Auckland, 02 Nov 2006
It is hard to imagine that a year has passed since we set foot in New Zealand. I still remember well our first ride home from the airport. The feeling of euphoria that was mine then can be compared only with the moments that followed the birth of each of our babies. The shape and color of the sky and the green of the hills was different from what we were used to. Today, Auckland feels a lot like how Chennai used to feel, like just another city. Surely this must mean that we have settled down.
What’s good for the goose is not always good for the gander. Philip didn’t go gaga over the sky and grass like I did, and so to find out if he thinks we have settled down, I couldn’t go up to him and ask him if he feels differently about the greenness of the grass. We would need more concrete indicators, and the ones we had set, that we were working towards were:
–Getting jobs that are related to our background
–Getting our NZ driving licenses
Getting jobs that are related to our background
We have had some measure of success with the jobs. My job as a technical communicator is exactly the same as what I had been doing in India. For Philip it was another story altogether. Banking in NZ is very different from what it was in IOB and involves selling. To be able to make use of his banking background and get close to numbers again, he would need to work as an accountant. But it looks like the accounting fraternity here have done everything possible to protect their jobs from outsiders. For an outsider, the road to working in the accounts field is convoluted indeed. This process, convoluted though it may be, is laid out in clear terms. As there is no corruption, bribery, or pulling of strings to confuse our minds, one just needs to work towards fulfilling the requirements. And so we began to tackle this course as one would an obstacle race.
As with obstacle races, we had some stretches of success. Philip’s qualifications were assessed by one assessment body (NZQA) as being on par with NZ qualifications. Then we had to send his originals to the NZ Institute of Chartered Accountants in Wellington where he would be assessed again (see how convoluted this is) and considered for membership. It was all going very well for us. As with an obstacle race, where the lemon we are balancing on a spoon between our teeth takes off in another direction, Philip’s original certificates didn’t just take off, they disappeared. The Institute of Chartered Accountants. claimed that the certificates had not reached them. The courier company (which incidentally is the same one for whom Philip works) claimed that the parcel had been delivered.
We prayed much and also did all that we could. We announced a reward for the finder in newspapers, we wrote to the Indian Embassy (who incidentally did not even acknowledge our mail), and we wrote to the universities in India regarding getting duplicate certificates. In New Zealand, more importance is paid to the marks transcripts than to the degree certificates themselves. We were not sure if universities like Madurai Kamaraj University had a provision for providing duplicate transcripts.
We checked again with the New Zealand Institute of Chartered Accountants, who politely and firmly held that our parcel was not in their premises. We wrote to the 10 other offices in that building (Cigna House) and received some kind replies. One of the replies came from the office of the Embassy of Peru. We valued every kind reply and every concerned suggestion very highly. We planned to fly to Wellington to do I don’t know what (maybe stand in front of the building with a banner saying “Some where in this building hides our parcel.”) We did not let our people in India know about this, for there wasn’t any point. In fact we did not tell even our close friends in Auckland.
Cigna House in Wellington
We knew that God did not need Philip’s certificates to settle us in this country. Those weeks were sobering ones that taught us that but for God’s hand, we could do nothing. One Sunday, we told the pastor of our church about this matter. After we left, the church prayed for this matter very specially. Two days later, we got an email from the Institute telling us that the certificates had somehow been misplaced under another application.
The obstacle race continues. The institute now wants the syllabus for the degree that Philip completed in 1981. Philip’s brother is taking that matter up with Madurai Kamaraj University. Being quick learners, we do not imagine anymore that we will achieve any thing wonderful by our efforts alone, and so are not worried about this matter anymore.
Getting our NZ driving licenses
New Zealand kindly allows Indian immigrants to use Indian driving licenses for a year. Before the year is over, we need to sit for theory and practical tests and get a NZ license.
By about August, we had driven for ten months without any incident. Our reflexes weren’t all that great but we had this in our favour: We were petrified of running over someone, especially a child. So we drove very carefully all the time. But this was not enough to get a license. We had no problem with the theory test. The practical test was another matter altogether. It had three parts, the first was to do with some basic driving, the second involved identifying hazards, and the third part tested your skills in a high-speed zone.
Many of you have travelled to other countries, but for me, NZ is the only country other than India that I’ve seen, unless you want to include Singapore where we spent some hours in transit. Even in my wildest imagination, I would not have believed that there were so many rules. (If you are curious about what these rules are, you can find them at http://www.ltsa.govt.nz/roadcode/)
Incidently, someone told me that the driving rules are the same in India, only that the rules are so secret there that even traffic policemen scarcely know them. Some of our friends tell us that it is a blessing we did not drive in India because we did not need to unlearn anything. Nevertheless, my foot jerks to step on the brake whenever I see a vehicle come towards me from a side road. As part of traffic going straight, I have right of way. I should not ever need to slow down for traffic from side roads. They will wait.
I failed the test twice. Each test cost money, and I wondered if I would clear the test before my 25th attempt. What if the press got wind of my attempts and I got my picture across the front page of the newspapers as one having sat for the maximum number of tests. That would be very embarrassing indeed. In my second test, I was out even before I came to the second part. Every morning for some weeks I drove around that area to become familiar with the terrain. My third attempt was successful. I am afraid, I cannot take credit for it at all. It was only by the grace of God, that I was able to clear the test.
Then Philip failed his first attempt, in spite of having been allowed to complete his test. He probably would have cleared it had it not been for a smart alec who overtook him in a no-passing zone just as Philip had slowed down to negotiate a sharp bend. He cleared the test the second time, although according to him, he did not drive as well as he had done the first time. Incidentally, it was Friday the 13th (of October). Doesn’t it go to show that children of God must not worry about auspicious and inauspicious times?
Some things kiwi
Whether it is a western trait or is just true of New Zealanders, I am not sure, but we find that the people here are, by and large, gentle and trusting. You see it everywhere. Let me give you an example. We bought a vacuum cleaner from Warehouse, a very large store. After six months or so, it stopped working. I took it back with the receipt. The person at the counter did not even give it another glance. I could just pick up another one, pay the difference and go home. No questions asked. Incidentally, the stem of one of the brushes in the new one broke. I fixed it with some tape. Last week, another one broke. Now I will be returning this vacuum cleaner as well.
Softness towards criminals is part of the gentleness. This is a society where spanking of kids is frowned upon, and this extends to criminals too. The police are very polite even when making arrests. I am sure our pole-eece-kaaran can learn many things from the cops here. You will not find the photographs of perpetrators of crimes or even mention of their names in the papers unless the offense is proved. Even after the trial, if the criminal is young, the identity is kept under close wraps, to give the person a fair chance to make a new start. Sometimes the kindness goes too far though, in my opinion. For instance, I hear that some prison floors are heated from below to keep the felons warm. Some prisons have Xbox and Playstation for entertainment. Tim’s eyes became large as saucers when he heard about it. I hope too many kids don’t think that prison is a cool place. Or a warm and cozy one, for that matter.
Our kids are doing good
Prisy is about to sit for her NCEA Level 2 Board exams. She hasn’t done Level 1 and so will need to get the required credits from levels 2 and 3. Her love for history has become common knowledge in her class. She says that she wants to become an archeologist and has taken subjects like Math, Chemistry, and Biology to give herself a broad base on which to build her career. Philip worries that she will cut her coat too close. I reason that, whatever happens, she can at least become a history teacher.
Prisy has had to participate in sports of all sorts. “What is the big deal?”, you may ask. Prisy’s aunt gave her the nick name of Pulthadiki, which means ‘one who trips over a blade of grass.’ To avoid her games period, she has often hidden under a seat of the school bus when in India. But now, she has played Basketball, Soccer, Touch, and Badminton. She has tried her hand at archery and shot put. She has also had to participate in Triathlons and 5K runs. Her teacher looks strict, but has ensured that she is given enough encouragement to complete whatever she starts out doing. The other boys and girls in her class also seem genuinely happy with her successes.
The Macleans College grounds are a rolling expanse of green lawn nearly all the way to the sea. That must also encourage kids to run and play and keep fit.
Sprawling grounds of Macleans College
This year, Tim has subjects like History, Graphics, and Technology, other than the regular core subjects like Maths, English, and Science. History was a choice he made because he was asked to select one subject that he could not associate with himself. Soon he was lecturing us about the world wars, China, and Alexander the great. Recently, he came face to face with a life-impacting question. What does he want to become, and therefore, what subjects does he want to choose next year? Next year, he will be sitting for his first Cambridge Board exam. Until two months ago, he wanted to be an automobile engineer and work in Detroit. But this year, he found technology difficult and neither Philip nor I could help him. Maybe, he thought, his future was in biology; surely he could be a doctor. It took him a whole week to decide that it was a bad idea. On the day he brought the school forms to fill, we all thought that he might be good as an accountant. Philip would be able to help him with doubts that he might have, and Tim is quite good in Arithmetic. What clinched it for Tim was the fact that accountants are paid very high salaries in New Zealand. Tim is fed up of being told that we, though not poor, are not rich at all. He has heard that polambal from the day he was born. So he will be studying to be a rich accountant.
Lydia is in Year 9 and going to Year 10 soon. She puts on a kiwi accent when she speaks with her friends. Her’s is more Kiwi than Prisy’s accent. (Tim has no accent whatsoever. As always, he speaks both English and Tamil terribly fast and drives his hearers crazy.)
Lydia peering out
Lydia is learning to play the flute. She has also been acting very bossy in the kitchen after her Food and Nutrition classes in school. I believe she still does regular subjects at school. See, this is another thing that has come as a big relief to me. There is no school tension here. Education is good but is quite relaxed. I really feel very sad when I think of how kids study in India, how they go for tuitions before and after school, and how vital it is for them to excel. I think of what the kids must go through when they do not do well, being unable to meet the expectations of parents and teachers.
Before I close
On Saturdays, Philip takes a Bible study in the house of Francis and Christine in another part of Auckland. It is very apt that I close this newsletter with a mention of them because it was in their house that we stayed during our first week in this beautiful country. It was in their car that I had that first euphoric ride, and they were the ones who showed us the intitial steps. (May God bless them and others who have helped us during this past year.)
Lydia with Hannah and Jason
Francis has two children, Hannah and Jason. Hannah, 9, is quiet and spends her time reading. Jason, 6, is a little bundle of energy. Before the Bible study, I take a class for the kids, my own kids sitting quietly, trying to be a good example to the little ones, Hannah sitting sweetly next to Lydia, and little Jason, never still, but very attentive, perched on the arm of a sofa. His questions and comments make it a delightful experience for me. One time, Noah’s sons came out as “Ham, Shem, and Beef.” Then there was the time when he wanted to know if I was going to tell them the story about the woman who became a “pile of sugar” because she looked back.
It is spring now, just as it was when we first arrived here. We do not have time to tend to the garden, and yet is is a riot of colours, as you can see from the pictures.
We would love to hear from you all, about how you are faring at your end. Do write.