“So, what’s your story?” Sam asks me. I look around at the people in the room, not really sure how to answer her. I am in Nelson, staying at a couple’s house for the night from Airbnb. They have friends over for the night and are drinking before going out. I am sipping one of the wines from Blenheim and enjoying a social night after a week on the road. Kurt and Monica are a couple, Monica is Czech and Kurt is a Kiwi.
Strangely, the crowd here seems to represent the New Zealand population pretty well. Only half of the people here are Kiwi. The rest are travelers. Apart from Monica, Sam is English, there are two Germans, a Swedish couple, myself. All the Kiwis have spent significant time overseas between the Americas, Europe, or Australia.
Jermaine, a tall and lanky Kiwi who now works for the DOC, spent many years backpacking through South America. His stories about hiking around Patagonia are incredible. Often, he stayed in small villages with locals. He survived on their generosity for a time despite them barely getting by themselves. He says he would have stayed forever had he not ran out of money.
Sam has been all over the world as well. She spent a year in Australia before coming to New Zealand. Now living and working in Nelson, she plans to stay here permanently, having decided England is no longer her home. She had been in New Zealand for months, working in Christchurch. Four months ago, she came to Nelson for a weekend, and in the first afternoon decided to move here.
Monica is almost at the end of her working holiday visa. Having traveled extensively in Europe, she came to Australia and New Zealand as well. Cherry picking, kiwi harvesting, nannying, and cleaning are among the varied jobs she has worked here. Cherry picking was the best she says, good money and easy work. The worst was working with apples. She now works in the Pics Peanut Butter factory. And she does not even like peanut butter. She is applying for a partnership visa with Kurt now, having met him since she moved here.
Mike, one of the Kiwis in the room, has lost twice as much weight as I have. He has picked up the sport of endurance walking. Last year he completed a 100-kilometer walk during which he did not sleep. The walk took him thirty hours and he carried food with him for the journey. Apparently, the optimal choice of food is one giant – giant being an official measurement he claims – block of cheese, multiple large blocks of chocolate, and one kilogram of pre-cooked scroggin, something similar to trail mix but with no M&Ms. He admits this might not be actually healthy options, but you burn an extraordinary number of calories during the walk and simply having enough to replenish you is the more important bit.
Kurt has been all over the world as well, and the apartment is sprinkled with evidence of an extensive life. Multiple guitars and a DJ deck sit in the apartment, Buddhist prayer flags adorn the outside balcony, a bookshelf with an assortment of genres. Worldly would be my description of Kurt. The other kiwis fit this bill as well. Kat has done all the Great Walks in New Zealand multiple times, and with her young kids as well. Paul lived in Seattle for many years before coming back home.
The other people in the room have lived varied, interesting, different lives and yet we have all ended up in the same place. I tend to think of myself as growing steadily older without having gained much. I look at the people gathered here and I see stories worth telling, experiences worth having, wisdom gained and lessons learned from mistakes.
I return my gaze to Sam, still looking expectantly at me. I look down into my wine, the scent of sweet fruit reminds me of the sunny summer despite the rain falling outside the windows. Video games and studying, working in an office, my friends and family; these are the things that come to mind. Stories, but not the answer she is looking for. They are not the reason I am here. My journey has only just begun.
I half smirk. “My Story?” I say. “I’ll tell you once I’ve found it.”