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MERRY CHRISTMAS!

My present to myself: a toe that is NOT broken! Hurrah! Also, orthopedic insoles that will correct the way that I walk and therefore make my achilles stop hurting me when I hike. In general, my experience with the NZ medical world has been incredibly positive. The entire affair (clinic visit, x-ray, one physiologist visit, two podiatrist visits, insoles) took a total of three or four hours to deal with, and only cost me $137. That's it. Imagine the same situation in the USA…five hour wait in the emergency room to see a doctor about the toe. Then another three for the x-ray, then another two to get the diagnosis/prognosis. And the bill would be somewhere in the thousands. THEN it'd take another month to have a physician tell you to see the podiatrist, who would be booked up until April, and who would then charge you at least $300 for services and for the insoles, which you aren't convinced are going to work anyway. I think the various doctors and nurses that I saw were highly amused by my incredulity. I kept asking about the costs, in disbelief, certain that there must be a catch somewhere. But no. I'm covered under Accident Care Coverage or something like that, even as a non-citizen. And the x-rays are free. And the physiologist didn't charge me anything. Oh, the relief. I think I could live here indefinitely, just for the ease and affordability of their medical care.

I've been in Napier for one week yesterday, and in NZ for nearly seven! Payday today, though in the pre-xmas rush, I forgot to pick up my payslip, so I won't know til tomorrow how much I made, exactly. Probably just enough to cover my medical and grocery expenses of the last week. We've been picking on a two day schedule, with a day off in between. I work in the shop after picking, usually for an hour or two, but yesterday and today Ian had me come in to work with the strawberries – people are buying them as fast as we can get them out into the bins. Kiwis go crazy for strawberries at xmas, and Ian's place is quite well known for his. This is my first experience with a retail-type job during the holidays, and I'm exhausted: fingernails stained with strawberry blood, lower back aching from picking, and eyes ready to close because they've been open since 5 AM.

Tomorrow, though, a mini-holiday! We pick tomorrow morning, then I have until Tuesday morning off. I'm going back to Tauranga to spend xmas with Jasmine and her family, bless them. Pleasant anticipation is keeping a smile on my face – Kiwi Christmas! It means the world to me to have a family to spend the weekend with. Anne, Kathrin, and our fellow pickers are planning a BBQ and are excitedly planning to buy all kinds of special food, but for me this is a holiday for family rather than friends. Our shed is feeling a bit more homey, though – Barret, Charlotte (the Australian/British couple who live with me – a little aloof and spacey, but nice) and I went out and bought our very own live xmas tree! Strapped it right onto Dr. Gonzo's roof and set it up in the corner of our kitchen. We've got a few decorations on it, but the best thing about it is the smell. It looks a lot different than the typical US xmas tree, but the sharp evergreen scent is just the same.

It's been raining every day. Not rainy days, exactly, just passing storms that whip through and deafen us by dumping rain on the tin roof of our shed, then blow away and leave us to bake in the sun again. Very abnormal for the area, we've been told, but we've come to expect that every afternoon we'll need to do a mad dash to close our car windows and bring the washing in off the line. Kathrin and Anne and I keep trying to go to the Napier Botanical Garden to sit and read, but keep getting rained out. We spend a lot of time in the shed, in the kitchen, and at the Pak 'n Save (the cheapest grocery store in NZ). All the rain, though, has driven me to return the cheap, crappy, camouflage tent, and buy a “Hobbit.” The name is cute enough, but the bigger size, the ease of set up, and the waterproof-ness all earn it an A+.

We also tend to go to bed quite early, although the sun doesn't set until about 9:30 PM. One night, though, Kathrin and I waited til sunset, and took a walk through the main center of Napier. An earthquake destroyed the city in the early thirties, and it was rebuilt entirely in Art Deco. The main driving road reminds me of Sunset Boulevard – gigantic, symmetrical palm trees line the roadway, and all the homes have the one-story stucco look and Hollywood-class landscaping. Nighttime is particularly special, because of the neon detail lights along all of the architecture. Eventually we wandered down to the pebbly beach, out of the lights, and tried to find familiar stars. Orion, the hunter, is the only constellation that can be seen in both the northern and southern hemispheres, and we found him right away. He was upside down. Upside down. Because I'm on the other side of the world. In the southern hemisphere. What a moment, what a realization, to see the simple fact of where I am and what I'm doing laid out for me in the sky.

I want to wish all of you a very, very merry Christmas. I don't have any cards or gifts to send, so instead I send my love. Have fun, relax, and spend time doing what you love with the people you love. And think of me, wishing I was there, or you were here.

Peace and love…

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