Friday, September 9, 2011

Still an Outsider

A few months ago, I posted about being an outsider in New Zealand as President Obama announced that Osama Bin Laden was dead. I ended the post with the hope that with the release of ten years of pent up tension, perhaps we could come to a point in time where understanding of each other trumps the notion of outsider. I still have that sentiment, but this week that label, whatever it means, is front and center (or should I say, centre?).

Before coming to New Zealand, I was aware of a few things about the country other than their legal system. I knew that Dunedin (where my university is located and I live) has penguins and a farmer’s market. I knew that Wellington is one of the windiest cities in the world and reminds people of San Francisco (for the record, it is San Francisco!). I also knew that New Zealand would be hosting the Rugby World Cup starting in September. I knew a few other things, but those were the important ones for me at the time.

I know next-to-nothing about rubgy. When I tell rugby fans this, they always tell me about the one rule I do know – you can only throw the ball backwards. I have come to realize that the rules are just as confusing to people who watch the game regularly as they are to me as an American who has attended only one rugby match and who first had the rules explained in French. But I was (and am) excited about the World Cup. 

I love the atmosphere that international sporting events bring, even when people drink far too much, and we can add that to the list of things I knew about Kiwis – they like to drink . . . a lot! But this did not stop me from heading to the centre of Dunedin last night to watch the opening match at a bar in town. The game between Tonga and the All Blacks (New Zealand) began with both teams doing a haka, and ended with the All Blacks clobbering Tonga. I left a little after halftime; it was well past my bedtime by then.

The All Blacks preparing for their haka before the game. 

I have tickets for one game – between England and Georgia. I am excited to be here for the largest party New Zealand has ever, and perhaps will ever, throw. But I am also a wee bit confused and overwhelmed. I know the USA Eagles are not going to win, and other than not wanting to be in New Zealand if the All Blacks lose, I do not care at all about the outcome. But it is amazing to watch how communities can come together, cheer their teams, and support an atmosphere of sport. It is amazing to see how we can all create one large community.

It stands in stark contrast to the other event this week – the 10-year anniversary of September 11. Tomorrow is September 11th, sort of. It is September 11th in New Zealand, but not yet in the USA. Ironically, the Eagles are playing their first Rugby World Cup match tomorrow, wearing black armbands and taking a moment of silence before the game.

But once again I am not sure how to act as an American. I am not usually very interested in “special” days. I firmly believe that everyday is special, and that anniversaries, birthdays, etc. are odd salutes to events we should honor all the time. But they are also moments of reflection, moments that almost force us, in our hurried lives, to stop and think. While I would like to believe that we can do that without these odd sentimentalizations (is it ok if I make up words?), I know that most of us, me included, do not do so.

But something I have not shared on this blog is the amount of anti-American sentiment I have felt since arriving in New Zealand. Strangely, I have felt more here than I ever did living in France, even while living there when we invaded Iraq and again when we reelected President Bush. Perhaps I notice it here because I am more aware. Perhaps I notice it because I did not expect it. Perhaps I notice it because there really is a lot. I do not know the reason, but I have noticed it. And it makes me wonder how I am going to feel being a day ahead, and a world removed, from the memorials of 9/11.

I have been teaching a weekly yoga class here on Mondays. For those keeping score, that is 9/12 here, but 9/11 back in the States. I am going to dedicate the class to those affected by that horrific day ten years ago, not just those who died that day, but all the pain, death, and horror that have filled the last ten years. But I know there are people in who will be there who think US Foreign Policy is the bane of humanity. How do I convey the fear and confusion we all felt ten years ago? How do I honor that fear and honor the horror that the US has entailed since? How do I honor the confusion this has created? 

So, the weekend began with a coming-together of the world, and that celebration will continue, and I will remain just as confused as everyone about rugby. But in the midst of it all, there is a moment to reflect and feel oddly “American” in a world that is quickly, and obviously, shrinking. I guess this is part of Senator Fulbright’s vision. We learn about each other, but we also have to learn how to share our cultures and ideas in ways that make sense to others. That is a lesson I am learning more and more each day.

© 2011 Rebecca Stahl, all rights reserved