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Down the Kiwi Memory lane – Cultural diversity (Part 1 of 2)

Kia Ora. It has been exactly a decade since we left New Zealand to come back to the UK. Since this morning, I am feeling very emotional. I am flooded with all the memories of those wonderful six years we spent in New Zealand. What an incredible place it is. Those years have enriched our lives with so many wonderful life experiences. We have created lots of lifelong memories and lifelong friends.

I don't know where to start. Its natural beauty is really mesmerizing. It never fails to surprise you. You may be a nature lover who loves to spend hours in the outdoors admiring natural beauty or you may be an adventure sports lover or you may be an anthropologist who would love to learn about Maori and other Pacific communities or you may be someone who just wants to lie on the beach enjoying the sunshine, taste the local cuisine or surf away to glory; New Zealand has plenty on offer for everyone. The list is unending and that's why it's heaven on earth.

Luge Adventure, Rotorua
Luge Adventure, Rotorua
Mudpools, Rotorua
Mud Pools, Rotorua
Cape Reinga
Cape Reinga
Milford Sound
Milford Sound
Hole In The Rock
Hole in the rock

As I said earlier, in those six years, New Zealand filled up our basket with many wonderful things, the most wonderful one being our son. He is a Kiwi by birth and trust me, he is a proper Kiwi because he’s the only one in the family who loves his toast with Marmite.

We bought our first home there in the beautiful suburb of Remuera. This was a dream location which has all the amenities in a walking distance and good schools. It was literally a 10-minute drive to down town. My husband used to work in the city where parking was very expensive, so he bought a scooter to go to his office. I still remember that he used to give me a call as he was leaving the office. By the time he reached home, Masala tea was ready which we used to enjoy sitting in our porch admiring the roses. 

With Mission Bay just 15 minutes away, we never had to drive long to go to the beach. When we moved to UK it was difficult for my little one to understand that the beach here is not so local. When he was bored, he used to ask “can we at least go to the beach” because for my children, going to the beach was like going to the park. In New Zealand you are never more than 15-20 minutes away from a major water body. My daughter still misses the Mövenpick ice-cream shop in Mission Bay. In summer, there used to be a long queue for ice-cream. It was not just the ice-cream but also their freshly made waffle cones that made it special.

I got my first job as a teacher in the local college teaching ICT and Mathematics. This was after I completed my Teacher’s Training from Auckland University. New Zealand has a wide range of ethnicities in the classrooms. Hence, it was necessary to thoroughly understand how to address this diversity. In my teacher training course, I studied an additional paper on ‘Understanding the New Zealand Classroom’. This paper helped me to understand not only New Zealand classrooms but also cater the needs to students in a multi-cultural environment.

I really admire the strong cultural influence in education, which plays an important role in making the cultural fabric unique. Every new student at University and new staff at the college was greeted by performing Hongi and Maori welcome song ‘Haere Mai’. I am born and brought up in India where cultural diversity is prevalent, hence New Zealand always felt like home to me.

Inter-college dance competition used to be the best time of the year. I was amazed to see the involvement of the communities in getting the kids ready for these competitions. Parents and extended family members from the Pacific communities used to join hands together to make these competitions a big success. Some members used to choreograph dance moves or the haka routines. Some used to take the responsibilities to feed the children after school so that they were ready for practice sessions after school. The college used to make their premises available after hours, and, on the weekend before the competition, the kitchen as well so that the students could practice for as long as they wanted. It used to be an amazing atmosphere where all were working towards one goal. I am glad that I also had my small contribution in this. I used to manage the Indian dance group. I have two left feet, so I was not useful in the dancing area, but I had an overall responsibility of managing this group. I had great time all those years.

I believe this helps the students to respect and appreciate other cultures. At the same time, they learn to respect their roots and be proud of their heritage. One such strong example of this was what I experienced during the farewell boat party. When I started my job, I inherited the Year 10 form/tutor group. They had their previous tutor since Year 9 who they used to love and were not happy that she left. So, when I joined, they used to totally ignore my presence in the class during the form period. Eventually, they started turning around.

By the time they left the college to go to the university, we had developed a rapport. I thought we were doing OK but I was surprised by their gesture and was literally in tears at the end of the boat party. When it was time to leave the boat and say goodbye, one of the students came and he touched my feet. In Indian culture, touching the feet is one’s way of showing respect and seeking blessing from that person. I was shocked. It was a pleasant surprise for me. As it turned out, he was not the only one, rest of them followed him and those who did not know what to do gave me a hug. That day I realised that they had accepted me as their tutor. This was my biggest accomplishment as a teacher.

When we decided to relocate to UK, it was hard for me to leave this culturally rich academic world. One of my Maori students gifted me a shell and he explained that it symbolises home. This will remind you that wherever you go in the world you should come back at the end of the day because it’s your home. It was such a lovely gesture.

In New Zealand, you are always encouraged to embrace new cultures and at the same time not to forget your roots. You are encouraged to wear your ethnic attire, even for the formal ceremonies. I made the most of it on all possible occasions. I flaunted my beautiful sarees at my graduation ceremony from Auckland University, during our Citizenship ceremony and even for the college ball. I may sound crazy but trust me everybody admired these drapes.

Being in New Zealand, we enjoyed Christmas on the beach as mentioned in the Christmas carols. It’s the summer holiday season. Schools are busy preparing annual shows, carol services in local churches with Maori poi dance. Another thing which everyone looks forward to is the Santa Parade. Hundreds of children and adult volunteers work hard for months to make it a success. People of all age enjoy these giant floats.

Poi Dance
Poi Dance
Santa Parade
Santa Parade, Auckland

On Christmas day, some do have a Roast turkey lunch. But most prefer spending Christmas day on the beach with a nice barbequed food under the Pohutukawa tree. Kiwis make most of the sunny summer days. Pack your picnic basket, wear flip flops, apply sunscreen and you are ready to go.

During summer, people enjoy many water related activities such as canoeing or surfing. Many people have boats parked in their driveway. Another favourite summer activity is going fishing. When you live in New Zealand, how can you not try your hand at fishing? We also attempted it several times. The very first time, we went fishing with another family. The kids were young and did not have the required patience. So, finally me and my friend went back to the holiday home and were waiting for the dads to come back with lots of fish. We were anticipating a fresh catch for dinner so had brought nice and spicy marinade with us for the fish.

We were waiting and waiting and finally decided to feed the kids and put them to bed. Finally the dads came back with just a few mussels and not a single fish. We thought may be because it was our first time. We tried on few other occasions but not much improvement. So, we thought about trying a bigger territory and explore the sea. We went ahead and hired a boat. Here we are again, 2 families with the kids all well equipped with rods, hooks and bait. Due to past experience, we carried cooked lunch with us. We went around Auckland harbour and had a great time. Everyone took turns steering the boat. In the end, we enjoyed the sunshine, had good food, great company and, last but not the least, fed the fish and came back. Yes, you read it correct; we fed the fish with all the bait we had. I always say that we went for fish feeding and not fishing.

 

The conclusion is, either get fish from the fishmonger or eat it in the restaurant. New Zealand has very large variety of good fish. I am sharing with you one of our family favourites, Pan Seared Scallops with Mint and Coriander Chutney and Burnt Garlic. Next week, I will tell you more about the food, delicacies and some more interesting food items from New Zealand, and of course, recipe of one more New Zealand speciality.

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