Friday, February 25, 2011

Being Homeless

It sucks.

But the number of people who are willing to open their homes and their hearts makes it that much less traumatic.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Being an Immigrant

[Chest x-ray required from Immigration NZ]

It dawned on me early this month that I am an immigrant and have been for 2 years. It might seem a little strange that it has taken me this long to realize it, but there is a difference between coming to a new country as a visitor with plans on when you will be leaving and coming for the next step along your life with no real idea of where you will go afterwards. And, coming up to my last year here in my PhD, I am realizing that we have very little idea of where we would like to go after I finish. This has led us to apply for residency here in New Zealand and brought about the realization of being an immigrant.

Growing up in Canada of course, I am descended from immigrants. Some quite recent, as my mom was born in Scotland and moved to Canada when she was 6 years old. But I never really thought about it because I had grown up there and I felt I belonged. No one identified me outright as being different for it, in fact, I was among the majority, as a descendant of European heritage. My friends and I would talk about where our parents, or grandparents had grown up and laugh about how certain stereotypes of that heritage we thought as evident (or funny) in each others personalities, and then we would turn to more interesting and pressing matters, like school and boys and what we should do now.

New Zealand feels much different. Although we look the same as the majority of people here in Christchurch, our accents identify us as being different. We are called "the Canadians", not Erin or Stephen. And in the summer months, we are often asked by store owners "Where are you from?", "How are you liking New Zealand?". These are all small things, but they get at you. They put you in a box and that box is labeled "Other". It is a surprisingly different feeling than I have ever experienced - not belonging. Sometimes it's neat to be unique, but a lot of the time, it is lonely and hard to be identified on the sole basis of the place you were born or grew up in.

We have decided to take on the challenge of becoming residents here in New Zealand. Spending hours filling out online forms, searching the dark recesses of our desks and bookshelves for every scrap of paperwork that proves we are who we say we are, and waiting endlessly for any sign of acknowledgement. It certainly makes you question who you think you are. And reminds you how comfortable it is to belong, how at the bottom of everything, that is what we really, really want. To be seen for who we are as individuals and accepted as belonging for just that - ourself.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Kayaking Stewart Island

After spending the evening wandering the village of Oban in gale force winds, we snuggled into our beds and wished for calm winds the next day. We were lucky enough to get our wish, so we headed over the hill to Watercress Bay and found someone with boats.

[Watercress Bay in the sunshine]

[Kayaks for rent]

[Getting all geared up]

Once we were all set up with boats and paddles and maps and stuff, we pushed out into the calm waters of Paterson Inlet. We paddled up the inlet to a spot where our kayak outfitter had suggested we might find some penguins. After a good half hour paddle we were rewarded not only with some Little Blue penguins looking for lunch, but a rare Yellow-Eye.

[Yellow-Eyed penguin]

We watched him paddle around, checking under water every so often to find a fish and then dive. We paddled on along the bushy coast towards a slew of little beaches tucked away from the waves and pulled out on one of them. With our lunch in hand, we settled on some rocks and enjoyed the lovely weather.

[Lunch on the rocks]

After lunch, we pushed back out to a somewhat choppier sea. Within a few minutes though we had found our rhythm and decided to head on over to Ulva Island, a nearby, predator free island which promises some unique bird viewing opportunities.

[The Weka Welcoming Committee]

Upon our arrival we were met by the Weka Welcoming committee. These forward and very cheeky little birds surprised Stephen by stealing a cracker from his hand. The momma bird then proceeded to bash it on the ground with her bill to break it into bite-sized pieces for her wee (or not so wee) chick. As we are not great believers in feeding wildlife from our hands (though it seems a little late here), Stephen removed what was left of the cracker from the birds and placed it in a location he thought safe from roving Wekas - out on the back of the kayak, which was still in the water. This proved not to be the case.

For, just as Stephen left, the momma bird walked straight out into the sea, jumped onto the boat and promptly found the remainders of her prize. She and her chick then ran to the other end of the beach to do away with their winnings in a less bothersome location. We all laughed.

The rest of the islands bird residents proved far less cheeky. We wandered along a bit of the trails and found kereru, or New Zealand wood pigeon, and Stewart Island robins, as well as, a few more Wekas. The restoration of Ulva Island to a predator-free island began in the late 90's and took some seven years, with thorough trapping of rats, stoats, and weasels. Unfortunately, when we were leaving there was rumour that some 20 or so rats had been seen on the island. So, more trapping will have to be done once again. However, in our short time there, it was amazing to just listen to the difference. The bird song variety and sheer amount was like nothing I've heard elsewhere in New Zealand.

We then paddled back across the inlet and left our kayaks for the road. While Stephen and Ben spent the afternoon hitting golf balls at the second most Southerly golf course in the world, I wandered through town, window shopped and went through the exhibit at the DOC office. In the evening, Stephen and I went for a wander to the point and watched some Little Blue penguins scramble ashore and up very steep cliffs. We decided we could only handle watching one as the stress involved in watching a small, water-built bird climb a near vertical slippery slope in the dark is not easy on the heart. So we wandered back to the hostel and climbed into bed for one last night on Stewart Island.

[Sunset over Oban]

The next morning, we packed our things and got on the ferry back to Bluff. The wind had remained calm-ish and the trip back was much easier to take than the one there. We were even treated to watching flocks of Titi, or Muttonbirds, or Sooty Shearwaters as we passed through the small islands where Maori still go to collect the chicks in the summer.