Saturday, January 7, 2012

Have you unpacked your bags?

It’s about ‘unpacking your bags,’ Piripi said to me years ago. He was talking about New Zealanders of European origin who keep heading overseas or look to overseas to make their mark. Elaborating, he said, ‘Are you committed to this place? Have you decided to stay?’ I’m still wrestling with the questions.

I guess this blog is about me ‘unpacking my bags’, as a representative of newer arrivals to these shores. Unfolding what gifts, talents, perspectives I have, in the context of the modern land of Aotearoa/New Zealand. Sharing what I’ve got, and seeing what gives.


My mother wrote recently:

My father came from India where his seafaring British grandfather settled; my mother was born in Aotearoa, third generation. Both called Britain ‘home’, although they’d never been there.

These grandparents were of the New Zealand Pākehā generation that looked to ‘Mother Britain’ for their identity. But for both my mother and me, ‘home’ is clearly here – Aotearoa, ‘a land of bush and beaches’, as my mother wrote. I feel closest to this land in the bush – that’s when I feel most like ‘being a New Zealander’.

But that is only half the story. My father was born in the Netherlands, emigrating to New Zealand when he was 21. So I have this strong Dutch affinity – and sometimes describe myself as a Dutch Kiwi. Whether that affinity comes from something in the blood, or from two trips to the Netherlands – once when I was 13, and once as an adult – I do not know. But on my last trip there – travelling around on a 70-year-old bike, conversing in a halting, Brabant-flavoured Dutch – I did feel ‘at home’, that this was my ‘second home’.


Half-way round the world from my father’s country of origin, I feel I’m undertaking a dual journey: deepening the Dutch connection, and at the same time exploring my place in Aotearoa/New Zealand.

In terms of ‘unpacking my bags’, I guess I’m still sorting through the assorted luggage various forebears have left me, not to mention what I’ve acquired myself.

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