Culture: Cultural mix adds to Bay's richness

By Ruth Keber

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Isaiah Deo with his mother Destinty Deo, Marth Grace, Harry Babbage and Nicoluss Deo in their home in Gate Pa. PHOTO/RUTH KEBER
Isaiah Deo with his mother Destinty Deo, Marth Grace, Harry Babbage and Nicoluss Deo in their home in Gate Pa. PHOTO/RUTH KEBER

Walking into Martha Grace's modest home in Gate Pa you would never guess three different cultures are living under one roof.

Indian Fijian Martha arrived in New Zealand looking for a new start after leading a hard life in Fiji. It didn't happen straight away but now the bubbly woman has found her place.

Growing up with four sisters and two brothers in a small village called Lombassa, Ms Grace said life was challenging from an early age.

Her father, a strict man, had a farm and harvested sugar cane.

From the age of 6 she would help around the home by preparing meals and also work in the fields after school.

"I would walk home, an hour-and-a-half each way, and cook because my mum and dad used to go and work with the labourers on the farm.

"We had a hard time, we had to do everything, we had to help our parents with the goats and cows.

"My dad never allowed us to wear sleeveless tops and we were never allowed to wear pants, just skirts and dresses.

"It was a cultural thing, they were very strict in their culture even though we were Christian.''

Although Ms Grace said her life was tough, she still looked back on her childhood with fondness and described the northern region of Fiji where they lived as the friendly north.

Moving to Fiji's capital after she finished high school, Ms Grace said things did not get much better.

"In Suva, you have to work so hard but your wages are so small. I worked eight hours a day but I was only getting $65 to $70 a week.''

Ms Grace said rent was cheaper compared with New Zealand but other living costs were just as expensive.

A chef by trade, Ms Grace said she initially settled in Palmerston North before finding a position in a restaurant in Tauranga.

However, for the next 18 months she worked seven days a week, 9am to 9pm, before securing another job and meeting her partner.

Ms Grace said she met her fiance, Zimbabwe-born Harry Babbage, just "around the corner'' from where they now live in Gate Pa.

"I was working in a dairy shop and he used to come and do his laundry in the shop next door,'' she said.

The couple first met at New World, which then turned into a movie date. This turned into Mr Babbage going to Ms Grace's house for dinner every night.

Mr Babbage said he left Africa in 2005, after becoming fed up with the political system in his country.

"Things weren't good in Zimbabwe with the change of government.''

When Mugabe first came into power in 1980, Mr Babbage said the country was still stable.

"Things were still good but his popularity declined, he promised free education and free medical, it happened for a little while but he couldn't sustain it.

"People started suffering, under the split government people had three meals, now all they have is one meal a day if they are lucky.

"They are using US dollars now. There is no Zimbabwean dollar. That's gone by the wayside,'' he said.

With two of Mr Babbage's sisters in New Zealand, after a visit home they were able to distribute his resume in New Zealand. A coach builder by trade, he now works for Kiwi Bus Builders.

Growing up in a middle-class family of nine, Mr Babbage said his roots reached back to England, Greece and Africa.

Being part of an Anglican church choir, he travelled extensively as a child through lower southern Africa.

"At 9 years old we travelled all over. Things we would have never been able to do if we had not been in the choir,'' he said.

Mr Babbage said geographically Zimbabwe was different to his Kiwi home.

"Zimbabwe is landlocked, so there is no sea at all, just rivers and dams.

"There is not that much space in Zimbabwe, like there is in New Zealand. Shops are piled on top of each other in city centres.''

The couple now live above Ms Grace's adult son Nicoluss Deo, his wife, Kiwi-born Destiny, and their first born-child Isaiah, in Gate Pa.

With a mixture of English and Hindi flowing through the rooms, it is a welcoming place to be.

Fast facts about Fiji
Population: 842,000
Capital: Suva, 210,000
Area: 18,376 square km (7095 square miles)
Language: English, Fijian, Hindi Religions: Christian, Hindu, Muslim
Currency: Fijian dollar
Life expectancy: 67
GDP per capita: US$5600
Literacy per cent:: 94

Fast facts about Zimbabwe
Population: 13,010,000
Capital: Harare, 1,469,000
Area: 390,757 square km (150,872 square miles)
Language: English, Shona, Sindebele
Religion: Syncretic (part Christian, part indigenous beliefs), Christian, indigenous beliefs
Currency: Zimbabwean dollar
Life expectancy: 41
GDP per capita: US$2100
Literacy per cent: 91

- Bay of Plenty Times

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