“Kekeno”

It’s a golden early September. The cool grey clouds still glaze over our heads, but the sun has been pressing closer day by day. Sunlight flickers off of the sea, just for pinpoints in time. Sara is already snug in her cockpit, her neoprene skirt stretched tight around the kayak seat’s protruding upper lip. I lean forward, knees bent, and push the hefty tandem boat from the stern into the softly crashing waves. My neoprene booties seem impenetrable only for a second. The chilled seawater finds its way through the opening at my ankles and seep around my toes. I jump into my cockpit. Stretch the skirt over the lip. Flatten the lever and lower my rudder. Finally, I pick the paddle up by its shaft and push the blade against sand and frothing surf.

We are like an unobtrusive intruder in this polyethylene, tiny red ship, both shooting through the water and bobbing like a top in this sheltered bay. The sea rolls underneath. I can imagine I’m riding atop a massive blue-backed leviathan. Its diaphragm rising and falling.

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Gull cries pierce the soft symphony of wind and waves. They peel off towards the Abel Tasman coast, hills cloaked in green and the dissolving morning haze. I watch them glide in circles, beat their wings, and swing back around. Gwen sits in his single-seat kayak, perks of being a guide. He detracts me from my gaze and tells us that Adele Island is our next stop. Straight ahead, it sits indifferently to our tiny presence, as small as it is itself.

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As we paddle closer, my shoulder burns. Gwen tells me to swing more, but I reckon to myself it’s because I have to contend to the waves pushing back. My suspicions are confirmed when we near the sheltered Adele coast. The water calms, but still shatters and foams against the coarse, beaten granite boulders. I navigate the shoreline with forced confidence, emulating Gwen who slips unflinchingly between sharp protruding pillars. Suddenly I realize that the rocks, which once appeared empty, were dotted with New Zealand fur seals. Properly, as Gwen explained, sea lions. Many slumber on, either unaware or indifferent to our minute, quiet presence. However, as we press on, a small dark shape flounces ungainly, enthusiastically off a granite shear into the water. Suddenly transformed into a graceful smooth-spinner, it flows and cuts through the water at the same time towards Gwen’s kayak.

Like a little black Labrador pup, the young seal follows closely at Gwen’s heals. He flicks his tail, nose dives, twists, as though dancing with the kayak’s rudder. Eventually Gwen slides away, and I find myself gingerly pressing my foot against the left pedal towards the shore. Sara is quiet, but I sense her excitement vibrating into the air as much as mine. The seal pup is relatively still now, treading, with its head peering above the shallow, bright turquoise water. I can only identify its feeling as curiosity. Then, it decides. Our kayak teeters lightly above small ripples, waiting. Breath. Held. In.

Kekeno. It is the name the Maori people give the New Zealand fur seal. Gwen told us the name means “large eyes”. Rightly so. Between his jovial swim-dance, he would stop to watch us. Watching us watch him. Gwen watches us watch each other. He has the biggest brown black eyes, the white yellow sun glinting off his wide, curious orbs. His fur is slick, brown black too. A pup’s fur is usually darker. The sunlight defines the smoothed, thick hairs which groove together, linear crevasses and ridgelines, basin and range topography.

The pup dives into the water from its outpost. He twists, spins, flows like a swift river’s current. Straight to us he glides. I think I let out a small squeak – the balloon in my chest was so filled with excitement, I couldn’t help let a small bit escape. I twist my torso, limited to the skirt hugging my waist, to see the pup prance at our stern. He could best an Olympic synchronized swimmer. My fibers wish to transform into this furry, joyful body. Slide ungainly from polyethylene into salty, living, seawater. And be free.

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A Different Sort of Life

Hi! I’m Sara Warmuth. I am a junior Business Administration major at Gordon College in Wenham, Massachusetts. I grew up in the Adirondack Mountains of New York, and now call Kauai, Hawaii home. I love being here in New Zealand. Kaikoura is a wonderful place, one where you can swim with snowcapped mountains in view.

Our wonderful blog-running fairy, Essie, asked me if I could write a post about what is different here at CCSP in comparison to home. The first thing I noticed in Kaikoura was how similar it was to other places I had been. On the drive from Christchurch to Kaikoura, the homes reminded me of Hawaii, and the cutting and burning happening on the drive felt familiar, and sad. The forests were unique in some ways, but still felt fairly similar to the forests in Hawaii. Even the people were sarcastic, and had a similar humor to that of the Massachusetts area I have come to know and love. As I grow more accustomed to being here at The Old Convent, living in community, I begin to notice little things that are different. First, The Old Convent is a place where people drop in. So many locals have connections with it, so they come randomly throughout the day, and sometimes stay for a meal. This is a great way to get to know the locals and the culture of the area, but it can also be frustrating when I am in the middle of homework and then suddenly have a visitor show up. However, the main differences about living here have nothing to do with the Kiwi (New Zealander) culture or the land we live on. Our community of North Americans (the two Canadians make it so I can’t just say Americans) is an eclectic group that often dances through doing the dishes, the laundry, the weeding, and through life. Whether it is Amy sending “real life snapchats”, which is really just her making weird faces towards someone, or Joey saying “Sara help me” whenever the slightest thing happens, we always interact in ways unique to us and to our experience here. This can also lead to some frustration, as we are always together. Victoria last night, when unable to find a staff member, exclaimed, “I didn’t want to tell any of you my problem because it has to do with my secret homework spot!” A part of her needed to protect that one space of privacy, and I respect that. Yet part of me is going to miss the feeling of being cramped when I go back. We are so close here, physically and emotionally, because we don’t have the opportunities to be apart. That creates a community unlike one I have ever been a part of before. And it is still only half way through the semester! Here’s to a second half of loving nature, loving God, and loving each other here in beautiful Kaikoura.

Becoming a ‘Slow Activist’

Hi, my name is Amie, and I’m a senior Writing & Rhetoric major and Religion minor at Northwestern College in Orange City, Iowa. I am currently learning and living at The Old Convent in Kaikoura, New Zealand with a community of pretty cool people, if I do say so myself. In this post, I’d like to share some thoughts with you all about life here at CCSP and what I’m learning about the joy of work. Enjoy!

“Become a slow activist” was one piece of advice that our Professor, Mick Duncan, gave us during our second week of class on Sustainable Community Development.

“Hurry,” he told us, “will damage your most important relationships in life.”

Now six weeks into my time at CCSP, I can clearly see how hurry damages our relationship to the joy of work. In my daily life as a college student in North America, it is all too common for me to feel like I am constantly rushing from one activity to the next—from class to lunch to a meeting—leaving my dishes in the sink in my apartment and telling myself that I’ll wash them later tonight when I have more time. And I’ll confess that I often put off doing my laundry, wearing some articles of clothing probably a few more times than I should, just so I don’t have to sacrifice the few hours it takes to oversee the washer and dryer.

For the average American, this hurried pace of life trains us to see activities such as cooking, cleaning, or doing laundry as inconvenient chores rather than dignified work. We turn to dishwashers and washing machines in order to maximize efficiency and purchase processed or premade foods at the grocery store, rarely giving any of these choices a second thought because it’s so easy to consider them all normal and even indispensable parts of life. But I’d like to raise the question, “Are they?”

Life at The Old Convent has given me the opportunity to reconsider the pace of life and the value of work both individually and communally. Whether we are throwing dance parties in kitchen while doing dishes or playful moaning about pulling weeds in the rain, when we share the responsibility of work, we also share the joy of work—the tangible results of our actions and the time spent together. When I do my laundry by hand in the wash table outside, I spend my time engaged in the process instead of waiting for a machine to do the work for me, and I can use both my hands and my mind throughout the duration of the activity. Doing laundry by hand teaches me to appreciate the whole host of factors which have to align in order to make the process possible. The weather — not too cold, no rain, hopefully some sun to aid the drying process. The time of day — morning or early afternoon so I have daylight. The tools — a relatively small amount of water, some powered laundry soap, and a brush — no electricity required. Surprisingly, I’ve found that despite the fact this process requires more effort on my part, I always seem to have time for it. Because I live my entire life at a slower pace, I can appreciate the time I spend doing laundry as time to reflect on the day or meditate on deeper thoughts which surface in the quiet.

Baking is another way in which I have experienced the joy of work. In my daily life at school, sliced, store-bought bread in a plastic bag is the norm. That’s not to say that we don’t eat the same kind of bread here at CCSP (anyone living here this semester knows just how much we love peanut butter on toast and how quickly we go through it), but we also have the opportunity to bake and eat our own bread. Learning this ‘homemaking skill’ has been one of my favorite things this semester and is a practice I’m very excited to bring back to North America. Turns out, baking bread isn’t hard and has a ton of benefits. Through making my own bread, I am able to control what goes into it. I can reduce the amount of packaging and energy that result from my personal food consumption. Also, I get to enjoy the smell and warmth of baking bread on a cold day. How great is that?  It’s unfortunate that the need for speed and convenience has stripped away these simple joys from many people, especially when I consider how that mindset affects many of our fundamental relationships.

For me, recovering the joy of work and the sense of satisfaction that comes from seeing a process through to completion is a key part of what it means to be a slow activist. Transforming my mindset toward ‘chores’ such as laundry, cleaning, or cooking from one of annoyance and inconvenience to one of enjoyment spills over into my attitude toward academics and community. When I can see listening to a lecture or developing a relationship with someone on the margins of my life as an opportunity to do good work, I am able to take joy in these activities as well, and my life becomes oriented toward a greater goal—the dignified work of ushering in the Kingdom of God.

A Day in the Life of the Cook

By now this semester’s group of students have settled into the general routine of making the Old Convent their home. They’ve been on a weekend break, been on a week-long field trip to Wellington, and completed the class called Sustainable Community Development. You’ll get to read insights from several of those students soon, but for now you’ll have to settle for hearing from me, the Kitchen Manager. I was a student at CCSP exactly a year ago and am thrilled to have the chance to be back as a staff member and live the Convent life for a while longer.

In case you were wondering, (I’m sure you weren’t) I am a recent graduate of Houghton College and CCSP alum Fall 2015 (NGA!).

So, my morning starts with some sort of half-groggy form of exercise. Today I biked down the road to the Kowhai (pronounced co-fy) river and jogged part of the mountain bike trail. It was a chilly, foggy morning but turned out to be a beautiful day.

Every weekday I cook lunch and dinner for all the students and staff. It’s a colossal job but thankfully one I enjoy. Not that there aren’t moments I consider regretting my life choice, like when struggling to cut open a huge butternut squash, but when the meal turns out well in the end it is always worth it.

After jogging comes breakfast. As soon as I walked into the kitchen, my mind scattered to the thousand and one tasks I had to do to for the day. Lately our chickens, called “chooks” in NZ, have been laying a lot of eggs and I decided it was time to make some quiche to use the four dozen eggs that had accumulated over the week. Along with the quiche I made cabbage au gratin and a salad. A typical healthy, local, sustainable meal, no big deal.

After lunch, there was a staff meeting. I usually start making dinner around 2:00 or 3:00pm  but today I took a chance and decided I would carpool with two other staff members on their trip into town so that I could get my grocery shopping done for the week. I got back to the Convent at the late hour of 4:00pm and rushed to throw together the Mexican casserole for the evening meal. Dinner, I’m proud to say, was still on time.

Here’s an interesting and useless side note. In New Zealand they call dinner “tea.” It hasn’t really been explained to me how that came into practice; something for further research I guess.

After “tea” the students went to their evening class session and I retired to the staff house for some much needed relaxation. Before dark, I visited with the horses across the street. The stars here are stunning at night and I always look for the southern cross constellation when I walk the short distance from the Convent to the staff house. Now it’s time to rest before another full day in this beautiful place!

~Essie F.