Saturday, April 16, 2011

Save the Date

Life is not measured by the 
number of breaths we take,
but by the number of moments 
that take our breath away.

It is rare for me to get mail, so you can imagine my excitement when I came home from work this week and saw a letter on my bed. I quickly ripped open the envelope to find a "save the date" card for Courtney's wedding (my former boss and amazing friend.) Congrats Cor! I am so happy for you!

For some reason, that "save the date" stirred up some emotions in me and got the wheels turning in my head. It made me think about how our lives are a series of "dates" and important events that often follow a particular order. Babies are born, we celebrate their first birthday, we celebrate their first day of school, darn they grow up fast and now they are graduating from high school and marching to "Pomp and Circumstance", then they are off to college, how four years fly and they graduate from college and get their first job in the "real" world, they meet a nice boy or girl, get married, buy a house, have kids, then the cycle starts all over again and then we die. The Germans refer to it as "the system." My friend Stephanie from work, said that in Germany you have to be part of the system or you will be "lost" and won't get a good job or be successful. In Germany, they put kids on a track in school at a very early age. At age 10 (4th grade), they already decide what type of school the "kinder" will attend and thus determine what type of career they will have as adults. I thank my lucky stars that I was born in the U.S. because I wasn't the strongest student growing up. If I had been on a particular track, I may have never gone to college and had as many opportunities that I have. I am so glad that I was able to work hard and choose my own path.

Many of my friends are celebrating milestones and specials occasions in their lives. Weddings, homes, babies…all very exciting things. But every time I get the exciting news from someone, it makes me realize how different my life is and how I am not part of the system anymore. I was, I definitely was…graduated in the top of my high school class, went to college and graduated Summa Cum Laude, had impressive internships, had a great job and at one point was on the track to a marriage and house. But sometimes the system is broken and it doesn't feel right. Instead of being part of the system, I decided to follow my heart and leave the routine behind. I don't know what I want to be when I grow up. And you know what? I am am completely okay with that! I recently decided that I am going to start taking online classes at the South West Institute of Healing Arts in Arizona. I found something that interests me at the school, so I am going to take classes simply because I want to. Just like how I am in Taupo right for an interview for the Mount Rupheau Ski Resort. I need a job, so I thought why not work at a ski resort , get a free season pass and have easy access to something I love to do. And I am happy to announce, that 10 minutes into the interview they offered me a job and I start next week. That means within the next few days I need to pack, find a new place to live and find a mode of transportation. Crazy stuff! So as you see, life isn't about being on a track anymore…it's about dabbling. Life is like a buffet, so why not try a little bit of everything?!

I am sure at some point in my life I may celebrate the "special dates" that Hallmark makes millions on. Maybe I will get married to my life partner in a beachside wedding, maybe I will pop out a couple little monkeys, perhaps I will get my lab and house (or loft) with hardwood floors and brick walls. I am excited about these moments, but I am doing my best to put them into perspective. By that I mean, I have heard so many people say that their wedding day was the happiest day of their lives. I get it, it's your day, you are marrying the one you love and all your loved ones are their to celebrate with you…of course that sounds amazing! As I look back on my life, I have so many days filled with happiness and they weren't necessarily days that I planned for my whole life. The day I climbed La Tour Eiffel with Mindy, the day I tackled Tammy while snowshoeing in Colorado, the day I went sledding with Shelley, MacKenna and my Mom in Wisconsin, the day my Portland family rented a cabin and made our own Christmas stockings, the day Team Bridget/Amy took on Team Marty/Mac in an interpretative dance competition, the random day Marty and I got in the car and drove around the state of Washington for 18 hours just to see the sites, the day my NZ family went hiking and climbed through a mudslide and waded through a river….those were all just random days in my life, but those are my "save the dates." 

So save the date, mark it on the calendar, cherish the big moments, but never forget to enjoy the small ones too. Those random days that are filled with laughter, tears and smiles are the ones you will remember and cherish when all is said and done.

Mount Ruapehu

Thursday, April 14, 2011

The Amazing Faces of Oakside

Travel not only stirs the blood...It also gives strength to the spirit.
~Florence Prag Kahn

My hands and arms are covered in bruises and cuts. My back hurts and my legs are tired. 11-hour shifts, six days a week and all for a measly $13.00 NZ dollars an hour. I never in a million years thought that I would be in New Zealand packing fruit, but I wouldn't have it any other way. There is nothing glamorous about being a kiwifruit packer and some days are unbearable. However, I wouldn't trade this experience for anything for one simple reason...the people. In my short time at Oakside, I have met some amazing people from all over the world. I am learning about different cultures and I am learning to speak a few different languages in exchange for helping my new friends with their English. Rather than me telling you about each of them, I thought I would let them tell you in their own words.

Hola! Mi nombre es Carmen Maria Alvarez Rodriguez y soy de Meico, naci en el D.F., pero vivo en Torreon que es en el norte. Me encanta viajar, conocer nuevas culturas y gentre y algun dia me encantaria escribir un libro.
(Hi! My name is Carmen Maria Alvarez Rodriguez and I am from Mexico. I was born in D.F., but I live in Torreon, which is in the north. I love traveling, meeting new cultures and people and one day I would love to write a book.)

Hallo, Hoe gain ditto. My naam is Kate Grant. Ek is van Suid Afrika AF. Ek is die enigeste kind en my family en ditto is nie so lekko nie. My verjaarsdag is ap die 25 April zdi en sisal 27 ewes. Ek hoop my Afrikaans is reg. Want ek ka nie dak nie en my had is see anti ek het kiwis gepok.
(Hello, how are you? My name is Kate Grant. I am from South Africa. I am the only child in my family and it is not so nice. My birthday is the 25th of April and I will be 27. I hope my Afrikaans is good enough because I can't think or write properly because I have been packing kiwifruit.)

Hallo, alles goed? Mijn naam is Martijn Robert en ik hom muit Nederland. Reizen voor mij is een instelling.
(Hi, how are you? My name is Martijn Robert and I'm from Holland. Traveling to me is an attitude. Peace!!)

Hola, mi nombre es Geri! Soy de Argentina, Cordoba! Tenes que visitar Cordoba! Estas invitada! Ya tenes casa en donde Quedarte! Es un gusto haberte conocido Amy! Tenemos que organizer una comdia todo juntos así nos conocemos mas. Fuera del ámbito de los kiwis!! Espero poder viajar y conocer mucho mas de NZ! Y quien sabe, capas que podemoa hacerco juntas! Un beso!
(Hello, my name is Geri! I'm from Argentina, Cordoba! You should visit Cordoba! You are invited! You have a house you where you can stay! It is a pleasure to have met you Amy! We must organize a dinner all together so we can get to know each other outside of the kiwi ambiance! I hope to travel and know more about NZ! And who knows, maybe we can do it together! Kisses!)

Hallo Amy, Mein Name ist Stephanie Galtz und ich komme aus einer kleinen Stadt im nördlichen Duestchland au der Ostsee. Wir Kennen Uhus vou der Arbeit bei Oakside. Wenn du dieses Buch nocheinmal liest kannst du dich bestimmt an das Mädchen erinnern, die mit ihrem Freund im Van geschlafen hat. Ich wuensche dir noch eine wunderschöne Zeit in Neuseeland! Liebe Gruesse, Stephanie
(Hello, my name is Stephanie Glatz and I living in a little town North of Germany on the East coast. We know each other from the work at Oakside and we are packing neighbors. When you read this again you will remember me as the little girl with her friend and slept in a van. I wish you a beautiful time in New Zealand! Nice regards, Stephanie.)

My co-workers are all amazing people. I find spending the long days at the packhouse with them is very inspirational. Being in this type of environment makes me want to spend the rest of my life traveling. We live in a very big world and there is so much to see. Caskie Stinnett once said, "I travel a lot; I hate having my life disrupted by routine." I couldn't agree more! Although there is a little more routine in my life right now because I punch a clock, things are ever-changing. With each new experience, each new situation and every new person I meet...I grow as a person.

Carmen also shared her favorite quote with me and I think it is very fitting (especially since we are in Middle Earth.)  "Not all those who wander are lost." J.R.R Tolkien.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

The Kiwi Experience

She works hard for the money
So hard for it honey
She work hard for the money
So you better treat her right.
~Donna Summer

Many people come to New Zealand and take part in the legendary "Kiwi Experience." It is a hop-on, hop-off bus adventure filled with twenty-something backpackers who are looking to travel and party. If I were about 10 years younger and had a little bit more money, I would probably be interested in joining them. However, I am seeing a whole different side of New Zealand and getting the REAL kiwi experience. I made the decision to come to New Zealand on a whim, so I didn't plan and save money like most people do. I knew I had to have a balance between work and play during my trip. Over the last three months I have been doing a lot of playing, so now it is time to work!

Richard (my new roommate) helped me get a job in the kiwifruit industry. I work for a company called Seeka, which is New Zealand's largest kiwifruit grower. They also operate more than 20% of the industry's total packing and coolstorage capacity. I work at the Seeka Oakside Packhouse. On my first day we were told that our packhouse would pack 4 billion boxes of fruit this season, which equates to 4,000 boxes a minute. We have 600 employees and three production lines that work around the clock. I work on Line #1 and my shift is from 8:00 a.m to 7:00 p.m., Sunday through Friday. The packhouse operates 24 hours a day, so there is also a night shift that works from 8:00 p.m. to 7:00 a.m. The picking & packing season will run from March to June.

Kiwifuit owe their name to a bird, native of New Zealand, named "kiwi." Although most parts of the world refer to the fruit simply as kiwi, you will be quickly corrected in New Zealand if you don't say kiwifruit. Kiwifruit plants need at least 240 frost-free days to grow. The best place for the vines to grow is in a moderately sunny place, where they can grow across a trellising system. My roommates Richard, Marcus and Jessica all work for a local grower and are in charge of picking the fruit during harvest season. Marcus describes his job in the following way, "Pick kiwis as fast as you can and be a slave." Classic! Each picker carries a bag on their chest and picks the kiwifruit from the vines above their heads. According to Marcus, they aren't referred to by their names but rather than the number on their bag. Work has been delayed this year because of the rain and also because a disease called PSA which has infected the vines. Sadly this disease (caused by pollen that they believe traveled here from Italy), may have a drastic effect on the vines and threaten the future of the fruit industry in New Zealand. If they can't control the disease and contamination, there is fear that within three years the entire kiwifruit industry in New Zealand could disappear. 

Once the fruit has been picked, they load it into giant bins and ship it to packhouses in the area. At Oakside, there are three "lines", which each have 60 plus employees working at any given time. There are several positions - quality control, sorters, box makers, packers, stackers and fork-lift drivers. After it has been loaded into the machine, they sort the fruit and then it makes its way down the conveyer belt. The machine sorts it by weight and then it is distributed to each packer based on the size. We have various box sizes, for the gold and green kiwifruit. In under 30 seconds I load 33 or so kiwifruit into a tray/box and then cover it with plastic and then close the box. If I take longer than 30 seconds, then I am screwed. It is imperative that you keep up a solid pace or the kiwifruit will begin to pile up, fall on the floor and then it becomes damaged product. 

This may be the most physically demanding job I have ever had. My back hurts and my hands are full of cuts. However as I stand there for 11 hours a day, I use this time to dream about my future. I brainstorm money-making ideas, dream about travels and think about friends and family. I also have met some amazing people at the packhouse - the type of people who will be lifetime friends. Most of the employees at the packhouse are from Malaysia, Taiwan and India. And then there is the rest of us…our little lunch crew looks like the United Nations. My new friends are Carmen (Mexico), Martijn (Holland), Kimberly (Japanese Kiwi born in America) and Kate (South America). There are a few others from Argentina, France, and Chile. I haven't confirmed it yet, but I believe I am the only American working in the packhouse. Richard, who is a supervisor at the Orchard, also said that in all the years he has been doing this he has never had an American work for him. I am not quite sure what that means. Do Americans not travel to New Zealand? If they travel here, do they choose not to work? And if they work, do they choose to get a more glamourous job? Well whatever the reason, I am slowly changing their minds that not all Americans are bad people. 

Although I am not a fan of the work and the long hours, I am grateful to have a job. I am also grateful for the people I have met through the job. If it wasn't for them, I don't think I would make it through the day. I will pack fruit until my next work opportunity comes along. Until then, I will continue to work hard for the money.