Sunday, January 15, 2012

A Tea-Party

We must have looked astonishingly English. Or just ridiculously pretentious. My husband's uncle and aunt were kind enough to come to tea for a child's birthday - they live locally and we don't know anyone else yet. We used our best china and poured the tea out of a teapot. We also sat inside, at the dining room table, on a swelteringly warm day, much more formally than any way I have ever been entertained in New Zealand.
It was all of course a result of the upheaval - we can't find our normal mugs yet, the only ones we have are those handpainted by children which I specifically asked the movers NOT to pack. I am starting to suspect that they misunderstood me and thought they were the ONLY ones I wanted. Friends warned me that in leaving England I might have flashes of emotion that felt very much like grief. Well they were right. I have bereavement issues about those nice white IKEA cups.

The teapot was because I hadn't any bottled water, and we find the tea tastes marginally less chemical-like with local water in a teapot. The dining-room table, because we managed to break our outdoor table parasol on arrival and it was too hot a day to be outside without shade. We're not as stiff and formal as we must have seemed. Despite all this, I think they liked us: I'm hoping they did because their family branch is the only one within a thousand kilometres. I would so like my boys to have some sense of local community. Of course, in time school and church will provide that: but these are institutional spaces, transient ones. People within them move, you stop attending or the minister and the family you particularly liked moves elsewhere. Family provides something more sustainable, longterm. There isn't much around, so I am doing my best to welcome those we have.

When I was twenty-one, I spent some time working in Xhosa-speaking townships around Cape Town, under the tutelage of a Zimbabwean theatre worker called Simba. He was a great guy, and he died in the corridor of a hospital after suddenly falling ill, before a doctor even saw him I think. His work profoundly influenced my outlook on life, especially his language of community. "You must work with, in, among, to, from, beside your community," he would say. In effective theatre work, building community was paramount. As a Zimbabwean in South Africa, his sense of community was elastic - not tribal, but universal. Community wasn't static, for Simba. It wasn't where you were born or what job you did. It was something you built, to nourish you and your people.

Remembering him, I wonder where I will find my community here in New Zealand. There are so many subgroups I could hook into. The Anglican community is one. The English expat community is another. Or the South African, if I went big on that part of my heritage. I have no job, at the moment, so no readymade community there. But I do, this morning, have someone coming to talk to us about autism and behaviour, the charity that I contacted last week (the same day that I started this blog, the day of desperation when I felt I wasn't coping, that things were out of control). She'll probably get the teapot too, but we'll just use the handpainted mugs: not because I don't respect her, just because the children will be bouncing around and I can't afford to risk the expensive china. Her organisation runs parenting support groups and courses on parenting children with additional needs. How strange it feels to sudden realise that this is my working community, this is the place that I will likely feel most at home.

I know this because on the beach at Christmas Day there was a family with English accents. The English accent was what got us talking, but it was the shared story of SN that kept us chatting, and parted with telephone numbers exchanged. No one wants to join that club, but there is an instant kinship and generosity of spirit which cuts across all barriers. We're dealing with something unexpected together. That means that just as Simba recommended, you build instant community. It isn't the nice china that you bring out, it's the discussion of provision and need. I hope that as my children grow and flourish, that my membership of this worldwide group will come to feel less significant. But right now, it is a lifeline. It's the place where I feel most likely to make good friends.


  1. I say milk the 'don't mind me I'm not from round here' as long as possible... you can get away with murder, or at least clumsy etiquette...

  2. You are probably right, I could get away with it for a couple of years....