This last week in New Zealand has been absolutely splendid. The beautiful landscape this country has to offer has surpassed anything I have ever seen in all of my travels. This last week Mae, Mark and I went on an around the country road trip to most of the South and North Island. It was a fun adventure full of funny stories and beautiful views. What amazes me most about this country is the changing landscape in the short amount of time. In one minute you can be in the cold icy snowy mountains and the next be at the beach. Kiwi's always say the best part of New Zealand is you can go skiing in the morning, to the beach in the afternoon, out for a nice dinner a fun cafe and then to the pub for a good drink. It is quite a change to the flat land of the Midwestern states.
We started out our road trip through the Southern Alps to an area called Castle Hill. Castle Hill is known for it's weirdly formed rocks that were once used for shelters by the Maori people during tribal wars. We then went to Arthurs Pass, which is a small pass between the mountains that has some amazing waterfalls and awesome hikes. We headed on then to the Franz Josef glacier town where we stayed at a YHA hostel that seemed to be overrun by Japanese students trying to learn English. It was quite an interesting event trying to cook our spaghetti surrounded by a massive number of Japanese students speaking Japanese so quickly I felt like I was in a kung fu movie. The next day we walked to the Franz Josef glacier. It is a glacier that runs between the mountains and into the valley below. We hiked up to the glacier and were able to see the massive amounts of ice as well as the glacier river that flows as a result of the ice melt. After that we drove north toward the Punikaiki Pancake Rocks. Before we got to the rocks we stopped in Greymouth, a small seaside mining town. We went to the rock beach there and were amazed by how we could sit on the beach and see the Tasmanian Sea with the view of the snowy mountains in the background. We then drove the most beautiful drive to the town of Westport. The drive was similar to the US pacific coast highway with a touch of seals and penguins on the coast. On the way we stopped at Punikaiki Pancake Rocks. Scientists cannot figure out how these rocks were formed but they are made up of limestone and fossils and look like stacked pancakes. We then proceeded to Westport and stayed at Bazil's Hostel (www.bazils.com). Bazil's is operated by two really great guys Steve and Ray. We got in late and Ray gave us a tour on the city map of the wonderful things Westport had to offer. We then met some cool people who were traveling on the Kiwi Experience (a backpackers trip around New Zealand) and headed out to the pub with them. It was a lot of fun. The next day we followed Ray's advice and traveled a bit around Westport and saw the seals and the amazing beaches. It was a beautiful place. We then started our journey back to Christchurch to pick up Mark and our Camper van. On the way we stopped at the Mauria Springs to swim in the hot pools that are along the mountains. It was a great time to sit in hot pools in the middle of the mountains and enjoy the view. All in all the West Coast is by far my favorite thing in New Zealand. Not only was the views amazing but the land seemed untouched by people. Much of it seemed very prehistoric. I kept thinking I was walking around Pandora or that dinosaurs where going to come out of the trees every turn. A Beautiful place!!
Once back in Christchurch we met up with Mark and our camper van (that we got for free due to their need for camper vans in Auckland for the Rugby world cup) and headed up the east coast to Kaikoura. Kaikoura is known for it's seal colony and is a beautiful seaside town. We stopped and hiked down a small stream to a seal pup pool (click here for a video of the seal pups) that was about 5 minutes walk from the main road. When we got there seal pups were jumping and splashing under this beautiful waterfall. It was so amazing to see. There were about 75 of them. It was like being at the zoo but full of natural habitat. A very cool thing. We then drove up to Blenheim to visit one of Mark's family friends and further to Picton to catch the ferry to Wellington. The ferry was a bit of a rough ride but we were able to get some nice views of the Queen Charlotte Sound. After the 3 hour journey full of lovely less than favorable waves from the pacific ocean we made it back to solid ground. We drove a bit and camped in our camper van for the night. Our campervan was fabulous. It included a bathroom, hot showers, kitchen, and beds. It was amazing that Mark was able to drive the manual truck through the mountains and hills of New Zealand. In the morning we set out to see the small town quirks of the Northern Island. Every town has a fun and interesting thing about it that we stopped at took pictures of. The was a wooden kiwi bird, a giant gumboot (rain boot), a tank, a giant carrot, a beautiful french chateau, a giant cow, a assortment of large grocery store purchases, and a giant statue of a man sheering a sheep. It was great fun driving from one town to the next to see the large town landmarks. The North Island is alot different than the South Island. When you look at the map of the South Island there are maybe 5 major roads that go through the map. When you look at the map of the North Island roads zigzag in all directions. 4 million people live in New Zealand (8 million live in Chicago when you compare places) but of those over 3 million live in the North Island and under 1 million in the South so the two are very different. Although they are different two things are very constant- sheep and cows. They are everywhere. It is also common to see deer in fenced in areas, as they farm them here. They say there are over 40 million sheep in New Zealand. That means that every person could have 10 sheep. Anyway we finally made it to Mark's aunt Kaye's and Uncle Bruce's house where we stayed for the night. They have a beautiful house in the countryside that overlooks some amazing green rolling hills. Bruce made us an amazing meal of lamb (like I said there is enough sheep for everyone (: ) and we sat by the fire and enjoyed each others company. In the morning we sat in their hot tub in the rain overlooking the amazing hills. It was so wonderful. After breakfast and some coffee we made our way out and got the camper van stuck in the mud. It was a so stuck we had to call a local farmer to bring over his truck and tow rope to pull us out. We reached Aukland just in time to check in our van, make our flight, and find out that Christchurch had a snowstorm and the airport was closed. All flights had been canceled and we wouldn't be able to get on another flight until Wed. (It was Monday).
Which leads us to the last part of our story- The Snowstorm. Due to this crazy snowstorm and the fact that I had a flight to Australia that was also cancelled and rescheduled on Thursday morning from Christchurch we needed to figure something out. Mae and Mark were trying to pack up their apartment and fly back to the states on that Friday also so they had alot to do and we had no time to spend in Aukland. So we sweet talked the airline desk to give us a flight to Wellington (furtherest we could fly at that point) where we then stayed in a backpackers, hopped on another ferry ride, rented a car and drove the 4 hours back to Christchurch. All in all I have now seen the New Zealand countryside twice. (:
The total week was great and although I spent more than I wanted to due to the snowstorm, I had a fabulous time. New Zealand is a beautiful country with amazing landscapes that make you wonder. It reminds you that you are only a small piece of this large world and takes your breath away with its amazing variety of beauty. Tomorrow I am headed to Melbourne Australia where I will stay with my friend Sarah and her beautiful family.
This week was pretty low key here in New Zealand. Both my cousin Maegan and her husband Mark were working this week, which left me on my own to explore some of the neighborhoods surrounding their house. This also allowed me to get to see more of the differences between America and New Zealand.
I started the week hiking up a large hill by Maegan's house that took me about an hour to hike up. Since it was winter and a bit chilly I have been dressing in layers. Apparently none of the homes in New Zealand use insulation when building and very few have central heat or powerful heaters. Mae and Mark's house has a small heater in the living rooms and they close all the doors around the house to keep that one room warm. At night there are heating pads on their beds that they turn on before getting in bed to warm them up before going to sleep. As a result during winter it seems extra cold within the house. So every morning I put on many layers of clothes before going out. As I started walking up the hill I saw many of the other people on the hill were in shorts and t-shirts. One guy saw me in all my layers and turned to me and said, "A bugger of a hill here huh?" Obviously I was standing out in my long pants, sweatshirt, and hat. By the top of the hill I was a few layers less and looked like I ran a few miles. At the top of the hill was a really cute cafe called Cup. It had a beautiful view over Christchurch and the day was so clear I could see all the mountains on the west end of the island. At the cafe I had a cup a tea and enjoyed the view.
The next day I decided to take a walk around the Avon River that runs through Christchurch and right by Mae and Mark's house. It was a bit of a walk that lead to me a cool park where kids were playing rugby. Rugby is a huge game here. Mark says it is the national sport of the country. Kids grow up playing rugby or football (soccer) and are often seen walking with a rugby ball in hand. This year the Rugby World Cup is going to take place in New Zealand and before the earthquake Christchurch was going to be a location for the games. Unfortunately the earthquake has badly damaged the stadium and all the games have been relocated. The Christchurch rugby team has also been forced to play all of their games at visitor's stadiums. With all that hardship they were able to make it into the championship game that took place in Australia. While here I was able to participate in a Friday night get together to watch the Rugby Championship. Hanging out with Mark and Mae's friends eating fish and chips (fries) and watching a big deal sports event was pretty similar to a watching football in America.
I then spent Thursday with Christine, Mark's mum, who took me out to lunch with her sisters and then to an awesome rock quarry outside of town where I hiked around the art gardens while she went and got a haircut. For lunch Christine's sisters always get McDonalds, which I found quiet interesting. In New Zealand McDonald's burgers, fries, and drinks are much smaller than they are in the states. I bought lunch from a different vendor next to McDonalds that had some really good chicken tikka wrap in naan bread. It was good and I was happy to eat something different than I am used to. I am finding that New Zealand has all types of food but they tend to have similar diets to what I found in England. The food here contains more breading and meats than fruits and vegetables and everyone drinks tea. My favorite things have been the words for things. For example: Soda is called Fizzy, Toffee is called Hokey Pokey, Dinner is called Tea, Ground beef is called Mince, and Jello is called jelly.
On Saturday Maegan, her friend Heidi and I took a trip to a small seaside town of Akaroa. Driving to Akaroa we drove through some of the amazing scenery that made Peter Jackson chose this country for Lord of the Rings. It was a beautiful drive. The town of Akaroa was founded by French whalers and traders and still retains it's French feel. (Click here to see the Video of Akaroa) It was a really cool place where we were able to walk around the french village, see some cute shops and have a cute lunch in a old country dairy. A Dairy is a small convenient store that sells meat pies, tea, coffee, and sodas. It is like a small convenient store, similar to a 7-Eleven with tables. We were also able to explore some of the Maori cultural buildings. The Maori are the people living in New Zealand prior to the Europeans settlers. We were able to see one of their Marae centers, which is a gathering place for the Maori people for celebrations, funerals, and village meetings. We were also able to explore one of the older cemeteries in the area. Some of the headstones dated back to the 1880's. At that time there was a plague that wiped out many people. Most of the inhabitants of the cemetary where buried during this time. Unfortunately the earthquake damaged many of the headstones in the cemetary. In one day we managed to see many different things. All in all it was a great trip.
I am finding that much of New Zealand is very similar to England with a pacific island culture (the Maori) mixed in. They are a British Colony that developed into a CommonWealth so that does explain it. After living in England for a 14 months after collge I got used to their way of life so New Zealand's culture is not as shocking to me as some of the other places I have been. My favorite things so far are the cups of tea everyone offers or provides, chocolate digestives (cookies), the funny words for things (such as "The Wap Waps" which means the middle of nowhere, "stubby's" which mean short shorts), the amazing landscape, and the fun people.
This Wed. I a going on a road trip with Mae to the West Coast. The West Coast is most known for it's beautiful landscape. We plan to drive through the mountains to Castle Hill, the beginning of the mountain pass to the West Coast, then through Arthur's Pass, home of some amazing waterfalls, and on through some amazing scenery to the Franz Josef Glacier. We plan to then spend 3 days on the West Coast visiting different sites. We are going to return to Christchurch on Friday to pick up Mark and the camper van we have rented for 4 days and start another road trip up the South Island to Kaikoura to see some seals, then to Blenheim to see some of the wine country, then to Picton to catch a ferry through the Queen Charlotte Sound to the North Island. Once on the North Island we plan to drive through some of New Zealands famous volcanos and then camp by Mark's aunts house somewhere on the Northern Island. We plan to stay with Mark's aunt for Sunday and Monday and then fly back to Christchurch. On Tuesday morning I will then depart this beautiful place for my next adventue to Australia. It is going to be great. I cannot wait to tell you about it....Stay tuned!
On Thursday I arrived in Christchurch, New Zealand after 30 hours of flying. I arrived in the airport and found it completely under construction and when my cousin's mother in law picked me up I was informed that it was being rebuilt after the numerous earthquakes and she did not even recognize it. Christchurch is home to 350,000 people who live between a seaside, beautiful mountains, and amazing landscape. Members of this city have the privledge of going to the beach, hiking the hills and cliffs, and then going skiing all in one day. It is a beautiful, magical place. Unfortunately members of this city also know what it is like to live through major earthquake after earthquake and watch their beautiful city crumble around them. The first earthquake struck in Sept. 2010. It was a major earthquake that caused some damage but most structures and spirits were not badly damaged or destroyed just shaken. Aftershocks shook the region but it wasn't until Feb. of 2011 when the people of Christchurch experienced horror so unimaginable that they were shook to their core. On Feb. 22 a 6.3 magnitude earthquake struck Christchurch and caused severe damage killed and injured many of the people living in the area. This earthquake was all over the news and people all over the world watched in horror as people in Christchurch were lifted out of the rubble and as building came down all around the people of the city. I remember watching it and being so scared for Maegan and Mark. The coverage of the earthquake was extensive in America for a little while. Once the earthquake and tsunami struck Japan all coverage of New Zealand stopped in America, but in New Zealand the aftershocks continued and people continued to search for their loved ones. The people of Christchurch worked hard to clean up their homes and find new places to live or planned memorials for family or friends that did not make it. All in all, in Christchurch this earthquake caused unimaginable pain to the landscape and the people both physically and emotionally.
Christchurch was on my travel plan prior to the earthquake and I continued the journey after the earthquake to visit my cousin Maegan and her husband Mark. Traveling around the last three days I have learned much about the people dealing with the trama of natural disasters. To the visitor the city looks as if it is all under construction. But to a resident, the city is a constant reminder of how unsafe things can be. You can be traveling down a street and see houses boarded up next to empty lots or piles of bricks. The entire downtown city is boarded up and not accessable to anyone. All major roads have some sort of construction going on and tons of potholes. If looking at the tall building still standing in town you see the tops of domes on cathedrals that are missing most of the dome and some toppled floors or blown out windows. The sides of cliffs have shipping containers stacked up to protect the drivers in case of another earthquake. The buses have all been rerouted and there are empty lots everywhere that used to house major structures. We drove by one building that they were trying to save by stacking shipping containers along one side. Another building they were trying to keep upright by filling the entire first few floors with cement to hold it down.
The physical changes to the environment I was prepared for. I figured multiple major earthquakes would knock down a large number of things but it was the emotional impact to the people I was not sure how to react to. When talking to people here they always talk about where they were and how they are doing. Half of the population has houses that are not livable but many have no where to go. Most people are struggling because business they owned are no longer in safe locations and many businesses have been moved out of town to new locations. When going to the store Maegan informed me that she always parks on top of the parking garages in case of another earthquake. She said she would not want to be crushed in between the layers of the garage. When driving along a seaside road that was stacked with railroad shipping contianers Mark discussed how uncomfortable he was driving along them and how now he is always planning an exit strategy for every situation he is uncomfortable about. When talking to Mark's mom she informed me that at her house she has put sticky tack under all her glass decorations so they don't fall over and break. The first day Maegan explained to me what to do in case of a major earthquake and how I can use her phone to call home if I am scared because I won't be able to reach her or Mark if it is serious. Hearing stories about how Mark and his friends waited days to here if their friend Sam made it out of one of the most collapsed buildings is so heartwretching. I watched a 60 minutes episode of some of the worlds most talented big burly rugby players talking about the earthquake and I could see how visiably scared they looked. We visited a seaside town of Sumner and went to this cave that is on the seashore. Mark informed me that as a kid he always walked in the cave but that now he was not going anywhere near it and he would prefer me to also not go to close to it just in case the earth shook. This earthquake has changed the way the people here think and live their life. Everyone is constantly looking for exit strategies just in case and every single member of the 350,000 person city has been some how affected by the situation. Many people are looking to leave the city due to the anxiety the constant shaking of the ground has caused. City developers predict that it could take up to 20 years to clean up and rebuild the city after these devistating earthquakes, but I think that this event will be with the people for their entire lifetime.
While I am here visiting, Mark and Mae are preparing to return to America. They are trying to sell everything they own and preparing to leave. Many of Mark's friends are sad about it but also have said to him that if they didn't have kids and a mortgage they would be leaving too. So slowly one of the worlds most beautiful and most environmentally diverse areas is slowly clearing out. Mark's mom is worried that some of the elder members of Christchurch will never see the city restored. This experience has definately made me appreciate the fact that I have yet to experience a natural disaster. It has also opened my eyes to another struggle people face in a different part of the world that we in America are naive too and how the need to feel safe and comfortable is so important. I cannot imagine being a child and trying to go to school with the constant worry that the ceiling might collapse on you, or not wanting to take a job because it is on the fifth floor of a ten story building. The Christchurch residents have amazing perserverence and although they have encountered major challenges this last year, they are still wonderful friendly people who love life.
This week I will be hanging around Christchurch a bit more and then next week Mae and I are going to take a trip to the Northern part of the Southern Island of New Zealand. We are going to visit the seals and some of the seaside towns. We may also visit some of the major wine making areas of New Zealand. It is winter here so things are a bit chilly but I am looking forward to the idea of doing a bike tour through the wineries. Below is a video of Sumner, a seaside town we visited, and some pictures I took of the earthquake affects.
Wow what a week! This was possibly the best week of my life with the best send off anyone could possibly imagine. So many people have inspired me in my life but this week I felt like I was at the feet of some of the giants in human and civil rights history.
This week I was lucky enough to participate in the National Education Association Human and Civil Rights Awards. Through a nomination by Ardeen Harris and the Illinois Education Association, I was lucky enough to be awarded the Applegate-Dorros Peace and International Understanding Award. This award was named after NEA President Irmavae Applegate who was a member of the Executive committee of Educational International and is given to a teacher whose activities in education contribute to international understanding and encouragement of students to work for world peace. This was a great honor for me and will be a highlight of my life.
After the phone call I received in April stating I was going to receive this award I really had no idea how large a deal it really was. Any award from anyone is a large deal but I just wasn’t sure what I had stumbled into. When I arrived to downtown Chicago at the hotel the NEA had me staying in I started to fully grasp the enormity of this great honor. I was given my room and presented with a beautiful welcome package that contained wine, chocolates, cheese and crackers, nuts, and candy. I have never been a person to stay in fancy hotels or receive fancy gifts like this so I was amazed.
The first event was a luncheon for awardees to meet their NEA escorts and to get to know each other. It was also a time to practice. My escort was Jim Young from Iowa, an amazing teacher and great person. As I sat down to have lunch he explained to me who everyone was. He explained each of the Human Rights Committee members and how they selected the award recipients and he explained the different people earning awards. This is where I started to feel what it was like to be at the feet of giants. The awardees were made up of:
· Reverend Joseph Lowery, one of Martin Luther King’s closest advisors and the man who gave the benediction at President Obama’s Inauguration.
· Jeffrey Steinberg, a man who founded SoJourn, an organization that takes students on trips through the civil rights movement to meet people who led and participated in it
· Shirley Sherrod, who after being wrongly accused of being a racist by Fox news and conservative bloggers was asked to resign from her job with the US Department of Agriculture. She did but went on to talk about her story and how we need to have open discussions about racism that still does exist. Fox news and the White House later apologized for the misunderstanding.
· Timothy Hogan, who is a lawyer who has been fighting for civil and human rights for Hispanic families and students and the right to equal and appropriate education for all.
· Joseph Starita, a journalist who worked to bring to light injustices with migrant workers, and drug trafficking. As a professor in the University of Nebraska he also worked to help Native Americans and created a documentary called Native Daughters that brings to light the amazing woman in Native American history.
· Willie Worsley, a NCAA basketball player who played on the first ever all black starting line up for the NCAA in 1966. He went on to play for the NJ Nets and now works to help keep kids in school as a coach and hall monitor in New Jersey. Many of his students refer to him as “Dad” and he has been instrumental in increasing the graduation rate for his players.
· Kerry Kennedy, president of The Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights she continues to fight her father’s war on inequality and injustice. Her influential book, Speak the Truth to Power, was used to create a curriculum used within the New York Schools to fight bullying and develop character.
· Senator Henry Marsh, a senator of Virginia who grew up during segregation and now is an active fighter for equal education. Prior to becoming a senator he was a lawyer who helped litigate major education cases that fought for equal opportunities for students of all races, backgrounds, and ethnicities.
· Lillian Curlett, a woman who left her fortune 500 company to help the underprivileged children of St. Louis. She helped found the Jamieson Memorial Human Resource and Development Agency, an organization that teaches local children about their culture and history but also helps them develop skills they are struggling with in schools.
· Senator Majority Whip Mary Jane Garcia, a woman who has fought to help border town residents in her home state of New Mexico to rise out of poverty. Dona Ana Country, which she serves, is the poorest county in the U.S. Senator Garcia has fought to make major changes to that statistic and has helped the area in many ways.
· Diet Eman, a holocaust survivor who helped organize the Dutch Underground Railroad, which helped save the lives of many Jews. Since then she can continued to fight for human rights as a registered nurse who became fluent in Spanish she has helped people all over the world working with the Red Cross and volunteering her time to translate in clinics in her hometown of Grand Rapids, Michigan.
· The Solutions Class from Rapid City South Dakota, a group made up of students who were instructed to find a problem within their school and develop a way to fix it. This amazing group of girls conducted surveys and interviews and determined too many Native Americans were dropping out of school. Their solution included public service announcements about staying in school targeted at Native American students on billboards, television, and radio. They also created a hotline for students to call if they feel like dropping out or did and want to come back to school. They presented their solutions to state representatives and their announcements were adopted by the entire state of South Dakota.
· Ferial Pearson, a teacher who fought end bullying and harassment of others and was named GLSENS Educator of the Year for her work in forming a Gay Straight Alliance in Omaha, Nebraska. She has worked hard to teach students and others to accept and appreciate diversity.
As you can see, GIANTS of Human and Civil Rights!
So it is suffice to say that this luncheon/rehearsal made me feel so nervous about getting up on stage and so in awe about who I was surrounded by. I could not believe it and although I know that the stuff I have done as a teacher has made a huge impact on others, I felt as if this amazing group of people where GIANTS in comparison.
When it was finally time for the event I was still so nervous and amazed at the huge room the awards were being held. Set up like a beautiful awards show we were all escorted in and able to listen to introductions. The Key Note speaker was Dr. Reverend Joseph Lawery, who talked about what it was like to fight for rights during the Civil Rights Movement and how people need to continue fighting for rights today. He discussed the need to fight against those that want to take away collective bargaining rights and the need to stand up for those who cannot stand up for themselves. It was one of the most inspiring speeches I had ever heard live and up close. Luckily Jillian was able to come with me to also share the moment.
After Rev. Lawery’s speech we had dinner and then the awards started. Each award started with a short video about what the awardees had done and then a one-minute speech by the individual. The videos moved people to tears and the speeches lead to invigorating applause.
The energy in the room was incredible and everyone was in great spirits. I left that room feeling uplifted with a newfound pride and sense of service to keep doing what we have started with EdPowerment and work to help build it to new heights.
On the way out I was asked by the Illinois Education Association President to come answer questions and talk to the Illinois delegation the next morning at 7am. So after celebrating a bit with the awardees and friends, Jillian and I woke up at 6am and walked across downtown Chicago to another hotel where the IEA was located. We thought that this was going to be a meet and greet session with some IEA members but when we got to hotel we saw 700 IEA members. It is suffice to say I was not prepared for this and did not have a speech prepared. Ken Swanson, the IEA president announced my presence and I delivered a similar thank you speech and encouraged IEA members to get involved in cross cultural programs with Edpowerment. I was surprised that I could put together clear thoughts so early in the morning with no preparation but it went well. As I was walking out I was then asked to do an interview with the IEA press director where I talked on video about EdPowerment and it’s desire to bridge cultural gaps and help develop a thicker understanding of global education and tolerance (Check out the Interview here). For 8 am I was quiet amazed at how much we had been able to spread the message of Edpowerment and were happy to finally have a cup of coffee and some breakfast.
All in all an amazing two days!
So as I set off Tuesday on my big adventure I know I have a lot I still plan to accomplish and I hope that this year will be a great year for EdPowerment. Please let me know if you are interested in any cultural exchange projects over the next year. I thank all of you for your support and confidence in me and the next blog you will read will be from across the ocean in New Zealand. (:
Kwaheri Merikani (Goodbye America)Here is a rough video of the event- The Professional Video will be posted when it is complete next month.