How to Avoid Pickpockets and Other Stories

A small brown face rounded the length of booths that separated the sellers from the buyers. Her eyes were deep and her face devoid of expression. Nothing moved beyond the reaches of her mouth as questions and short answers were pushed at me, neither begging nor demanding, but landing solidly between the two.

I had purchased a plate of papaya from the woman she was with. Five Fijian dollars for five of the sweet ripe fruit. I had noticed the girl watching where I pulled the equivalent of $2.50 in American currency from my bag. Her gaze had grabbed for the few fives I had kept in that pocket.

At her second appearance, I swung my small backpack to the front of me. She’s going to try to pickpocket me. Maybe she won’t, but my traveling mama Heather taught me too well to think otherwise.

I purchased a mango from an Indian man, languishing in conversation behind piles of sticky fruit. He passed the plastic bag and a dollar coin into my hand.

I turned and gave it to the girl. Maybe she wasn’t going to steal. Maybe I could give something small. I wasn’t afraid of her. It was worth a shot.

I asked if she knew of good pineapple. Without an apparent thought, she pointed to the stall directly beside her. It’s likely she didn’t care. Maybe helping the stupid foreigner would get her a few more dollars.

(The pineapple did end up being good.)

“Do you need anything else?”

Nope. Thank you for your help. See ya!

I made my way to the bus stop. After two hours in a foreign city, encountering friendly temporary guides who got me where I needed to go, a creepy old woman leering into my face about hotel activity expenses, flirtatious men, beautiful and bored Indian women, a small boy playing peekaboo with me among the dress racks, and a swindling restaurant manager, I was ready to just go back to the hostel. Perhaps it wasn’t very brave of me. Perhaps I could have kept on and continued collecting stories.

But God I was tired of the internal alert I had set to make sure I was okay.

The heat I loved was licking energy from my body. An apt description would be to say the South Island had frozen me and now Fiji was using me for popsicle. I was dripping enough. No matter how much I was happy to sweat instead of shiver, I could not deny the drain it has initially.

I tried to stride with purpose past groups of men who I knew meant me no harm but instinct devoloped in California streets kept me moving forward intently. I could not count the number of “Bulas” called over my shoulder with a smile that did not mean I would chat.

“Wailoaloa Beach/New Town” read the piece of wood dangling over about 18 inches of sidewalk. I didn’t heave a sigh of relief, but I did look over my shoulder to see if the girl had followed me. If she did, my bag was staying firmly in my arms.

I didn’t see her and my flip-flops slapped against uneven concrete to the bus stop.

A stony face appeared again at my side.

Okay. Well. “What’s your name?”

“Patricia.”

“Pretty name.”

Nod.

And then she asked if I had any more money.

I fished $3.50 out of my otherwise empty pocket.

She asked if I had more. If I had my card with me. What my name was. My parents’ names. More cash. Am I staying with a Fijian or Indian family. Stand closer to her. Am I coming into Nadi tomorrow. She needs a helper for something. Am I sure I don’t have anymore money.

I don’t condone dishonesty. But my parents’ names are not Em and Allen. I am not leaving Fiji 3 days ago. My money is never left at a hostel without me.

I don’t care what I looked like with my bag sagging into an artificial beer belly and my hand on my ass holding my phone, I climbed onto that purple bus with all of my belongings and a small thank you to the woman who took me across the world throughout high school.

Patricia, if that was her name, has a story I don’t know. I don’t blame her for anything. After all, she technically didn’t do a single thing wrong. I gave what I felt I could without jeopardising much more than a few dollars.

No matter where I go, each new shift wrecks me from the inside out. I churn with the uncertainty of a different country, my safety, and the creation of another home. Do other backpackers and travelers feel like this?

Maybe it’s just me wrestling with a significance I assign to another country. Or it’s everyone. I’m not sure.

For now I’m on an island, removed from all but the occasional ego of an Israeli and the enthusiastic greetings of comforting staff.

I’m liking one of my new nicknames though. “Locke and Load.”

Bula, Bro.

Pingponged Intensity

A pigeon ran into my leg today.

And I have accumulated 3 good bus stories since my arrival in Wellington.

1. If you and another teen sprint past a bus through the outskirts of the capital while looking amused and panicked at the prospect of walking 45 minutes, the bus driver will wait a split second longer for you as you come puffing up to the next stop.

2. If a look of extreme panic passes over your companion’s face when she sees a bus coming and you can’t make it to the next stop, the driver will stop for you just before he is supposed to, (provided you are the only people about to be on the service).

3. “You know this bus doesn’t depart for another 10 minutes right?” Yes. But it’s warmer in here than out there. “Fair enough.” The following conversation was genuine, kind, and was a good solidifying reminder to talk to bus drivers. There is a high chance they are bored out of their minds.

I also developed a way to deal with my body’s fear of turbulence on my way from Queenstown to Wellington. Close my eyes, breath deeply, listen to Eminem. (Worked better than anything else I’ve tried so far.)

The city is a good place to think. Most people seem to be preoccupied by this activity, or at least the act of trying not to do it, here in concrete worshipping centers of population. It is also a good place to nurse depression into a worse state of being. No wonder everyone is so damned pessimistic about everything. My most cynical theories develop in direct correlation to how many people I’m around apparently.

But at the same time. I love it. I love how many stories there are. How much potential for creativity and niches. How I am reminded of my futility and possibilities. How I am no different from anyone else.

No matter what my ego tries to whisper in my ear.

I also happily pingponged my way through the museum today. The interactive bits are the best. (Like when they let you play with shadows.) OR when they dedicated a giant space to playing with colored light. If I don’t balance ridiculous amounts of cynicism with ridiculous amounts of happiness, I shall be crushed.

Sometimes I wonder if there are less intense ways to live. Probably. But they usually sound much less fun.

Borax Mines

Four deep, rich eyes filled with curiosity watched me as I answered their questions one by one.

“Is there Borax in America?”

“What kind of cars are in California?”

“Can you send me pictures of the big cities?”

“What sort of music do you listen to?”

“How do you solve a Rubiks cube?”

“Why do you have to leave?”

I’m rarely at a loss for words. And I definitely wasn’t here, but at the same time, it gave me pause.

Why do I have to leave? If I really wanted to, I could have stayed.

And then I remembered, I don’t want to stay.

I’m not good at hiding. Or being quiet. Or subtlety. I hate feeling stuck. I am constantly aiming to expand the places I feel at home so I have more places to return to. I’m addicted to thinking and consequently I always see the possibilities beyond my current place.

With each home my roots grow, and the rest of me shudders with the anticipation of my next move.

Yes there is Borax in America. I’m pretty sure the mines are near where I live.

I think there are more kinds of cars in California than here.

Of course I can send pictures.

Not the kind of music you know well.

You memorize steps and practice.

Because I was not created to simply stay.

.

.

.

And because I’m getting emails from the New Zealand Department of Immigration saying I have to leave…

Something that Prisoners Do

“Why are you digging ditches? Isn’t that something that prisoners do?”

Sure. But I get to be outside, use my body, and I’m not cleaning toilets. Your point?

The last thing anyone between the ages of ten and twenty-five wants to hear is “It builds character.” Whatever you are trying to get us to do or endure, we know it builds character and we know it’s good for us. It just feels like you’re giving us a condescending pat on the head and a “life gets better, sort of and we know what we are doing, sort of.”

That being said, you are right most of the time. If there is something that more of the Western world needs to have experience in, it is physical labor.

When I first arrived in Wanaka, I answered an ad for a job for yard work and wood stacking. I sent a text and before I knew it, I was scheduled to arrive at a suburban address the next day. Slightly nervous and ready to fight anyone who told me I couldn’t work in the dirt, I knocked on the door.

“Hi! Nice to meet you…I thought he got a boy.”

Knew it.

“My name is a bit gender neutral.”

“Well it’s quite heavy digging. Do you think you can handle it?”

A flicker of uncertainty sent my thoughts to the bulging disc in my lower spine and my occasional limp. “Yes. I do.”

Sure enough she brought me outside and explained the job. I was to dig a trench around the back, side, and part of the front of the house in order to install insulation. It needed to be well over a foot deep in some cases and about six inches wide at least. Stubborn and determined to prove myself a hard worker, I attacked it.

Seven hours later and covered in dirt and sweat, I climbed into my friend’s car with a request to return the next day.

My employers wanted to keep me around. I dislocated my knee cap and they asked if I could be back at work four days later. Upon my return I was told “Under no circumstances are you to push your knee too hard.” They fed me lunch, sent me home with loads of organic apples, and recommended me to friends as a reliable laborer. After being gone only a week, I walked up the driveway to warm smiles and genuine hugs. Homes are good places to be.

When you are relatively small and female, there are bound to be stories associated with your penchant for hard labor.

As I was moving dirt one day, two electricians walk around the corner. The first to arrive engaged me in polite and pleasantly surprised conversation. Then the second walked around the corner.

“Who are you?”

“My name is Locke.”

“You don’t look like the sort of person to be digging ditches!”

Mm. Don’t I? Well. “I don’t look like the sort of person who should be doing a lot of the things I do.”

One hour later: “Wow. You’re good at stacking wood.”

The funny part was, I wasn’t at that point. Maybe he was just surprised I could carry armfuls of wood???

Half an hour later: “Bye doll!”

F*ck. You.

That was the only time I spilled a wheelbarrow of logs.

I walked up to my boss. “I don’t really like being called ‘Doll.'”

“Did he call you doll?”

“Yes.”

“I’m sorry. People can be a little backwards down here. I’m sure you noticed.”

There are a lot of reasons why I loved working for them, but I think that response to the condescending sexism is the top reason.

If you are able, I encourage you to work in the dirt. Have your kids do garden labor. Help them see that the world needs those who sweat and haul as much as they need the artists. The fruit pickers, the construction workers, the garden workers, the factory workers, the miners are all doing the things you have the privilege of ignoring.

And to those who have left all they know to find grueling conditions and a culture that does not want them,

Thank you for “stealing” those jobs.

Because we all know the U.S. doesn’t want to do them anyway.

Of Hot Chocolate Evening Proportions

“What if I’m not the main character?” I think it ought to be more understood that we should be the main characters of our story. I think it should also be understood that we are not the main character in anything else. Your life is a hardly a flash in the span of the universe’s grandeur and time and all of our delusions can be easily removed from the cosmic scale with hardly a ripple.

Scary, isn’t it? All that we are is laughable. For if we don’t at least snicker at the comedic value of living, than we are overwhelmed by its tragedy.

I spent a part of yesterday playing mandolin the park, letting my moment be photographed by passing tourists. I ate dinner with two of the most wonderful people I have ever met. I curled into the warmth of knowing I am loved by forces and people far wiser than me.

And today we hiked and drove. I ran from a bird. I swear to god these Keas are scary.

It was a good day.

An Asher Service Announcement

My Dear Asher, I know you’re in the thralls of puberty and just about anything self-esteem building is far outside your conception at the moment, BUT I’m going to do this anyway.

When people ask about my siblings, it is always a personal source of pride to explain who each of my brothers and sister are and what they accomplish.

You are completely unique, Asher. Wit, imagination, sarcasm, eclecticism, intelligence, and creativity ooze from your laughter and conversation. I am always proud to be your big sister, whether you be constructing new worlds or impersonating odd characters. I miss you.

Being around a lot of people trying to be cool has reinforced in my mind that my entire family is seriously freaking cool. I like to keep a note of quotes from my life/I find/other people’s stories. Below are a few of my favorites from Asher. When I’m sad or homesick, I go read them and I’m laughing aloud by the time I’m finished.

I am thankful to have a brother who can manage that even from halfway round the world.

My mom was explaining what reincarnation was and how people can apply it to their lives if they choose. Asher gave her an incredulous look and said “Reincarnation? Next thing you’re gonna come to me and say ‘I think we should start sacrificing goats.'”

It was a legitimate fear of Asher’s that he would not be taller than me because of how much he teased me for being “short.” Some of the best insults I’ve ever heard came from him about my height. For example, I missed a frisbee throw from him, (I swear it was half a meter above my head), and without skipping a beat he hurls this my way too: “You can’t play frisbee with an ant, much less you.”

One day Asher discovered the endless possibilities of spouting nonsense and pretending it’s deep. Resulting in “You never question the gender of a kangaroo, right?” and “Roses *dramatic pause* because they know how to live.”

I’m pretty used to frank observations of my appearance. But they tend to be most amusing when coming from him. “Abiel you look like a pink Snow White.” After my hair faded from bright blue to light blue, I was greeted with “You don’t look like Gatorade anymore. More like a toxic mushroom. Maybe a radioactive whale.” When it was spiky, I got “If the sky and a hedgehog had a baby, that would be you.”

Sometimes his quips were best served with others involved.

Asher: I eat souls.
Friend: Are you the devil?
Asher: No.
Friend: Devil’s son? Apprentice– Asher: Yes.
Friend: Unpaid intern? You’re the apprentice?
Asher: I’m the princess. I’m the devils princess. I had to apply pretty young

Asher: Once I crash I’ll slow down.
Judah: I have a great new braking system. TREES!

Asher: The moon hates the sun as everyone knows.
Friend: The sun ruins a perfectly good night by making it day.

*Asher walks in with a poster copy of the Declaration of Independence* “Is this the Declaration of Independence?”
“Yes.”
“Oh good. I thought I stole the wrong thing.”

Friend: Do I look like I’m selling drugs out of your house?
Asher: I was wondering where those went.

And then come all his random comments, observations, and commentary on how the world works and what he thinks of it…or just his randomness.

“Head over heels doesn’t make any sense. Your head is literally always over your heels. If anything it should be heels over head”

“The Avengers Civil War is like an intense board game and Black Panther is that one guy that takes it way to seriously”

“I would hate to work at a car wash. Like, if I ever come to you and say ‘I’m working at a carwash’ that’s when I’ve reached my lowest point.”

“Oh I’m so happy!—Hey! Jaywalker! Jaywalker! JayRUNNER!…Oh don’t pretend you’re innocent.”

“Sometimes I’m really happy with society…most of the time I’m not.”

“I don’t fight as much as you. But I like to think I’m better at it.”

“I’m not saying you’re wrong, but I’m saying I’m right”

“I think pi is infinity’s offspring”

“Don’t be ashamed of being ugly. You’ll never be killed and put on a plaque.”

“Milk and juice?! That’s my favorite band!

“I’m uno-dexterous.”

“My daddy only had red hair on Fridays.”

“I know why hearts are considered the emotional part. Because hearts pump blood and when you fall in love, you bleed. And you DIE.”

“I’m not saying you’re gonna die. Torture is also an option.”

“I can laugh and be miserable. It’s called multitasking.”

They don’t always make sense. And I don’t think they are supposed to. He’s just living and observing and talking until we are left wondering how a human could be as creative and witty as this. I look forward to the day we travel together.

Happy Birthday! Welcome to teenhood. It’s awesome.

“Whoa whoa whoa what the hell”

…Or we could just shriek about it

“Wow. Your bag is heavy.”
“Don’t hitchhike. It’s dangerous.”
“You’re awfully young. You have to be careful about traveling alone.”
“You’re so brave.”
“That’s awfully scary.”
“Here are alllll the bad things that may happen to you.” (Paraphrase)

If the above things haven’t been said or shoved down my throat, they have been heavily insinuated. Negative statements have been a very small portion of what I have heard about my trip. Positive feedback has been overwhelming.

But negative or doubtful feedback has been present. While I have done my best not to let it affect me, what comes to mind is: Why?

I heard over and over about the scary things that could befall me by traveling alone. A whole f*cking lot actually. I had fears from childhood, stories of far off dangers, headlines from my hometown, and rumors of countries never visited by the people who chose to share the horrors of such places with me.

When I wasn’t rolling my eyes or highly amused, this thought came to mind, (well, it came to mind all the time, I just tried to laugh it off):

Do you not know I’m afraid?

When you stand there and tell me all the reasons why this is a bad idea, what am I supposed to say? What am I supposed to do?

I am afraid.

In fact, there were a SHIT ton of moments where I was just straight up terrified.

And guess what? My smile was fake as I reassured you that “yeah. I’ll be careful. New Zealand is safe. I know what I’m doing. I have friends there. Other people do this too.”

What I really wanted to say was “please just F off.” I know you meant well. I truly do. I see your side. I heard your fears. I was bathed in them. Fears of growing old. Fears of missing life. Fears of the world. Fears of the unknown. Fears of the known. FEAR.

I know this entity. We’re buddies actually. He comes and chills on my shoulder, I say “what’s up?” He shrieks “THE WORLD WILL BURN.” I try to casually respond “ah yup. I’ve known that since Trump got elected.” He nods and keeps quiet for a bit. Until something new shows up and he starts his hysterics once again.

I was afraid as I prepared for my five day track.

I was afraid as I bought my plane ticket.

I was afraid as I waited for the day to arrive.

I was afraid on my first and second and third hitchhike.

I was afraid of going to the bank and setting up my phone.

I know the world is scary. America is one of the scariest places I’ve been. (Fear interjects with “ITS ALL TERRIFYING!”)

Because yeah. Uh. It kind of is. There are humans out there. I know that. I’ve cried about it. I sobbed and fretted over my heavy bag, my lack of experience, and my age. I wondered if I would be picked up by psychos and listened as intimidating looking men said they are too scared to hitch.

I sat at a table with my head in my arms asking my mom why people would tell me these things. “Are they trying to make me not do it?”

The thing is. I don’t know. Maybe you are simply trying to tell yourself the things you wish you heard. Reassure your own little fear sitting on your shoulder.

He’s not going anywhere. So please don’t send him attacking mine.

He’s got his hands full with the concerns of a wee 18 year old doing plenty of crazy shit.

So next time you are tempted to inform someone of no useful info and only how scared YOU are to go do something, please just say “I’m proud of you for facing your fear. Use common sense and you will be just fine.”

Or you know. Give them a hug. We could use that too.

The Felt Room

People have attempted to explain feelings for centuries, probably millennia. Poets can manage. Singers can come closer. But I believe it is the dancers who express it best.

Creeping cautiously into the darkness of a shipping container, I was unsure of what this performance was meant to be. All I knew of it was I had met the man who made the sound.

I’m not sure knowing more could have prepared me for the richness of these three hours.

Legs delicately crossed, I could feel my body responding to the brief moments already spent in the space. My eyes strained to adjust to the lack of lighting and I could hear the shuddering heavy breaths of the women as they shook and pulled their beings across the room. Spectators entered and left. Some only able to experience it for a brief moment, uninterested in seeing or unable to grasp the weight of what was being performed.

I did not know how long I would stay, but I believe it was solidified that I would be present for all of it when a young girl came in with her mother, (she could not have been older than three). She quietly watched the women move, cautiously allowing herself to be in the charged place and gently reaching out to brush a body of the quivering art.

It is an improvised piece. Cues and tasks are given and completed but ultimately the three hours are a creation of feelings and interaction with those brave enough to be in the middle of it.

Colors slowly lit up the room revealing five dancers fully immersed in each moment. Feeling each moment. Dressed in white, their garments hung from their limbs in a casual tattered manner which screamed of deliberation. To explain their movements would be simply incorrect. I cannot say they shoved themselves across the floor without touching on the mindful destructions of personal space bubbles. I will not talk of how they took our hands and invited them to dance without desperately trying to help you understand the erasure of boundaries within the art world.

The air hung heavy with the weight of sweat, discomfort, perfect understanding, deep emotion, and intense temperature. Those of us willing to stay longer than five minutes felt ourselves invited into the piece. We stretched our bodies along the wall, eyes slowly following the dancers, breaking only for those who entered with the intention of being the new center.

The metamorphosis of the pile of white clothing punctuated the passing time. Beginning in one corner, it morphed and grew around the women. It scattered across the room, draped itself over us, hemmed us in, became our pillows, and connected us. The emotional and timeless hours drew to a close as each individual found themselves joining the dancers in their task of turning the pile into a web spanning from wall to wall. Methodically and yet without conscious goals, we passed shirts onto others and lengthened the strands until we ducked and wove in and out of our own piece of art.

One by one, we left.

It was the one space I have been where my mind simply decided this was all there was. It played with the idea that there was nothing beyond the room. Outside that curtain there was nothing. No beings. No ideas or systems. No other way of life. No world.

Just:

The Felt Room.

The First Local

“Thank you for being you.”

I have been told time and time again that crying in public is no shameful thing. Yet even with that in mind, I held back my slow tears until I walked out the door.

Saying goodbye is one thing. Leaving home is another. And melancholy is an adjective I have decided to apply to my travels, right alongside humorous.

I leave National Park the day after tomorrow, but with a different sort of feeling than the first time. Like before, I know I will be back. Like before, I am moving on to other homes and more beautiful people. Unlike before, I feel a closure on what was one hell of a wonderful season.

I wish I could introduce you to the humans who chose to come close to my curious soul. All of them deserve far more recognition than I am able to give.

How do I show you what I learned from the fireman who let me listen for hours and ask questions for what was perhaps even longer? Stories and information and ideas all but burst from his eyes as my boundless energy soaked all of it in. “You have time. I’ll see you again.”

Can I bring you to the moments I was reassured into peace by one of the hardest workers I know? I would watch the cigarette smoke spill from her mouth as she told me it would be okay. She will always be there for me, if only I could show how deeply I mean it when I say I will be there for her.”I’m proud of you, Wee Feet.”

Do your best to imagine the hugs I have been held in by two of the strongest women I know. They pushed me further, taught me more, and helped me move forward as I navigated the ups and downs of my first job. “You did it. You did the track you’ve wanted to do since the beginning. Now go get some rest.”

Forgive me for saying that as a chronically positive person with a cynical streak, it takes a lot for me to say “I could have a marriage like that.” (I can literally count them on one hand.) But I met one in National Park and I hope that everyone can know a couple as wonderfully badass, interesting, alive, deep, welcoming, and straight up beautiful as these two. Without them, I would not have been able to do the Round the Mountain Track with this level of confidence and without them, my view of New Zealand would be very different.

And if only I could properly paint the picture of my new favorite tiny home. Incense wafts gently through a space full of promise and wandering possibilities. Instruments are tucked into every corner and fabric attractively and haphazardly drapes itself across most surfaces in sight. Vests, hats, toolboxes, and pillows kaleidoscope themselves into the personality of one of the most brilliantly unique people I have the pleasure of knowing. If you ever find yourself confronted by the feeling that time no longer has meaning, but every fleeting moment is worth more than hours spent elsewhere, than you will understand what it means to be in this space.

It is both difficult and easy to tell those far away that you are sad. It is difficult because the reaction is often “let me fix it,” “I wish I could fix it,” or “come home to fix it.” It is easy because you’re far away. I don’t really have to deal with any of your reactions. Ultimately though sadness is a feeling, a wave of experience bound to return and bound to recede.

I will finish my goodbyes and say thank you to all who love me so well. For it is understood that nothing is forever.

“You can begin again, honey. You can begin again.” – “Begin Again” by Dispatch

Welcome to the Whānau

The past few days I have sat wondering if I’m truly a traveling type. I seem to have a hard time with the whole “3 days here, 1 night here, just keep moving” thing. Maybe I’ll get better at it as I move on, but I have a deep need to feel at home. I spent a month in Wellington, three months in National Park, and almost two weeks in Rotorua. Each place I have cultivated friendships and connections and a feeling of home.

I sat and worried myself into a corner, trying to figure out why I can’t bring myself to just take my backpack and stick my thumb out to the next spot.

Today I learned why.

“Abiel would you like to come to my women’s meeting? It’s just a small group of us learning how to rediscover ourselves through this program.”

Of course!

I found myself in a cozy church with a bowl of candies, a pile of magazines, and a large orange piece of paper set out on the table. The semi circle of five ladies each greeted me and settled into the next hour with a curious mixture of obligation and enthusiasm, cutting out clippings representing our identity. (I greatly enjoy things of that nature.)

At the end of the meeting, the things I had said in the middle of it apparently hit home and I got some of the biggest hugs I’d ever received.

From there I went to Anthea’s grandmother’s house.

Upon leaving National Park, I had been given a beautiful NZ jade necklace from my manager and her family. “Have it blessed by a minister and it will never leave you.”

It just so happened that Anthea’s grandmother and aunt were both ministers.

I walked into a home lit by yellow bulbs and papered with photographs of a family stretching further than my Western understanding could grasp.

Five minutes later, my hands were held by the soft weathered palms of two Maori women pouring their belief in God into my necklace and life.

“Would you like a cup of tea? Biscuits? I’ll pick you and Judaea up for church on Sunday. You’re how old?!”

Tears came to my eyes as I pondered the privilege of these moments. Were I simply to move on, drifting only with the wind, the roots I cherish would never land. I could not find myself in situations such as these: cared for by some of the most interesting and beautiful people, willing to love me as I love them.

“You’re whānau (family) now. You’re never getting rid of us,” Judaea chuckled at me when I told her of my evening.

Whānau. I think I’m just fine with that.