From the Galapagos Islands to Stockholm, Sweden, New Zealanders are in lockdown all over the world. So is rookie writer Pete Carter, who works from the back bedroom of his home in Eastbourne, Wellington, where he has a view of a beach that, despite it being "shallow and benign", he hasn't been able to swim at for nearly a month.
"But that's life at the moment," says Carter who, like most of us, is resigned to staying safely at home while Covid-19 circles the globe. But staying home doesn't mean downing tools or, in this case, closing his laptop.
In June, Carter's biggest book to date launches. The author of a children's book and two poetry anthologies releases This is Us, a collection of some 200 interviews with New Zealanders in response to the Christchurch terrorist attacks in March 2019.
Its subjects include everyone from prominent politicians like Willie Jackson and Judith Collins to tattooists, street sweepers, teachers, lawyers, tradespeople and even kids. They live from Cape Reinga to Bluff; some are newly arrived from countries like Iraq, France and Madagascar, while others trace their ancestry to the first waka or settler ships to arrive in Aotearoa.
"We've used first names only because I believe in New Zealand - that's an equality aspect," says Carter, who runs an art sales and rental business, The Art Library, with his wife Jacqueline Henderson. "I mean we refer to our Prime Minister as Jacinda…"
He describes This is Us as a celebration of the "diverse, open and inclusive communities" around the country and says every interviewee has a unique story to tell. With the ink dry on the newly printed pages and waiting for the launch of the book, Carter is – in a way – extending the series.
He's spent the past few weeks working on what he's nicknamed This is Us – the isolation series interviewing New Zealanders all over the world about their lockdown experiences. The 30 first-hand stories (and counting) of about 300 words each that Carter has posted to his blogsite have struck a chord, attracting around 5000 views with barely any publicity.
By and large, he says New Zealanders seem to be doing well.
"But maybe the 'OE demographic" tends to be younger and optimistic."
There's Lily in Lima, Peru who arrived in late January to be with her boyfriend and is now staying with him, his mother, stepfather and extended family in a city where men and women have to go out on different days (Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays are for men; women get Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays and presumably everyone stays in on Sundays). Her boyfriend is the only one who speaks good English, so Lily is enjoying improving her Spanish.
Then there's Lucas, who's in Northern Italy – one of the regions worst hit by Covid-19 – in a small village called Valle Mosso. He's there on an internship for Successori Reda that owns five high country stations in New Zealand and turns wool into woven cloth for the world's luxury brands. Lucas had an Australian flatmate but she returned home, so he's on his own.
In Berlin, Jack, a waiter with family in North Canterbury, recalls walking home from work just as "social distancing" was beginning and stopping to talk to two friends when the police drove by, flashed their lights and told them to keep moving. "It's like The Handmaid's Tale…"
Carter says it proves that despite being a small population, New Zealanders turn up all over the world. That is borne out by his own experiences. Originally from the UK, he played rugby and met many NZers that way but also befriended a kiwi in Zaire and rode a bicycle across India where he met his future brother-in-law.
"He invited me to New Zealand, I met his sister and that was that," he says. "I think it's important to acknowledge where you're from and it's especially important now when the world is topsy-turvy. It means we can share ideas and experiences, know that there's not just one way of doing things that's the 'right way'.
"People don't often get a chance to talk about their lives so, by asking them, it provides an opportunity for them to be listened to."
To read more of the This is Us – isolation edition, see
This is Us by Pete Carter (Exisle Press), is available in an e-book for $20 https://exislepublishing.com/product/this-is-us-ebook-download/
Hard copies ($40) will be out on June 1 but can now be pre-ordered.
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