21 April 2012

Strangers in a strange land

When we had got to know Mervyn McLean, a fellow lecturer in the Anthropology Department and ethnomusicologist, Susan told him of her night on the 'plane - and he laughed.

Susan had slept very little on the 'plane.  That was in part, of course, natural enough.  She was leaving the only country she had ever imagined living in.  Her life was apparently to be very different from anything she had ever expected.

But she had help in staying awake.  Mrs Wynn-Williams sat in the seat next to her.  Mrs Wynn-Williams was - and judging from her age at the time, I think that 'was' is in the proper tense - mad.  She had with her a long and elaborate manuscript.  It contained an epic poem, partly in Māori, partly in English.  In the margin were vivid drawings, many of persons stabbed with knives or spears and bleeding graphic blood.  She talked on and on - perhaps all night - about this poem, and about the person who had written it (I don't think it was her), and about her hopes for its publication.

Mrs Wynn-Williams was quite interested in the fact that I would be in the Anthropology Department.  She knew persons in that department quite well.

She did, indeed.  Mervyn described her as someone who frequently came and pestered them, wanting something done about this item of literature.

This was our introduction to New Zealand.

Moving to a country where one's native language (albeit in a slightly different form) is spoken invites one to believe there will be no differences of any consequence.  Perhaps moving to Montevideo or Mumbai would have been easier in one respect, at least: one would expect change.

The differences are not, in fact, of any great consequence - but they are bewildering:
  • driving on the left - well, of course you know that will be the case, but you have to learn to look right, then left, then right, before crossing the road - not the other order
  • light switches - on is down, up is off
  • taps - cold water on the left, hot on the right
  • toilets - the word 'toilet' itself is mildly improper in the US.  The first time we went to someone's house, Susan asked to use the 'bathroom' - then came out embarrassed to say she couldn't find the toilet.  It was in a different room (this seems to be changing in newer New Zealand houses).
  • scales.  Susan weighed herself in that house, and came out puzzled.  It said she was 8 and a half something - stones (14 lb to the stone - this was before we went metric).
  • tea - not the beverage, the meal.  Normally means 'dinner'
  • supper - not dinner!  Pre-bedtime snack and cup of tea
  • 'bring a plate' - when invited to a shared meal - 'Ladies, bring a plate' means you had better put something on it
And so forth.  Accommodation didn't take long, but it did take some time.

We arrived at the airport - what was then the International Airport, which is now the Domestic.  Bruce picked us up and drove us to his house in Takapuna.  Joy almost immediately took Susan shopping.  Sue could scarcely understand her English.  Every time Susan would reach her hand out to take something to buy, Joy stopped her - 'get it much cheaper at ...'  By the time we got back to the house, Susan excused herself and went to sleep in someone's bedroom - all too much!

The University put us up in a motel for two weeks in Kohimarama.  This was in fact lovely.  It is just off the beach.  Still, we were astonished when we got up early our first morning and went down to the beach and found people actually swimming!  To be sure, it was high summer - the temperature probably 18 or 20 degrees (Celsius, that is - high 60s Fahrenheit) - far too cold for swimming to us Hawai'i folk.

Those first weeks in Auckland are a bit of a blur.  I had started work, found the people I worked with wonderful, but kept stumbling on bits of culture shock ('no typewriter on my desk??!!  How do I write things?  Oh, write them by hand and give them to the secretary to type up!'  I bought a manual typewriter for myself.)  Learnt to drink - and love! - tea rather than coffee.  Very little coffee drunk in Auckland in the early-to-mid 70s.

We were overwhelmed with help from people.  From someone at work, we met Jack and Joy Pinajian.  Jack was a real estate agent - and an American - who started to hunt for flats for us.  They also introduced us to Dale and Gerry Brown, Americans with New Tribes Mission living in Howick - and in whose house we lived for a short time after the motel ran out.

Eventually we found a flat, not through Jack, but through the Staff Wives Club of the University (which ceased to exist in 1983 - not very politically correct, I fear).  Susan had attended a meeting - possibly even been a member - and a lady there - a Mrs Grigor - said that her father- and mother-in-law had a two-bedroom flat for rent in Mt Eden.  As I recall, the rent was $35/week.  We moved in, perhaps sometime in March, to 619A Mt Eden Road - and didn't leave until shortly before we moved to Yap in March, 1976.

No comments: