Travelling-The World is Your Oyster 4-------------------------A Chance Meeting Down Under

Opening To Life is Awesome

In 2004, I had planned a trip to New Zealand to cheer myself up. I had just lost my big sister in August 2004 and had been very depressed not because we were that close but because of her age. By then, I had lost three very close people in my life -my husband, my best friend and my big sister ranging from 40 to 45 and 52 years old respectively. These people were in their prime and still had so much to give. I did not take it well at all. All those dreams and plans down the grave.

My really good friend, Aqualma, a social worker in London, had decided to take a year out working in New Zealand. She was to return in June 2005. I missed her in my time of need and kept in touch by e-mail so she knew all about my loss. She also knew about my wanderlust though New Zealand had never appeared to be a place I would visit, in my wildest dreams. Don't get me wrong. I have nothing against New Zealand. I just never expected that I would ever have an opportunity to go there.

In December of 2004, in an attempt to get myself out of the depressive state I was in, I planned a trip to New Zealand, to visit my friend. I booked it for the end of June to return in the first week of July. The idea was to meet Aqualma in New Zealand so I could have a change of scene and what better way than to view New Zealand from the perspective of someone who lives there, albeit for the year. It would seem such a waste of an opportunity if I didn't visit. We could then return to England together.

For a few months I could not reach Aqualma by email because she was working in Pitcairn Island and it was difficult to get Internet access. When she returned to New Zealand close to the month of my departure, I e-mailed her to find out what her address was and to give her the details of my flight. She sent an urgent e-mail saying her return date in London was before my departure date. I did not know what to do. My ticket was not transferable and non-refundable. We decided to talk about it on her return.

When she arrived in England, she asked me to choose between staying with any of the two good friends she had made. Both were English , one had been her boss out there and had been there a year while the other Sylvia, had had been out there for 30 years. She warned that Sylvia had children, grandchildren, a cat and a dog.So it may not be much of a holiday. Sylvia sounded very much like somebody I wouldn't mind spending some time with. Someone that has children and pets is more likely to be tolerant and accommodating.

We spoke to Sylvia on the phone and it was all arranged. She asked me to tell her some identifying features and I said I was tall, five foot nine, blonde with blue eyes, carrying two red suitcases. Don't ask me why I said that. It was just a prank. In reality I am five foot three, mixed race with brown hair and lovely brown eyes.

When the day came, I arrived in Auckland, north of New Zealand after a 24 hour flight on Air New Zealand. We had had a two-hour stopover in LAX airport in Los Angeles, where I got an opportunity to hug my son who lives in LA, in the airport lounge. That was so exciting because I hadn't seen him for a year.

When I was in secondary school I had to choose between history and geography. I was fascinated by history but equally wanted to know a lot about geography but I made the choice - history. Years later I really wish I had been allowed to attend the geography lessons as well. I think I have more than caught up with those lessons. Upon arriving at the airport, having left London Heathrow on the 24th of June and following a 24 hour flight, I knew we had crossed time zones. As LA is eight hours behind, I knew that New Zealand was about 12 hours ahead but I expected the date of my arrival to be the 25th so I wrote that on all my forms. Was I really dumbfounded when I was told it was the 26th of June? Where did the 25th of June go? Well that was one interactive geography lesson.

My next geography lesson, was to do with the weather. I do not know where my head was but I never realised that it was in the middle of winter in NZ. I had only brought a little cardigan in case it rained. With those geography lessons in place, I called home to tell my adopted son, Vladi, to stick a coloured drawing pin firmly on New Zealand on the world map in the study. I had pins stuck on indicating all the countries I had travelled to. With these experiences so far in NZ, I had earned the pin.

At the airport, Sylvia came up to me and said, ‘Are you five foot nine with blonde hair and blue eyes?’ To which I responded in the affirmative, thinking this woman must think I am a nutter. Either that or she has a fantastic sense of humour. We went home to their place which was a lovely three-bedroom bungalow. Once seated with a cup of tea in my hands they began the two-hour grill. How do you come to know Aqualma? What do you do for a living? Do you have any family? Whereabouts in England do you live? And so on. I didn't mind because you cannot be too careful these days. As the grilling began their cat jumped on my lap. Now I am alright with mine, not so much with other people's. Of course, I stroked it with trepidation. After 20 minutes or so it jumped off my lap then the dog jumped on. Was this a test? I wondered. Had I passed the vote of confidence from the pets?

After the grilling, I gave them the gifts I had bought them. You should never go to visit anyone without taking a gift. It does not have to be very expensive but it does go a long way. Sylvia took me into the kitchen and introduced me to the cupboards and pantry. She told me to help myself to anything I needed and not be a stranger. I was so surprised. There is only one other person I know who would leave their kitchen open to anyone and that is me. Most women are very protective of the kitchen- a bit of a territorial instinct. Then I found out that the reason for the grilling was because they had to go out for the day to help their daughter who was moving house and they would be leaving a perfect stranger in their home. They said they would return at dusk and asked what I would be doing. I said I needed to catch up with my sleep. With that, they left.

I had my nap or as is always the case, in an unfamiliar bed, I woke up several times. On one of those occasions, when I woke up wondering where I was, I saw two triangles moving simultaneously around the edge of bed. I bravely raised my head very slowly only to find out that the dog had come to my room. I had to laugh at myself. After the rest, I decided to make myself something to eat. I also prepared a very nice dinner for Sylvia and her husband, John. When they returned Sylvia was wet after a fall and I just sensed that the last thing they wanted was a stranger in their house. She was pleasantly surprised and relieved. The smell of fresh cooking was welcoming and I think she was relieved she didn't have to attend to me. She had a shower after which she tucked into the meal. Later that evening, she phoned her sister to tell her how she's got this stranger in the house cooking for her keep.

For the twelve days I spent with Sylvia and John, we chatted a lot. Although they were at least fifteen years older than me, we got on quite well. One day Sylvia was telling me about a situation in her family that was upsetting to her. I commented that she sounded like a Scorpio. She said, ‘Oh no I’m not, I'm actually a Piscean.’ I said, ‘are you really? So am I!’ I asked what date her birthday was and it turned out to be the same day as mine. She asked me what time I was born, it turned out to be the same time as hers. She brought out her birth certificate and I brought out my passport. We could not believe it! With the exception of the 15 year gap, she was practically my twin. No wonder she introduced me to the kitchen in the way she did. Everything about this woman reminded me of myself or how I would love to be in the future. She ran a prayer meeting in her house which I now do. I have since got a dog and cat.

Although I did not see as much of New Zealand as others would have, being with this couple supported me enormously with dealing with my depression. It made me put things in perspective. She took me to see the buried village in Rotorua. That is a must see. I saw geo-thermal pools, a colourful lake side by side with a lagoon or so. I fell in love with the fauna and flora particularly the fern trees (you heard right- I believe they are called Dickson Antartica) which I could not get enough of. I eventually went to the garden centre on my return to get one to put in my garden. Now every time I look at it, I remember my trip to NZ. I saw the blue lights in the burial places of the Maori. I saw the beautifully carved doorways and Maori houses that are historical rest stops when they have been on a long journey, I even visited the nursery and school she worked in nearby to see if I could get ideas for ours. To think that this was NZ in the winter made me wish I’d come in the summer. What did I give Sylvia’s grandchildren? Sudoku books- I had just taught myself on the 24hour flight (to kill time) so I bought the books and taught the children how to do them and introduced them to a website for free Sudoku games.

From that day, once our birthdays arrive, (the day dawns in NZ before England) she phones me 12 hours before to wish me a happy birthday. I know we were destined to meet. If I do not go bungy jumping as she did when she turned sixty, I know I have been blessed to have had a chance to meet my kindred spirit and had those beautiful memories down under.


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