Eight weeks of nonstop hospitality. That’s what this trip has mainly been about. Receiving hospitality from friends and family; continuous visiting, eating, drinking, conversing, catching up on life. Constant moving around as we stay with friends for two to three days at a time, then on to the next visit. It’s been both great and a bit exhausting.
We’ve seen so many of our lovely friends and have had so many good times…
* Weddings galore with Daniel & Lilian married on July 1st and Joy & David married on July 14
* Guidi family visit with mom, dad, and grandma
* Scanlon sibling visit in Venice with Laura & Stuart
* Book club gal outing to Chez Panisse
* Stern Grove Bhangra concert in the park
* 4th of July visit with Jack & Nane at their lovely Cazadero home in the redwood trees
* Dolores Park picnic with the workshop crew
* Movie and Zachary’s pizza outing with my brother-in-law who shares a love for Harry Potter
* Lunches & Dinners & Teas with Leo, Roni, LaShon, Maria, Maja, Mark, Kelly, Irene, Sinead, and others
* Kidlet camping trip with my little friends Ella, Manny, and Harry and their parents
* Afternoon outing with friends Scott & Anne visiting from Portland
* Day hikes in the East Bay Hills
* Long weekend retreat up at the Russian River with the gang
* Hula hooping with the gals
* Celebrating DK’s 34th!
* Meeting new friend & potential expat Brian and fellow ACAFE tribe member John
* Speakeasy pub outing
* Babysitting little munchkin Manny
* Family gaming day with Joy & David among many other eves spent with them
Yes, this has been a whirlwind trip with barely time to recapture thoughts and feelings into my journal. But now that I’m a week+ back in NZ, I’ve had a bit more time for reflection.
Living in a foreign country that is small, fairly isolated, and still very provincial (comparatively speaking) has already had an impact on me even though we’ve only been gone from SF for a little over a year. The lens from which I view things has changed.
On the one hand, the city and its environs have lost the magic luster once held high over me. The city appeared dirtier, crowded, and dense. Traffic was a nightmare, it seemed, all the time. I never failed to be caught in some type of jam no matter which highway I drove. Homelessness is still a major problem and one can not walk down a city block in the downtown and surrounding neighborhoods without being panhandled by a multitude of the needy. It was overwhelming. The Bay Area (encompassing San Jose) is now home to 7.2 million people, almost twice the numbers that make up the population of New Zealand (4.1 million) whom are spread out over the size of the state of California. Granted, these are things that were bothering me in the years leading up to our exodus, but now I’m noticing that I have very little tolerance for this type of ‘noise’ that pervades my sphere. I don’t handle it well and I was most happiest on this trip when we were outside of the city spending time in more rural and peaceful settings. Fortunately, I spent a total of two+ weeks relaxing amongst the redwood trees in various locales in the Guerneville area. Fabulous.
The magnitude of choices we have in the US, for all things, was noticeably striking. There’s a deleted scene in the Borat movie where Borat is in a supermarket looking at a wall of cheeses, numbering in the hundreds, and he, supposedly not knowing what he’s looking at, has an exchange with the clerk, pointing to each item and asking ‘what is this’ to which the reply is always ‘cheese’. This goes on for a good five minutes. Funny yet poignant. The supermarkets and retail stores are so BIG. So many choices for just one kind of product. Billboards lambasting us with messages to buy, buy, buy lest we fall behind the Joneses. Do we need to have a hundred different salad dressings or a myriad of toilet paper brands to choose from? Think of all the time one wastes trying to filter through all this information. It’s overwhelming and begins to numb the senses. We are no longer filling needs, but catering to wants. Consume because you know you want to not because you actually need to. Don’t get me wrong, I do like to have choices, but really, having the choice of regular, lowfat, or nonfat is quite enough. I don’t know if this is a result of dense urban environments, but I found myself, after a few weeks, totally sucked back in, wanting to shop, wanting to spend money, wanting things, comparing myself to others around me, noticing when I wasn’t measuring up and therefore wanting to consume more. A vicious cycle.
On the plus side, it appeared there was more consciousness around climate change – more products, businesses, and services touting themselves as ‘green’, ‘eco-friendly’ or ‘sustainable’. This can only be a good thing, a step in the right direction, an awareness now on everyone’s minds, a willingness and perhaps a hunger for people and some businesses to ‘do the right thing.’ There has been a paradigm shift and everyone is getting on the bandwagon in the name of saving the planet; it is on the radar of the mainstream masses. Now the trick will be to determine the validity of one’s greenness – setting new standards and regulations by which to benchmark from. There will be lots of room for improvement here.
It was great to see the changes taking place in many of our friends’ lives. Everyone was moving along life’s path quite nicely: marriages, pregnancies, job changes, personal exploration, even talk by a few to move somewhere ‘better’ which for them, despite trying my hardest to entice them to the southern hemisphere, meant possibly moving to Oregon.
And to be fair, there are some spectacularly beautiful places in the area including the Marin Headlands, Sonoma & Napa counties, the whole coast, Berkeley’s Tilden Park, Memorial Park near La Honda, and much more all within a relatively short distance (as far as the crow flies) from San Francisco. Trying to get there, along with millions of other like-minded people is the battle though.
Many friends asked questions along the lines of “Is New Zealand everything you hoped for?”, “Are you going to stay forever?” and “When are you coming back?” How do I answer these? I’ve been on one big gigantic emotional roller coaster ride for the last two years torn between wanting something better for myself which meant leaving the safety blanket of my life as I knew it, and staying put in SF, surrounded by loving friends and family, comfortable yet unfulfilled. Rarely a day goes by when I ask myself, is this the right thing? And right now the answer is yes. I, or I should say we, have made the right decision for ourselves for this point in our lives. As individuals and together as a couple, we are on an inextricable journey together, trying to find our purpose, our path. We are pushing our boundaries A LOT; expanding, contracting, breaking through personal road blocks, pushing ourselves to break old habits and open our hearts. Ironically, in my exploration of our new interests in permaculture/organics, spirituality, and sustainability, I’ve become more aware of how prevalent these are right in the Bay Area and the pacific northwest. Could I have pursued these things just a stones throw away from where we were? I don’t really think so. To make such a radical life change required a radical upheaval which would not have occurred if we were in easy distance from the comfort of our friends and life as we knew it. Starting with a fresh slate, with new eyes, with new definitions of our selves seems to be the way we had to go. Of course we, as human beings, create the stories to fit our experiences, but who really knows why we’ve landed ourselves in NZ? I can tell you why I think we’re here and what we hope to achieve, but I can also bet that much will unfold in ways we never could have dreamed of. And as for whether we will stay forever… that’s a pretty tough question to answer. All I know is, today, I am happy, right here, right now.
And so the journey and holiday back to the States has come to a close. I cherish the moments I had with everyone and look forward to when we can do it again. However, there are no current plans on the horizon to return to the States in the upcoming year ahead; we need to keep our focus here and make some progress on our path. Stay in touch; send an email; pick up the phone; better yet, come for a visit!