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Finding Christina Helene

Maybe it’s from living in Los Angeles too long. Maybe it’s from years of depression. Maybe it’s from a lack of giving and closing myself off from the world from far too long. But I’m stunned every day here in New Zealand by the kindness of Kiwis. I’m not saying they are all nice. Even the best batch of juicy, taught grapes will have a few brown ones that haven’t gotten to see the light and are nothing but brown and tasteless. However the kindness of Kiwi’s I’ve seen here is entirely refreshing. New Zealand has become for me an island of kindness at the end of the world, untouched by the turmoil of todays politics.

Kiwi’s are an island people. I’ve come to think that this phenomenon of ‘island time,’ where everyone will show up late and super chilled about it, is an effect of the kiwi’s taking time to talk to each other. Even if they are doing a million things, at work or on their way out the door, a kiwi will take the time to have a real conversation with you and not be bothered with how much time it is taking. Then they will go back to work or head off to where they need to be and everything is alright.

I’ve been working at Drifting Sands in Hokitika since July – the middle of winter in New Zealand. Come Christmas, I had no where to be and no one to spend it with. The house was privately rented out and the family was only interacting with me if they needed something. I’d talked to my family online, but otherwise I was on my own. That is until Judy offered her place.

Judy is one of the four pensioners who lives next door to Drifting Sands. There’s Judy, Pete, Merve and Frank. Judy is my favorite by far. She is a tiny little whippet with bright red hair and always wears purple (which she looks fantastic in.) Her cat died a few years back, so Claire’s cat from Drifting Sands goes over to visit Judy everyday. From Claire’s kitchen  window we can see storm slinking back into Judy’s apartment looking for more treats.

I didn’t know much about Pete before Christmas. He was the quiet one who fell one day when I was gone touring the South and was laying on the floor of his apartment for six hours before anyone found him. Pete was invited to Christmas dinner, and I got to find out a lot more about him.

Merv… How to describe Merve…. Merve is the one you want to avoid when bringing extra trash out next door or bringing their trash to the street. Merve will catch you like a spider web catches a fly, and keep you in conversation as he talks and talks about Trump and America and how America used to be the protectors of the world but now it’s gone soft and he’s glad Trump is in office because he can bring some of the iron fisting back in. Merve spits when he talks and sometimes a bit of spittle dribbles down his chin onto his t-shirt during an emotional exclamation.

Frank and I talked only once. Frank’s a drinker. When I pull his trash cans to the street for pick-up day, Frank’s is full of empty Corona bottles. In the Summer afternoons on hot days, Frank turned to playing music off his record player very loud. It’s not bad music; he plays a bit country a bit bluesy and a bit Folk Classic. His record player is so loud we can’t hear the music inside the B&B, so Claire will tell the guests Frank will play the music him and his wife used to listen to from time to time and apologize for the noise.

When Judy found out I was to be spending Christmas alone, she quickly offered her place for dinner. I was touched. I’d love nothing more than to hang out with Judy on Christmas. “It’ll be a dry Christmas, I hope that’s alright with you sweetie,” she said. Of course  it was alright. “Come over at half past eleven and we’ll eat.”

Come Christmas day, 11:30 comes round and I walk next door. I’m the first one there. I got worried – did I get the time or day wrong? 11;30 is awfully early to have dinner and no one else is here. I learn later it’s a British thing to call Christmas lunch – dinner.

The dinner table is set up beautifully. There is a lace table cloth on a small, round, doll house sized table that is set for four. Each place setting has a big red popper on it, and each glass has a red napkin curled up in it. I gave Judy the sparkling cider and shredded coconut chocolates I brought over and she told me to take a seat while we waited for the other two guests.

We sat by the tv while we waited and finished the tv program she was watching – a Christmas concert for the Queen in England. Judy and I commented on the outfits the stars were wearing and made light chatter until Rex, her son came in and joined us.

Rex is a jade carver in town at Tectonic Jade. He is super tall and drives one of those spray painted camervans around town – only his camper is his own and not the rental campervan companies that spray paint their vans. Rex goes to see Judy every day. He is a total mama’s boy and it is so endearing to watch. Up until this point, I’ve only met him once before when he was helping Claire chop up the tree that fell in her backyard after a bad storm. (This is another case of classic NZ kindness.)

Rex gets excited when I say I’m from California. He’s taken a trip there and had a wonderful time. He fell in love with the Sierras, where there are some of the oldest known trees in the world. In Big Sur his jade carver friend showed him a piece of blue jade. (If you know your greenstone, this is a big deal.)

Judy decides it’s time to eat and she goes next door to get Pete. The four of us sit at the dollhouse table,pour sparkling cider and pick up the poppers. Rex picked up his and handed me the other end to pull – and pop! Out came a pen and a red paper crown. I pick up mine and hand Judy the other end and – pop! Out came a tiny yoyo and a yellow paper crown. Pete got a magnifying glass and a Blue paper crown, and Judy got a set of tiny screw drivers and a Green paper crown. We merrily ate the meal Judy made while we talked and enjoyed the day.

Pete brings up his speedboat. This is Pete’s passion – racing boats. Since his fall, Pete is no longer allowed to race or drive a boat. It’s quite gutting for him. It’s like watching a widow try to continue on after his or her spouse has passed.

“Do you want to come see my boat?” Pete asks us all. To be polite, we all smile and nod yes, until we find out his boat is a ten minute drive up the road. Feeling obligated, I stick to my yes and after dinner is over and I’ve helped clean up, I hop into Pete’s car while Rex follows, and we head up the road. We drive out of Hokitika, past the holiday park and turn opposite Cath’s brother’s stone mat making workshop towards a big black shed I’ve seen many times before.

Pete opens the doors to this big shed and I’m surprised to find it completely empty. This huge shed is storing nothing. At the far back I can see a 4WD car with a boat on a trailer behind it. Rex and I follow Pete inside for a great surprise. Pete’s boat is dope! It’s literally like a plane made for water. The boat goes so fast it’s not even in the water when he’s driving it – it skims the top of the water as it flys. The driver sits in a little cock pit on top. It’s literally like the cockpit of a single person fighter jet or something.

Pete invites Rex to get in the cockpit first. It’s hard not to laugh as Rex tries squeezing his tall limbs into the pit, and moaning in pain as Pete closes the roof of the pit on him. Once free, the boys encourage me to try it too. I crawl up onto the trailer and into the cockpit. Pete closes the roof on me and it’s like being in a different world. I can see how Pete can be so sad to lose this passion of his, and it makes me sad for him. How do you find a new passion when you’re that old, living so far from your kids with no one to call family close? I can tell Pete really appreciated Rex and me entertaining him this Christmas afternoon by going to see his boat.

It’s little acts like these – making the time to talk to people – that makes up the spirit of this island. Give and don’t expect anything in return. Give just for the sake of giving, because you can. I’ve met many travelers and locals on this trip and every one has many stories of being drawn in by the kindness of kiwis as well. And it’s starting to rub off on me too. I find myself smiling and saying hello to everyone I walk by on the street. For me, this is a huge step in the kindness direction.




  • Michael Marialva


    Great post! Keep up the great work!!


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