The Reason for the Season: George the Goat

I love Christmas.  I do.  It is, in fact, the most wonderful time of the year.  At least, it’s the most wonderful time of the year when you’re sitting on your couch, listening to Christmas carols while gazing fondly at your Christmas tree.

The reality is, though, you have about ten minutes to do that.  Usually on Christmas night.  After the pandemonium.  And when you’re lying prostrate in a Christmas cake stupor.

Before that, though—if you’re like me—you’re freaking out.  You’re trying to find thoughtful gifts that are *just* right for the people who you want to give them to.  You may even be attempting arts and crafts projects that are made to look “Oh So Simple!” in the glossy magazine spread, but which in your clumsy, left-handed fingers, looks like art therapy on anger day.

Okay.  Maybe I’m talking about myself.  Okay, yes.  I am talking about myself.

I have experienced a greater-than-average amount of holiday anxiety this year, all of which can be put down to the goat.

Let me explain.

I would like to believe that I am a good gift-giver.  I don’t think I am, though.  That is not to say that my gifts are not thoughtful—they are.  They just don’t always … work.  I fear that I will be the aunt who gives her unfortunate nephew a fuzzy bunny suit one year.  You know, because he’s into bunnies, it’s cold, and it’s adorable.  This was never brought home to me more so than when having to find a gift for T’s oldest brother as part of the family Christmas draw.  What do you give a guy you don’t know and who lives far, far away?

Apparently, you give him a goat.

I really dig the Oxfam Christmas gift project.  Instead of just making donations to causes in your friends’ names and sending them a little note saying you’ve done so, you buy them goats.  Or water.  Or domestic violence prevention.  Or soap.  You make the donation to Oxfam, and they give you a cheeky little card to give the person in whose name you made the donation.  I admit it.  I was taken with the goat.  Wouldn’t you be?  Look at that face!  It’s the face of George, the goat.  George, the life-giving goat that goes to Papua New Guinea and gives a family nourishment, the chance of baby goats, and a way out of extreme poverty.

I wrote out a funny card that included a reference to goat poo.

I was very pleased with George.

Until someone mentioned that giving someone a goat like this (who had not asked for one) is little bit like foisting your idea of charity on them.  It was an off-hand comment, not meant to be anything more than, well, an off-hand comment.

Did I absorb it as an off-hand comment? No.  Of course not.  Instead, I went into a silent anxiety spiral.

“Oh God.  OH GOD!” I thought to myself.  “I’ve given the poor man a goat!  A GOAT!  Who wants a goat?!?!”

How do you fix giving someone a goat?

You give him woolly slipper socks.  Apparently.  But solely for the purpose of then being able to say (to yourself, of course):

“OH GOD!  I’ve given him a goat AND socks!  A goat and SOCKS??? What was I thinking??”

I mentioned this to a few friends and these people—people who didn’t even know who I was talking about—immediately came up with at least five good present options. Five.  None of which involved goats or socks.

I shot each of them a scornful glance full of reproach.  Where were they when I was buying the goat??

I sorted it in the end (reluctantly relying on one of the five suggestions) (and yes, the goat is still part of the equation), but I had some serious feelings of gift-anxiety for a while.

Now, before people start hopping up and down that this is exactly what’s wrong with Christmas, I have gift-anxiety in every possible situation.  From the “should I?” to the “shouldn’t I?” to the “This?” or the “That?”  It’s not limited to Christmas. It’s birthdays, weddings, house warmings, going away luncheons, anniversaries–the list is endless.  And it’s not about expense, either.  Some of the best gifts I ever found were ridiculously cheap, but they seemed perfect.  For me, it’s about finding something that says, “Hey.  I know you.  I pay attention to you. You mean something to me.” Maybe that’s the real issue–the not knowing.  I suspect my narcissistic level of self-imposed anxiety has more to do with wishing I knew T’s brother better.  It really doesn’t have anything to do with the goat.

When I really think about it, people are usually just happy to be remembered.  They’re happy that you’ve made an effort, no matter what that effort is.  The simple act of giving shows them that you care. And perhaps, George the Goat really is the best gift of all.  Maybe he really is the reason for the season.

Live long, George.  Live long.

Looking mighty fine, George. Mighty fine, indeed. (courtesy of the oxfam website)

The Beautiful and the Wretched

T and I travelled to the Bay of Islands this past weekend to celebrate his birthday early (unbelievably, our birthdays are only a day a part, and I have this thing about birthdays being both individual and individually special).  I had never been and he had only been there once or twice.

The top of the North Island. We started in Whangarei, drove to Pahia, Russell, Opua, and Kerikeri, and across to Kaihohe and Hokianga

The Bay of Islands is considered a wee gem, even by New Zealand standards.  Sometimes, it feels like you’re visually overstimulated living here.  You can’t appreciate the pretty because there’s no “ugly”, there’s no wretchedness.

This trip was beautiful.  And it was ugly.  And at the end of it, I came away enriched in ways I couldn’t have anticipated.  There are four reasons for this—some light-hearted, some just gorgeous, and others troubling and unsettling.  But first, let’s start with the fun.

Reason number  1:  The toilets

We flew into Whangarei and then drove to Paihia, stopping in Kawakawa for a break at the famous Hundertwasser Toilets.  Frederic Hundertwasser was a Viennese architect with a very, erm, interesting aesthetic.  He bought a second home on the coast near Kawakawa.  When the local council announced in 1998 that they wanted to refurbish the 40 year old toilets, he volunteered a design in his idiosyncratic style.  Given the whimsical approach New Zealand takes to many public spaces, it’s not surprising that Hundertwasser’s plan was adopted, grass roof and all. The design also includes a living Macropiper excelsus tree, after which the town is named (The Maori word for the tree is Kawakawa). This was the only building he designed in the southern hemisphere, and it now is probably the most photographed public toilet in the world.  It’s also, the weirdest.  Here are a few of my pictures of it:

The inside of the toilet area

From the outside

Reason number 2: Stunning landscapes.

This is simply photo porn.  Enjoy!

Looking from Flagstaff Hill, Russell

The shoreline in Russell

A small boat in the Opua harbour

A gorgeous old church near Paihia

Rainbow Falls

Looking down at the Stone Store in Kerikeri--the oldest stone building in New Zealand.

Reason number 3: Standing up for what’s right.

This was an unexpected experience and one—on reflection—I’m grateful for.

We took the ferry over to Russell from Paihia—all of a 5 minute trip.  Russell is a lovely, resortish sort of place full of boutiques, cafes, and old buildings with historical markers.  It is also the first capital of New Zealand and the sight where European settlers arrived, including Anglican missionaries who witnessed to the local Maori population.  It reminded me a bit of a seaside Savannah.

You could really feel the history in some of the places.  As I sat in one, alone and deep in thought, a woman came in with cleaning supplies.  She was on the building’s cultural board and it was her weekend to tidy up.  We struck up a conversation.  She was from the UK originally, but had lived in New Zealand for about  thirty years.  We talked about Savannah and the South.  She mentioned that the evening before she had attended a Thanksgiving dinner with some people from New Orleans.

What I’m leading up to starts with what she said next.

“They said that there was still so much racism there,” she said.

Not sure where she was going with this, I replied, “I think it’s fair to say that racism exists everywhere.”

“Well not here.  There’s no racism here.”

I think my raised eyebrows gave away my surprise.

She explained.  “It’s not about racism with the Maoris.  It’s about role models.  They aren’t very good role models for their children, are they?”

“Excuse me?”

She leaned in a way that I can only describe as conspiratorial.  And it angered me.  “They’re all on the benefit.  All they’re doing is teaching their kids to be lazy and live on the benefit.”

At this point, I had a choice.  I could smile benignly and change the subject, thus letting it go, or I could say something.

I said something.

“I don’t think that’s really accurate,” I began.  “And, regardless, it’s not about role models.  It’s about ending a cycle of oppression and racism.  That takes a long time– it’s endemic  *and* systemic.  You can’t just change that overnight.  And to say that racism doesn’t exist here is just… well, I’m sorry, but it’s just wrong.”

She waved her hands in the air.  “Oppression?  Racism?  I think that’s debatable.”

“There’s nothing debatable about laws that basically stripped Maori of their property or that laws that prohibited Maori children from speaking their own language in public,” I said, genuinely angry at this point.  “ I don’t know what you call it, but that sounds like oppression and racism to me.”

Before she could reply, we were interrupted by a jovial older man who came in to join her in her cleaning.  She turned away and I returned to some quiet contemplation.  I think God was probably looking out for us both in that moment.

I was seething inside, though.  The conversation had really bothered me, for obvious reasons.  But what really angered me was that she somehow thought I might be sympathetic to what she was saying.  Was it because I was an immigrant, like her?  Was it because I was a white girl from the South?  Was I being overly sensitive to the issue because I *am* from the South and race relations are always present somewhere in the periphery.   I don’t know.  At this point, I don’t care, but I was honestly astounded that she believed that these were “truths” and thus safe to share with a total stranger.

It rattled me in ways I hadn’t anticipated.

In fact, it still rattles me.

In contemplation, I am glad of two things.  First, I am glad I said something.  For lots of reasons I won’t go into here, people don’t always have the luxury of being able to say something.  I know some would disagree with me on that point.

Second, it’s the first time I’ve encountered such direct statements about race in New Zealand, and honestly one of the few times I have encountered it in my life.  That shows me that while there is obviously still a lot of work to be done, there’s a lot that has already been done.  I can live with that.  For now.

Reason number 4: Seeing where it all started

Tying everything together was our visit to the Waitangi Treaty grounds on our last day.  Waitangi is typically translated as weeping waters.  Though, some believe it can also translate into falling tears.

The Waitangi Treaty grounds is the site where the Treaty of Waitangi was signed between the Crown and the Maori.  It is the birthplace of modern New Zealand.  It’s where it all started for most of us.  It’s where it changed for many others.

I thought about the Revolutionary War and the birth of America.  I thought about the riots and the skirmishes and the wars going on all over the world over so many of the things that I experienced in the microcosm of our weekend away.  Once again, I realised that the same struggles exist almost everywhere to one degree or another.  That people are fighting, have fought, and will fight for many of the same things.

As I stood looking out over a gorgeous bay under the shade of century old trees, the Tui birds danced and sang on their branches.  Anyone I know here will tell you that I have a thing about the Tui birds.  I looked up and I smiled.   And I thought to myself, “This is New Zealand,” this is the world,  both the beautiful and the wretched.

Looking out over the Waitangi Treaty Grounds

Inside the Waitangi Wharenui

A Kiwi Thanksgiving

What do you do when you live in a country that doesn’t celebrate Thanksgiving, and doesn’t have turkeys, cranberries, and all other “Thankgsiving-ish” foods available in late November?  You improvise.

Yesterday, T and I had our second annual “Kiwi Thanksgiving”, which consists of Chinese takeaway and homemade desserts.  Why Chinese takeaway?  Because I was so over trying to make things from home in a place that doesn’t have things from home, that I just gave up.  Chinese it was, and it was delicious.  It all started with the dessert, you see.

Last year, I made gingerbread pumpkin trifle.  It’s a thirty minute recipe, assuming you have gingerbread mix, Cool-whip, Libby’s canned pumpkin, and Jello vanilla pudding mix.  When you have none of these things, it’s a five day recipe.  Between roasting pumpkin, whipping cream, researching how to make pudding mix (this could be the subject of a blog post all on its own!), and paying $10 for a bottle of molasses to make real gingerbread, this became the most expensive and time-consuming dessert in history.  To make matters worse, when I was finished, I was universally confronted with the following questions:

“Pumpkin for dessert?  Really?  Why would you ever do that to a pumpkin?”

These questions were usually followed by slight shivers and vaguely green cast to the skin of the questioner.

This year, though, I was prepared.  Not only did I make sure I had vanilla pudding mix from home, I used crushed gingersnaps instead of gingerbread.  And I made sure to make two other desserts–chocolate pecan pie and cranberry orange apple pie.  That, plus some creative papermaking ideas from this blog, and I was set.  We had sixteen guests this year, and plenty of orange beef and egg foo young to go around.  Here are some pictures from the event.

To all of my friends at home, happy, happiest of Thanksgivings to you.  Know that I thankful that all of you are in my life.

Our buffet table. (I spent an hour ironing that sheet. I'm not very good at ironing...)

My Thanksgiving "fast facts". Did you know that Thanksgiving used to last for 3 days

The thankfulness basket--anonymous and read aloud after dinner. This is always fun. Especially when you can tell who wrote what! We got a lot of thoughts of thankfulness for good friends and family, but a few thoughts for bare-chested, very fit men running in the summer.

Banners! (We, perhaps, went overboard)

Dessert!

What says Thanksgiving like Chinese takeaway!?

why not have some fun with the descriptions?

Yes, one more banner....

And finally…

The Thanksgiving Smurfs are courtesy of our good friends Anna and Paddy, who found them in a second-hand shop last year.

Happy Thanksgiving to all I know and love!  To my friends at home, eat some pumpkin pie, cornbread dressing, and cranberry sauce for me.  (And some turkey, too!)

The Golden Age

I am unimaginably homesick today.  I know this because I desperately want Kraft Macaroni & Cheese.  The kind that comes in the blue box, with the envelope of cheese-like powder, and the old-school elbow macaroni.   It looks something like this:

This is remarkable, because I haven’t eaten Kraft Macaroni & Cheese in probably a decade.  One day I looked at the neon orange cheese-like powder and said, “This can’t be right” and walked away from the KMC.    

Cheese-like powder. 0_o

KMC was a staple of my childhood.  It was cheap, effective, and about one of the only things I’d eat.  I still remember the salty tang of the sauce made from the cheese-like powder.  I have fond memories of that cheese-like powder.  (And yes, I find this as disturbing as you probably do). 

The thing is, I don’t really want the KMC.  I want the comfort of a nostalgic past, one that is swathed in a blanket of peanut butter sandwiches and macaroni and cheese and blissfully free of discord and struggle. 

KMC is my golden age. 

While—again—this is likely disturbing, I’d like to think that all of you know what I mean.  We have memories, objects, places that anchor us to what we think of as the best parts of ourselves, the best parts of our past. 

This leads me to talk about two things: stuff and movies.  These are two of my favourite topics.  I could jaw about stuff and movies all day long.  Be glad that I don’t. 

But on the topic of stuff, why do we have it?  Why do we keep it?  Why do we fight like hell to be the one who has Grandma’s old, broken-down faux-crocodile handbag? 

This may be too simplistic, but in my mind, we keep stuff—especially other people’s stuff—because the stuff is something we can wrap our hands around, something we can feel, something we can say, “Yes, this is you.” 

I am, of course, talking specifically about dead people’s stuff.  I am thinking specifically about my mom’s stuff. 

It hit me the other day that next week will be the 20th anniversary of my mother’s death.  It does not weigh heavily on me, per se, but it is remarkable how present it is in my mind.  Perhaps it’s because I’m quickly approaching the age that she was when she died.  Perhaps it’s because it happens to coincide with Thanksgiving this year, and I am very far from a home of four-day holidays, pumpkin pies, cranberry sauce, and Black Friday.  Perhaps it’s simply because I miss her and wish she were here to help me figure out where I’m going and whether I’m making the right choices.   It’s hard being a responsible grown-up sometimes.

Sometimes, you feel like you’re in uncharted territory and you’re trying to hold it together in such a way that everyone assumes you know what you’re doing. 

Actually, let me revise that. 

I think most of us go through each day feeling like we’re in uncharted territory.  I think we careen and bump along from one side to the next and just pray that we get through the day without seriously screwing up the relationships and the things we value most. 

When we feel like that–when we’re breathing a bit more quickly than normal, feeling uncomfortable, and far outside of what we know–I think most of us yearn for our own KMC golden ages.  Looking back at the known past is easy; facing the uncertain future is hard.

Woody Allen’s new film, Midnight in Paris, explores this very issue.  Of course, it is gorgeously shot, has a great soundtrack and relatable characters, and patented “Woody Allen patter”.  It’s so much more than that, though.  He explores this idea of “golden ages” and comes to the conclusion that the only true golden age is the present.  The right now.  This moment. 

I like that idea.  As uncertain as we feel some days, as much as we mourn the things (the people) lost, as fondly as we remember the past (including cheese-like powder and blue boxes of macaroni), the reality is we also create joy in *this* moment, in *this* now.  Our feet may be anchored in the collective experiences of our past, but if we’re lucky, our arms are spread wide and open, ready for the unknown adventure that is our future.

What a thrilling thing.

Home again, home again, fiddle-de-dee-dee

“You can never go home again.”

I’m not sure who said that, but I have to disagree. You can go home again, and it can be a wonderful and poignant experience. At least that’s what it was for me.

To explain my six-week absence (in part), I went home for three weeks. Back to Georgia. Back to North Florida. Back to everything I knew before moving to New Zealand.

I’ll be honest. I was nervous about it. I was afraid that I would see my beloved cities and friends through different eyes. I couldn’t bear the thought of that, really. What if I didn’t feel connected to anything anymore? What if my friends had moved on without me? What if the US felt foreign and like a scratchy shirt, cut strangely, and two sizes too small?

The reality is, I did see everything through different eyes, but not in the way you might imagine. There was no rejection, only thankfulness and appreciation for my past. For my friends. For my family. For my life.

Maori have the concept of whakapapa (Fawkahpahpah), which is used to mean genealogy. What it literally means is layers stacked upon layers, with papa defined as anything flat and hard, like a stone, for instance. Imagine a building of long, stacked stones and that is whakapapa. Whakapapa is our foundations.

That got me thinking. What are my cornerstones? What are my capstones? Are my layers strong and supple? Can they withstand a good shake? As it turns out, they can. I joke that you can take the girl out of Georgia, but that you can never take the Georgia out of the girl. It’s not really a joke, though. It’s my whakapapa.

All of us have whakapapa. Some of us (like me, admittedly) spent a long time pushing it aside, trying to forget it, trying to find something that I perceived as better. There are a lot of reasons for that, many of which are valid. But the reality is, even if you believe that you can’t go home again, you can’t run away from yourself, either. Our layers run deep and long and they are more firmly entrenched than we could ever possibly imagine.

I left Georgia three weeks ago with the profound sense of knowing who I am—more than I knew myself before, I think. I left Georgia knowing that the people I count as my closest friends are my friends for a reason. Loyal, kind, and true. I left Georgia knowing that there is much to embrace about my family, even if there’s a lot to reject, too.

The experience that best sums this up, I think, was visiting my grandmother in her new retirement village patio home. She’ll be 92 in January. She’s much frailer than the last time I saw her, but she’s still spry and sharp and full of fire.

I spent the day with her, talking about family, friends, and other important things. As the day drew to a close, Grandma turned to me with a serious expression on her face. She leaned a bit closer and I could see her lips twitching, ready to tell me something important. I was ready. Waiting. I leaned in too.

“I don’t like the new girl who fixes my hair,” she said in a conspiratorial whisper.

“What?” I asked, blinking a bit, not sure if I’d heard her right.

“My hair. It’s all flat and lumpy. I can’t go out of the house with this flat and lumpy hair. She’s nice enough, but she’s young and she doesn’t know how it’s supposed to be fixed.”

With that, she pushed herself up from her chair and started shuffling towards her bathroom. “Come fix it for me, Sug,” she called out behind her, her Southern accent drawing out the diminutive of Sugar into an elongated, Shuuuhhhg.

Dutifully I got up and followed her. I found her waiting patiently in front of the bathroom mirror, teasing comb in hand. For the next five minutes, I backcombed, fluffed, and backcombed some more, her sharp gaze watching and making sure I was getting it right.

We chatted about silly things, like the time when I was seven and I convinced Grandma to have my hair cut short, only to be deeply hurt when the other kids in the neighbourhood thought I was a boy. We chatted about my mother and the crazy things they used to do ‘Way Back When’ to get curls in girls’ hair.

I reached for the industrial sized can of Aqua Net beside her on the counter and gave her a good spray. I refused to think about the environmental sins I had likely just committed.

“Better?” I asked her as she craned her neck this way and that, looking at her hair from all angles.

“Better,” she said as she shuffled out of the bathroom and back to her chair.

It was only later, while driving to Savannah that I thought about the significance of that very small moment. The rituals and history of families—even estranged ones, ones separated by thousands of miles—can never be completely undone. How, in that moment, I realized the breadth of my whakapapa and what it meant to have history.

In praise of Kiwi-dom

Hillary Clinton wisely observed that New Zealand punches well above its weight in the international arena.  She’s not the first to say this, and I doubt she’ll be the last.  And she couldn’t have been more right.

I think for most people in the US, the concept of New Zealand is rather fuzzy.  Before moving here, I always assumed that New Zealand was a stone’s throw from Australia.  And while Australia is New Zealand’s closest “big” neighbor, Antarctica is in the same block.

Where in the world is New Zealand?

That's New Zealand. The long speck at the left, bottom

To put this into perspective, Australia is approximately 1,826 miles away from New Zealand, which is roughly the flying distance between Savannah and Las Vegas (give or take a few miles).  Antarctica is approximately 3,000 miles away from New Zealand, which is a bit more (by 200 miles) than the flying distance between Key West and Seattle. Fiji and Tonga are both closer to New Zealand, at 1,615 and 1,483 miles away, respectively.

These sound like huge distances, and they are.  But when you’re on a small island at the bottom of the South Pacific, you’ll take your neighbors where you can find them.

But let’s take a moment and talk about size.  The size of New Zealand (a composite of all of the islands making up the country) is comparative to the state of Colorado. New Zealand’s population (approximately 4.36 million) is a bit more than the population of Kentucky and a bit less that the population of Louisiana.  For comparison purposes, the population of Colorado is approximately 4.95 million.   (2010 US Census).

So.  We have a country at the bottom of the world, roughly the size of Colorado, and with only 4.36 million people, which sits in the shadow of its much larger neighbor, Australia.  What could New Zealand possibly offer on the international stage?  A lot.

Here’s what I’ve learned about Kiwis.

Kiwis are brave and willing as:

ANZAC (Australia New Zealand Army Corps) memorial

In the Gallipoli campaign of World War I, 2,721 New Zealand soldiers were killed and 4,852 were seriously wounded.  Just taking into account those who died, that represented approximately one percent of New Zealand’s population at the time.

Consider that figure in US numbers. America’s current population is approximately 312 million.  Losing one percent of the US population in a single military campaign would equate to roughly 3.12 million people.  This would be like losing the entire population of Iowa and her visitors. 

That is an especially sobering thought when you consider that the Kiws and the Turks who fought against each other in the Gallipoli campaign were considered expendable pawns in a far more deadly game.

Kiwis have a long, distinguished history of performing well in conflict.  Consider the 28th Maori Battalion in World War II.  Among other successes, it was responsible for almost completely destroying a German panzer grenadier battalion in March 1943.

After 9/11,New Zealand was one of the first nations to offer its assistance.  It still is.

While New Zealand is small, and even the Kiwis joke about the Navy consisting of single dinghy, never underestimate the ingenuity and tenaciousness of a New Zealander.

Kiwis are ingenious as:

And speaking of ingenuity, the phrase “Kiwi ingenuity” doesn’t just refer to things held together by string and tape.  Here’s just a sample of the things Kiwis did first:

  • They split the atom.   Kiwi, scientist and Nobel Prize winner Baron Ernest Rutherford was the first in the world to split the atom in 1919.
  • They invented the eggbeater, spiral hair pin, and the first burglar-proof window.  All three are courtesy of Ernest Godward, who was British born, but emigrated to New Zealand in his teens.
  • Jet boats, water sprinklers, advanced air compressors, and a thingy that smooths ice on ice ponds.  All of these were courtesy of Sir William Hamilton.
  • Jogging.  Yes, jogging is a Kiwi invention thought up by Arthur Lydiard.

You also have Kiwis to thank for items like disposable hypodermic syringes; spreadable butter; tranquilizer guns; referee whistles; and air-tight lids.  And of course, New Zealand is the birthplace of the Bungy.

 Kiwis are egalitarian as:

While egalitarianism permeates most structures in New Zealand, what I’m really referring to is the fact that New Zealand completely ignores its size and thumbs its nose at the strictures of hierarchy, whether at work, or in government.

Consider that the US wanted to dock the USS Buchanan (a ship that may or may not have been nuclear powered and/or carrying nuclear weapons—the US would neither confirm nor deny) at a New Zealand port. New Zealand said no.  Why?  Because New Zealand had declared itself a nuclear-free zone (in part, in response to the request to dock) and wasn’t interested in budging on that.

The US responded by suspending its ANZUS alliance obligations to New Zealand.

According to Wikipedia (you know, the font of all knowledge), “New Zealand’s three decade anti-nuclear campaign is the only successful movement of its type in the world which resulted in the nation’s nuclear-free zone status being enshrined in legislation.”

I think there was a healthy consideration of, “Who was New Zealand to tell the US that they couldn’t park their boat in New Zealand”?    Who was New Zealand?  She was herself.  That’s pretty darn cool, when you think about it.

nuclear-free protestors in NZ. (Image courtesy of NZhistory.net)

But beyond a little nation saying “no” to a big nation, since moving to New Zealand, I’ve seen strikes, protests, sit-ins, rallies, marches, and other forms of political expression about everything from caged chickens, to worker’s rights, to the price of milk.

What is most incredible to me is that, as an American, I am bemused by this.  That’s extraordinarily sad, really.  When I think about why I’m bemused, it’s because if I were at home, I probably wouldn’t bother with making protest fliers or marching on Parliament.  Perhaps I’ve become too jaded and apathetic about the “little guy’s” voice being anything more than a whisper against the din of political self-interest.

Either way, New Zealand is refreshing in its egalitarian zeal.  I find myself protective of that earnestness, that true belief that every voice matters; every vote counts.

That extends to personal issues as well. New Zealand recognizes same sex marriage and civil unions.  All people—gay, straight, transgendered, whatever—are afforded a level of dignity and normalcy that I can’t say I’ve seen in other places.

And finally (and some would say most importantly), I close with the fact that New Zealand was the first country to give women the right to vote.  In 1893, no less.

That, to quote a good friend, is ‘Choice, bro.’

Rocks and Islands and Life’s Eternal Question

Since moving to New Zealand, I have accepted rides from strangers.  I have been kicked out of a bar (by association).  I have habitually jaywalked.

I have faced the prospect of being alone in a place so very far away from home.

I have been more straight-forward with people on difficult subjects.  I have dressed up like a zombie.  On purpose.  In public.

I have asked a total stranger for his phone number (for a friend).  I have met the total stranger with my friend at a bar (not the one I was asked to leave).

I have successfully driven on “the wrong side of the road” for over a year.

I have had fun.  I have been scared.  I have been sad.  I have been angry.

I have learned that I like Indian food, that I like eating more vegetables than meat, that I can tell the difference between a good laksa and a not-so-good laksa.  I have learned that pumpkin and kumara humus is delicious.

I have learned that some things in life are sacred.  They are, in no particular order: love, loyalty, curiosity, friends, laughter, and cornbread.  But only cornbread like my Papa used to make.  I have accepted that I will never be able to make it the same way.

I have learned that the core of me is the same, no matter where I live or what I do, but that I can change.  That I have changed.  That I am changing.  That I will continue to change.

I now wear patterns (occasionally) and layers and boots and scarves and don’t worry about standing out.

I think about all of these things as I get ready to leave for a trip home next week.

I wonder if my friends will think I’ve changed?  Will I think they’ve changed?  Will I miss Wellington?  Will I want to leave Savannah?  Will I ask for coriander and courgette instead of cilantro and zucchini?

Will I unthinkingly say, “Cheers, mate,” instead of “Thank you.”?  Actually, that’s a very unlikely scenario.

I have no idea how I will respond to any of these potential questions.  And (maybe this is the Kiwi creeping in me), aside from mentioning all of these things here, I don’t really care.

I can’t wait to see Wright Square, to have lunch at the Pink House, to eat real pulled pork with mustard sauce, coleslaw, and maybe a rib or two.

But in saying that, I know I’ll miss hearing the Tui birds sing every morning and that cheeky cat who saunters along the waterfront.  I’m going to miss Rahzoo and walking the waterfront on Sunday mornings.

In short, I’ll miss home when I’m home.

It’s a very odd feeling to have one foot in Savannah and the other in Wellington.  The halves of you are stretched between two planes of existence, and you never wholly fit into either.

Though in saying that, the constant stretch and pull of finding my center when I’m not sure where center is has provided unparalleled opportunities for growth and experience.  And I love Wellington, and New Zealand, and on most days, feel like this *is* home.

At its worst—on days when I feel isolated and sad and unsure of where I am and what I’m doing—having two homes is a displacing, discomfiting existence.

We need an anchor in life.  I disagree with Simon and Garfunkel—we are not rocks, we are not islands.  But even if you were an island, sometimes, the best of yourself fails you, and you need the warm, comforting blanket of familiarity and history.  You need the terra firma of a back garden in Brunswick,Georgia or a front porch in Savannah,Georgia.  That is your rock.  That is your island.  That is what gets you through the times when you’re experiencing a sort of emotional vertigo.

I saw a German film at the NZ International Film Festival called, At Ellen’s Age.  It was a weird, disjointed film about a middle-aged woman whose entire life turns upside down and—in an effort to discover who she is without the definitions of her job and her partner, she careens from one bizarre experience to another.  I didn’t particularly like the film, but I knew exactly where Ellen was coming from and why she did some of the things she did.  I understood the choices she made in the end.

We are all pursuing our authentic selves.  Part of human experience is stripping away the layers and definitions and wondering, “Who am I”?

I had a voice teacher who told me once that she would study voice until the day she stopped singing.  When I asked her why she would do that, why she would continue to learn about something she had obviously mastered, she replied:

“When you stop learning, you stop living.”

Well, indeed.

Here’s to a few more rides with strangers, trips to unknown, faraway places, and the knowledge—that when I need it—my rock is still there.  Waiting for me to find home.  Wherever “home” may eventually be.

Where is your home?  How have you dealt with feeling displaced, whether by geography or something else?

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