Monday, July 18, 2011

Working On an Active Volcano

“Welcome to Mount Ruapehu!” speaker after speaker shouted at my Ruapehu Alpine Lifts staff induction. Since tourism in New Zealand all but disappears after the summer months (December-February), the only seasonal jobs available are jobs working at the ski fields in Queenstown and Canterbury on the South Island or at Mount Ruapehu in Tongariro National Park on the North Island.

I was happy to land a job at Mt. Ruapehu, so I could stay in New Zealand for a few extra months, especially when so many backpackers told me how competitive these jobs were. Backpackers work all over the country in the summer, but in winter, there are only three towns that employ new workers. I was one of the few that would be able to earn money here over the winter.

But when I arrived on the mountain, my staff training session included safety hazard preparation and taught me the language of volcanic eruptions: lahars, ash clouds, flying rocks, avalanches.

I quickly learned that Mt. Ruapehu’s last eruption was 2007, and that it usually erupted once every five years. “So we’ll be working and snowboarding on an active volcano?” I exclaimed to Abe. “Well, yeah, most mountains we ski on are volcanoes,” he said nonchalantly. But not volcanoes that erupted in 2007.

I talked to a few people in town about my fears; most people in New Zealand are used to talking about natural disasters as a possible occurrence especially with the recent Christchurch earthquakes fresh in their minds. Both the induction presentations and the townspeople assured me that alarm systems were in place, so that in the event of a disaster, we would be forewarned.

I shared with one of my co-workers, Chelsea, what I had learned about the alarm systems. “Besides the monitoring of seismic activity, safety personnel measure the temperature of the crater lake at the top of the mountain. Every time an eruption is imminent, the temperature rises in the lake, so they can warn us.” Chelsea worked on Mt. Ruapehu last season too, so she had heard these explanations before. “Yeah, but the temperature began rising a few months ago, so some people are worried.” Ok, now I was one of those people.

The last speaker at my staff induction was a Maori community leader. He wanted to teach the foreign staff about the history of the land where we were working and how to pronounce the Maori names we would talk about with customers. The Turoa (Too-row-a) ski field was located on Mt. Ruapehu (Roo-a-pay-hoo), and the town where we lived at the base was called Ohakune (Oh-ha-koo-nay). But more importantly, he wanted to teach us why Mt. Ruapehu is sacred to Maoris and lauded as a World Heritage Site for its natural and historical significance.

He told us that Maoris use myths as metaphors to explain everything. The myth they use to explain the creation of New Zealand is that a fisherman pulled the land out of the sea. I heard that myth all over New Zealand. But I hadn’t realized that the myth is perpetuated to remind people of the scientific formation of New Zealand, land coming up out of the water from volcanic eruptions and land masses breaking apart and moving around like fish in the sea.

He called the mountain koroua, or grandfather in Maori, and he spoke about how throughout history, many groups of people feel great wonder around mountains. The mountain’s presence is breath-taking, and the land surrounding the mountain is fertilized by the mineral-rich volcanic eruptions that flowed through the valleys for hundreds of years. We live beside koroua, and we respect him. Grandfather is much older than any of us, and he will be around for much longer.

I don’t know why, but this settled my mind. Rationally, I should still be afraid to live so close to a volcano. But after listening to the Maori leader’s presentation, I feel at peace. Maoris call the mountain koroua to show respect and to pass down the myths explaining the truths of living in our world. We are small individuals living on a vast planet we do not always understand. But the more we learn, the more we can try to prepare ourselves and appreciate the wonder of every process in the natural world. And maybe that’s all of the comfort people need to live here.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Recipe Edition: My Favorite Breakfast of All Time

I ate my favourite breakfast of all time in Christchurch. And that is saying quite a bit because I am a loyal pancake girl and this meal was not pancakes. Additionally as a vegetarian, I cannot eat a majority of the breakfast options on most menus. When I was a meat-eater I could choose any one of the options with bacon stacked high, but now I often feel limited for my favourite meal. Vegetarians want a hearty breakfast too! And I got it at the Beat Street Café on the corner of Barbados and Armaugh.

My best guess at how they made it is as follows.

Stuff you need:
2 pieces German dark bread (incidentally my favourite bread!)
1 soft boiled or poached egg
A handful of shiitake mushrooms
1 tomato
½ zucchini (or aubergine?)
¼ white onion
½ avocado
Hollandaise sauce
Cooking oil

What you do:
Slice the onion and put in frying pan with cooking oil. Cook for only a few minutes before adding mushrooms, tomato, and zucchini. Boil or poach the egg in a pot. Toast that German dark bread. Slice the avocado into thin pieces. Throw that toast on a plate, and pile your pan-fried vegetables around it. Slice the egg on top of the toast, and pile the Hollandaise sauce on top. Place the avocado slices into a cute design on top of the sauce, and enjoy your breakfast feast. I dare you to find a breakfast better than this. Meat or no meat!

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Distance Makes the Patriotism Grow Stronger

When I left the United States, I thought six months was a long time. Now that I am in New Zealand, it is not nearly enough.

I have been here now for five months, and I have worked three jobs on two islands, hiked dozens of tracks and seen lakes, oceans, and mountains that would overwhelm the most unemotional of people. But I need to stay longer.

Yes, there are places I have not seen yet in this country, but the reason I want to stay is more about myself. People often talk about how much they learn when they travel to a foreign country, and when you live in one learning is unavoidable. When I was in college, I studied for six months in South Africa and felt like I had left a separate lifetime by the time I went home to the United States.

But in coming to New Zealand, I have had more freedom. I came here unemployed, with a tiny amount of savings, with no friends and my only knowledge of the country was what I got from a small guidebook. For me, arriving here was terrifying. I needed to find everything from scratch: a place to live, transportation, food, job, friends, entertainment.

Over the past few months, with every new thing I built, my confidence grew. I got a job. I moved into a room. I made casual friends. I made more long-lasting friendships too. After two months of working and saving money, I cut my newly-constructed safety net again. I quit my job and drove to a new city, and another, and another, soaking in the differentness of each place I visited. And with each bout of travelling and each new home I made, I made different mistakes and learned how to avoid them in the future.

When I first came to New Zealand, I was afraid to talk to people from different countries, worrying about what we could have in common. In my first job, when I met my Kiwi co-workers, I felt a little insecure. My co-worker, Luke, smoked cigarettes and talked about the Bob Dylan concert he was going to in a few weeks. Bree and Sonya wore chic leather jackets and dark sunglasses. I thought to myself how they all seemed so cool and confident.

Listening to their foreign accents and interests, I wished I was a Kiwi. I spent a few weeks listening to everything they said, and when I did speak it was to compliment their accents or their clothes or what they thought. And then one day it hit me: Bob Dylan is American. Many of the things my co-workers liked were from America, and I felt proud. Proud that my country produced things that reach all the way around to the edge of the world. Proud to be American myself.

One of my friends from high school, Ryan, told me once that I should stop thinking so much and just treat people as people. The same as me. I did not hear him clearly at the time, but in New Zealand I was forced to makes friends and meet new people every day. After talking to people from at least 30 different countries all traveling or living in New Zealand, I understand the truth in what Ryan said. There are generalizations about people from every country, and there are always dozens of people that will tell you what they think about a race of people whether you ask or not.

But after meeting people from all over the world and talking to them individually, all I see is their humanness. Every person I meet seems very different at first until I talk to them a few times, and I realize how many similarities they have to me. Their longing for adventure and new things or their hope for a future with a well-paying job they enjoy, a partner, a family, and possibly even more traveling.

And after five months in New Zealand, I can finally say I understand that and am confident that I could make friends in any country. Even if I only knew parts of their language. And having that knowledge and that ease of mind, makes further travel more exciting.

I still miss my home in the United States. I miss it very much. And the longer I am away, the more I love the United States for things as little as having at least 60 different choices of breakfast cereal and cheap t-shirts and for bigger things like the dozens of large, prosperous cities that offer opportunities. But if I had not left America to work in another country, I would not love the U.S. to the degree to which I love it now. When I meet new people and they ask me what the U.S. is like, I tell them they need to go.