The Early Days
Now, when we shifted to New Zealand, we arrived with suitcases, each weighing 40 kilograms. Not sure if it’s still the case, but back then, if you were immigrating, your luggage allowance was doubled. Of our possessions that we thought were worth salvaging, these fitted into a one cubic metre space of a container.
When we arrived, my husband’s new boss met us at the airport (waited for three hours, it turns out after our plane was delayed) and took us to a motel that he had booked for us. We arrived in October 1995 and it was raining but it would take more than a bit of rain to dampen our excitement.
After sizing up New Zealand on the kids’ atlas, it surprised me that the drive from the airport to our motel took half an hour. I wasn’t prepared for how spread out Auckland is. We arrived at the cutest motel unit ever, in East Auckland suburb of Bucklands Beach. Unbeknown to us my husband’s boss had made this booking for us, but at $120 a night, we knew we’d have to find accommodation quickly. While that doesn’t sound like a lot of money now, in 1995 Darryl (my husband) was only earning $16.50 an hour so on a weekly wage of $660 before tax, you start to get the idea!
What we found really humbling was the help we got from people we didn’t even know. It felt like we were part of some underground movement – the call went out for help and it started arriving. We needed a house to rent; no worries, a call went out to Mike, an ex-pat real estate agent. Within a couple of days, we were moving into a rental house in Howick, affectionately names Chowick-fontein because of the numbers of Asian and South African migrants settling there.
With the accommodation sorted, we had nothing to put into the house, I mean not even a pot or pan, no beds, no linen – nothing! Remember, we had our suitcases and a cubic metre in a container that was still on its way. The thing is, we had organised to go into furnished accommodation, but Darryl’s boss decided before we arrived, that it was too far away from his office, so he cancelled that and moved us to East Auckland instead. He and his wife , both ex-pats, were very well connected so on our behalf, they put the call out to their network and we suddenly found ourselves with everything that we needed. It was so good being able to return all the borrowed items as we started to buy our own.
What took a lot longer than expected, was making a new circle of friends. We found that Kiwis don’t let you in that easily. They are really friendly, lovely people, and are happy to accept your hospitality, but just never think to reciprocate. We’d been told about a South African club called SANZ and we went along to one of their braais, but decided that joining the club wasn’t for us. We didn’t want to be a when-we; we wanted to integrate as soon as possible and embrace the Kiwi culture, while still celebrating our own.
Finding a school for our boys wasn’t difficult as there seems to be one on every corner. So we made an appointment at the local Howick Primary School and agreed with the headmaster what grade they would be slotted into.
So the other thing about moving half-way across the globe is that it got really lonely. Hubby had a job to go to which was wonderful, kids had school to attend, which left me, at home.
We only had one car which Darryl used to go to and from work and even if I did have transport, where would I go? I’m not the kind of person who can drive around without purpose and especially if I didn’t know where I was going. Maps were of some use, but all immigrants spoke about how badly the roads were signed and how we were never quite sure if the road we were on was the one we were meant to be on, according to the map. How sweet a GPS would have been. We were only a short walk from the Howick village and I made sure to visit at least twice a week. The walk into the village has a breath-taking view at the top of the hill and in a city crammed full of stunning vistas, it’s still one of my favourites.
There was an occasion when I was on my way back home from a trip into the village and I saw two neighbours talking over the fence. The memory of the sadness I felt has stayed with me all these years; I felt sad because I wondered how long it would be before we bumped into somebody we knew. It was a reminder that we were all alone in New Zealand. It felt a bit like we had just been teleported onto the planet, like the Solomon family (remember the sitcom, Third Rock From the Sun). Not only that, but we had to establish ourselves from scratch; things like credit history, work history and personal credibility. None of the achievements of our past seemed to matter because nobody was interested in what we did in South Arica; we had to prove ourselves all over again.
In my next blog, I’ll tell you how it was possible for us to furnish our home and why at times, buying things on HP in New Zealand is better than using cash. I’ll also explain about the schooling over here.