January 30, 2011

Just a Little Bike Crash

Today, I had my first ever ambulance ride and some opportunity to experience and reflect on New Zealand's healthcare system and ACC system (Accident Compensation Corportion).

The reason was a little bicycle crash.

I was zooming down George Street (Dunedin's main drag) just before 10:00 on a Sunday morning. With hardly any traffic on the road, I noticed the smell of wood fires in the air. It's been stupidly cold and wet lately - summer, I don't think so!  But I was thinking that I'm looking forward to winter - shorter, slower days sound good after two summers in a row of long, manic ones - when, Wha-bam, someone in a parked car openned her door at the exact moment I was flying by.  It's hard for me to say, really, but judging from the size of the bruise on my leg, I think my shin and handle bars collided with her door and I flew off my bike diagonally, tumbled down the street a couple of times and ended up on my back in a bit of an awkward, twisted position. 

January 11, 2011

Two Days of Dunedin Discoveries

I do a lot of reading on "home" for my studies and came across this idea the other day: When discussing the nebulous concept of home, a distinction must be made between the actual geographic location of a place a person lives and where that person feels that she belongs.

Looking back along the peninsula from Tairoa Head
In New Zealand, I have struggled to feel that I belong.  I believe one reason is the lack of a feeling of connection to NZ's landscape.  Who could deny NZ's landscape is awe-inspiringly beautiful? Not me! It's stunning and I don't take that for granted - I am lucky to live in one of the world's most beautiful countries. But to date, while I appreciate and enjoy its beauty, I look around and I'm just not sure, yet, if I belong. I can look at it like a pretty painting, but I don't feel immersed in it. Maybe I don't feel quite welcomed yet. I still feel like a visitor. If I even just see a photo of Southeast Alaska or familiar parts of America, I have an instant sense of attachment, warmth, welcome, even possibility. It can be lonely, at times, to live without that sense of belonging in the place I'm standing. 

The logical part of me knows, of course, that it is rare (though not impossible) to feel 'at home' somewhere instantly, and that a slow evolution of feeling 'at home' is more common. None-the-less, that's perhaps been one of the most surprising challenges about migrating to NZ for me -- the amount of time that it really does take for a new country to feel like home.

That's why weekends like this past one are so helpful and encouraging.

January 8, 2011

New Traditions - Part II : Christmas and New Years

Several New Zealand Christmases ago, James and I camped out on a beach on Christmas Eve. It was just on a whim at the time, but it proved to be a simple way to build in a little time alone as a new, young family of our own starting a tradition or two. It's become subtly important to me - squeezing in a bit of my own agency before heading off for the NZ family gatherings. 

This year, with our two Alaskan friends, we headed down to the Catlins on Christmas Eve.  The Southerly blowing in from Antarctica with gale force winds and hail mandated one small adjustment: We stayed in a friend's 'crib' instead of tents.  This crib is a favorite spot for James and I. It's an old house from the area's logging and railroad days. Today it's in the middle of nowhere, along some unnamed gravel roads. And it's quirky. Very quirky.

January 3, 2011

New Traditions

I think migrants engage in a conscious process of deciding which old traditions to purposefully carry on, which to abandon (willingly or reluctantly) and which host country traditions to adopt.

And sometimes, you just make up something new.
This holiday season has been a conglomeration of all these strategies.

So this entry backtracks to Thanksgiving. Actually, for a moment, I’ll jump back to Thanksgiving 2006 when several of our American friends and family were gathered in NZ for our upcoming wedding.  With no means to create a proper Thanksgiving dinner, all the American guests ordered Indian take-out, sat around a picnic table, and toasted this unorthodox celebration. 

This is a precious memory to me and to all, so I’ve heard, who were there.

But I’ve also wanted to integrate a traditional Thanksgiving dinner into my NZ life. It’s my favorite holiday and as America’s newest citizen, James has embraced Thanksgiving like nobody’s business as well.  But we’ve never pulled it off here in NZ and this year I began to get awfully discouraged – some traditions just aren’t transferable, even with considerable, conscious effort. 

This year, I planned to go all out - 3 Americans would be visiting! But late November is early summer here. A really busy time for everyone. Our 3 friends were travelling around NZ, James was climbing Mt. Cook and I was home alone.  Locally, it’s an ordinary work day – Thursday is not a day for cooking and gathering and “Black Friday” is not a day for recovering and shopping.  And even if I had remembered to collect my family’s recipes, I realized half the ingredients aren’t available here. (Cheese Whiz! What’s Thanksgiving without Cheese Whiz!?!  If you aren’t with me on that one, how about cranberry sauce? Pumpkin pie? Turkey? Getting the picture?) 

James with his favorite Thanksgiving dish.