Human adapatability–Two Americans living in Vanuatu visit New Zealand

So what IS it like for two Americans who have been living in a rural village on a small island in the middle of the South Pacific to visit the big and beautiful New Zealand?

I’ve always thought that visiting foreign countries that I’ve dreamed of for a long time would be mind-blowing~ like something absolutely fundamental would be different and unique, such as…I don’t know…natural laws? Ok, so I didn’t really think that, but when I visited Cairo, I kind of realized maybe I was expecting something utterly extraordinary, but was initially underwhelmed. (Underwhelmed only until I got over my false expectations of supernatural differences and saw the place and events that took place for what they really were: absolutely life changing.)

In Vanuatu, I didn’t know what to expect—I had never heard of the place before being invited to serve in the Peace Corps there.

But New Zealand, now there’s a place I’ve had plenty of time to romanticize and develop unrealistic, if not supernatural expectations of. Turns out, experiencing New Zealand has been a bit more akin to experiencing what my instinct equates with natural laws.

Since coming to New Zealand, I have learned that I have gotten very used to some things in our little rural village. The alternatives, in turn, feel very foreign, if not unnatural. Some things I have learned I have gotten used to be being in New Zealand:

  • Being dirty more or less all the time. (I actually had the thought in the shower the other day, “My feet aren’t muddy and black underneath. I can’t even see ANY dirt on them! Why am I taking a shower, again?”)
  • To all the greens around me being absolutely vibrant. (New Zealand is beautiful—and very green—but the tones are just different. I’m having to learn simply not to compare the two–one being tropical, the other subtropical rainforest.)
  • To having ever-moist skin. (As I type this, my skin is dried and cracked no matter how much lotion I use. Of course, the sunburn I got just before coming here doesn’t help.)
  • Being able to reliably get from place to place on foot (eventually) without worrying about getting hit by cars or trying to read confusing signs or maps. (Our village doesn’t have cars. Or signs or maps, for that matter.)
  • Wearing the same clothes for days at a time, as long as I have fresh, clean underwear. (If they don’t stink or appear dirty, why waste the energy and water of cleaning them?)
  • My toes being splayed out in sandals instead of squished in shoes. (It’s too cold to wear the flip-flops I’ve been living in in Vanuatu, but my toes are so squished!)
  • Standing out like a sore thumb in any given crowd. (No matter where we go in Vanuatu, we constantly catch eyes and stir curiosity as we are often the only white people in many kilometers. Here in NZ, it would take quite a lot to stand out like a sore thumb.)
  • Being treated as a semi-celebrity instead of just another strange face. (The ‘developed’ urban world offers an unlimited supply of anonymity. In Vanuatu, a white face means both that you stand out, and that you’re handled with care. Whether that’s because they think we deserve luxury or because they simply find us fragile—to be kind—is up for debate.)

Things I have learned I’m still used to, despite my time in a small rural village in Vanuatu, by being in New Zealand:

  • Driving on the right-hand side of the road. (And this is where the feeling of natural laws being different comes in. It’s like everyone here functions on the other side of the mirror. But it only took me about a day or two of driving to stop nearly swerving to the right when I would see a vehicle on a curve coming from the other direction on the right-hand side of the road.)
  • The blinker being on the left side of the steering wheel. (If you were in NZ in the last week and saw a car turn on its windshield wipers just before it turned or changed lanes, that was probably me driving.)
  • Being situated in the left side of the lane when driving. (Add to that the narrow lanes, and we had more than our fare share of close encounters side-swiping anything and everything that happened to be on the left side of the car as I would lazily linger left to situate myself, as driver, in the left side of the lane.)
  • Really wastefully enjoying hot showers. (I never realized how much I counted on these as part of my therapeutic…coping….something. Despite my acute awareness of the value water, I can’t seem to pass up the opportunity when plumbing with hot water is available.)
  • Internet that works when I have it. (One of the things I was so excited about in coming to NZ was the fast and readily and widely available internet of the ‘developed’ world. Well, I’ve heard my expectations would be met in other parts of NZ, but, oddly, not in Aukland. In this busy and bustling city, free internet is hard to find—and when found, it’s speed and megabytes(?) and/or time are limited, which is incalcuably frustrating to me.)

New Zealand is full of beautiful and we had a wonderful 5-day road trip from Auckland to Wellington and back. Truly beautiful place, though it’s sad to see how much of the sub-tropical rainforest has been destroyed to make room for grazing land. About half of our time here in NZ has been in Auckland, oddly probably my least favorite place that I’ve seen in NZ. As for our favorite things about this city, I think Peter would agree that it’s a tie between the library (where we’ve spent many hours reading and playing on computers), and a small stuffed pancake stand-hole-in-the-wall thing nearby. WHY are these pancakes not available EVERYWHERE. Yum. 🙂

Sorry about the lack of pictures… apparently the internet connection has reached the limit it will allow me for today. Until next time… cheers!

 

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