I grew up in white-fenced, idyllic backyard suburbia in a country at the ends of the earth. New Zealand was considered a young landmass, and a $1000+ plane ride away from most ancient civilisations and war-torn history and century-old buildings of the rest of the world. We didn’t have ruins or significant religious monuments but our fiords were untouched and our water glacier-clear. Childhood as little kiwi meant running across the grass barefoot into wild, black-sand beaches with the wind behind our backs. It meant throwing ourselves into the Tasman Sea, flesh and water glistening and merging as one. Summers were long and heady. We’d kill time by draping ourselves across sun-scorched concrete driveways, licking ice blocks, listening to the loud drone of cicadas filling the silence.
And there was a plenty of it in the suburbs. We’d go to school in the day and fill our neighbourhoods up with play in the evenings. Creeks led to secret passageways, forests were secret homes for elves. As each evening grew dark, the roads would start to smell of sweet smoke; a tar-and-grass blend that takes me home even now, as a twenty-two year old. I would lie my cheek against the warm ground and listen to the still, wondering if there was more.
In the noughties, roads ushered new settlements into tidy little blocks. Each had its own dairy*, bakery and a fish and chip shop. Dial-up modems were set up. Internet began its eventual takeover of television and exposed the first generation of young humans to their place amongst the world. I would read books and wonder why Piha didn’t look like the rolling hills of Prince Edward Island. I’d chat to Americans on Neopets and wonder why they thought we were a part of England. I began spelling ‘colour’ as ‘color’ and read about Yellowstone National Park and sprawled out on the floor, measuring the distance to France and Bali in eight-year-old handspans.
I moved as a result of peering into the beyond all my life. As a desperate search for the culture and deeply-rooted customs and rich, ancient history that didn’t exist back home. To uncover all that laid beyond my three little islands that were precariously perched at the world’s ends. I didn’t want to follow up conversations with where my country was, or to be consistently left out on world maps. Everywhere else seemed so damned grand in comparison, especially the ones that really weren’t. I felt simultaneously bored and spoilt in metropolitan Commonwealth, a clash of feeling I was aware was contradictory, but could not shake. I wanted to wake up and be void of unnecessary indulgences. I wanted to be amongst people who appreciated every bit of what they had. I wanted to grow and nurture a deep gratitude for existence, which I have found within Nepal, and previously Egypt.
There is a distinct hum that sits on top of and between all the noise, back where I am from. You can hear it after the fancy weekend brunches are done, in the middle of a workday, in the early hours of the morning when the first light touches the Auckland harbour. It is a yearning for more, a half-hearted protest against the unspoiled bubble we live in, and it lives strongly within the veins of the generation I grew up with. Many hear the hum louder than others and leave, some to never return after finding what they sought beyond our tiny islands. As much as I would like to be one of them, the truth is I feel tied to the silence more than I would care to admit. I left so that one day, after I have seen enough and done enough and walked through enough dusty roads with beeping scooters, I will be able to return to the quiet of the suburbs and revel in the unapologetic, beautiful still.
* Dairy: A small owner-operated convenience store in New Zealand.