Thursday, 31 May 2012

Burma Superstar

Burma Superstar that is what you are, comin from afar, reachin for the stars, run away with me to another place, and we rely on each other uh huh,  from one corner to another uh huh.

Up to this point in my life, my exposure to Burmese culture,  is limited to eating at a restaurant in San Francisco called Burma Superstar. A really, really, yummy restaurant, but still just a restaurant nevertheless. This, however, is all about to change as we got our refugee family placements this week and I will be working with a Burmese couple and their three sons. Anyone needing a quick geography lesson, here you go:

I am really excited. Probably not as excited as they are to escape persecution, poverty, and life in a refugee camp but hey it's all relative. My team and I will actually get to meet our family next week and then the resettlement process will begin. I can only imagine what all of these these families are experiencing, being so far from "home" and all the people they left behind, so keep them in your thoughts and prayers in the weeks to come, if you're into that kind of thing.

While I'm on the topic of faraway lands, let me tell me about another thing I got involved with recently: CISV. Never heard of it? It's ok most people haven't. It stands for Children's International Summer Villages. The website says it best, "CISV is a charitable, independent, non-political, volunteer organization promoting peace education and cross-cultural friendship."

It's like this -when I was 11, instead of wanting to go to a regular summer camp or spend my free time splashing around the pool, I decided that I wanted to go live in Finland for a month with other 11 year-olds from around the world in an international village. Imagine an Olympic village but with less body builders and with more of a vacated public school vibe. Somehow my parents did not think this was the worst idea I'd ever had and let me go. Thank you Mom and Dad.

Anyway I did things like live with a Finnish family for a weekend, experience a traditional sauna, and represent our country with rice krispie treats and Bruce Springsteen songs. I  mean Born in the USA, how could Flavia from Brazil not return to her county with a better understanding of American culture after that?

In all seriousness, it was a life changing experience. I had pen pals from all over the world, literally. Not to mention a junior counselor named Sonu, who would call me sometimes in the middle of the night from India. Ahhh memories....Point is it's a great organization, so I have connected with the Auckland branch to help spread the CISV love.

Alright, enough about world peace and global blah blah blah, let's get to things that really matter:

That's right Adam and I had our first New Zealand mini golf experience, or putt putt as I like to call it. It was really just a warm up for another sport we tried out this week: Bowling.

Bowling that we think of in America is actually called Tenpin Bowling here and the bowling I'm talking about is more similar to Bocce. There are bowling clubs throughout Auckland and Adam and I are always passing the Mairangi Bay Bowling Club. So when we saw that they were having an open day where you could just try it out we were there. Here is Adam in action:

It's actually a lot harder then it looks. The ball is weighted and depending on how you hold it, it curves a lot after you roll it. We had a great teacher and had a lot of fun. Who knows maybe by next summer we will be sporting our all white gear and be lawn bowls professionals.

In the meantime, it's another 3 day weekend for us and we are off to the Bay of Islands. Hopefully our B & B is as pretty as in the pictures:

Russell, NZ here we come!

Sunday, 20 May 2012

Take A Bow

The blog lives people and so do I. I know it's been a while. I've been busy doing things like eating cake for breakfast and searching for a heat source in our house. It's officially autumn here in New Zealand, my favorite season by the way, which means it's getting chilly. Apparently though, I have come to  discover that central heating is not a part of the housing scene here.

I came to discover this through a conversation that went like this: Me -"Where is the switch to turn on the heat?" Adam - "We don't have central heating, no houses do." Me - " I don't understand where is the switch to turn on the heat? It's freezing in here." Adam - "There isn't one." Me -" But I don't understand where is the switch to turn on the heat?" Adam - " We don't have one. We don't have central heating."

Supposedly our fireplace is enough to heat the entire place. I find it amusing that somehow we managed to score a place with a fireplace and a hot tub and a view of the ocean but no freakin heating. Another Kiwi norm which I am slowly trying to adjust to. But enough about that, the sun is still shining:

 And I'm still smiling:

That's me at the Bayswater Marina and the one above is from North Head in Davenport.  It was such a gorgeous day and the views from North Head are spectacular:

It was our first time there and I'm already envisioning picnics in our future, fueled with goodies from Chateaubriant or Vouxhall Cafe, two Davenport gems we discovered that day.

Speaking of firsts, we recently made our maiden voyage to the movies. Similar to the States, you will find overpriced candy and awkward teens playing video games in the lobby, but there are a few differences that we discovered.

When we asked for 2 tickets to the Hunger Games, the guy behind the counter says, "OK, I've got you on Row 3, seats 5 and 6." Of course Adam and I are confused and surprised as we weren't expecting them to be assigned seats. Apparently this is normal and how they do it. I'm quick to say that Row 3 is too close for me and would prefer to be further back if it's available. I am met with embarrassment when the guy says, "Ma'am there are only 5 rows in the whole theater." I'm no mathmatician but it doesn't take me long to realize that means we have seats in the middle. I apologize and we quickly shuffle to our seats in time to see Katniss kick some serious butt.

It was a weekend all about the theater as the next night was, Jersey Boys, at the Civic in downtown Auckland. It's a gorgeous old theater built in 1929:

Besides the actual entertainment that we paid to see we got the added bonus of having two drunk ladies on the front row do things like, get up and dance, push their programs on the stage for autographs, and respond to rhetorical questions from the actors with audible responses. Oh What a Night indeed.....

I've started my Refugee volunteer training and really like it so far. I think it's going to be an amazing experience. I will be matched with my family in June. Right now we are learning about what the refugees have gone through, how to access services for our clients, and possible situations that might arise in our work, i.e. boundary issues like, "Hey can you teach me to drive in you car or It's 2 am and I'm in jail can you come get me?" Clearly not much different then dealing with friends or family in one's own life.

There are about 25 people in the group and their motivations for volunteering are all different. One woman is a flight attendant and was on some some of the emergency flights out of Cairo last year and was incredibly moved by the families she saw escaping their homeland. Others are social workers, students, journalists, retirees, or people who moved to New Zealand and know the difficulty of settling into a new culture and want to give back.

I think the thing that has surprised me the most is learning how long people stay in Refugee camps. In my mind it was a stopping off point, a place of safety before resettlement or returning to their homes. Unfortunately, the reality is that these people are in these camps for an average of 10-15 years. Many spend their entire lives here, never getting a fresh start, never returning home. If you're interested in learning more or finding ways to help check out the website: