Over the past few weeks I’ve managed to settle into a comfortable routine at my new temporary home. Here’s a quick introduction to the cast and context of my daily life:
Rob and Margot S. are my hosts, bosses, and adopted family here in Gisborne. Marg (52) and Rob (57) grew up within minutes of each other, but didn’t meet until their early 20’s. Rob – a small, wiry man with deeply-tanned skin and an affinity for polo, horse racing, and Gisborne Gold, the local brew – grew up on a farm (what Americans call a ranch) just a few doors down from where he lives now. His brother still lives in their family home and works as a farm accountant. Marg, a small powerhouse of a woman with close-cropped hair, square-rimmed glasses, and a sharp wit, grew up in a village just 30 minutes down the road. Her 6 siblings (5 sisters, 1 brother) are all still living in New Zealand, many of them nearby. Rob and and Marg met at one of her sister’s weddings, married, and bought their own 650-acre farm in Gisborne soon after, where they raise sheep and cattle along with an assortment of ducks, chooks, cats, dogs, and even an occassional pig. Rob tends to the stock while Marg has her own business exporting sweet pea seeds to the UK. They have three daughters, two of whom are living in Gisborne with their husbands and families and the other who’s studying across the ditch in Melbourne. They are probably some of the most generous people I have ever met.
Rob and Marg are also hosting a young American couple who came to stay just a couple of days after I arrived. Corey and DJ, 20 and 21, met in high school in Tucson, Arizona, then moved together to Tacoma, Washington where they lived while Corey completed a year of college. Looking for something more than what Corey describes as “just a more expensive year of high school,” they decided to move to New Zealand together instead. Before they came to Marg and Rob’s they had already spent a month in Auckland (where they were for the World Cup Final, lucky ducks!), then traveled to Gisborne via Waiheke Island in the station wagon they’d bought during their first few days in the country. They’re a friendly, laid-back couple with an easy-going manner and an interest in just about everything. They quickly won Marg and Rob over with their love of classic rock, Gisborne Gold, and each other, and they seem to have older souls than their 20 years would suggest. If I can have a relationship as wonderful as theirs after 3 years together, I’ll be a happy girl!
During a regular week in Gisborne most of my time is spent working in the pea fields with Marg, Corey, and DJ. Assisting us in this noble endeavor have been Karen, Marg’s close friend and coworker for over a decade, and Violetta and Daniel, a young couple from Germany. Karen – stout, jovial, and deeply-tanned – has had an extremely rare form of cancer for 15 years, and still works harder and longer than any of us (on one recent occasion she had an operation, came to work the next day, tore her stitches, got them re-sewn, and then came back to work the next day!). Her humor and determination to “use her top two inches” (“No brain, no pain!”) have kept her going through a lot of hardship, and they certainly keep the rest of us going too. Violetta (19) and Daniel (22) hail from the small town of Bad Bentheim, Germany, where they dated for three years before they too decided to travel New Zealand. Vio, who recently graduated from high school and speaks five languages (German, English, Dutch, French, and Russian) loves to correct Daniel on his grammar, while Daniel loves nothing more than to make her wait while he spends hours on end fishing whenever he sees the ocean (which is almost always). They’re also traveling the entire country in a van, which usually functions as their beach-side hotel room. Living in such close quarters may be a test of their willpower and endurance, but more power to them for making it work so far!
Most days in Gisborne see me rising at 4:45AM to make myself a cup of peppermint tea and two poached eggs fresh from the chooks while the stars fade. We leave at 5:30 to make the 30-minute drive to work, and DJ drives with Corey riding shotgun while the sun rises in front of us. In the fields we tackle one row of peas a day, each consisting of 50 sections/bays. We travel down the line, one of us one each side of the fence, first hoeing the weeds from the outside then going back and weeding around the peas by hand. (Marg sprays the weeds between the rows, but can’t spray closer than that for fear of killing the peas, too!). We sit on burlap sacks stuffed with pillows, and alternate between listening to our iPods and talking with each other about topics ranging from German curse words to American politics. Each row takes five of us seven hours to complete, and we usually leave hot and dirty by 1:00 in the afternoon.
My afternoons are usually taken up by the occasional dip in the pool, exorbitant amounts of peppermint tea, and long hikes in the hills with Zugar. She runs beside me the entire way, and when I send cows and sheep stampeding down the hills ahead of me it always makes me feel a little better that at least one animal isn’t afraid of me. If walking doesn’t happen – which, lately, has been more often than not – I usually take advantage of my Kindle (and Marg’s library!) and spend the afternoon reading, which would explain why I’ve finished 10 books in three weeks! (If you need any suggestions, The Hunger Games, Ender’s Game, The Lemon Tree, The Brain That Changes Itself, and The Emperor of Scent are great reads! The Five People You Meet In Heaven and Twilight, however, maybe not…) In the evenings we all gather in the kitchen/living room to drink beer (minus Marg, who doesn’t drink), listen to music (Pink Floyd, Neil Young, The Feelers, and The Phoenix Foundation), and watch the news. Rob usually grills a huge dinner of steaks, sausages, and chicken (he’s really excited to have people in the house who aren’t vegetarians like Marg!), and I always leave the table over-stuffed after feeling too rude to deny the second and third helpings that are inevitably offered to me. “Pudding” (dessert) usually takes the form of ice cream with passionfruit topping (one of Rob’s great joys in life), and after a few more cups of tea we all head to bed, ready to wake up at 4:45 and do it all over again. Gisborne may be making me fat, but at least it’s making me happy!