A Witness To New Zealand’s 9/11

When I moved to New Zealand last September, someone told me that “living here is like living in the 1970’s.” She wasn’t wrong.

A Simpler Life

Most shops in town shut their doors for the evening starting at 5pm. There is the occasional store that rebels and stays open until a very late 6pm or even *gasp* 7pm. There’s a healthy mix of restaurants and cafes that close by 4pm, with others remaining open until 8pm (sometimes 9pm!).

Everyone hangs their laundry out on a clothesline. Even though the majority of Kiwi households have dryers, they are rarely used. Even during the cold and rainy winter season; they simply collect their laundry, light a fire, and hang their clothes on a rack right in front of it.

My personal favorite element is that there is no form of central air in the majority of Kiwi homes. It’s unheard of for most families to have any air conditioning. When it’s hot out, you open your doors and windows. When its cold out- you guessed it- you light a fire. The closest I’ve come to air conditioning in the last seven months was when I stayed at a hotel in Auckland for a five days of sweet, sweet temperature regulated bliss.

Regular television in New Zealand, aptly named “TVNZ,” contains three channels- plus a handful of a few others. The three channels, named TVNZ One, Two, and Three, operate with a news cycle similar to the US before the 24 hour news cycle became a permanent feature. You have an hour of news in the morning, an hour in the evening, and a late night update.

Landlines are still a popular and heavily relied upon mode of communication, though there no answering machines.

The majority of domestic air travel has limited or no security. When I arrived in Auckland and I needed to catch a flight to Palmerston North, I arrived at the airport and provided them with my passport, checked my bags, and was handed my ticket. Instead of making my way through security I just walked 5 minutes to my gate, sat down, and 30 minutes later walked onto the plane. There was no taking my shoes off, dumping out my water, or taking my laptop out. I didn’t have to walk through some body scanning machine or make awkward small talk with a TSA agent. I simply went to the airport and got on my plane.

When I told my parents pretty animatedly how rad it was to have a stress-free trip to the airport, all they said was “that’s how it used to be.”

I think the most important element regarding the similarities between life in 1970’s America and current day life in New Zealand is the general daily attitude people have. The universal feelings and lifestyle choices that are ingrained within Kiwi culture.

Simplicity. A key word I would use to describe my life here. A key word my parents have used to describe life in America in the 1970’s.

But, it’s the aforementioned Kiwi lifestyle and culture that mirrors 1970’s America. Clotheslines. Shops shutting early. Limited television. Easier airport travel. A simple life.

Another key word would be safety.

Aside from the horrors of Vietnam and the financial struggles resulting from different issues during that time, my parents speak fondly about how simple life was and the level of safety in their communities. A common feeling for a large amount of Americans.

You could leave your doors and windows unlocked at all times. It was safe for parents to send their children to walk 2 miles to and from school unchaperoned, which is what my mother did her whole childhood until high school when the school district received buses. Or to send the kids out to roam around and play outside for hours; without really needing to know who they were with or what they were doing, because what was going to happen? It was safe to hop on your bike and ride down to town or grab some friends and go cruising.

It was a time of saying “hi” to every person you saw and passed on the street — even if you didn’t know the person. Something unheard of for the most part in the States now. Something I never experienced living in New York for four years. Yet, it’s a daily occurrence here in New Zealand if you go to town. No surprise there.

Trust. Simplicity. Safety. Friendliness. Neighbors helping neighbors. Knowing everyone in your community.

It’s a refreshing place to exist in and I’m so lucky to live here. Even luckier having been accepted into the community as a foreigner but treated like I‘ve lived here my whole life.

New Zealand is a place that marches to the beat of a different drummer.

A place without a lot of the horrible acts, such as the ones that have become not just commonplace but expected in America. When will another atrocity occur? Who will be targeted next?

At least, that is the way it used to be.


This Is The New Reality

It changed on March 15, 2019 in Christchurch, when New Zealand had its first mass shooting. That is the date that New Zealand experienced an act of Terrorism for the first time; when 50 people lost their lives and another 42 were injured. When their safety, security, and simplicity was challenged without their permission. An alleged foreigner, who was welcomed into this country with open arms, forced the Kiwi’s into this nightmare.

Terrorism and mass shootings don’t occur regularly in New Zealand. Instead, Kiwi’s read about things that occur thousands of miles away in places that geographically speaking are too far away to reach the South Pacific.

It’s important to keep in mind that this is a country with only 43 active aircraft in the Airforce (compare that to the active 6,112 aircraft in the U.S. Airforce). There’s no nuclear weapons anywhere, nor can any nuclear-powered and/or nuclear-armed vessel enter New Zealand waters, land, or airspace.

This is a country where sheep outnumber people six to one.

I can honestly say when I moved here, New Zealand is the last place I ever would have expected anything like this to ever happen. New Zealanders thought like that too.

That’s the way it used to be.

My host mother shared with me some statistics that based on the population of New Zealand and America; that a terrorist attack resulting in the death of 50 New Zealanders is equivalent to the death of over 3,000 Americans. During the attacks on 9/11 2,996 Americans were killed. This mass shooting was New Zealand’s 9/11.

Kiwis have reached the moment where they’ll talk about life the way it used to be. Life before an alleged white supremacist published a hate-fueled, racist manifesto. Before that same man hooked up a camera and broadcasted his rampage. Before fifty innocent people were killed during a sacred moment of their day.

Having been alive when the attacks on 9/11 occurred, I should have some insight, right? Except I was five. All I remember is watching the news with my mother after she picked me up from kindergarten early. I remember waiting for my father to come home from work that night. I remember hearing that everything is going to change now.

And change it did.

Every American knows the way our country shifted following those attacks. It’s clear every time you go to an airport — the wars that followed,  the rise in Islamophobia and institutionalized racism. We know the drill, but this is all new territory for New Zealand.


Responding To Tragedy

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern responded quickly to the mass shooting. Within one week of the attack a new gun law was passed banning all military grade semi-automatics and assault rifles. A nationwide buyback of those guns, which is estimated to cost New Zealand $100 million dollars, was also established.

The Prime Minister’s goal is loud and clear: to prevent a repeat of March 15th. Many people in New Zealand and elsewhere have compared this reaction to when Australian Prime Minister John Howard put through a massive ban on guns, gun reform laws, and a nationwide buyback and destruction of said guns following the Port Arthur mass shooting in 1996.

And what can I, as an American, say to my New Zealand family and friends to make them feel better? I can’t say that this gun ban and legislation will fix everything- because that’s something the American people have yet to experience. I can’t say it’ll never happen again, that no one else will take their hatred out on others unprovoked with a gun.

New Zealanders are still faced with a tough road ahead. How can they really move on from this attack when the sad reality is that if somebody is determined to hurt others they’ll find a way. I hope with the passing of new gun reforms, New Zealand won’t go down the same path of gun violence seen in America.

New Zealand is now asking itself the same question every country who has ever been in this situation beforehand has asked: How do we stop hatred?

Will this country remain friendly and be able to maintain their simplistic way of life? Can they push back against any potential fears or xenophobia? Will airport security become more stringent and echo America’s TSA policies?

The dominoes have already fallen and now it’s a waiting game to see what direction New Zealand goes in. The world is watching to see if Kiwi’s remain steadfast; just as the world watched (and still watches) America post-9/11.

I hope that New Zealand can remain the same refreshing, welcoming, and safe place that I fell in love with — even if it means I have to keep doing my laundry like it’s the 1970s.

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