29 April 2011

‘Every break should be inspirational’

Above, my first class and, below, some of my other classes
I read that on the side of a tin of Nescafe coffee. Of course, Nescafe’s advertising meant every coffee break should be inspirational but I took their message literally. Let me explain …

After I broke my ankle in Istanbul back in April 2008, I was stuck in my 50-square-metre-small apartment for almost six weeks. I was very unstable on my crutches and it took ACC (Accident Compensation Corporation – the New Zealand government department that’s supposed to ensure accident victims are well cared for) about four weeks to get me a wheelchair, so I couldn’t easily venture out.

Day-to-day living was easy enough – I was lucky to have friends who visited me often; my workplace was only 5 minutes away, so my workmates took turns delivering and collecting work to and from me; I ordered my groceries online and had them delivered; and I became quite speedy at zipping about on my wheeled office chair, the fastest and easiest way to get around indoors.

Still, I had a lot of time – too much time – with nothing to do … except think. So, I put that thinking time to good use. I have always loved travelling and, even though I had only been away from New Zealand for a couple of weeks before my recent holiday had been cut short by my accident, I knew that I wanted to travel more, and for much longer. And I really wanted to live and work in other countries, so that I could more fully experience their cultures.

But how could I make my dream come true? I’m no spring chicken, so no country would give me a working holiday visa. I had to find some other way. I googled, I followed links, I researched different jobs … and finally focused on the idea of teaching English to speakers of other languages (TESOL). It was ironic really – my last teacher at primary school, Mrs Brownlee-Smith, had told my mum many years before that I should become a teacher but I’d always dismissed the idea.

For the past ten years I had been working in the publishing world, as Operations Manager at Auckland University Press, but it was time for a positive change. I discovered a TESOL course scheduled for the end of the year at the University of Auckland so sent in my application, attended an interview, sat an entry test, and was accepted. I later took 4 weeks’ holiday from work to complete the course.

I also needed to finish my undergraduate degree as many of the foreign teaching jobs seemed to require a degree as well as a TESOL qualification. I had been studying as an adult extra-mural student for many years but still had four papers to complete my Bachelor of Arts. I finished one paper in the second semester of 2008, another paper at summer school, then the last two in the first semester of 2009, finally completing my double major in Classics and History.

The day I returned to work after the TESOL course, in December 2008, I resigned. And six weeks later I started my first teaching job, at Language Studies International, where I’ve worked ever since. That first day, I was scared stiff! But my students were lovely and responded positively to what I was teaching, so the morning passed quickly. I was mentally and physically exhausted, but also exhilarated and I felt a huge sense of satisfaction. I was already looking forward to the next day!

I feel I have been incredibly lucky. To be honest, I chose teaching as a means to an end, as a way of achieving my travelling goals. But I believe I have discovered my true vocation. I love seeing a student’s eyes light up with understanding. I love it when they ask tricky questions because it shows they’re really thinking about what I’m teaching. I love seeing their progress from being barely understandable to almost fluent. I love the crazy moments when I find myself miming some word or concept to make it easier for them to grasp and I love the laughter we frequently share. I love meeting students from all over the world – almost every day they teach me something new about their countries and their cultures. The only thing I don’t enjoy is having to say goodbye to all the wonderful people I meet.

So, it turns out that my (ankle) break really was inspirational. It gave me the time to re-evaluate my life and to set in motion a series of changes that have truly been life-changing.

27 April 2011

My left foot

Geoff and I at Lone Pine Memorial,
Three years ago today I was in Istanbul, Turkey, with my friend Geoff. A couple of days earlier, we had been through the incredibly humbling experience of spending Anzac Day at Gallipoli, and the following day we were due to catch the train to Athens to continue our holiday (we’d planned two weeks in Greece and two in Italy). So, we were enjoying our last day in Istanbul – we'd shopped and seen the sights and walked for miles. We enjoyed a delicious seafood dinner at Hamdi Restaurant, overlooking the Bosphorus, then went to a little bar not far from the Blue Mosque to meet some friends for a farewell drink.

We were having a great time, the chat was good and there was plenty of laughter until … when I was returning from the toilet, down a very old, step flight of stairs, I lost my footing, slipped down the steps and broke my left ankle!

It wasn’t a dramatic head-over-heels fall – I just slid down about 10 steps, landing on my bum. I didn’t even realise I was hurt until the bar manager came over to ask if I was okay and I looked down at my feet. My left foot was turned sideways, facing in entirely the wrong direction!

Within 15 minutes an ambulance had arrived and the female paramedic managed, very carefully and caringly, to remove the boot from my foot. It looked pretty horrible! Nothing dramatic like oozing blood or bones sticking through the skin – it was just the angle my foot was pointing in.

Within 30 minutes I had had my first ever ride in an ambulance, complete with lights flashing and siren blaring, and was lying in the Accident and Emergency Department of the German Hospital. Incredibly, for midnight on a Sunday night, an orthopaedic surgeon was waiting, ready to treat me – once he had talked to my travel insurers back in New Zealand to confirm they would pay the bill, that is.

Now comes the horrible bit! If you’re at all squeamish, don’t read this paragraph. In broken English, the surgeon explained that he needed to straighten my foot as soon as possible to prevent further damage to the tendons, ligaments, whatever. A nurse gave me a shot of morphine but they didn’t wait for it to take effect. While two nurses and two orderlies held me down, the surgeon pulled and twisted my foot back into its correct position. I screamed, then cried with the pain, but it was over very quickly.

I was wheeled off to the most luxurious hospital room I have ever seen (see pictures). Not that I was really paying attention by that stage. The morphine was taking effect – and was continued via a drip during the night – and I soon drifted off to sleep.

The next morning, x-rays were taken and that afternoon the surgeon operated on my ankle. It turns out I had broken the bones on both sides of my ankle, and I now have some flashy titanium hardware, a plate and eight screws on one side and pins on the other. I spent five nights in hospital, then flew home – my first time in business class! – to recover.

At Istanbul airport, waiting to head home
It’s at times like these that you learn some important truths – for me these were the importance of travel insurance and the value of good friends.

I received first-class health care in that Istanbul hospital, both Geoff and I were flown home business class and he was then flown back to continue his holiday, our expenses in Turkey and New Zealand were covered and, six months later, I flew back to Turkey to continue my holiday – all paid for by my travel insurance. I had paid about $200 but the total cost to my insurance company was just over $50,000.

And, as for my wonderful friend Geoff, I can’t praise him highly enough. He liaised with the insurance and hospital people on my behalf, he interrupted his holiday to help me return home, he even gave me an injection in the stomach just before my flight home – I needed some meds to thin my blood and there was no nurse or doctor at the hotel we stayed at on our last night in Turkey. Geoff was the best of friends during that difficult time.

24 April 2011

My Anzac Day at Gallipoli

Sitting on the damp grass above the sands of the beach at Suvla Bay, I experienced the coldest night of my life! But that discomfort was nothing compared to the suffering of the Kiwi and Australian soldiers who stormed that beach on 25 April 1915.
Anzac Cove, in 1915 and in 2008

Ataturk's famous words on a memorial at Gallipoli and the beautifully maintained graves of the fallen soldiers
My journey to Gallipoli had begun two days earlier, on 23 April 2008, sitting on a bus full of Kiwis and Australians en route from Istanbul to Çanakkale, the main town across the Dardanelles from the Gallipoli peninsula. We reached the entrance to the Gallipoli Peninsula Historical National Park around 2pm and began our five-hour tour of the battlefields. It was both humbling and enlightening, thanks in large part to our tour guide, Murat. We started at Kabatepe, where we ate a packed lunch while listening to his introductory talk, then we moved round the various sites: Kemalyeri Memorial, Chunuk Bair (the New Zealand memorial), The Nek, Quinn’s Post, Johnston’s Jolly, Lone Pine, Shrapnel Valley, Anzac Cove, Ari Burnu.

Lone Pine Memorial
My travelling companion Geoff and I both had great-granduncles who died at Gallipoli and both are commemorated on the memorial at Lone Pine. Geoff’s relation Horace Polglase died on 25 April 1915, while mine, Trooper D.A. Rae of the Canterbury Mounted Rifles, died in August 1915. I was surprised at how emotional I became when I read the inscription and as I walked round the graves at that and the other cemeteries. So many young lives wasted!

As we strolled along the sea shore at Anzac Cove, Geoff started talking to a television crew from the TVNZ Breakfast programme and within minutes their reporter, Mark Crysell, had invited us to participate in a live interview for their Anzac morning show. He wanted to involve those who had personal family connections with fallen Anzac soldiers. We arranged to meet the next evening, then our tour group reassembled and drove on to Eceabat, where we caught the ferry across to our hotels in Çanakkale.

Next day, after donning our thermals and layers of warm clothing, Geoff and I caught the 6 o’clock ferry across to Eceabat, enjoyed a delicious dinner at a local restaurant, then travelled up to Chunuk Bair in the TVNZ van. We sat chatting to TV presenter Judy Bailey, the Maori television reporter and the TVNZ crew while we waited for a group of five young Kiwis to arrive; they were also to be interviewed about their reasons for being at Gallipoli.

We had to wait until 10pm to go live to New Zealand and, by then, it was freezing on the ridge beneath the Chunuk Bair Memorial. I wore my beanie and scarf, and had the collar of my jacket turned up against the wind, so was barely recognisable to family and friends watching back in New Zealand. It was certainly a novel experience and an entirely unexpected one!

The TVNZ crew dropped us back down the hill at Anzac Cove, where we waited an hour for the rest of our tour group to join us. Once they arrived, we walked along to the commemorative site, to join the 9,500 other people who would overnight there. Most were better prepared than us, with thick sleeping bags and ski jackets, and slept through the night. I found it too cold to sleep, so watched the various films and documentaries on the big screen and waited for the dawn.

As the first blush of light coloured the waters of the bay at around 4.30am, the official commemoration began: prayers and hymns, addresses by various foreign and Turkish dignitaries, and military ceremonies. It was a sobering and moving experience, and I wasn’t the only person to shed a few tears when the bugler played the Last Post.
The dawn service and, later that day, me with two fellow Kiwis

Geoff and I and a couple of other Kiwis in our party decided we would also attend the New Zealand memorial service later that morning, so we trudged wearily up the steep hill track to Chunuk Bair. A chill wind still blew through the pine trees surrounding the memorial, adding to the bleak atmosphere. I found the New Zealand service even more emotional than the dawn service, not so much because I was thinking of the unfortunate soldiers and their hardships in 1915, but more from thoughts of my mother, who had passed away just nineteen days earlier.

Anzac Day 2008 was a sombre, physically and emotionally exhausting experience, a day that I will never forget.

Lest we forget

Today is Anzac Day in New Zealand and Australia, the day we remember all those who have fallen in times of war. Over the years, many men in my family have served in the armed forces, including my dad – though, luckily, he didn’t actually fight any enemies: he was on final leave, due to go to the Middle East, when the Second World War ended.

Others were not so fortunate. Some of my ancestors served in the First and Second World Wars and, sadly, several lost their lives. Here, I’d like to pay tribute to their courage and their bravery.

Christmas 1942. From left, back row: John,
Bob and Bill. Front: Ted and Doug.
My great-granduncle Thomas Rae and his wife, Ellen Jane Gray, had nine sons. Their older boys were all called up for the army at the beginning of World War Two and, at the time, the family created a record in the province of Canterbury by having seven Rae Brothers in uniform.

Five of the boys served overseas. Bill, Bob and Ted served in the Pacific Islands. Another brother, Doug, was stationed in Italy and later served with the occupation force in Japan. John served in the army in Egypt and, later, in Italy, where an accident while he was driving an army vehicle caused the fingers of his left hand to be severed. Apart from that injury, the Rae brothers came home from the war physically unscathed.

William John Rae

Thomas Rae’s brother, William John Rae (known as John) was working as a shepherd when he joined the army during World War One. John served in Europe with the 1st Battalion, Canterbury Regiment, of the New Zealand Expeditionary Force. In the first few months of 1917 he was with the allied forces in Belgium, battling to hold the front line against the Germans in the Douve Sector near the remnants of the village of Messines. The Allies planned an offensive against the enemy troops that held Messines and the New Zealand Division's task was to capture the village. A great deal of preparatory work was required prior to any offensive; communication and assembly trenches were needed to protect the troops in the hours leading up to the assault, and underground rooms were constructed to serve as brigade and battalion headquarters. During March and April 1917 John and his fellow Anzacs spent their days and nights on these earthworks, as well as digging the new trench in No Man's Land that would provide the jumping-off point for their attack.

Unfortunately, John did not survive to celebrate the Allied victory in the Battle of Messines on 7 June 1917. He was killed a month earlier, on 7 May 1917, and is buried in the St Quentin Cabaret Military Cemetery at Heuvelland, West Vlaanderen, Belgium, one of the 460 Commonwealth soldiers buried in that particular war cemetery.
Donald Alfred Rae
John and Tom’s brother, Donald Alfred (Don) Rae, was also working as a shepherd on Mesopotamia Station, in South Canterbury, when he and his brother John joined up. Don was a trooper in the 3rd Regiment of the Canterbury Mounted Rifles and was one of the New Zealand contingent who fought in the Gallipoli campaign. 

Don was one of the 285 soldiers who died during the Hill 60 Campaign which lasted from 21 to 29 August 1915. These details of that campaign are from the Stuff news website:

On August 21, men from the Otago and Canterbury Mounted Rifles joined an allied attack at Hill 60. Hill 60 was not a major landmark but it had two important wells near its base. The attack was supposed to support an assault by the British at Suvla Bay.

The attack was not well-supported by artillery and was largely driven back by the Ottomans. The New Zealanders managed to capture a small section of the Ottoman trenches, however. There were 55 New Zealand lives lost on the first day of the campaign, August 21.

A renewed attempt at taking Hill 60 was planned for August 25 but delayed until the 27th. In two days of intense fighting, a further 167 New Zealand lives were lost for no gain. Across the 27th and 28th, the Wellington Mounted Rifles lost 59 men, Canterbury Mounted Rifles 48 and the Auckland Mounted Rifles 29.

According to the Auckland Weekly News, Don Rae was wounded in the shoulder and lung. He died of his wounds on 28 August 1915 on board the hospital ship HMS Maheno, then anchored off Gallipoli. In her book While You‘re Away, author Anna Rogers quotes from the diary of nurse Lottie le Gallais, whose words provide a graphic picture of the horrific scene aboard the Maheno on the very day Don died.

On the 28th, with 445 patients on board, and the staff working non-stop in hot, cramped conditions, 'applying pressure dressings to bleeding wounds, changing the dressings of infected wounds and washing men with the limited amounts of sea water available', the Maheno left soon after noon for Mudros Harbour on the island of Lemnos, where the wounded were loaded onto a captured German transport to be taken to Alexandria. There had already been deaths on the Maheno and more died during the short voyage, as Lottie le Gallais recorded: 'Terrible, terrible wounds. The bullets aren't so bad but the shrapnel from exploding shells is ghastly. It cuts great gashes, ripping muscles and bones to shreds. Thirty-nine men have died on board so far and every one suffered great pain and discomfort.’

Donald Alfred Rae was buried at sea and his death is commemorated on panel 72 of the Lone Pine Memorial at Gallipoli.

Leonard Rae Johnstone, with his
father Phil
My granduncle, Leonard Rae Johnstone, was a nephew of Tom, John and Don Rae. After working as a shepherd on both the Ben McLeod and Rata Peaks Stations, Len served with the New Zealand Army in Egypt during World War Two. At the battle of El Alamein he suffered severe injuries and returned home completely disabled. In September 1942, while recuperating at home at Peel Forest, Len met Betty Blogg and they were married in February 1945. Len recovered sufficiently to become manager at Rata Peaks and later worked at Mesopotamia and on a property near Cave. Eventually the strenuous hill-mustering threatened Len's fragile health so he and Betty moved to Geraldine, where Len drove a truck for Geraldine County Council, then spent thirteen years as a driver with the St John Ambulance service. Len and Betty had celebrated over 50 years of married life when Len died on 1 June 1996, at the age of 81, at Geraldine.

John Henry James Rae (known as Jack) was another nephew of Tom, John and Don Rae. He also joined the army in World War Two, serving his tour of duty with 37 Battalion in the Pacific Islands. His battalion formed part of 3 Division, which sailed to New Caledonia in late 1942. There, during nine months of garrison duty, 3 Division established a base and fitted itself out for its forthcoming campaign to assist the United States in driving the Japanese out of the Solomon Islands. Fourteenth Brigade (which included Jack and his 37 Battalion comrades) departed New Caledonia on 17 August 1943, arriving on Guadalcanal ten days later. Over the coming months, they took part in three landing operations, working in the arduous conditions of dense jungle, mangrove swamps and tropical downpours, and under the constant threat of enemy contact. By late 1944 the troops had successfully completed their mission, Japanese resistance was considered at an end, and Jack and those of his comrades who had survived were withdrawn.

All these men fought to protect their countries and loved ones from the threat of war and invasion. Regardless of whether or not we agree with the fighting itself, we can still admire and honour their reasons for fighting.

10 April 2011

Dream. Plan. Do!

NZ Maori call the newborn, unfurling fern frond a koru. It symbolises new life,
growth, strength and peace. The image seems appropriate here.
Since I left my ex-husband 5½ years ago, I’ve been dreaming of living and working overseas, and in just under 4 weeks my dream will finally come true.

I had originally been planning a 6-month volunteer placement with Globalteer in Peru from the beginning of August. I had had discussions with Globalteer’s general manager, Jim Elliott, about how I could best help out, I’d been in contact with his project manager, South America, Judy to make the necessary arrangements and my travel agent cousin Paul had booked my flights. I was supposed to pay for my flights by Friday 11 March but then, somewhat unexpectedly, Paul suggested I wait to see if a special price might come up.

The following Sunday Judy phoned from Peru to give me more information about their project and discuss details of my trip. Half way through our conversation, she said she was sorry she wouldn’t get to meet me. I was surprised and asked, ‘Why not?’ She replied that she was leaving in June.

As soon as she said it, something clicked in my brain – call it instinct, or fate, I really don’t understand what it was, though this same thing has happened to me before. Here was an opportunity I couldn’t let pass! By the end of our conversation I had applied for Judy’s job and later that afternoon I emailed off my CV and application letter to her to send on to Jim. It was a very good thing that I hadn’t paid for my tickets!!!

Jim sent me an email and we set up a phone interview – he was then in Cambodia. We had a really good long chat and, after taking the weekend to mull it over, Jim phoned early the following week to offer me the job. I could hardly believe my luck!

And, since then, everything has fallen into place – which to me is a sure sign that this was meant to happen! My tickets are now booked and paid for; my travel insurance is also organised and paid for; my new passport has arrived; I’ve organised a property management company to look after my apartment and it's already rented to their Auckland rental manager, which should certainly guarantee it will be well looked after.

I still have a lot of things on my ‘To Do’ list: clearing out and selling off and tidying up, but I'm trying to get at least one thing done every day so that I won't be rushing round too much at the last minute.

It’s amazing what opportunities present themselves when you are open to the possibilities. I just love it when dreams come true!