Hi beautiful people! I wrote a guest column for the Whanganui Chronicle that went up this week. Enjoy.
I wasn’t planning on spending time in Whanganui at all. It’s a dot on the map––a dot many visitors to New Zealand look over.
As the fates would have it, I met the lovely Lyn and Graham Pearson at a climate justice hui in Taranaki in late January. After a session on the perils of fracking, they jotted down their name and phone number the map where I plot my cycling route. Graham drew an arrow pointing to this river town.
“Come visit us at Sustainable Whanganui and the Whanganui Resource Recovery Centre!” it said.
I injured my foot in New Plymouth and had to take a few weeks off of my bike. It’s a long story, involving a pole dancer’s garage––an errant pole fell on my foot. No, I wasn’t dancing. I’m a dancer, but not that kind of a dancer.
The foot injury made me slow down and accept a ride from a friendly Aussie couple heading around Taranaki and through Whanganui on their way to the mountains. Graham and Lyn welcomed me into their home with open arms and an ample supply of garden-grown vegetables. I learned about their work restoring native plants on the coastline at Castlecliff and was mesmerized by the spinafex.
A series of synchronicities landed me at Green Drinks. Carla Donson was speaking about La Fiesta and how she came to run the Whanganui Women’s Network. At the end of the talk I was invited to share my story to the group of folks gathered at Delicious Cafe & Wine Bar.
I’m a solo female touring cyclist from Boston who graduated from Harvard in May 2014 with a B.A. in Folklore & Mythology. As the recipient of a Gardner & Shaw Postgraduate Traveling Fellowship for a year of “purposeful wandering,” I am traveling the world by bicycle to collect 1001 stories from people I meet about water and climate change. I wear a goofy cardboard sign around my neck that says “tell me a story about water” on one side and “tell me a story about climate change” on the other. So far I have purposefully wandered in the USA, Fiji, Tuvalu, and New Zealand. I arrived in Auckland on January 20 and pedaled my way down to Bluff.
At the end of Green Drinks I wandered over to Carla’s table. You know that glimmering instant when you feel with your whole heart that you’ve found a new best friend? It was something like that. Carla invited me to the Women’s Network the very next day to join in for dance practice for One Billion Rising, the Valentine’s Day flash mob meant to take a stand against violence against women.
I stuck around for the week of dance practices and well, fell in love with Whanganui. I didn’t mean to. It just happened. If I wasn’t so dedicated to wandering, I would move here in a heartbeat.
Whanganui, why do I love thee? Let me count the ways.
The river. I’m a river girl, born and raised. I spent my uni years rowing for the Harvard-Radcliffe Varsity Lightweight Women’s Rowing team, and the place where the river meets the sea––that energetic sphere––is one that instantly makes me feel at home. The river and the hills cradle this town, and I feel a love for the landscape that is beyond words.
The unique collision of art and environmental activism. Few places I have been in the world have such a vibrant community of artists alongside people who give a damn about the health of the ecosystem and the community. For evidence of this fact you need look no further than the Resource Recovery Center’s rooms and rooms of repurposed things + Fleur Wickes’ Artist Studio on Rutland Street. And really, go visit Fleur’s studio if you haven’t yet. It’s a space full of magic. Your home / workspace will be more gorgeous with one of her posters inside.
The Whagnaui Women’s Network. Let me take a pause here to meditate on just how important these spaces are. At Harvard I spent countless afternoons at the Harvard College Women’s Center, drinking tea and catching up with a cast of feminist friends. It was there that I grew into the person I am today: strong, feminist, mostly-fearless, and more importantly: a listener.
A women’s center / network is a safe space to just be: to be heard, to have productive conversations about feminism, to get the best hugs in the whole world.
During my travels in Fiji I had the pleasure of spending an afternoon at the Women’s Crisis Centre in Suva and felt that same instant kinship. I can’t help but smile as I write this, remembering the simple pleasure of being in a room of people who care about how you are doing, who accept that not all days are the best days, and who want to see you be the best person you possibly can be.
And for folks who think that Women’s Networks are just for women, well: no. A Women’s Network is a connecting point for people of all genders and sexualities. As a queer woman and a transient traveler, I feel safe and welcome in a space devoted to my physical and mental wellbeing, a place that makes no assumptions when you walk in the door.
A Women’s Network is a place to start a conversation. It is a place to be heard, to speak your truth. It is not a frightening place, not a confrontational place.
At the Whanganui Women’s Network there’s always someone around to give you a hello and a hug and a cup of tea––whatever it is you might need on that particular day.
As a person who cares deeply about listening and storytelling, it is heartening to know that these spaces exist. And this river community, Whanganui, is made all the better for it.
So, give a little love to your Women’s Network today. Stop in if you haven’t already. Donate if you can. Say hello. Feminist organizations are important the world round.
Keep on keepin’ on, Whanganui. You’re gorgeous. I hope we meet again soon.