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Haere Mai, Haere Mai

Tracey Barnett ©September 2009

I’m not sure what home is. When I first arrived in this country, I remember thinking there were some things new immigrants shouldn’t have to endure; Pink Lamingtons, the phrase “we punch above our weight”, Santa in togs, insular politics, and that yeasty nuclear sludge you put on innocent children’s sandwiches that is obviously the source of this country’s domestic violence problem. I’d hit somebody, too, if someone wrecked my toast with that stuff every damned morning. Except if it was part of good parental correction.

But I grew into this fair land. I learned this is a country that gives more talkback space to one high school semifinal rugby fight than sending its’ big boys to fight in Afghanistan. If anyone told me I would come to a place where a very friendly looking Prime Minister has quietly cut funding to the folks who are least likely to shout about it– disabled kids, at-risk children, and adults that can’t read— and no one really noticed, I would now tell him he should try banning school balls to get bigger press. I left the land of Nixon’s Watergate to arrive on the shores of Paul Henry’s Moustache-gate, and it was good.

There was a funny kind of poetry in that. At the time I arrived, my home country was pedaling torture and weapons of mass destruction like lollies. In contrast, New Zealand was the land of Toffee Pops, comprehensible tax forms and Helen Clark and John Key dog toys, of which I am a proud owner. Helen was $3 cheaper too.

Today, I look at my pint-sized John Key [with squeaker] and give him daily advice on what he needs to say on the David Letterman show.

It would start with something charming like, “OKAY, OUR SAS GUYS DON’T REALLY WANT TO DIE IN YOUR WAR. THANKS ANYWAY. So. Come visit,” he’d say, smiling sweetly. “We have beaches and Pineapple Lumps, and all our men look like Brett McKinsey, carrying guitars on their little Hobbit feet, spontaneously breaking into folk satire. We take EFTPOS, but no nuclear stuff.” The truth is, most Americans would have no clue what the nuclear comment was referring to. They’d be too busy wondering if they could stumble into a band meeting with Murray at the Consulate in New York when they went to get their visa.

I came to this country out of fairness. One day, the lovely Kiwi bloke I had dragged into the land of Rush Limbough, Pamela Anderson and Kafka-hell tax forms, turned to me and said, “It’s time to go home.” It was his turn. I thought to myself, how the hell am I going to trade my foibles for yours? My country’s are so gigantic and loud and outrageous. Yours are so horribly– manageable.

I saw your world with fresh eyes. I saw that the reason you beat your children or spouse in far too big of numbers from generation to generation is sadly, tradition. I learned the difference between this country’s religion of understatement, and it’s inability to feed success. In five years, the only tall poppies I have not seen taken down are Trade Me’s Sam Morgan and Sir Edmund Hillary. No matter how many school prizes my children got in primary school just for breathing, I don’t know if that will teach them how to better champion their colleagues.

Strangely, it is a tribute to the richness of your country that you have the luxury of being able to argue over the spelling of a town.

But with those same unaccustomed eyes, I think I still celebrate what most of you don’t really know you have, one of the most beautiful land masses in the world, peopled with citizens who are kind and open and fair. You are the brand the entire world wants to become, and you still don’t get it. You certainly won’t say it out loud, and I don’t care if you’re instinct is to mock me for doing so.

Last month, when I got on a flight from Auckland to the US, I said I was ‘going home’ both ways. I’ve learned to stop comparing one country to another because it diminishes both.

I learned that you don’t have to stop loving your birth country to begin falling in love with another. There is a phrase that I have always been too shy to use because I didn’t feel it was part of my tradition, but I have finally understood that must change too. What this country has done most is welcome me with haere mai.

I am acutely aware that I came to this country for love—not a job, or economics, or a better life, or more freedom. It doesn’t seem such a small thing to return it. I became a New Zealand citizen this week.

I am home.