I have been in Wellington for more than a week now, and I can tell that soon I will be comfortable calling this place home.
The city is first and foremost hilly. Very hilly. My flat is at the bottom of the hill from uni (look at that kiwi jargon!), so I have been exploring, seeking the most efficient routes to get to and from places. Often the more interesting routes are longer, but here time is not a thing to worry about. So I take the fun paths. There might be some bigger life lesson there…My apartment is nice and cozy, without much superfluity, a theme of this trip. The view is not great, unless you’re into very orange buildings, but it doesn’t take many steps outside to see some wonder.
My first day here, I went for a run down by the nearby harbor and it felt quite surreal. I passed many people along the way: walkers, bikers, schoolboy wharf divers, and I couldn’t help but feel that all was well with my world. I ran to a spot away from the main city that had me surrounded by water on three sides while across the bay the surrounding mountains loomed like silent watchers over the land below. I could not help but stop, smile, and give many thanks for the chance to be in such a place. I’ve ran almost everyday since, and each day I find new paths to explore, hills to both curse and conquer, and sights to remember forever.
Figuring out the basics has been challenging, but not impossible. Remembering how to cross the street safely since the traffic patterns are reversed (look right, left, and right again for good measure). Communicating with people with new accents and expressions. Some of my favorites: “sweet as,” “choice bro,” “sweet beans,” “take the piss.” One of my favorite activities, grocery shopping, has been incredibly fascinating. Items are much more expensive, for one, and called different names, but are basically the same. Everybody is dressed incredibly nicely all the time. Tailored suits, swanky shoes, fitted dress shirts, nice dresses, the whole deal. For all occasions. I’ll need to kiwify my wardrobe a bit, fo sho. Going to bars has been an entirely new experience. Having very limited experience to compare it to, going out for drinks has been fun. Anticlimactic 21st birthday requirement, but “when in NZ,” right? Cheers.
We were told that the kiwis would be a reserved, and seemingly disinterested people, and that getting on their good side would be a difficult task, but so far, I’ve been welcomed with nothing but open arms, big smiles, and a willingness to include me in whatever might be happening. The same can be said for most people so far. One day last week some folks from Stafford (the name of my apartment building) and I were down by the harbor jumping off the wharf when I realized the company I was in. Three Americans, four Frenchies, four kiwis and a Brit. A week prior, none of us knew any of the others even existed, but there we were, all having a good time in the bright kiwi sunshine, making plans for the evening between dives into the harbor.
The earthquake. A bizarre and bewildering experience to be sure. I was in absolutely no danger whatsoever, Wellington being 200 miles and an island away from Christchurch. One of my flat mates told me what had happened after my run last Tuesday and I could not believe several things. That a second devastating earthquake in six months had hit Christchurch. That I was in the country where it happened, so far from what I know to be home. That I’ll always have this story to tell. The coverage was very grim coming in from the news reports. Shots of the destroyed cathedral, confused people crying and wandering amidst the wreckage, and newer, ever higher death toll estimates. Every kiwi I have talked to knew somebody in Christchurch. Thankfully, all have been safe, but that doesn’t mean that their lives were not rocked. A few Australearn people headed down to the south island to explore during our free week before classes begin tomorrow, and were in Christchurch just two hours before the quake hit. After contemplating an extension in town, they decided to head out. Thankfully. Miraculously.
Seeking the silver lining has been tough, and always is in times such as these, but reading about Mayor Bob Parker after seeing him interviewed gives me hope for the people, city, and country. And then miracle stories surface. People such as Ahsei Sopoaga make me glad for humanity. Continue to pray for Christchurch. For the people, the rescuers, the survivors, the families of those lost, the political leaders. For miracles.
After the quake, I headed north to the city of Napier for a few days with some Stafford mates for a beach that wasn’t, art deco, sheep, wineries, sunrise and dirty backpacker life. Classes, here called papers, begin tomorrow. I’m ready for some routine and structure. Who knows what this next week will bring, but I am ready and waiting for adventure, and much, MUCH more.