was a bit of an issue. (I should have paid more attention to my dad when he was trying to teach me German.) However I did manage to express to him how he had given me a fresh look at my own situation, having gone through my share of health complexities at the time. He reminded me to focus on the strengths that I had begun to neglect and to build on those in order to become a true survivor.

With each seizure attack I have, I too stand the risk of losing nerve function but that no longer worries me now.  People like my father and Dergin have the willpower to make it through certain difficulties that life had thrown them, and I am assured that I would also be able to deal with the worst that could happen.

Dergin's determination not to allow his disability prevent him from acquiring a successful career in dancing and doing other creative work, certainly serves as proof that anyone has the ability to turn a wish into a possibility. A true inspiration - I have much respect for this man.

Dancing on Crutches - Dergin Tokmak

Dergin dancing in wheelchair and on crutches on remake of James Brown video, Sex Machine

Sunday, 16 October 2011

Burying the Hatchet . . . Samoan Style

I once had a discussion with another Samoan where it was proposed that we “bury the hatchet”. I paused for a moment, then another . . . before refusing. It was only a light conversation between friends including some mock dramatics (from me of course) but it later had me thinking about why I would hesitate to agree to such a thing in a serious situation.

According to my research (i.e. a quick lookup on Google) the expression originates from an American Indian practice, where axes, tomahawks or other weapons are literally buried to signify a peace agreement. This meaning is how it is commonly used in the English language.

However, it may hold another meaning for a Samoan – something not nearly as favourable as a peaceful act. When I heard the expression I was instantly reminded of the famous legend of the warrior brothers, Tuna and Fata, and their preparations in the final battle that drove the overbearing Tongan king and his army out of Samoa for good. The Samoan army (led by Tuna and Fata) buried their weapons not for a peace agreement but as a surprise tactic for an attack. The unsuspecting Tongans watched the Samoans perform song and dance thinking they were going to get a good ol’ entertainment, when suddenly the Samoan warriors retrieved the weapons from where they were hidden in the ground and launched their attack.

So you see how burying the hatchet the Samoan way might be a tad risky. Perhaps it is best to clarify the terms first and consider whether you are asked to bury your weapons for peace or as a warning for a fight. Either way, be prepared :)