He was a baker of breads and pastries, as was his father before him, and he was talking about Kiwi karma.
He first mentioned his sister in England. Over and over again she would call their mother in Wellington and ask her to greet some people when they reached New Zealand. The latest call was for a Polish couple whom his sister had only known for a few hours. But when they arrived his mother picked the couple up at the airport, showed them around town and made them dinner so they would feel welcome.
And that, he declared, was why Kiwis are respected and praised the world round.
He was not bragging, as we have found during our stay here, but stating something fundamental about the people of this country. They go out of their way to make you feel welcome, to help you if you’re in trouble and to share whatever they have with you. For them, people all around their globe are their “mates,” tied together in a common bond that they are driven to honor.
And it’s a bond they have honored internally in so many other ways: as the first country to give women the vote, and the first to decriminalize homosexuality; a place where taxes cover liability in common so no one is sued in an accident, where care for injuries in any kind of accident is also covered (even for Americans like us injured on a hike); a place which even now is compensating Maori tribes for land grabs in the past, and where the people expect to pass through private lands on the way to their destination.
So, the baker related, a few years ago he had been scrimping on expenditures in order to save for a much needed holiday. A friend virtually ordered him to share a grand dinner, where he would not be allowed to pay for anything including the cab to and from the restaurant. Our baker protested, but his friend insisted. Years ago, the baker had helped, hosted and treated many friends – including himself, the friend reminded him. Now he was overjoyed to return the favor.
Tearing up a bit, the baker added that this was the important part. No one here expects to get paid back, but rather to pay good deeds forward. It’s like building karma, he said, as did another friend of his. This fellow had found himself out of money in a distant country, with several days left before a flight out. Overwhelmingly hungry, he got up his courage and started asking for some spare change of those walking about. Shortly a fellow New Zealander handed him $20. When the friend asked for an address to return the money, the Kiwi said no, just help someone else out in return. A year later, he did when a couple in a similar bind asked him for help. He told them to pay it forward as well.
We haven’t needed a $20 lifeline, but we have been given invaluable gifts from the people of this country and now Australia as well.
As we reported in our post from the South Island (click here for the full post), our campervan got stuck in sand during our trip down the west coast. We had little experience of such sand traps, especially with a 5 ton vehicle. To the rescue came a couple from Christchurch with a pair of young children in tow. They stayed with us in a bitingly cold wind for nearly an hour, digging out the sand and laying down straw and weeds for traction, until we were freed. (Click here to see our post on the Republic of Whangamomona for a similar tale of roadside help.)
Now, we are about to visit Invercargill on our way to Stewart Island. We are staying one evening as guests with a local woman who has also insisted on dropping us at the airport by 6am the next morning. An intimate acquaintance? Hardly. We met her at a restaurant a few months back when she was in Wellington with a quintet of her friends from around the country. We talked for ten minutes after she approached us since her group had been debating whether we were unmarried – because we were actually talking to each other. We exchanged cards, and now we are her invited guests in Invercargill.
This attitude must have spread to Australia as well. An Aussie couple we met along the Abel Tasman Track lives in Melbourne so there we talked for a while about where we should live when we move to her city. She insisted on helping us. So, during the last week, she recruited a realtor friend to assist us, reviewed some advertised apartments and then actually visited three of them. Just yesterday, she reported back in detail and invited us to send her to more.
It is now our turn. We have helped several people hoist their grocery sacks up the steep hill from downtown, have offered rides to walkers caught in storms, solicited food donations for the homeless here, and traced the Chilean owner of a lost wallet via his library card.
So we are trying, but we still look for more opportunities to truly pay forward all the graciousness and help we have been given in this land down under. Or in the rest of our lives as well.
Why don’t all of us emulate the Kiwi baker and his friends? Let us bake some karma by paying our bounties forward to others we can help?