Genesis had it right from the beginning – “It is not good for man to be alone.”
And though it’s not exactly the same context, I don’t ever intend on living without other people again.
Last term I lived in Ilam Apartments, a centrally located, convenient student block that houses a lot of study abroad students. It was definitely not the cheapest, but, going through the university, it was the easiest for me to arrange when I was still back in America. Plus, I hoped it would facilitate my scheming to live with Georgia while she was here. Not only did I get to live with my sister, but I also befriended an eclectic group of flatmates: a tough-skin, soft-heart Bostonian; a smart, procrastinating original from Ireland; and a gentle, cheerful spirit from Manchester. Ilam hosted fun events during study weeks for residents, and my room had a personal heater – a perk I would later covet. Anticipating all of my flatmates abandoning me though, I started toying with the idea of other (cheaper) accommodation possibilities.
Cue the Christian Union staff person announcing to our life group the very same week that he and his family would be going back to Australia for a few months on sabbatical. I was disappointed to be losing a leader I admired, but I also wondered…What’s happening to the house?
I ascribe to the philosophy that it never hurts to ask, so after Bible study I approached him. Two girls from life group who had been living with their families at home would be house-sitting while they were away. It was a win-win: the guinea pigs would be fed, life groups could continue there, and Rachel and Jovita would get a taste of the independence of flatting. Over the next week, I mulled it over, and finally sent a message to Jovita, sniffing out her future living situation details and what she thought about me potentially joining them.
I didn’t know Rachel at all, and I had only shared a few surface level conversations with Jovita. But I was drawn to her, because those conversations entailed bonding over reading Me Before You and fan-girling about how brilliant Lin Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton is. This conversation took place in New Zealand, mind you. How does she even know about this musical, much more appreciate the genius of combining hip hop music to the rough-and-tumble, duel-ended life of our founding father? I’d like to get to know her better.
After a little back-and-forth battling and appealing to break my contract at Ilam, all fell into place. Following my trip to Hawaii, I moved into a real house – not a characterless apartment with minimal furniture or a grungy uni flat, but a home. One with dry erase chore charts and recognition awards on the fridge for hula hooping and good behavior. The wood panel walls remind me of a log cabin getaway. The living room has a piano and a TV, and the kitchen is supplied with every needed appliance. This place is for a family.
For the last seven weeks, I have become part of a temporary family, living in an environment of kindness and trust. I have become part of a small community of women who seek God, who serve humbly, and who consciously care for each other. When I come home, I’m always greeted with a “How was your day?” and it’s a genuine question requiring an answer. Sometimes we cook together – me and my simple “just add mince” meals, they and their family roots of Malaysian curries or Filipino fried rice (I assuredly got the better end of that deal).
We divvy up cleaning the guinea pig cage, taking the rancid compost to the rubbish, and other weekly chore necessities on our own chore whiteboard. Sometimes we watch Gilmore Girls or Tina Fey’s Netflix original Unbreakable together. Food stuffs are pretty communal; we still grocery shop independently, but we pitch in and share on all the basics. Those that have lived with me before understand what a big deal this is. Last term I made Georgia split costs with me down to the cent, and I did the same with Taylor in Houston. Only being fair, after all. But it’s a lot easier to just operate within a give-and-take that really does tend to even itself out. Even if it doesn’t, there’s no counting or keeping track. Generosity rules.
Living with these girls has been a really beautiful, unexpected blessing. Sometimes we’re “intentional” and set up fun flatmate dates like going out for Vietnamese food. But I really love that they are some of the people I am closest to and know best in New Zealand just by nature of passing everyday time together. We sit at the table doing our work, then get sidetracked on a fifteen minute conversation about the cute PhD guy leading Rachel’s lab research. We lull back into silence, which is broken in another fifteen minutes by listening to the lyrics of a Macklemore song or a funny text message. There is a natural simplicity and slowness to these interactions that have gradually created a tight bond between us. We share our frustrations and “heart”ships with each other, and we’re quick to lend an ear or pray for one another.
Rachel bops from one social event to the next, while Jovita contentedly spends most evenings in, usually with a book or journal within arm’s length. I waffle in-between them, sometimes going out for dance or a run or a random evening seminar, other times adopting Jovita’s more introverted ways. Even though Jovita is nearly four years younger than me, age is beginning to matter less. Our Hamilton hit-off hinted at it, but our time together since then has confirmed what kindred spirits we are – academic over achievers, planners, and bucket list checkers. Though we love worship music itself, we both recognize and celebrate how everything reflects God’s beauty and creativity.
Jovita may not be too keen to join me on a challenging tramp, but she is all for a city adventure. Much as I love the mountains, it’s equally satisfying to have a companion who appreciates the arts, and who has the planning foresight to slot upcoming events in the calendar.
To no one’s surprise, we have a whole list of activities to do together before December, and we checked a few off this past Saturday. I was lazing in bed that morning reading Surprised by Oxford, a book Jovita recommended, when she poked her head in and greeted me.
“Hey, have you ever been to Addington Coffee Co-op?” I asked eagerly. I had wanted to go for a while, but hadn’t had a slow morning to check it out. She had been before, but said she liked it a lot and would be happy to go again.
“They actually have really good breakfast, too.”
Thirty minutes later, we find ourselves seated at the end of a proper table in a bustling fair-trade establishment. While I slowly progress through a couple books a month, Jovita usually reads 50-60 a year. Still, we easily get sucked into the “Have you read…? Oh, you have to read” conversation. We halfsy my gourmet french toast – with pink flowers and dried raspberries for a little extra flair – and her hearty egg and sausage plate.
Stomachs satisfied, we tinker through a few nearby op-shops and a paperback book store afterward, where our reading conversation inevitably continues. Jovita is far more passionate about books than me, but it’s fun to feed off of other people’s enthusiasm. We head over to another one-off neighborhood book sale Jovita saw in the community paper where we can buy six books for ten dollars. We go in on the deal together, and I get The Count of Monte Cristo and a vintage copy of Gone with the Wind.
Later we visit the Cardboard Cathedral. Built of sturdy, but technically temporary, cylindrical cardboard recyclables, the building was erected in place of the Anglican Cathedral severely damaged in the earthquake. We admire it, snap a few pictures, and head over to a Q&A with Steve Heeley as part of the Christchurch Writer’s Festival. Ah, to have a friend keen for intellectual adventures! If you know me, you know I could and would spend a Saturday independently doing all of those city excursions alone. It’s more fun with a companion, though, and I had such a good time with Jovita.
I have a lot of friends who were a part of really good roommate community in college. They spent three or four years together, and they’ll be best friends for the rest of their lives. Some of them even acquired names – the Boathouse Boys, the Foxy Ladies (residing on Fox Ln). Being a Resident Advisor and studying abroad in college, I didn’t get that special long-term living experience with others. I’ve had my share of room/flatmates over the last few years, all of which have been relatively positive experiences.
Living with Jovita and Rachel is the closest I’ve come to what I imagine that roommate community some of my friends had in college was like. I recognize how special this set up is, so I decided we needed a name too. Since we live on Waimairi Rd, I’ve dubbed us the Waimairi Women. Yes, it’s cheesy. But I’m not the most creative person, and I like the alliteration. Though this setup is short-term – in fact, we’re already halfway through; we have to pack up and move out at the end of October -it has been so very good.
In Māori tradition, whānau (pronounced fahh-noh), or family, is the epicenter of life customs. The word takes on many different meanings, but ultimately, whānau, whether immediate bloodline or members in the community, support and provide for each other. Rachel and Jovita, you have shown me how much better it is to flat with others than to be alone. While we’re together, I’m grateful to be part of our little whānau that has transformed my understanding of and appreciation for living with others.