WELLINGTON, NEW ZEALAND
January 13, 2010
In Aotearoa, the island’s inhabitants – native, white or expatriates – are expected to respect the long-standing traditions of the Maori. After all, the Maori were the first settlers of the island peninsulas, and in order to keep that tradition alive and sacred, people of New Zealand abide by its philosophies, rules, rituals and possessions. One cannot sit on top of a kitchen counter, it’s a sacred place for eating. Maori history is heavily tailored in public school curriculum. The pounamu jade stone is gifted to someone, but never bought for themselves. Foreigners like me cannot help but be inspired and mesmerized by the island’s respect towards Native heritage, and in turn, we go home pondering how we can return the same respect to people abroad.
On my thirtieth birthday, I was given a long oval green pounamu stone by Sonia and the people at the birthday party. The pounamu stone is a symbol of protection and good luck. I was honoured to receive such a gift, and moved that more than 20 people attended. It was such a beautiful day.
Two days later, I geared up to leave for Wellington, the capital city of Aotearoa. I’d met this hearing woman in London, England, who hailed from Wellington and was doing her studies in the European city when we met at one of my lectures a year before. Rose *name has been changed* told me I had to visit Wellington when I was on the island, so I made preparations to go down. Little did I know that it would change my life once again, adding a new chapter in my life.
Wellington is a swell city that rests on tall, steep hills lining up the shore where the East shore meets the West shore of North Island. Its winds are extremely strong, its gusts coming from the Antarctica. Waves rise at tremendous speed, crashing alongside the rock formations. Island Bay is where Rose lives, so I had the chance to walk down to the beach and enjoy a cup of coffee every morning while watching birds swoop down and catch fish in quieter pools of water. Visiting the Te Papa Museum, Cuba Street, Honeybee Government Houses, the shores and WETA film school (where legendary director Peter Jackson teaches workshops to film students), touching/smelling the flora & fauna, visiting the Wellington Deaf Club were the tourist highlights of my visit. I made new friends as well – an interpreter with ASL skills, Sonia’s sister Sara and her husband, Darryl (who I had met during the World Federation for the Deaf Camp in 2003) and a pair of professors who work for the Victoria University of Wellington’s Deaf Studies Research Unit.
The pair, David and Rachel McKee, were told that they had to meet me, through our mutual friends in Auckland and Wellington. Once the McKees and their three sons returned from a weeklong hiking trip in the South Island, they invited me over for a delicious BBQ dinner and a lovely chat in American Sign Language. Signing ASL was a treat, since I’d been signing NZSL for the past three weeks.
David, a Deaf American with a Deaf network that had half of the people I knew as well, moved to New Zealand 18 years ago out of love for Rachel, a NZ native, who had aspirations to use her American degree in interpreting to establish programs for interpreting in New Zealand.
During a conversation we had about my volunteering work in Africa, and my future plans which included going to Cambodia and surrounding Asian countries to provide support and workshops for Deaf and Deafblind people, David asked me how I supported myself. I simply said I was trying to collect funds from sponsors, but truthfully, it was becoming a daunting task – after two months of requesting sponsorship and donations I had fell short. No one, besides the first donor (Canada-NZ flight) were donating. So, my dream of continuing on to Cambodia was becoming less of a reality.
David and Rachel fell silent, looked at one another for a long minute or two, and nodded their heads. No sign language, no words, no clues.
‘Would you mind if we helped you with your flight from Australia to Cambodia? We would like to make your dream happen’ David signed to me while Rachel looked on.
‘What… are you offering to sponsor my flight to Cambodia?’ I nervously asked, overwhelmed.
‘Yes’ they replied.
I was flabbergasted. I had met this lovely couple only a few hours ago. And they opened their homes, hearts and pockets for this Deafblind globetrotting advocate? Amazing. How fate played a part in shifting my life’s path, shaping my objective of advocacy, pushing me forward to another chapter of life.
Their gift would send me forth to Cambodia, where I would finally meet my friend, Ronise, and work with several non-profit organizations towards Deafblind awareness. Generosity not only changes one person’s lives, but others as well. Good karma will most surely come for the McKees.
That night, when I got to Rose’s and slept on the couch with my eyes wide open and my hand clutching my pounamu stone, I wept. Out of inspiration, excitement and feeling very lucky.
It was another blessed day when I visited the McKees the next day in their university research lab. David brought me a book, it looked antiquated and rustic, perhaps no more than 50 years old. It was actually a book written by Helen Keller, “The World I Live In”, and what made it even more special was that the extraordinary lady herself signed it. Her signature was linear and block, which presumably Keller used a ruler to guide her signature.
‘Yours Truly, Helen Keller’. She signed the book in the 1950s, and David’s mother found the book in a shop in America and gifted her son with that special book. It was in my hands. A true touchstone connecting my role model to me, 60 years later. Inspired and empowered, I told David that seeing this book, her signature, most especially after the wonderful gift he and his wife gave me, this is a great sign telling me I was meant to continue on this path.
Standing in front of Bach Café on the shoreline of Island Bay, Wellington, my hair is tousled up from the high wind speed. My face is speckled with saltwater carried from the waves across the road. Sunshine is reflected on windows of houses perched way up on the hills, lines of single-car trams from bottom to the top. I loved being in Wellington, for its beauty in the city and in its people. Especially when an evening in the home of a warm couple was a blessing. Like when the waves crash on shore, the water flows to the front and creates ripples, the chance encounter was a wave, creating a ripple effect on the people I would meet in my next journey in Cambodia.
Tactile the world,