Rock Up

“Abiel!!! Welcome home!”

A few months back I fretted about how I was going to make my way up the North Island. I was fraught with self-made pressure to see things I hadn’t seen. Try not to spend money better saved for next destinations, but still get yourself to those places you ought to check off your list.

I’m so damn thankful I stopped letting my mind spout that BS.

I bought a plane ticket from Queenstown to Wellington. I listed the 3 places I wanted to go because they held people I wanted to say goodbye to. I have hitchhiked and bused my way north, reflecting on how much has changed since I last did this.

I did it. I f*cking did it. I am 10 days short of a solid year away from home and 3.5 months shy of seeing that home again.

And yet, as I rocked up to Howard’s Mountain Lodge, my first workplace, and poked my head into reception, I grinned widely. Man. I made this my home.

“Abiel! You’re back! We have a bed for you upstairs or wherever you like. You know how it works. It’s so good to see you. You’re home now.”

Yeah. I am. I woke up to reggae pounding through the room. I baked cookies and wandered streets I loved so well. I watched snow drenched mountains show off their majesty. I knocked on doors hoping for hellos.

Hugs enveloped me. “You’ve changed Little Blue. You don’t talk down to your hands anymore. You are so confident.”

I guess I just know it will work out now. I actually know it.

I baked one more batch of cookies, watched Romeo + Juliet, curled around reflections of who I was before. “I reckon I’ll hitch up to Taupo for a night.” My manager called the sister hostel. “They’ll give you a bed free of charge.”

If you find a new way to say “thank you so so much” please let me know. I think I’ve exhausted my quota.

I’m the experienced one now. I remember watching the people who had been here for almost a year or more. The understanding they had that you can manage anything. I get to reassure other young women that they can hitchhike. I can give them advice on where to go. I can sit in a corner of the common area and feel completely comfortable with all I have done and seen. I can go to hot pools alone and watch the girls who are there be surprised that I’m doing this without anyone. I’ve done it. With all the work and self doubt that came first.

“Aw mean! When did you get in?”

“The guys who picked me up outside Taupo just dropped me off here. They said they didn’t trust Rotorua to leave me anywhere else.”

“Come in! You know where your room is. You picked the perfect time to rock up.”

And she hugged me, fed me, talked to me, welcomed me.

I will make my home as hospitable as you have made yours. I will model my generosity off of yours. I will always remember the home you gave me. I will always be thankful that instead of pushing my way through new places, I cultivated the relationships who shaped me as I worried my way through the beginning of 18.

“Love ya, girl!”

Advertisements

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.

“Like a Slingshot, Eh?”

I entered a travel writing competition on the transformational power of travel. I realized I write because I like to and I hate being judged for it. This is the first competition I have participated in for my writing. Here’s hoping.

“Like a Slingshot, Eh?”

My fingers strolled up the neck of my mandolin, wishing for the experience only practice gives. However if wishes were fishes, we wouldn’t have a severe overfishing problem in our oceans, so I set my instrument aside and began learning foreign words from the backpackers sitting nearby.

Bat’se. Czech for “afraid.”

People often choose to tell travelers that we are brave. They act as though our discomfort within the comfortable is something to be deeply admired. They tell us that courage is being fearful and doing it anyway.

But to be honest, most of us just feel like we are backflipping off the tightrope spanning bravery and stupidity.

I entered my first solo venture to New Zealand terrified of ATMs and banks. I knew nearly nothing of cooking and it would be my first experience in applying for a job. I had no clue what I was doing. On the worst evenings, I would curl up beneath the covers of a borrowed bed, tell myself “But I’m doing it anyway,” and find a way to move forward.

Provalo. Italian for “try it” or “prove it.”

Comparisons run rampant through hostels and travelers. The constant appraisal of your priorities becomes exhausting. The drinkers, the campers, the partiers, the hitchhikers, and those who fit all of the above share rooms and subject themselves to the scrutiny of social interaction. But I don’t fit.

I value hiking.

But not as much as the Englishman who chose to hike the length of New Zealand.

I value home.

But not as much as the German who dreamed of being home for Christmas and will likely not return to this part of the world.

I value community.

But not as much as the Irish girl who stayed at her hostel job for nearly the full duration of her working holiday.

At what point will I realize my values will never align with another’s and my achievements can only matter to me? Glancing at dusty camping gear and watching the intrepid walkers taking on mountains, I breathe deeply to remind myself there is nothing to prove and everything to try.

Selbstbewusstsein. German for “self confidence.”

I adore the moments of falling in love with a stranger, not for their body, but for something I cannot explain. I don’t speak to them, but I watch them, glance behind me, and wish I was wearing sunglasses so my gaze could linger. Some strange magnetism, or maybe just their style, drew me in for that space. My favorites are the confident ones. Their stride catches my eye and I wonder what inspired their sureness of self. Who was inspired from childhood and who found it in the satisfaction of jobs well done? Who learned to love themselves from a significant other and who chose to reinvent themselves?

And which of them is just a bit of an arrogant prick?

My gait has changed since being away from home. I walk and wonder if others see the person I have become. The limp from a chronic injury is fading and my shoulders are straighter with the experience of being alone. Even on my worst days, I find myself smiling with the privilege of wandering the world.

For comfort zones expand and life becomes a process of exploring its boundaries.

Jilear. Peruvian Spanish for “flirt.”

“May I kiss you?”

There are many reactions to that simple question. My favorite is the look of surprise. “I mean sure. But why?”

Why not? I find you attractive. Perhaps I just want to know how you taste. Perhaps it is my way of telling you that you are absolutely fascinating and worth my time.

Or perhaps it is a desire to grow a little more aware.

I don’t measure my growth as time passes overseas, but if I did, I would observe who I was at each kiss. Nervous and unsure. Temporarily infatuated, but aware of my own beauty. Amazed and willing to take the first step. Mutually attracted and curious. And straight up “I wonder what would happen.”

Sometimes I ponder who I would be if I was still home. Possibly searching for some relationship built to last or discovering my polyamorous nature while surrounded by people whose opinion I fear. In its own way, it would still be a journey. But there is something about the average American mentality that avoids those odd girls rocking faded blue hair who ask for a kiss.

Or maybe I just wasn’t looking before I left.

Transformera. Swedish for “transform.”

“You are facing new things all the time, Abiel. People who haven’t had to deal with that will never quite understand.”

Mom somehow manages to say it best.

I worry about coming home. I left just after highschool. I will return God knows when. I chose travel as my first adult lifestyle and the chrysalis I emerged from, cannot be what I return to. I guess it is meant to be just another adventure, another season of transformation.

Yet even with this thought process, you can never go back. Not to a place, not to a memory, and definitely not in time. You can only watch yourself accelerate towards the end.

“Time is relative and linear, but it always seems to go faster.”

“Well maybe time is like a slingshot, eh?”

Maybe so, my friend. Maybe so.

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”

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.

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.

Well, Have a Good Life

A Swede, Nederlander, Frenchman, Australian, and American walk into a bar to solve the world’s problems…

Whoever can come up with a punchline wins a high five sent from New Zealand.

Living at a hostel presents a lot of interesting challenges. It is basically one giant sociology experiment.

To be a backpacker means you are alone. You may be constantly surrounded by people. You may be in the middle of nowhere and completely without human contact.

Guess which one often feels the loneliest?

To be a backpacker means you are being shoved in and out of friendships that may span two hours total. Time becomes both everything and nothing in your relationships. You have listened to yourself say where you are from, where you are heading, how long you have been here, what you are doing, and why you’re here over and over. You say goodbye to people by saying “have a nice life,” often certain you will never speak to them again. You are constantly surrounded by the interesting so many degenerate into finding nothing interesting. Life becomes “life” again. Even as they are in amazing places, I have met individuals who somehow manage to sound as though they are in a terribly boring situation.

How you see the world is everything.

So how do you find the people who sound like the start of a bad joke when you go out to eat? How do you find the people to kiss under the stars and talk deep without drink? How do you find the ones who you walk into a conversation with them and think “I am going to make sure our friendship lasts longer than a moment”?

I’m not entirely sure.

But I’m determined to keep making it happen.

This post is dedicated to Stuart, George, Sonja, Viktor, and Pierre. I wish you all the homemade cookies you can find.

“I Choose this Madness”

“You are weird!”

I have never been so happy to hear those words together. An Australian friend had walked out on me splitting wood, after I had brought the group some cookies, asked them to take part in a personal project of mine, and explained my old school to them.

I was seen.

The day before was very difficult. I felt slow as I continued training, I made mistakes, and I went to bed just wanting to be back in California. I slogged through the moments wondering if all the things I believed about myself being an interesting individual worthy of being seen as an equal to everyone was really true.

After all, so much of the world seems to want to shove it down my throat that “You’re young. Wait till real life starts. Too many people think they are above average when in reality they just need to learn to work hard and understand they aren’t being coddled anymore. Life is hard. You’re young. Wait till real life starts.”

Those words played through my head on repeat. I struggled to fight them off, but went to sleep with tears in my eyes.

Tomorrow would be better. I was sure of it.

I woke up knowing that I had to start my day with my full routine. I meditated for ten minutes, practiced a qigong exercise for another ten minutes, and did some body strengthening exercises. I told myself I was going to have an amazing day. My life is beautiful. I am interesting and worthy of being known.

I am not here to take people’s bullsh*t.

And my day was absolutely fantastic.

My work was more efficient and better quality. I met people from Sweden, the Netherlands, Australia, and France. I baked cookies. I attended fire training again and was told to put on a uniform so I could participate in the exercises that weren’t potentially dangerous. I used one of the hoses and learned techniques to deal with the pressure of the water.

I went for a walk alone under the stars and breathed deeply.

“I am mad/but I choose this madness.” – Gloria Anzaldua

“Just at the Start of Six”

DSCF1157

My day was highlighted by three random bits today and although I always have more to say, the small things often make the biggest difference.

I woke up to a text from a friend talking about the insecurities of being in relationship. “So many relationships are dictated by the insecurities of the people involved. How they interact with each other, how they interact with other people. So much so that things like saying ‘I love you’ are said more to reaffirm the other party and themselves rather than because that’s what they want to say…I was thinking about this trait and I guess I realized the ideal place for a relationship would be to reach a place where those insecurities are no longer present…Anyway…all I really wanted to say, free of any feelings that I have to say it, was I love you.”

I love you.

Not many believe me when I say it, but to have those that do means I am able to start my day with messages such as this. Never pass up the chance to say what you want to a human you love.

On an equally important and slightly less deep note, I have found the place where lambs reside. They are freaking adorable…provided they are on that side of the fence and do not belong to me.

I made two friends at the park today. It’s been a while since I heard the phrase “Do you want to be my friend?” I remember saying it as a little girl, it was the cornerstone of my playground adventures. And just as I remember, it let me leave with a smile.

I make a very good prisoner apparently while playing Cops and Robbers and The Floor is Lava has been modified so I’m a lava monster when I fall in, but I’m healed once I’m not in the lava. I see no downside. The day was made better when I was able to walk away with this lovely bit of wisdom:

“Don’t forget your toilet paper, Alligator!”

Truly words to live by. Trust us.

B5A4295F-7A04-4A70-A1A3-268DF27684F4
Perhaps I will at some point be better able to capture the majesty of this place, but for now this will have to do.
Processed with VSCO with m5 preset
It’s adorable! (it’s the fence that makes it so. I promise.)
4A488F1C-046D-402F-903D-AD470C7EE5CB
Beautiful moments in quiet spaces