Today, six months ago, we set foot in New Zealand. It was not the first time we did; we had been here on a three-week holiday two years before. However, this time, we were not here for travels. We were here to start a new life.
After living together in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, for four years, we decided it was time for a new adventure in a different country. Ahmed also wanted to pursue a degree in management, and his eyes fell on a program at the University of Waikato in Hamilton, New Zealand.
He got accepted, and on January 14 we embarked on our journey, which, after a one-night stint in Singapore, got us safely to Kiwi land.
While our new apartment home was about 10 times smaller than the villa in Jeddah we lived in and our possessions had been reduced into the 32 kilograms of luggage we were allowed to take on the plane in addition to a few boxes that arrived a couple of weeks later, we were over the moon with our new home town and country. New Zealand was an awesome place to live in, Kiwis were among the friendliest people in the world, Hamilton was a running paradise for me and it was sunny and warm every single day. We managed to arrange a ton of stuff in the first 10 days, including renting a place to live, opening a bank account and finding a midwife (not unimportant for the 26-weeks pregnant lady I was at the time of arrival).
Now, six months later, how do we feel about living here?
First and foremost, we got the home birth we were hoping for (rather than giving birth in the hospital, as is the norm in Saudi Arabia). I am also extremely happy with all the support there is here for new parents. My midwife visited us daily after having my daughter, I attended an antenatal and newborn course at a birth center, joined pregnancy yoga classes, we get free healthcare for Maria (despite her not having the New Zealand nationality) as well as regular visits to Plunket, the organisation here that takes care of all children up to the age of five. I joined numerous coffee groups: one from the Waikato Home Birth Association, another from my antenatal group. Next week I will start a baby massage course and the week after another course for new parents organized by Plunket. It’s almost a full time job!
Ahmed is also quite happy at university. Everything is well organized, the campus is neat, facilities are good. More importantly, he passed his first semester papers with flying colors.
So is there nothing to complain? Truth be told, there is. Ahmed and I are a bit disappointed with the country. It surely is beautiful and tranquil, but also a bit backward. People seem to lack ambition. An example: winter is rather cold here, but nearly all houses have only single glazed windows and no central heating systems. Kiwis do not seem to bother too much to make their lives more comfortable, and they certainly do not like to work hard for it! They are happy with the status quo.
Life is also more expensive than we thought, and it is difficult to find good stuff for reasonable prices – from furniture to clothes and from baby gear to electronics. Most Kiwis, however, are proud they don’t have all the big companies in their country. Many products proudly state that they’re New Zealand made. This isn’t something bad per se, but people do pay a high price for this.
The lack of trade and the rather weak economy have their toll: unemployment, which is quite an issue here. Many people seem to have difficulty making ends meet. Not surprisingly, 1 million Kiwis live in Australia alone!
And although Kiwis are very friendly indeed and always in for a chat (especially when you have a newborn!) it is hard to get close to them. Especially compared to people in the Middle East they come across as cold and not interested. Most likely, it would be the same for a foreigner living in the Netherlands or most other European countries, but it did disappoint us.
In my opinion, New Zealand is a wonderful place to live if you’re from here, but if you’re not it isn’t easy. We went through so much this past half year – not in the last place because having a baby is quite overwhelming – and we wish we were closer to our families and friends to share all those special moments. Not only does it cost a fortune to travel to Saudi Arabia or the Netherlands from here, I am also a bit nervous about making the long and tiring journey with a baby. There’s no way I could do that on my own, and so I have to wait until Ahmed has some time off from uni to go back home.
Regarding Hamilton itself, we thought we would love to live in a smaller town after having lived in crazy chaotic Jeddah for the past 4.5 years. Here, we discovered that small towns are nice if you are from there, but if you’re a stranger moving to a small town it is rather difficult and boring. The town is very family oriented – a good thing, but more difficult if you have no family here (except of course each other).
Maybe, all our observations come as no surprise, given how isolated this country is from the rest of the world. How could its inhabitants not have this “island mentality”? It nevertheless makes it more challenging to feel home.
One last thing, though. I remember very well how hard it was to feel home in Saudi Arabia. It took me a good year before I started calling it home (perhaps even longer). The past month I met more people than before, and if things continue this way I will have plenty of activities to keep myself busy and meet people on a regular basis. A “One Year Later” post will be appropriate and is likely to be much more optimistic, I reckon.