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Meribel on living in New Zealand

As promised last week, I want to share with you my own experience of getting to know a few of the ni-Vanuatu RSE workers that come to New Zealand to work in the horticulture and viticulture industries.  You will know that part of our business ethos is to “pay it forward in Vanuatu” but we think globally at Lav Kokonas HQ, and that paying forward, includes when ni-Vanuatu are residing in New Zealand.   My first chat was with the delightful Meribel.

Meribel with an upcycled basket repurposed for another life
Meribel making the finishing touches to another basket

Meribel is 52 years old.  Her home village is Ranwadi, on the island of Pentecost.  Meribel is married to Epi Island (meaning she married a man from Epi), so moved, as most women in Vanuatu will do, to the home island of her husband.  Now living in the village of Mabfilau belonging to her husband’s people.   There are approximately 200 people living in Mabfilau, on the south western coast of Epi.   Mabfilua is one of the villages which Lav Kokonas are currently collecting resources for their kindergarten.  2014 is Meribel’s second visit to work in New Zealand and will be here for approximately 3 months, working in an apple and kiwifruit packhouse.  She misses her husband already and has left behind in Vanuatu, five grandchildren from her two sons, who now live in Port Vila and Eastern Santo.


Why did you want to come to NZ? 

I want to get some money for my family.  Our family has a small shop in the village and I want to upgrade the products we sell.  We buy things in Port Vila and have them shipped out to our island.  We sell everyday things like rice, toilet paper and western style clothes.   I also use money I save from New Zealand to give to my church.   I want to buy myself a gas stove and I want to change the house so that there are 2 kitchens so I can have the gas stove and have the smoke cookhouse outside too.   Many ni-Vanuatu cook over an open fire, usually housed in a simple outdoor shelter.  I don’t have to pay for school fees like other ni-Vanuatu that come to New Zealand.  My children are all over 20 years old.


How did you feel on your first visit to New Zealand?  

That was last year, and I felt a little afraid.  I felt joy, because it was exciting but also crying tears because of mixed feelings.  It was good that I had comfort from having leaders who had been to New Zealand before, like Linda from my island.  I do like coming to NZ.


What is one of the most difficult things for you to cope with when you come to New Zealand?

Last year it was very, very cold in New Zealand, so far this year has not been bad.


What are some of your favourite things about New Zealand?

I like the New Zealand food.   There are foods that we have back home like rice so that is comforting and some of the vegetables that we buy at the Motueka market are like the ones at home, but not all.  I buy meat too.  I had never tried kiwifruit until I came to live in New Zealand and I like it very much.  I like working in the packhouse, I prefer to be packing, even if the machines work very fast.


How is the work different in New Zealand to what you are used to in Vanuatu?

In Vanuatu, on my island, we live off the land and sea.  There are no big shops to buy from.  I have to go to my garden to attend to our family’s vegetables.  It usually takes me about 45 minutes to walk to my garden, so I usually stay a long time there, then if I am tired of the garden work, I will do my washing and weaving.  The ladies do a lot of weaving of mats for sitting on the floor and some people still sleep on mats on the floor, but I have a bed.  We also weave baskets for carrying things to and from the garden.


What is your house like in Vanuatu?

My house has an iron roof.  We made our own bricks for the walls.  We have a concrete floor and use solar power for lights at night and for charging mobile phones.  We don’t have a toilet in the house, we use a bush toilet which is close to the house.  We get our water supply from a pipe from the nearby creek.  The white men came and set this up 3 years ago, up until then we had to carry water from the creek.  Some houses still use natangora (woven fronds from a palm tree) roof but that needs replacing and sometimes the water comes in.


What was it like returning to Vanuatu after your first visit to New Zealand?

When I returned to my husband I told him about some friends I had made.  Val and Belinda.  I told my husband that they felt like my family.  They both loved us like they were ni-Vanuatu too.  When I see my friends in New Zealand, my heart leaps up with joy.  It’s like seeing one of my relatives here in New Zealand.

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