Auckland, New Zealand
On September 18th of last year, Matt's mother drove us to Portland International Airport, where we hugged her goodbye, and started the biggest journey of our lives to date. Eight months, thousands of miles, hours of surf, lots of money, and a million amazing memories later, we're coming home on Tuesday.
I've been struggling for the last month or so with how to put all that I am feeling into words, to say an appropriate goodbye to this country of unparalleled beauty and to say an appropriate hello to my home, at this point still far away on the other side of the Pacific. I'll never be able to say everything I feel about this transition, but some excerpts from my journal over the past few weeks will hopefully convey a bit of what I am feeling.
I feel a deep sadness at leaving New Zealand, and yet I am more than ready for home. I have such a deep affection for this country, and for the amazing and monumental experiences it has given to me and Matt. It has been such an incredible place to spend the past eight months of my life, and I will be forever grateful for the opportunity to spend so much time getting to know a foreign culture and landscape, but one of the many things I have learned during our sojourn here is that there is truly, truly, no place like home, no matter where your home is.
Before we came to New Zealand, I knew I loved my home, but I felt hopeless and despairing about so many U.S. policies around social issues, food systems, distribution of wealth and the environment, and I thought New Zealand was the solution. I saw New Zealand as a paradise in which everything was affordable, all systems were preferable to those in the U.S., everything was progressive and environmentally friendly, and there were few social problems. This image was due in part to the media's depiction of New Zealand, ploys for tourism, my own limited knowledge from my previous visit to the country, and partly because this is what I wanted to believe. I think the single biggest benefit of actually living in a foreign culture for an extended period of time is that you truly get to know it and must acknowledge its imperfections. We have discovered that New Zealand has its own mix of good and bad policies, and that not all aspects of the culture are as progressive as we had thought. So too have we discovered that New Zealand's food systems operate in a far healthier way than their American counterparts, that the population is far healthier on the whole, that conservation and environmental protection policies here some of the most advanced in the world, and that New Zealand's sense of community and friendship is incomparable. Also, physically, New Zealand is truly a paradise, with a diversity of landscape and terrain that is unfathomable for such a small country, and it gave us the delicious endless summer we came here in search of.
In short, our time here has hit home the fact that, like the U.S., New Zealand is a highly beautiful, highly imperfect place that is appreciated for what it is, and is home to its citizens because it is what they know and where they are most comfortable. Both countries have their positive and negative aspects and positive and negative people, and I can't explain how healthy and inspiring it has been to see this with my own eyes. I have never been particularly patriotic in the traditional sense, but being removed from my homeland for so long, and knowing that even one of the world's most renowned destinations has its flaws makes me realize that I love America simply because it is my home, and that that is ok. And for that reason I can truly appreciate it, regardless of how much I disagree with some of its policies and cultural aspects, and I feel refreshed and newly fired up to come home and work there for the changes I believe in.
Apart from realizing just how important my home is to me, this trip has taught me just how long eight months really is. Matt and I were talking the other day and he mentioned that we've been gone so long that in some ways it's hard to remember what home is really like. I know that home is good, and that I have missed it in a huge way, but the details of daily life back home have been so intangible while we've been in New Zealand that that aspect seems very far away. Looking back on our time here, in some ways it seems to have flown by, while in other ways it has been an incomprehensibly long time since we first touched down in Auckland. Eight months after leaving home with Matt, I am having trouble comprehending that all of the vastly different experiences we have had here are actually connected as one long experience. They are each so much their own and they have occurred over such a long period of time that it hardly seems possible that they weren't part of some other trip; that we didn't go home in between! This also brings home to me the magnitude of this journey, of just how much time has passed and how many amazing and unique things we have done during our time here. Hatching ducklings in Opotiki; surfing and making beds for three months in Taranaki; weeks of hot, idyllic summer in Northland; the packhouse; mustering at Spray Point Station; working at Kathmandu; and our final trip around the South Island by bus---these are all connected, while completely distinct as their own experiences, and they make me feel unspeakably rich.
We achieved all of our primary goals for this trip: have an extra summer, surf endlessly in warm oceans, work on a variety of farms, and challenge ourselves and our relationship. The true depth of our time down under is apparent to me when I realize that there is no way that I can communicate the enormity of the changes it has wrought on both of us as individuals and as a couple. We are different people than we were when we first arrived, and I think I can confidently say that we have both come closer to our ideal selves, and are coming home happy and satisfied, and eager to put dreams for our life back home into action.
With all of that said, my face and heart are turned toward home and the new chapter that is starting for us. These past few weeks, my heart and eyes well up when I think about the two ends of our upcoming journey: boarding a plane and leaving the place that has changed us so much, and touching down in Portland a day later. I well up for both sides of the equation: for saying goodbye to the land that gave me roasting hot summer days on Ahu Ahu Beach, in the waves with my board or on the sand watching Matt surf, and for seeing my family, and Matt's, and my dear, dear friends again, and giving them all enormous hugs. For leaving behind the country that gave us skills and strength we never knew we had, and for holding the wee babies born to my friends while I was away, and seeing those friends as mamas. The bittersweetness is inescapable, and I will always miss New Zealand, but I take with me countless fantastic memories as I head for the place I love best.
This is my last post from New Zealand, and here's a massive thank you to everyone reading this---knowing you've all been there, whether I know you or not, following along, has given me so much strength through our entire trip. I have loved sharing our experiences with you, and am returning to the states with a renewed drive to get more involved in the blog world, and get to know those of you who are as yet just virtual acquaintances. To those who are a part of my life in Portland or up in Washington, I will see you in person so very soon.
I am going to take a little vacation from this blog for the next few weeks, as I will be jetting off to Hawaii and then up to Spokane soon after arriving stateside, and of course coping with jet lag, culture shock, job interviews and all of the massive emotions surrounding our return to the states. But in a few weeks I'll be back, with a new drive to write about simple living and sustainability topics, and then of course the excitement of setting up housekeeping when Matt and I move into our new house at the beginning of July. I hope you'll tune in, and thanks again for reading. (I'll probably be back here sooner than I intend; I'm so used to blogging regularly that it will likely be harder than I anticipate to stay away!)
So this is it. Tomorrow we board the jumbo jet that will take us home across the ocean, and some hours and many timezones later, we'll be in Portland. Matt and I have both been insanely excited recently to return home, counting down the days for the past two weeks. Now, it's tomorrow.
See you on the flip side.