A vote of appreciation for the South

Photo: ODT files
Photo: ODT files
The bottom of the South Island is an oasis of calm in the middle of a whole world going mad, writes Kate Oktay.

Kate Oktay
Kate Oktay
This is a time to really appreciate where we live; with its Inge Doesburg skies and sea mist stealing over the still grey harbour. It is wildly beautiful. And while living in the midst of bush, and swooping tui, and green, sloping hills is good, the bit that makes this place great is our community.

In spite of an election, and a year like no other, we are all still together. A community of different voices, opinions, and backgrounds, but a community that is willing to listen to the other side, and be civil, and try our level-best not to be dicks even if we disagree. Politicians who, you can at least admit, seem not to be terrible human beings*.

Unlike America, whose citizens must surely be eyeing-up pitchforks thoughtfully on trips to the garden centre.

We are a clutter of people in the south of the south. People of Labour and National, of Greens and Act**.

Gluing us together are Good Community People. People like Ken, who joined the Lions, not just for the beer (although also for the beer). People like my last neighbours, who shared vegetables from their garden with those who couldn’t fill their plates and who left bags of children’s clothing at the doors of those who desperately needed it. People like my current neighbours, who, during lockdown, set up an ongoing and ever-changing teddy bear display featuring Humphrey who led a busy life and had a complex inner world.

People like Anne, who go to the local primary school and practise reading with 5-year-olds every week and share their house with people who don’t have anyone. People like Rachel and Craig, who have joined every community group and event in the region, viciously throwing themselves into it and crying when they get funding "because it will just be so good for the stakeholders", or spend every Saturday standing behind the counter at the shop of a creative collective after a 50-hour work week with a sometimes awful hangover*** .

People who make New Zealand a good place to live.

Shukuru is one of those people.

Everyone on the peninsula knows Shukuru, but before you know Shukuru, you recognise her. She is a runner; while you are slobbing in your car driving down the Portobello road, Shukuru is running alongside you, gazelle-like. Making you think simultaneously of how graceful she looks and whether two nights of chips in a row is too many.

Shukuru is always wearing a grin and giving something a go: painting something, making something, visiting someone, cooking something, helping someone do something.

The childhood that Shukuru describes is that of hardship different from any variety found in New Zealand. Shukuru went to school with 900 children and no toilets. So, when she was comfortable with life in New Zealand, Shukuru raised money for years until she went back last year to her old school and got toilets built.

And now she is filling a container. With bikes, pens and pencils, books and paper. Doing good things for people who need it. Gluing us all together.

Because we are all together in this. Pot smokers and teetotallers, euthanasia proponents and those who think God should decide. The left and the right, the liberals and the conservatives, the urban and rural. We all need to come together, knitting our viewpoints and accepting that we are not all the same, but we share this land.

So, Otago. Be grateful for this small and lovely place we live in and go buy something, or donate something, or volunteer somewhere, or help someone. Go to Shukuru’s fundraising art exhibition on October 31 at Broad Bay and pick up something.

Whoever wins in a couple of weeks’ time, we will still be the same. Still together. Living somewhere that is kind of wonderful; thanks to all of you trying to make it that way.

* Not those weirdos at Vision NZ, clearly. Thank you internet, for giving the lunatic fringe the capacity to communicate enough to form political parties.

** See above. Truly fitting the phrase "dumb as a box of hammers".

*** A collective that is the best place to buy bespoke homeware design, high-end fashion, and small, beautiful, glittery things all while supporting local makers in the lower South Island (Guild, of course).

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