Habitat, Manukau, NZ 7 March 2006

Wow – what an adventure this trip has been! When I arrived in Auckland on Sunday (March 5th) at 9am, I was just an hour too late to join the team’s short city tour, so the director of the Manukau Habitat affiliate picked me up and took me to their house to help prepare for the big brunch for the team and all the other kiwis that would join in. (ALL New Zealanders refer to themselves as kiwis.) And it turns out I was really lucky I didn’t make that tour… when they were stopped at a high point above the city and the stadium where the All Blacks (national rugby team) play, the van was broken into and 3 lost passports, IDs, tickets, money, cell phones, cameras, etc! So that was a rather inauspicious beginning, but we have had a great time so far, in the midst of those three having to deal with that.

Yesterday was our first work day, and we are finishing a house that was started by the last team that just left – the outside and inside walls and roof are up, and we are doing everything else… painting, shelving, the bathrooms, kitchen, and appliances. Yesterday I spent most of the day prepping the inside walls by sanding, and finished the day painting the facia trim on the outside just under the roof. Today I finished up the facia, and then started learning how they put shelves in the closets – very cool! I worked in the morning with Pauline whose application for a house has been accepted, and the rest of the day with Luis, a local Maori whose application for a home has also been accepted – both will be built some time this year.

We are a team of 10 folks (it was originally to be 22, but I guess many had to cancel!), aged 18 to about 70. Kendra is a HS student from Ohio, taking a break from school((and missing classes) and going to college in Wheeling, WV next year, Carrie and Wes, who are renovating their 150 year old Victorian farmhouse in Ohio (while holding down full-time jobs), Heather, a physical therapist from Baltimore and has done lots of Habitat work, Corrine who is in sales for a fitness club in CT, Tim from Oregon who just quit his job in IT and is traveling around the world, Meg who just retired from her exec HR position with McDonalds, Bart who is retired Army living in Germany now with his wife Annaliese (who also came along), and our team leader, Kristen who is a young twenty-something mother of 6 and is working on her degree in construction management.

Now, a bit of background… Habitat started in NZ in 1993, and the Manukau affiliate was formed in 1993. There are now 19 active Habitat regions in NZ, and over 260 homes have been built, over 50 in Manukau. Manukau used to be the crime capital of Auckland, but thanks to government and Habitat, permanent stable communities are forming. Prospective homeowners must apply for a Habitat house, must have been denied a traditional home loan, and must be able to make house payments. (I am not sure of the other requirements.) A NZ Habitat home is priced at market value, the owner must pay $500 (in payments) before the application is finalized, and the loan is interest free. Payments go toward helping builde new houses for other families.

So far, we have had a wide variety of old, new, accepted, and prospective homeowners helping out with the build – it is hard work, but great fun. (And I am deliciously bone tired in every muscle from head to toe every night, and sleep like a LOG!)

Now – here are some more “kiwi” expressions!

* “box of birds” means cheerful, happy, very good
* “cheers” means goodbye or thanks!
* an “entre” is not the main course, but the appetizer
* a “hottie” is a hot water bottle
* “knackered” means exhausted
* “she’ll be right” means ‘things will be fine’
* “Kia Ora” means hello, thanks, and welcome! (and is pronounced kyo’rra)

* power switches are switched down for “on”, and are also on the plugs.

And last but not least… toilets are usually in a separate room from the shower and sink, and sometimes have a very small wash basin, and they have not one, but two flush buttons (half-flush and full-flush), and the water swirls counter-clockwise 🙂