An American Kiwi

Del periodo trascorso in Nuova Zelanda, lei, Sarah Pettus, è uno dei ricordi più forti e piacevoli che io e mio marito conserviamo. Una donna forte, generosa, intelligente e spassosa. Non è facile incontrare persone così nel proprio cammino.

Di seguito riporto l’articolo dell’intervista che le avevo fatto nel 2013 e che avevo pubblicato nel blog che tenevo allora. È in inglese, la lingua che usavamo per comunicare. Sarah racconta di lei e della sua vita, ma non solo. Parla anche degli Stati Uniti, di B. Obama, di G. W. Bush e di S. Berlusconi.



Since we arrived to Wellington, we have met many people. A lot of them just appeared in and quickly disappeared from our lives, without living any sound or memory. Few of them have left us a negative sensation and feeling, but these do not deserve to be either mentioned. Some of them are people who rise from the masses because of one or more characteristics that distinguish them among all the others and whom we will never forget.

One of the latter category is our English teacher at ETC (English Teaching College): Sarah Pettus, from New England – USA. She has been in New Zealand for about 12 years and she obtained the Kiwi citizenship about two years ago. She has a “travel bug”, as she defined herself. In fact the first time she left her country she was eighteen years old and spent her summer holidays in Taiwan to learn Chinese. The following year she flew to France where she studied French and worked as an au-pair, furthermore she travelled around Europe for about —- months. After the European experience, she went back to the United States to finish the university, but this was just a bracket and her travel-hungry was not satisfied at all: with her Master’s degree in pocket she moved to China to keep on studying Chinese and to teach English. She spent there two years and she had “the best adventures I ever had”. As soon she was back in the USA, she started teaching Chinese during the mornings and soccer during the afternoons and she lived in a dormitory where she looked after kids during the evenings. She met her husband in California where she moved to in order to get a Master degree and when he got a job opportunity from New Zealand, she decided to follow him into this new adventure. The initial plan was to stay just one year and have a short time experience, but, you know, life is surprising and erratic… so one year turned into 12 years and a Work Visa turned into a citizen status.

Now let’s finally come to the most interesting part of this article: the answers Sarah gave to our questions.

Why did you decide for New Zealand and not for another country, for example Australia?
Australia is more similar to the United States, they are politically close one to each other and I wanted something different. In the USA everything is becoming too big, in addition I don’t like the USA politic: just to provide an example, during the election in 2000 [Ed. All Gore vs George W. Bush] there was a lot of illegality, a lot of votes where threw away, especially in Florida. On the contrary, New  Zealand is a small country and I can still make the difference.

Which are the three things you most like about New Zealand?
First of all, as I have already mentioned, the fact that you can still make the difference, you can really change things. Then every problem (social problems, educational problems, pollution problems, etc…) can still be fixed, you can really solve it. Third New Zealand is not a really developed country: there is a lot of environment, we haven’t a lot of industries and there aren’t metropolitan areas like in the USA.

Do you miss anything about the USA?
A lot, actually. In the United States there are the extremes: there are a lot of people who are amazing and really clever, they do a lot of things and give their best but there are also a lot of people who are awful and do horrible things. Well, I miss those extremes, in New Zealand everything is flat. I miss the passion of the Americans. The problem is that passion has two sides: the bad one and the positive one. Then I miss my family obviously. I have two brothers and one of them has a daughter, my niece, whom I have never seen.

When you refer to New Zealand you always use the personal pronoun “we” instead of “they”. Is that because you feel Kiwi and not American anymore?
I used to say “they” referring to New Zealand and to the Kiwis for the first two years after my arrival. Starting to use “we” was the result of a rational process: when I obtained the Kiwi citizenship, I decided it made sense to turn “they” into“ we”, but I don’t feel Kiwi. I am non comfortable, I was born and I grew up somewhere else, with a different culture… So I can’t feel Kiwi… I think it is normal.

You seems disappointed by George W. Bush and the USA politics. Is that correct?
I am not disappointed, the right word is furious. There are a lot of things I can’t accept, but it is not a simple discussion. Look back on the war in Iraq. The USA pretended to export democracy there, but in reality they didn’t want to, they just wanted to get cheap oil. In fact fuel in the USA is very cheap, it costs half than in New Zealand. I don’t believe that the USA can just say “we are here to bring democracy and that is the way ”. Why do they fight a sovereign state? It is not democracy at all to go to a country and kill its people. There is a famous quote which says “the means justify the ends”, but they don’t! Second the issue is the hypocrisy: how can the USA government tell the Iraq people “we will help you, we will liberate women, we will eliminate injustices”? And what about women in other countries? What about children, homeless and guns in the USA? I think that the concept of exporting democracy is just an excuse to fight. Another example of their hypocrisy is the prison of Guantanamo. It is a shame: the United States have a Constitutions that declares that they are founded on and believe in a series of rights, but Guantanamo goes against all this. There are people who have been imprisoned for years there, without being judged, without going to a court and get a trial. I believe the USA are unprincipled.

What about Barack Obama? Do you think he has changed or can changed things?
Barack Obama is a good President, but he has his hands tied and that is due to the bipartisan system. The government can’t change the country, only people can, a change can rise only from the bottom. Furthermore everyone is complaining about the system, but it doesn’t change. Look at the last school shooting which occurred in Newtown (Connecticut-USA) in December 2012. So much was written and told about the guns, but after few weeks the entire issue sank in to oblivion and nothing was done. Why? Because the NRA (National Rifle Association) is strong and it moves a lot of money. In the USA you need to have a license to have army, but it is really easy to get it. That’s the reason why so many people have army at home. The boy who did the massacre in Newtown used a machine gun, that means that when you push the trigger, you don’t get just one bullet, but several! So I continue asking myself why machine guns are allowed. Do you want people to have army to defend themselves, then let them have “just” guns. It doesn’t solve the problem, but maybe some massacres, like the one I have mentioned, could be avoided. So I hope for a social revolution, it could seem hard, but I think that a change can come just from it. Sometimes this revolution starts, but as soon as it rises, it lowers; it’s like a tide. People have their lives, their jobs, their family, they don’t have time to think of and care about he country. But I hope that, sooner or later and as it sometimes happens with a sea, a lake or a river, the water of the revolution overflows.

George W. Bush and Silvio Berlusconi are two leaders who, despite their objectionable actions, are still supported and admired by a lot of people. How do you think this can happen?
September 2011 helped Bush. These kinds of leader behave and use the same strategies used by dictators in the past: they bring fear and they work on this feeling even if there are no dangers. Doing that they can pretend to solve the problem and to act as the saver towards their citizens. First George W. Bush and then the USA abused some situations, like in Iran and in North Korea, to attack other countries. If there is an international problem, and Iraq and North Korea are international problems, it should be treated in that way and not as an USA issue. Actually the USA government dealt and continues dealing with every international matter as their own issue.

Is there something else you would like to add or to say before we finish?
Well, for the last few years I have been trying to understand my own culture, to understand how we Americans are in a rational and detached way and not to accept the concept that we are as we are just because we grew up in the USA. I called this process I am doing GAM which stands for Great American Myths and I have identified several myths that characterize the United States culture, even tough their citizens themselves aren’t really conscious of them. The first myth believed by the Americans is that the USA are God’s chosen country. The consequence is that they are entitled to go all over the world in order to try to create an unique population. Second the Americans believe they are principled and moral people, so they have to sacrifice themselves for the rest of the world. That is a hard but interesting exercise, I suggest you to try it with your country.



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