‘Forever is a scarcely used word for an Irish emigrant’

I cast my vote in New Zealand this week; it felt like voting for my own future

I voted. I must admit it is the first time I've voted in my life. Politics was not of interest to me in Ireland, but now, on the other side of the world, I cast my vote into the ballot box in the general election of New Zealand.

The act of voting itself was rather uneventful, but the significance was huge. I ticked the boxes and cast my vote on the political future of New Zealand. Simultaneously on a quieter, non-political platform, it feels as though I cast a vote on my own future. I researched and reviewed parties and their policies and by exercising my right to vote, I have become an active participant in my dedication to New Zealand, I no longer just happen to live here.

Voting was a personal acknowledgement that I care about the economy, the people and the future of Aotearoa. To many, this may not seem like much, but it felt like a big step in acceptance that my life is now on the other side of the world to which I was raised. I made an informed decision regarding the political landscape of my new found habitat.

Moving to New Zealand was not an informed decision. It was a decision of the heart. I was in love, and still am. We've been together six years now, three in Ireland, three in New Zealand. His whanau (family) are wonderful people who have accepted me into their world and who have become good friends. Their support and friendship helps ease the distance I feel from my friends, my sisters, my niece, my mum.


Emotional turmoil

Dad passed away last year. I was in the air somewhere between Auckland and Los Angeles when he took his last breath. I drifted around LAX airport in a strange mix of emotional turmoil and understanding calm. Los Angeles to Heathrow was the first time in my life I couldn't sleep on a flight. The 10 days at home were a blur. The wake, the funeral, and my mothers 60th.

To be honest, when we left Ireland, I never gave much thought to how long I might be away, or that it could be permanent, or anything like that. I was happy to be going on an adventure, to be moving to the homeland of my handsome man.

But now, three years later, the small things start to seem bigger, it is these little things I miss. Lunch around the kitchen table with everyone talking at once. The endless cups of tea. The birthdays. Coffee with friends. A hot whiskey by the fire on a winter afternoon. The idle banter and quick humour. The accent. The black pudding. The Murphy’s.

A West Cork petrol station gives out free calendars at Christmas. Mum sends me one every year. It is one of those page-a-day desk calendars with a quote for each day. It sits on the fridge in the kitchen, the daily quote part of the morning ritual. It amuses mum to know we are reading the same calendar quote daily. In the living room we have the free Credit Union calendar on the wall, another piece of West Cork.

In Ireland it was easy and relatively cheap to have a holiday, to visit Europe for a few days, for sun, for snow, for a city break. Nowadays, I don’t entertain the idea of a holiday as such. I’d love to visit Fiji, Samoa or Niue, but in reality any travel plans are firmly rooted in transactions between Ireland and New Zealand.

Family plans

Travel plans are family plans. I wonder how old my niece will be when I next see her (she just turned seven). There is another baby arriving in January. I have no idea how old she’ll be before she meets this aunty.

A sister is engaged, the wedding date hasn’t been set yet, but I am already trying to assess the probable cost of flights and attending an Irish wedding. Plus, I promised mum I’d fly her to New Zealand to visit me, an overdue 60th birthday present. As you can imagine, my life abroad has been a crash course in financial planning.

New Zealand is a fabulous country and I love living here. The people are friendly, but not overbearing. The landscape is often luscious shades of green, with turquoise lakes and snow capped mountains. Outdoor activities like hiking, trail running, mountain biking, gardening and walks on the beach, we can do year round, without getting wet. The Hawkes Bay weather is the opposite of that in Ireland. Rain is limited. Sun is plentiful. Summer is a continuous roll of clear skies and hot sun. The clear winter days, where the temperature is in double digits, are pure luxury.

Will I live here forever? Who knows. Forever is a scarcely used word for an Irish emigrant.