The poker-faced official at the immigration counter handed back the passport. 20 July 2002 was stamped inside with dark ink.
Everything was going to be different from this point, though I could not quite grasp how. I went to the terminal to get my only worldly possessions; a scuffed and battered nylon backpack and a small grey suitcase. I tried to take in my new surroundings. I never felt so uncertain of anything in my entire life.
This new life didn’t begin very smoothly. I called up the only friend I knew in Auckland. This individual, though knowing in advance I was arriving, now expressed no real concern to see me. Then there was the hiring of the rental car. Signing the lease was no problem, but driving a car with the steering on the left hand side is just obscene. I spent 20 minutes in the parking lot trying to muster the courage to insert the key into the ignition. Though I had driven on the “obscene” side of the road before, that was 3 years ago and never with a manual transmission during the night.
At my first attempt of reversing, I nearly hit a 6 foot 5 Samoan who was crossing behind me. He shot me a pretty nasty look and I tried to make my self invisible behind my seat. He thumped 2 very large hands on the boot of the car which sounded like 12 gauge discharging. I thought I was going to be sent back to Florida in a make-shift casket made from this hired Toyota. Then the unexpected happened. He let loose of a large toothy grin and walked off. I will never forget how eery his smile looked, the way red brake lights reflected off his large gold tooth.
I managed to successfully reverse, but not after running over the curb and driving on the wrong side of the first round about I faced. Luckily there were no vehicles present at that gaffe.
I struggled on my way to the Sky City Lodge, a hostel that was located about 10 Kilometers from the airport. It was dark, but at least I had no trouble seeing. In fact the view from the front windscreen was crystal clear because I had consistantly confused the wipers for the turn signal. More than once I heard a blaring horn from an offended driver. The wipers beat their steady cadence across the windscreen.
After missing the entrance to the hostel twice, I finally entered the driveway. There were no lights on inside the hostel. As I approached the building a large german shepard snarled and snaped at me from behind a metal link face. Drool hung in two large white strings from either the side of its muzzle. After bestowed by so many of these little warm welcoming gestures, I was wondering if I was meant to be in this country. The door was hastily slung open and a gruff man introduced himself as the hostel owner. He told me to get inside. He gave a 20 second tour and told me if I had any questions to ask him in the morning. He then stomped off to his bed which was in the house behind the hostel. I was the only person staying in the hostel that night.
I threw my sleeping bag down on my bunk. I wanted to collapse and die right there. I decided to make some tea before throwing my bones on the bunk. In the kitchen, I found some tea in the freebie bin and put the water on the boil. I sat down in that lonely kitchen with my tea. It was so quiet and cold. I hung my head down and let the steam from the hot tea heat my face…
“G’evening, Laddy, do ya want ta gow see tha Boks play tha all-blacks?”
I was so startled, I spilled the tea all over the kitchen tiles
“Oh dear, laddy, I gave ya good fright didn’t I? Let me getta tow-el and clean it up for ya.”
I forgot his name, but the old gentleman was visiting from Kilkenney, Ireland. He wanted to know if I would accompany him to the pub accross the street to watch the rugby match between South Africa and New Zealand. He had a very kind and merry demeanor. After we cleaned up the tea, we headed to the pub together.
I loved hearing his voice. There is something very musical about the way the irish speak. We found a table and he shouted me my first beer in New Zealand. It was a Lion Red. We chatted and watched as the New Zealand All blacks pummeled South Africa. We talked about irish sports, such Gaelic football and hurling. We then moved on to the American sports of baseball and grid iron football. We analyzed the similarities and differences between rugby and grid iron football.
We shouted each other a few more rounds of beer. He told me about his family, about how his youngest son was getting married here in Auckland. We talked for hours. He asked about my family and what they thought of me leaving so far from home. We talked about America, Ireland, and lastly New Zealand. Before we left the that evening, he said:
“New Zailand”, he proclaimed, “she’s nawt al-ways whot ye think she is, but she’s all ye need her ta be”
So today is March 17th, 2003, Saint Patrick’s day. I am sitting here in front of my laptop inside my apartment in Glendowie. I am thinking about those words that wise old irish man told me on my first night in New Zealand. I never intended to stay more than a month, but here I am. In New Zealand.
“she’s nawt al-ways whot ye think she is, but she’s all ye need her ta be”