Wellington, Aotearoa New Zealand, September 2020
Still Photos and text by Pete Carter
Videography and editing by Roscoe Price Moor
Since March 26th I’ve interviewed 160 New Zealanders in 54 different countries. You know what happened that day as well as I do. We locked down. As a means of promoting another book of interviews I’ve written, I had the bright idea of getting in touch with the great Kiwi diaspora. Since then this new project has taken over my life. Currently it’s a blog series that will become a book.
I typically talk to my interviewees for twenty minutes. Sometimes by video but usually just a conversation. A good friend summed it up over dinner recently: “Basically, you sit at your desk making friends around the world.” She’s right. I’ve become fond of my new mates. I don’t keep up with all of them, but a few are now what in old terms would have been called pen friends. When I have heard that one or two have returned home, I feel comforted.
At the end of March most of my cohort were unsure of what was happening – we were in it together at that stage. As New Zealand moved on to a different level and things looked up, several talked of home feeling further away. Since then, for most the idea of returning has become conceptual rather than realistic, especially since charging for quarantine was introduced. Since I first tapped out the above paragraph the pandemic pendulum has swung again and community transmission has returned.
Recently, I conducted a few follow-up interviews on video here in Wellington. There is Gen, whose partner Gerald I talked to in Maryland in the US a month or so ago. He has since flown on to take up a position in the UK. Gen and their baby Maddie headed in the opposite direction and returned home – for the time being. Gerald missed Maddie’s first birthday which was predictably hard.
I also talked to son and father, Kaden and Ganesh. I talked to the former when he was in Guatemala, stuck with a bunch of travelers from all over the world in the ancient city of Antigua. Kaden told me his Mum cried at the airport when he flew in from quarantine in Auckland.
There are others, too, such as Ailsa who is undertaking her PhD in Chicago. Ailsa is blind and has health issues. She is due to get married to Emily in. Her parents won’t be with her, though Connie her New Zealand assistance dog will be September (see more of Ailsa’s story here).
There is a group on Facebook that I have joined called Team of Six Million – Kiwis United against Quarantine Fees, the premise being that there are a million New Zealanders living overseas. I’ve seen higher estimates. That’s an awful lot of love that’s flowing in and around the airwaves. It seems that it’s the unknown and the unknowing that hurts the most.
I’ve got skin in the game as they say. My daughter Lulu is living in London.
Links to other interviews on Pete’s blog: This Is Us: The Diaspora
Pete’s book can be found here: This Is Us – New Zealanders in our own words
Pete Carter is the author of This is Us, published by Exisle, which tells the stories of more than 200 New Zealanders in words and portraits. The book is a snapshot of our nation today. Pete wrote Our Dog Benji (2017), a children’s book illustrated by his nephew and published by EK Books. He is also the author of two books of poetry. Pete has had magazine articles published and poetry in anthologies. As a photographer he has had two solo exhibitions and work included in group exhibitions in New Zealand and overseas. In 2019 Pete had a three-monthswriting residency in rural France where he finished This Is Us and wrote half a novel. He is currently engaged in a follow-up to This Is Us and in the last six months has interviewed 180 New Zealanders in 75 different countries. He was awarded a grant from Copyright Licensing Ltd to complete this series which also appear on his blog, here.