[May 7, 2018] This last week my heart felt like it was bursting at the seams with love as we said goodbye to our friends and to Wellington. It was a lovely irony that during our last eight nights in New Zealand we stayed at a cozy and perfect Airbnb just down the hill from our friend Hooman’s house, where we stayed during our first eight nights in New Zealand. A half moon hung above the South Coast during my final morning walk through the neighborhood. I sat on the warm bench at the top of Mount Albert enveloped by a warm breeze and the smell of fennel plants. The panorama stole my breath as it does every time—the sloping back of the sunken teniwha (sea monster) Whaitaitai rising up out of the harbor, the ring of small towers lining Oriental Bay, the mid-morning brown ombre of the Rimutaka Mountains that will slowly fade to deep purple as the day ripens.
I tried to spot our house nestled next to Prince of Wales Park and sighed with mild pain for the hundredth time in a week at the thought that we would never wake up to our incredible view again. To the South, Mount Tapuaenuku’s triangular silhouette came into focus—Brian summited ‘Mount Tapi’, the highest mountain on the South Island outside of the Alps, with our friends Kayvan and Hooman in January. It’s neat to think that they sipped vodka together at the top of that impressive peak before it was capped in snow. I cried some grateful tears and then I listened to Van Morrison’s song The Beauty of the Days Gone By on my walk back to the Airbnb and cried again. Oh, how I will miss the gorgeous juxtapose of this peaceful little city nestled in the hills next to the wild vastness of the South Pacific.
We could not have scripted a more special end to this entire experience than what transpired in these last couple of weeks. Materially, we sold almost everything that we bought to furnish our place and dropped bags of clothes and shoes into donation bins (and boy did it feel good to get rid of some of the clothes that we’ve been wearing day in and day out for over a year!). We were left with our two stuffed backpacks, a big duffel bag, and two carry-ons. We’ve gotten used to detaching from things and felt proud of our whittled-down belongings. We sold our car Winnie to a sweet Irish girl, a friend of a friend, who is just beginning her adventure here in New Zealand. She was especially excited that we were leaving the box of roadtrip tapes that our friends Andy and Sarah brought here to us from the States—she will have some great drives through the mountains listening to Dire Straits and Cat Stevens!
Brian’s office was very sad to see him go. We had an intimate dinner (a kaupa) with the firm’s principals and their wives one Friday night and a big dinner with the entire office on the next Friday night. They made Brian wear a ‘Make America Great Again’ hat and roasted him with on-the-spot questions about Kiwi culture and lingo. What are the Kiwi phrases that you’ll keep using at home? (‘reckon’ as in ‘I reckon the southerlies will pick up this arvo’ … ‘heaps’ as in ‘we have heaps of biscuits for morning tea!’ … ‘cheers!’) What are the Kiwi phrases that will raise most Americans’ eyebrows if you use them at home? (‘wee’ as in ‘I’m going for a wee walk’ … ‘bugger’ as in ‘Oh bugga! I reckon the chilly bin’s full!’) Who is your favorite Kiwi? (Sir Edmund Hilary … note to self: this answer makes every Kiwi swoon!). Brian’s co-workers gifted him a beautiful greenstone necklace that carries great symbolism and interestingly, has a sharp edge that in Maori culture is supposed to be used by a new father to cut his baby’s umbilical cord. This is symbolic for us as we leave the warm and safe life that we’ve had here. We’ve grown in many ways and we’ve been nourished by the land and the people and the experience and now we leave it’s embrace ready to take on new beginnings.
We will miss our friends the most. We threw a ‘leaving due’ party on our last Saturday night and invited all of the friends we’ve made this past 18 months. Wow, it’s a great crew. When we asked Vinood, the owner of our favorite Indian takeaway spot (Khana Khazana in Brooklyn), if he could cater our party for us, he smiled his big, mustached smile that warmed our spirits on chilly Wellington nights and said he’d be happy to do it and that he’d throw in free starters and garlic naan for twenty! At the party, Brian gathered everyone in a circle to share with them that they are the faces that we feel we were destined to meet when we pulled the trigger on this adventure. As our experience unfolded and special people kept crossing our path, we felt a surety that the pull that brought us to this faraway land was not at all in vain. Could it have been just an accidental occurrence of the universe that the first person who we met in New Zealand was now hosting our farewell party? Was it fate that his brother’s family moved to Wellington and felt as raw and untethered as we did—the perfect recipe for a friendship to blossom? Did serendipity strike when yet another extended family of theirs moved to Wellington with generosity of love and unconditional welcome that must come from years of living abroad? We must have precipitated to this time and place by some devine providence. We felt included in a family here and shared many happy meals telling stories and ragging about the trials and tribulations of living life overseas.
On our last full day, I also said goodbye to my Somalian friend, Falhado. She was a refugee to New Zealand and this year I have tutored her in reading and writing in English. Every week I looked forward to spending the hour in her home. Whenever I walked into the house, her five bright-eyed, beautiful children came running to me for hugs. The house always smelled of rice with warm spices and Falhado always offered me a cup of her creamy hot tea to sip during our lesson. The living room was lined with make-shift foam couches covered in a heavy orange and black fabric with an African print. It was often the time of day when I could hear a trilling recitation of Muslim prayers through the wall from the adjacent flat. Sometimes Falhado’s mother Arfoon would be sitting on the couch, draped in dark clothing. Arfoon would hold my hands in hers and speak to me in Somalian with a sincerity and wisdom that I could feel even if I couldn’t understand. She has the most entrancing deep-set eyes and high cheekbones. Falhado worked hard to make gains in learning to read and I tried every strategy I could find to help her. We made slow progress, but ultimately the demands of running a household and taking care of her five young children and mother always had to be the top priority. Falhado lost her youngest sister in the bombing in Mogadishu in October and she does her best to keep her family close even though her siblings are living as refugees in safe countries around the world. I helped Falhado practice her sight words and with grateful arms she accepted a donation of books to her children and our pillows and down comforters when we packed up our flat. But Falhado gave me so much in return this year including lessons on perseverance and forgiveness and a window into this beautiful family’s every day.
The year since I’ve last written was punctuated by the highest of highs and some low lows. Brian and I were in it together, although our experiences were of course still different. For one, I suffered from the kind of homesickness that aches in your bones and zaps your appetite. I also wrestled with the red tape of a broken bureaucracy that failed to recognize my teaching qualifications and therefore paid me chump change in exchange for the innate passion that I have for my profession. We worried about money and making ends meet here. But during this year I also spent countless afternoons frolicking through the Rata trees of Prince of Wales Park, serenaded by birds that I can now name and observe with interest. With the spirit of early settlers, we stood on Te Mata peak at sunset and overlooked a rolling masterpiece of landscape polka-dotted with white sheep. We camped under a full moon at White Rock, a remote surf spot with ocean, rocks, and a moon-scape that has a profound spiritual presence. From our living room, we watched the sun rise over the Rimutakas every morning and experienced weather phenomena from hail storms to rainbows to moon rises to fog as dense as cumulus clouds overtaking the city and harbor.
The taxi ride to the airport was one last tour of Wellington’s beautiful cloak—lush green hills speckled with quintessential Kiwi homes. How grateful I feel that I will be able to come to this time and place in my heart and mind for the rest of my life…
XXL party at Hooman’s!