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Kiwi Korner

posted Nov 29, 2016, 6:28 PM by Bowmansville UMC   [ updated Feb 6, 2018, 11:41 AM ]

Hello again, Bowmansville. Selwyn and I have finally relocated to New Zealand, and after what seemed like a long and frustrating start, have found a wonderful new home which we hope to occupy by mid-November. You may recall I once did a series of articles about life in Australia. It's been almost a year since I've written a "KANGAROO KORNER" article, and I hope you will enjoy this mini-travelogue highlighting my new home in NZ.

First, about the title...While most of the world thinks we are called 'kiwis' here because of the world-renowned growth of kiwi fruit for export, the truth is a bit different. The kiwi fruit was actually brought here from China, where it is known as a Chinese gooseberry. Our nickname actually comes from the name of NZ's national bird, the 'kiwi'. It is, to my way of thinking, a rather 'unpretty' bird and a bit strange. At about

the size of a chicken, it has a squat brown/grey feathered body, spindly legs, can't fly, and so compensates for obtaining food by having its nasal sensors at the end of its disproportionately long beak so it can sniff along the ground. It does, however, hold the distinction of laying the largest egg, in relation to its size, of all the bird species of the world--about 6x the size of a chicken egg!

Second, the cultural makeup...From the time I moved to Australia, I have always amazed to be living in this part of the world. I dare say that those of us who grow up in the Eastern US consider this entire part of the world to be very far away, very exotic, and awash in customs, creatures and areas we will never see in our lifetime. We might imagine that we will be fortunate enough to visit one of these countries perhaps once, but the thought of these diverse cultures as 'commonplace' for trade, vacation travel and daily influence seems remote. It's far more likely that we will be entertained by tales of these places as settings in novels and movies, or as true-life adventure stories. Our frame of vacation reference is more likely to be Florida, the Carolinas, California, the Caribbean, or in our most hopeful dreams, Hawaii or Alaska.

Having lived in Australia for several years has opened me, however, to a whole new realization, as I have had to adjust to a tremendous shift in national interests (often centered around the Aboriginal history of the island), Asian cultural and trade influences (people often think of this as only China, Japan and Korea, and don't realize that it also includes India and the Southeast Asian Island string), and South Pacific Island partnership concerns. Having said that, though, I can also honestly say that in most cases, I found these shifts to be not terribly unexpected, since Australia's physical position on the globe would logically suggest these.

I have observed that thousands of people come to Australia from Asia, Europe, the Middle East and the Americas for reasons of marriage, work, education, life-style change, climate, adventure, or to simply make a new home in what they perceive to be a 'better place'. Too often, however, these migrants do not wish or attempt to assimilate into a 'one culture' lifestyle, preferring instead to set up their own little communities that preserve their foods, language, customs, etc. which they share through yearly festivals, but which exclude them from the mainstream, keeping them otherwise isolated from the overall 'Australian way of life'. The result is more 'isolationist' than truly 'multi-cultural'. Instead of being a part of the overall fabric of society, they exist largely as 'internal pockets' within that framework. Ironically, it is only the New Zealand immigrants who seem to completely adopt an Aussie way of life!

Then there is New Zealand, positioned even further southeast on the map and lying very close to Antarctica. Coming here has been the real eye-opener for me, as it has challenged some very fundamental assumptions I had made even after many years of travel here for vacations. I had always been under the assumption that NZ belonged in majority measure to the Maori's (a brown-skinned people descended from a specific, ancient Pacific Island) and the Caucasian descendants of largely European origin (the result of early exploration in this part of the world). What I only discovered very recently, and primarily as the result of the congregation in the Methodist Church of which Selwyn and I have become members, is that there are tremendous numbers of other South Pacific Islanders here, particularly from Fiji, Tonga and Samoa. In fact, Selwyn assumed I knew, as did he from having grown up here, that New Zealand is actually considered to be the capital of the Pacific Islands! Who knew? Not me!

From all the time I've spent here, I thought of NZ more as a magnificent landscape filled with every type of natural wonder, complete with never-ending beauty, four seasons (just like WNY), and a proportionately very small population that provides a very gentle, far more quiet, peaceful lifestyle than might be imagined in this modern world. Only a few cities are more densely populated, leaving the rest of the country to be, in my thoughts, much more manageable, particularly for us 'oldies'. In fact, sometimes it seems that the modern world has forgotten to leave its stamp...

I'd like to share something that happened in our Methodist Church here last Sunday that beautifully illustrates the unique environment into which Selwyn and I have found ourselves plunged. In fact, Selwyn was really keen to have me tell you about this, because it moved us so deeply and highlighted howintensely immersed in this 'other world' we have been invited to become through observation and participation:

This congregation is made up of an older group consisting of Pacific Islanders and Caucasians, and a host of young families, predominantly of Samoan heritage. Our Minister, too, is an Islander, Samoan I believe, and so it is not uncommon to see traditional formal Island clothing on Sunday. I am particularly taken with the bark-cloth, black design-painted waist-wrap worn by men and women over their suits and long dresses. Bare or thinly sandaled feet are the norm, and if shoes are worn at all, they are done so without socks or stockings. Normally, the Service begins with the Men's Choir, all but one of whom are Samoan, and their rich, deeply resonant voices, coupled with their attire, make it clear that we are "not in Kansas anymore"! Last Sunday, however, marked the yearly celebration among the Samoans known as "White Sunday"--a Sunday dedicated to children, wherein the service is completely conducted by the various age groups of the children from our congregation and the nearby school choir, which is directed by our Pastor, himself a wonderful musician. Certainly the little skits and readings are prepared and coached with the assistance of several adults, and the program is fashioned by the Minister, but all of the prayers and hymns are sung and/or led by the youth, and life lessons are delivered in skit, story, and song and dance by the children. Everyone dresses in white beneath their body wraps, and the effect is magical. The children and adults work for weeks to prepare, and I can honestly say that Selwyn and I had tears in our eyes from the beginning of the Service to almost the very end. It was undeniably clear that this is a time held very close to the families' hearts, and a celebration deeply embraced by the children.

The festivities do not end there, however. Following the Service, a huge luncheon feast is prepared and shared with everyone. We had all been encouraged to bring a dish to pass, which most, including Sel and myself, did. Little did we know, though, that the main focus of the meal would be an actual Island 'hungi' (hung-ee). This centers on a pig, roasted in a pit and covered with fragrant leaves as it cooks for many hours. This is accompanied by salads, fruits, and vegetables, some of which are only found in or prepared according to traditions in this part of the world. Desserts were rich and glorious--a passionfruit cheesecake, a richly decadent chocolate pudding cake iced in dark chocolate, and rich vanilla ice cream. I must tell you that there were at least 100-150 people in attendance, and the food never seemed to run out--I felt as though I was taking part in a modern-day loaves and fishes experience! The adults and older youth must have worked for days on the meal--and they seemed gloriously happy to be doing the serving and clean-up!!!

One of the things that was made clear to us through this event, as well as in discussions with some of the congregants and one of the Samoan leaders, is how intensely family-oriented these Islanders are. Children and family life are at the core of their understanding of the practice of their Christian Faith. They continue to live and worship in a manner so sadly forgotten and so often ignored in our American culture. But Selwyn and I have found the same spirit of devotion, love of hymn singing, essence of community caring, and love of coffee-hours and sharing meals together to which we were first introduced in the Bowmansville United Methodist Church. Add to that the facts that I am now doing many of the Children's Moments (and in the near future, Lay Speaking duties) and Selwyn is soon to take up the mantle of organist, we feel that in every important way we are back 'home' with you.

If you have any specific questions, I trust Sandy or Wilma would be happy to send them to me for a response.

I pray you every blessing for a joy-filled Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year, and ask that you never cease your prayers for the children of the world...

Always, Mary Lee