It was a long road of patience and logistics and trust in God. 5 months of preparation, not to mention the whole year of contemplation before that. God knows we took our time.
The days are already passing swiftly, and we already feel eons away from our former way of life. The simple concerns of the church, lighting of its candles, daily prayer there, and receiving people, have become even more central than before. I can only imagine what living in Auckland will look like in a year from now.
I have so many impressions of our good byes, our travels and of our first week in New Zealand. I couldn't possibly relate them all to you. Jet lag has got the better part of my memory now. I can try to send out what you all may want to know and just go from there...
The weather is nice. The people are nice. The food is really good here. Yes we are excited. EVERYTHING is more expensive. It is early summer here. School ends on the 15th. It begins again on February 1st or 2nd.
We had a lovely Thanksgiving holiday with both of our families. As is the American tradition, we talked about our thankfulness to God for various things. We thanked God for all His interventions, and for His peace that allowed us the support of our families and friends, who would much rather we stayed in the USA. I really want to praise them in a big way. They demonstrated patience and understanding with us, and they did not require much explanation. They were all staunch supporters with their love and generosity. Even our parishioners in New Mexico realized that this was not merely a personal decision, but truly a calling. We are grateful to them all for their love.
Our preparations for leaving Ohio were less than perfect, but they were just fine, and we have to thank our Lord for keeping us peaceful throughout our time in Ohio.
Once again, with little sleep we dragged our luggage to the two mini vans that were waiting, being heated for our comfort. Groggy as we were, the cold November night might have shocked us...lol.
Nearly everyone in the household got up to say good bye at 3:30 am that Sunday morning. We made it to the airport just in time. My sister who drove us there with her husband and eldest son, said that the line for security was backed up all the way to the ticket counters just after we got in it ourselves. It was the fastest and most efficient security line I have ever been in. Dayton Ohio. Who'd v'e guessed that?
It took two flights to get us to San Francisco, not in time for Liturgy, but definitely in time to venerate the holy relics of Saint John Maximovich at the Holy Virgin Cathedral on Geary Ave before they closed the doors. People come in and out of those doors throughout the day. After the doors are locked, people wait outside for someone to exit so that they can find a way in. This can go on until 5pm when the next service begins. When we entered, there were people there to greet us, one a Matushka who related the story of the healing of her son through the prayers and the healing oil of the saint.
The experience there defies words. It is a holy place. That is the only way I can tell it to you. I can also say that I recommend it from the depths of my heart, that anyone who wants a special blessing should go there too. We saw the relics of the saint incorrupt: darkened flesh on the bones of his fingers, his face was covered as is accustomed for a bishop, there was a deep peace all around the reliquary. It was hard to remove ourselves once we felt it, so we waited until it felt right, sometime after we prayed for EVERYONE that we could think of. When we exited through the heavy front doors there were others there to take our place amongst the pilgrims.
My best friend from college came and met us there in front of the cathedral. She took us to Sausalito for lunch. So thoughtful of her because we had to cross the Golden Gate Bridge to get there. It was the first time we had seen it. We had great seafood and SF sour dough bread, talked more about what was new rather than old times, although a few funny anecdotes did come out. She was a great comfort for that long lay over. She is a remarkable woman. I take her with me in my heart everywhere I go.
Another ride back over the Golden Gate and....
We rushed again to get to the airport on time. Barely made it too. Just as they were announcing that boarding was commencing we arrived at the gate. I remembered that we were supposed to enter early to gate check the guitar. As we were entering the ramp I saw something familiar go by, on wheels, in the hands of one of the flight crew. Ohhhh my, it was my favorite luggage case with the WHOLE front ripped off and my things spewed about like they were itching to fall out yet again. I followed it against the flow of foot traffic, claimed it, and to my surprise didn't yell at anyone. Must have been the prayers of Saint John that kept me calm and understanding.
It turns out that three of our luggage cases and two belonging to other people got tangled in the conveyor belt, ( no one could explain exactly how) and the damage was done. The crew only brought out that one because they had to take special measures to seal it for the trip: AKA humungo plastic baggie all around and tape.
What could we do? They tried to reassure us that all would be okay, and I tried to believe them. In the end, well its not the end yet... they are trying to repair the two cases that were not demolished and they gave me replacement luggage for the one that was. Soiled clothes are at the dry cleaner.
As for the flight itself, the flight, the food, the comfort level, the flight crew were all good. We slept rather well. I couldn't think too much about the potential losses. What was important was that we were on our way. We were blessed to be together. We were all looking forward to something. For us it was time to begin again. Time to begin anew.
At the airport in Auckland, in the cafe outside the baggage claim and customs were four caring and eager parishioners who made the trip out to meet us and to help us get our things to the parish house. Can you imagine us trying to get 20 bags, large and small, to the house in a taxi? They waited an hour as we tried to settle our baggage concerns, and without hesitation they came to the doors to meet us each one kissing Father's hand and with smiles greeting us all. One even joked about there being a motor bike waiting outside to take us to the church.
When we got to the house we saw that it was filled with things so that we can get right to the task of living in it. I can't tell you how much it meant to have a kettle for heating water, a toaster, spices, washer and dryer ready for service, microwave oven, table and chairs, beds made, milk, coffee, fruit, veggies, towels. And to our utmost surprise.... a television installed and ready to go, a gift from a very kind hearted and thoughtful woman. A true pleasure to have met her on Sunday after church.
The past week has been a parade of people, Greeks and Non- Greeks bearing gifts. We visited the school where Georgios may be attending. We learned to drive on the other side of the street while sitting on the other side of the car.... BTW our car is a Toyota called...ready for this..Opa! The Hellenic Community furnishes the priest with a car at this parish.
Now our space is half of what we are used to. Four rooms and a kitchen. There is a bathroom, but there is a separate room for the toilet. There is a utility room with a utility sink, what I consider my best household friends. The house is on the second floor, it is nice but in need of some repair still, and a good interior painting. It must be about 100 years old.
One of the things we felt we needed to do, and that we did with much joy is to set up a vegetable garden behind the garage that has been converted into a Greek School. It is about 8' x 12' and we have planted tomatoes, zucchini, eggplant, peppers, silver beet, red beet, cucumbers, and sugar snap peas. Oh yeah and strawberries. We would be working on it still except for a big hearted, hard working man who, by the way, knows my father's brother in Australia; he saw our efforts and joined in to lend a hand, and did the bulk of the work. He brought in more soil and boxed the whole garden in with wooden planks. We helped him clear the old clippings, dig up the bamboo that was growing kind of wild there, spread the soil out, and set the seedlings in the bed in anticipation of the summer heat.
It is not hot here yet, but the sun is so strong. Much stronger than New Mexico if you can believe that. Sun screen is a must. So are hats and sleeves if you know what is good for you.
Yes indeed it does seem that this was the right time for planting a garden...a little late even, which is why we were in a hurry to get it in. I suppose that by the next fast we will have lots of vegetables. To my girls' delight there were no okra available at the plant store.
We are quickly developing a routine of morning and evening prayers in the chapel. Nicholia and Raphaela are learning the order of the services and how to chant with their father. Georgios chimes in from time to time where he feels comfortable.
We have ventured out on the road a few times. Left turns are easy here. Sometimes we get a little vertigo when out and about in the car..the Opa!
We are sleeping relatively well. We are not lonely. Someone from the parish stops by everyday. It is very different from our experience in the USA. Not only are we seeing our parishioners regularly, but we also are living in the city and there is more noise and bustle outside of our windows. It is another thing to get used to. The neighbors are friendly and we have a good impression of New Zealanders, "Kiwi" as they are called in the vernacular.
Tomorrow we expect to receive His Eminence as he is on his way to Fiji. We talked with him twice over the phone. He is constantly reassuring and anticipates our every concern. We have a big agenda for the start of this week. I get tired early in the evening still, so I try to work when I have the energy.
I will try to post photos in the next blog. I am hesitating because they don't always survive cyberspace. I should ask someone about that.
Off to Liturgy for Saint Nicholas Feast Day. To all of our Nicholases. Happy Name day God grant you many years!
For those of you who are wondering, yes we have talked with Father Christodoulos. He is very, very busy ( are you surprised? ) at the Archdiocese, and is hoping for a chance to come and see us. We are hoping for that too. But God knows when, and He knows best.