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.’

The day I called the Wellington Central Library a toliet

I confess.  It’s true.  I called the Wellington Central library a toilet.

It was completely unintentional.  You see, I called it a wharapaku (pronounced FAR-eh-pah-koo), instead of a whare pukapuka (FAR-eh-poo-kah-poo-kah).  The importance of this will soon become clear.

I have always loved languages.  Over the last few years I have slowly been delving into Te Reo Maōri, which is the Maōri language.   It is an evocative, beautiful language.

But even if I didn’t love learning new languages, living in New Zealand requires a very basic understanding of many common Maōri words and phrases.  Regardless of whether you’re Maōri or Pakeha (non-Maōri European), everyone knows that you eat kai (food); that when you say Kia ora, you’re informally saying hello; and that the world needs more aroha (love).  Morena is “Good morning” and ka kite ano (pronounced kah KEE-tay AH-no), roughly translates to, “See you again.”  Iwi (pronounced EE-wee) refers to a tribal family, but it also means bones. 

Place names in New Zealand are often made up of component words and are poetic translations.  You can usually puzzle out what many words mean simply by knowing what each component means.  For instance, Aotearoa (OW-te-ah-row-ah) translates to land of the long white cloud and is the Maōri name for New Zealand. 

Another good example is Wainuiomata (pronounced Why-new-ee-oh-mah-tah).  Wainuiomata is a suburb of the HuttValley, just outside of Wellington.  Wai means water.  Nui means big.  O means of, and Mata could refer to a person’s name.  So, one possible translation is ‘the place of Mata’s big water’. 

I did a little bit of Googling to see if I was right.  According to wainuiomata.net, I was close.  It states:

The origins of the word are disputed, but one commonly accepted translation refers to the women who came over the Wainuiomata Hill to evade marauding tribes from the north, and who sat wailing by the stream after the slaughter of their menfolk. From this we have ‘faces streaming with water’ or ‘tears’ although it could equally refer to the large pools of water which lay over the swampy surface (face) of the northern end of the Valley, and which led to that area being known to the first settlers as ‘The Lowry Bay Swamp’.

 See?  Fabulous.  There are all sorts of great stories behind the origins of Te Reo Maōri words. 

Te Reo Maōri is also constantly evolving.  For instance, traditional Te Reo Maōri didn’t have a word or concept for airplane.  So the Te Reo Maōri translation for airplane is waka rereangi, which literally means canoe sailing in the sky.  (Generally speaking, waka refers to any and all forms of transport). 

As part of that evolution, you find a lot of transliterations in Te Reo as well.  The traditional word for Monday, for example, is Rāhina (RAH-hee-nah), but its transliteration is “Mane” (pronounced, MAH-neh). 

To be fair, though, knowing a little Te Reo is like knowing a little French—you generally wind up unintentionally insulting someone when trying to ask for a glass of water.  And that’s exactly what happened when I called the Wellington Library a toilet.

The word for toilet in Te Reo is wharepaku, which (as I understand it) translates roughly to small (paku) house (whare).  (Though in this sense, I think “small” is less of a description of size—which would more likely be “iti’—than a description of stature). 

The word for library whare pukapuka roughly translates to house of books. 

I realise that these are very distinct concepts and words.  However, for someone who knows so little about the language, wharepaku sort of kind of maybe sounds a bit like whare pukapuka. 

So, as T and I strolled through theWellingtonCBD one Saturday afternoon and I pointed to the grand Wellington Central Library and said, “Look, it’s the wharapaku!”, you can imagine why he choked on his soda and started laughing. 

As you can see, the Wellington Central Library is not insubstantial. And it is definitely NOT a toilet!

Te Reo Maōri is an official language of New Zealand, but there was a time when children in school were forbidden to speak it.  There was a time in the not so distant past when it seemed as if Te Reo would die an unceremonious and needless death.  Through many recent efforts and much encouragement—both private and public—there is now a slow and steady movement towards more New Zealanders having a working fluency in Te Reo. 

I tell this story (and give you this lesson) because I think it’s important to preserve indigenous culture.  A huge part of that preservation is maintaining a base of knowledge of the language.  Without the language, we are lost.  I realise it may seem odd that an American living in New Zealand is saying this.  Maybe it is odd.  I don’t know.  I guess part of it is that so much of the Native American culture is now lost, as are the people, the languages, the crafts.  The history.  Perhaps that’s why I’m so keen on this topic.  For me (and for my wounded pride) I hope that means that many, many more people will proudly (albeit mistakenly) point to the library and exclaim, “Look!  There’s the toilet!”

To Wellington, with love

I had intended to blog about a recent disastrous skirt purchase, but after walking the waterfront this morning, I decided that an open love letter to Wellington was in order. There was just something a bit magical about today, a jumble sale’s worth of mish-mashed activities and things all coming together and reminding me what I love best about Wellington and New Zealand.

My day started like most Sunday mornings.  I walk to the Sunday Market almost every week.  The Sunday Market is a farmer’s market, first and foremost, but is also a haven for foodies and those who live by the idea of local, organic ingredients.  In addition to my onions and broccolini, I can get fresh fish; ethically farmed and butchered venison and lamb; and organic, free-range eggs.  I can also enjoy an authentic quesadilla, Cantonese noodles, Roti, Brazilian barbecue, French pastries, and Maori specialities, all while listening to a variety of buskers singing the likes of Elvis, Johnny Cash, and traditional Maori songs.

Placard for a Sunday Market food stall

Brazilian barbecue, anyone?

Delicious jams and cakes for sale!

 

 

This is the view that greets me when I leave my apartment and head towards work (or in today’s case) the Sunday market. People say that you can’t beat Wellington on a good day.  It’s true.

Wellington, on a gorgeous day.

One of the best parts of my Sunday morning is spotting the markers for the Poet’s Walk.  This one perfectly describes what the day starts like in Wellington.

On the wharf, part of the Wellington Poet's Walk

Before I got to the market, though, I came across this.

Of course I had to take a quick glance.  A quick glance turned into an hour and the purchase of two signed prints and a new handmade leather journal.  But these tickled me.  “Hotties” are essential in the winter here.  I never understood the joy that is a hot water bottle nestled at your feet until recently.  And of course, a hot water bottle by itself is boring.  It definitely needs some tarting up!

"hottie" covers, handmade from felted wool.

Finally on my way to the market, I stopped at Te Papa (the national museum of New Zealand) and enjoyed the window displays.  In addition to everything else going on, Wellington is also hosting the World of Wearable Art, or WOW.  It is a celebration of art displayed on bodies instead of canvases, with endless categories.  This is a display of a dress made of ground tarps and bottle caps.  Amazing!

One of the previous WOW dresses, made from industrial materials.

Detail of the dress: painted tarp ruffles and bottle caps.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Finally getting to the market, I elbowed my way through the throng and snapped up veggies for the week.  Avocados and peppers were on sale (usually $3 and $5 each, respectively this time of year), and I heard the voice of veggie tacos calling.

One of the veggie stalls at the Sunday Market

Care for some Japanese bok choy?

On my way back—ladden as I was with veggies, prints, a new journal, and a chocolate brioche from Simply Paris’s (a gorgeous little French patisserie just down the way from our apartment) market stall, I stumbled across another one of my favorite Poet Walk quotes.

Part of the Wellington Poet's Walk

I reflected on that as I strolled home and I thought about everything I’d see today—the ingenuity, the creativity, the community coming together, and the meld of disparate cultures and ideas, all melding together into one dazzling day—and I realized that’s what I loved best about Wellington, what I love best about New Zealand.

So, to my beautiful Wellington, thank you for always making me smile and for reminding me on a daily basis all that is truly good and wonderful in this life.

Yours,

Kiwijenn