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July 30-31, 2001
Gisborne: Life on the farm (Russell)

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Approaching Te Hau Station farm

Gisborne (on the east coast of NZ’s North Island) is one of the closest cities to the International Dateline, and proudly considers itself “first to see the light.”  It’s a folksy town where everybody still knows everybody else.

An hour west of Gisborne is Te Hau Station, which roughly translates to “The Wind.”  (“te hau o te atua” is Maori for “the breath of the God.”)  It is here that we spent two nights in a homestay on the farm of Chris and Jenny Meban, and their sons Alex (9) and Laurie (7).

We had concerns about how well the four boys would get along, but they vanished as soon as we arrived.  Within 10 minutes, Laurie and Joss were up in a tree together.  Within 20 minutes, the boys were climbing around in the barn and playing baseball.  When Laurie came running into the house with his Pokemon Game Boy, we had the strangest feeling of déjà vu.  In fact, it was almost frightening how similar the two sets of boys were.

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Laurie and Joss tree climbing
Joss, Cameron, and Laurie in (on?) the barn

The remainder of the their visit was spent coaching, discussing, sharing, and playing Game Boy.  There was much laughter and harmony… and peace and quiet for the adults.

The boys got along so well that on the second day, Cameron and Joss sat in at the boys’ school at Te Karaka.  In Alex’s 5th-7th grade class, Cameron held a brief and nervous Q&A session.  He revealed that New Zealand is “interesting,” and that “d’accordini” is French for “okie dokie.”  In Laurie’s 2nd grade class, Joss told jokes and enjoyed himself so much that he wants to keep visiting other schools around the world.

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Cameron and Joss visiting Te Karaka school

The Te Hau Station farm has been in the Meban family for generations.  It is currently managed by Chris on behalf of his brothers.  His duties include looking after 2,000 cattle and 7,000 sheep on a spread of 5,400 acres (they had just expanded another 1,400 acres when we arrived).  During breeding season, the livestock can double.  Chris often takes an hour on horseback just to get to where he’s going, and is out from sunrise to sunset, rain or shine.  The day we left, he and his men had to round up 4,000 sheep to receive ultrasounds.  A marketing job in Silicon Valley pales in comparison to the work and fulfillment experienced on a New Zealand farm.

Closer to home, Jen manages the house and pets.  We counted 5 cats, 3 dogs (not including the 20 work dogs), 2 lambs, a pig, a calf, a goat, and who-knows-how-many guinea fowl.  It was a wonderful scene at feeding time, and a wonderful sound every morning at about sunrise.  The boys loved it.

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Joss feeding the lambs
Cam feeding a one-week-old calf (Jen named him "Harvest Moon" in honor of Game Boy)

Technically, we slept in the “West Wing” guest quarters, but we spent every waking hour with the family in their large, warm farmhouse next door.  Jen and Gail spent many hours in the kitchen, chatting about everything from recipe vocabulary to the fact that a “hogget” is somewhere between a “lamb” and a “mutton.”  Jen’s home-cooked meals were wonderful, surpassed only by her and Chris’ enormous hospitality.

The best way to get to know a country is to get to know the people, and by the end of our two short days we felt like family.  Cameron said that Te Hau was “better than Rarotonga,” which is very high praise indeed.  We are very sorry to leave… but that is a sign of the best of times.

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Four young friends: Alex, Cameron, Laurie, and Joss
Four old friends: Jenny, Chris, Gail, and Russell

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