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Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Returning "home"

Hello all!

In lieu of sending you old travel updates (and the fact that I am surprisingly up-to-date with my current travel updates!), I have included some details of my most recent adventures!

April 8 - 13, 2010
On the day of my birthday I boarded a plane in Brisbane, Australia with the entire crew of the Georgia Tech 2010 Pacific Program, which included 36 students, Program Director (Awesome Dave), and Program Assistant/Lab Instructor (Awesome Me). A few hours and a few time zones later we landed in Auckland, New Zealand. Thirty-six people flooded the International Transfers line, while two people got teary-eyed and hugged all of the people in line, slowly walking past the Transfers line en route to Baggage Claim. One of the students, Aerin, and I were adventurously embarking on a new journey in New Zealand. We both changed our return plane tickets home to extend and discover more about the country we have come to love. We planned to chase Kiwis for 4 weeks together, then Aerin flies home, and I run around the country for 5 more weeks on my own. To that, add on 1 week for me in Tonga, and we’ve got 6 months of living out of suitcase! Essentially I will not have any permanent mooring place for longer than 7 days!

Like so many others, I have fallen in love with this “Land of the Long White Cloud” otherwise known as Aotearoa or New Zealand. The people, the land, the disposition, and character… all of it possess qualities that allure me. I have been "flying high" as a New Zealand tourist on two separate 6-week occasions, and this, honestly, has been a limiting factor in discovery and understanding. To truly get to know a culture, often you have to get in people’s homes, their kitchens… in their lives. So, without breaking down doors and crawling in kitchen windows, how does one legally go about this?

My FruitVans set-up at St. Helier's Bay
The plan? Get in the door! In fact, I am working while here, mostly on farms, homestays, and other small establishments, where there is an exchange of 3-5 hours of work per day for accommodation and 3 meals per day. I'll be doing some purely touristy things too, but this working, called "wwoofing" is my primary source of time expenditure. (Willing Workers On Organic Farms) My first wwoofing location, “Fruit Vans,” located just outside of Auckland, will be hawking fruit and veggies to the community! Each day up to 6 ‘wwoofers’ load up their flat-bed trucks or vans and head out to designated selling locations in and around Auckland (NZ’s largest city, population <2 million people).  My flat-bed truck was set-up in a sweet spot under two enormous shady magnolia trees across from a beautiful beach, St. Heliers Bay. The area is surrounded by an older retirement community, and is also a mecca for kite surfers on windy days.

Fruit Vans is not a traditional wwoofing location (i.e. not organic, not on a farm, nor homestay with a Kiwi family), but it was a willing trade-off for my first wwoofing experience. During one long day a >80 year old woman walked by, and upon seeing the feijoas I had for sale, told me of the tree in her backyard that was loaded heavy with the fruit. Promptly with a smile and a wink, I snuck one of my feijoas into her hand to taste-test at home. Two days later she drove to my Fruit Van, “You don’t remember me, do you?” Her bright coral lipstick gave her away though, and she presented me with a small plastic bag filled with nearly a dozen ripe green fruits off of her tree! The fruit was ripe and fragrant, but the thoughtful gift to a lone foreign roadside fruit seller was sweeter than anything. (PS- Before this selling opportunity I had never heard nor tasted a feijoa in my life… YUM!!!)

On another occasion a large man in an even larger SUV pulled up one afternoon with his first words nearly shouted with excitement, “Do you have feijoas?” In his excitement, ‘fee-JO-uh’ was pronounced more like ‘FEEEE-jo-uh!!’ I had a crate of at least 80 fruits, and he told me he’d like to buy every single one. I sliced one for a taste test; he devoured it with appreciative noises, then gave some to his wife. He had spent the last 15 years with his wife in the Philippines, and had not been in NZ during feijoa season since then. The fruit brought back enchanting childhood memories which were evident in the sparkle in his eyes. Initially, selling fruit was not my idea of ‘getting into the hearts and minds of Kiwis’, but indeed I was doing just that. This was satisfying; I was satisfied.

Our freshly painted fruit signs!

The Fruit Vans housing situation was a fun conglomeration of the entire world! During my single week this International House of sorts hosted people from France, Germany, USA, England, Brazil & Argentina, all of whom were cooperating to create a community together. There were 10-15 people in the house at any given time, with up to 4 people sharing a room dorm-style. Each person was either on an ‘off day’, or working, which could include going out to sell fruit, cleaning house, preparing lunch in the morning for the sellers, painting new road signs, or any other random act that needed done. Each night 2 people cooked dinner for everyone, and I share-cooked dinner on two nights. The second dinner night was prepared for 16 people! We had tons of fruit and vege available to cook with, but frequently meals were dominated by the specific produce in abundance. Apparently the weeks before we arrived saw sweet corn featured in nearly 3 meals per day, but by my arrival the load settled heavily upon avocados and kiwi fruit. For example, my night of 16 featured both kiwi juice aperitifs and guacamole, among other produce-intensive courses. Without joke, I ate those two greenies 3 times per day for 6 days straight. For a few days after my departure from Fruit Vans, I couldn’t go near either, but within a week I was back on the wagon!

All in all my first wwoofing experience was a success. While Aerin & I did not have a traditional Kiwi experience, it was a nice integration back to New Zealand in a city neither of us had yet visited.

Eat green things! Hugs, Jessie

Not too many pix: Fruit Vans

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