It is dark dawn at this moment in Wellington and here in what back-in-the-day would have been called a ‘boarding house’ most people are still asleep—only one young Italian woman busily tapping away at her lap top in the kitchen, and me tiptoeing around with a flashlight so I won’t wake Teresa I realize this is one of the things I actually like best about travel—the scoping out of and adaptation to a new mini-environment. Granted, the familiarity of home and the way to the bathroom in the dark, easy temperature adjustment and knowing there’s milk for that first coffee is preferable for most days. And now and then checking into a high-end hotel/resort with room service at your beck and call is a goodenough experience—but where’s the challenge?
According to Teresa, limited-term work visas are relatively easy to get here and New Zealand a welcoming and spectacularly beautiful relief from much of the world’s nuttiness, so bright young people might well be flocking here. Housing then becomes an issue, and like many attractive international work-live sites, solutions vary but sharing quarters is almost a must. This house appears to have been built with this very idea in mind—four reasonably sized bedrooms and a fairly roomy kitchen. And one bathroom, one small bathroom! Prissy personal-care perfectionists would not be pleased. The house is near the top of one of Wellington’s many hills in a quiet, green and agreeable neighborhood. The area, with its attractively modest homes, well-kept streets, and small yards, is not so very different in appearance from Teresa’s working/lower-to-middle income streets in Oakland—maybe just a degree more tidy, more house-prideful—but in terms of safety…now there is a difference. Teresa lives on the edge of Oakland’s Fruitvale neighborhood; here she temporarily resides in Mount Victoria where there has likely never in the history of the city been a drive-by shooting, stabbing, or rape. Teresa says it’s the only place she has ever lived where she hasn’t felt the need to be aware, on guard, personally cautious at all times.
So…I don’t want to make too much of this; I don’t have to look at statistics to know that New Zealand has its own share of the bad and the ugly—but they’re not out there menacing the entire population with their hatred and their guns. It is possible folks…even in wild-west Australia next door they’ve managed to detox the human environment. I’m saddened to think we Americans have gone too far in the opposite direction to ever feel really safe on our streets or in our skins and homes and businesses and gathering places again. We’re headed for the gated communities and policed malls of Latin America and Africa; far along that path already. USA USA USA.
A little later:
I’m in ‘happy traveler’ mode this morning—easy in New Zealand sharing a room with my favorite on-the-road-companion. Let’s see how much of the time I can maintain this cheerful attitude in a crowded shabby train chugging north to Bagan! Honestly I am just a little anxious about Myanmar and I don’t know where to get reliable information about the areas that might be dangerous because of the Rohingya/military conflict. I don’t trust the US State Department which seems to call anyplace without good plumbing into question. Think I’ll take a minute right now to see what the Brits say…
Nothing too alarming it turns out. Of course considering my home country—what could be more alarming than being shot to death at a music concert on a pretty autumn evening and having it not even be particularly unusual or shocking! So by staying away from Myanmar’s borders I will be at least as safe, if not safer, than hanging around Vegas or getting in a disagreement with the Albuquerque police department. Always keep things in perspective…
Think I’ll straighten up my Welly cave now. Teresa’s off to work and the nice thing about not being home is this—I don’t have to clean the bathroom or dust under the bed; happy puttering means rearranging my sweaters and vitamin pills and deciding if I need to wash any undies today. Maybe I’ll wander into the kitchen and fix a big fat slice of chewy bread with a thick layer of some really fine New Zealand butter (almost as good as the Setesdal Valley butter, Arne) touched up with the local version of nutella on top. Or perhaps another dish of the buttery-rich coconut yogurt which is easily my new favorite food?
One more 1.75 minute plank already this morning.