Of Quiet Birds in Circled Flight

Sick on my journey,

only my dreams will wander

these desolate moors

– Matsuo Bashō, 1694

As we prepared for this trip, both Hannah and I often had to calm each other down as our anxiety spiked and we worried about everything that might go wrong. While Hannah often had to play the role of motivator, I found myself constantly reassuring her that everyone we know and love will be just fine for the three months that we’re gone. This isn’t goodbye to our families – it’s just goodbye for now.

On Saturday (here in New Zealand), our day couldn’t have been better. We toured Hobbiton, the Lord of the Rings movie set, and unpacked our bags at a beautiful small sheep farm in Matamata. The view from our patio was breathtaking.

As a light rain set in and we prepared for dinner, I received a phone call. In a tragic accident, I lost a cousin and a friend. Speaking to my family, I wanted to claw my way through the phone, slice my way through to the other end and hold them until I lost all strength.

Logan lived on smiles. In my mind, Logan’s best days consisted of making people laugh, helping them loosen up a bit – he was the guy who urged the world to uncoil its tensions and breathe a little. Months would pass us by. There were long stretches when I wouldn’t see him. But it didn’t matter: his bear-hugs were consistently warm, firm, and sincere. The definition of “grinning ear-to-ear” is likely a photo of Logan, both arms extended and coming in for the embrace.

When I learned that Logan had passed, I needed to be home. I craved it. I looked out at the gorgeous view in front of me and could see nothing: I was angry, confused, and defeated. I wondered how I could ever continue this journey in the shadow of such a loss.

Two things now embolden me in pushing forward with this project, both of which mean so much to both Hannah and myself. First, there’s our commitment to the clubfoot community and our family and friends. We have received so much support from the mothers, fathers, and patients all around the world, along with the people who know and care for us. So many people have poured their hopes and enthusiasm into this project. We must move forward for them.

Then there’s Logan. He’s guiding me ahead. After the painful loss of Emily Sutker, Logan’s first cousin (as well as my cousin), Logan penned a message to Emily’s sister, Sophie. She was kind enough to share it following Logan’s passing. “Down the road,” he writes, “we lose family members, loved ones and friends – but we can’t let that lose our state of mind because that’s not what they’d want! Everything will get better.”

Our state of mind has been shaken, but we trudge on. Logan and the smiles he continues to inspire will be with us on our journey. And he’ll be grinning with us the whole time.

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A Maori Thanksgiving

Friday morning we woke up, moved out of our hostel, and drove to the Ascot Hospital in Auckland to interview Dr. Haemish Crawford. Dr. Crawford was recommended to us by a number of sources as a great addition to our documentary. Meeting him was worth the wait. He gave us some great insight into the unique clubfoot situation in New Zealand.

Dr. Crawford told us all about the higher incidence of clubfoot among the Maori population. Versed on the basics, we were interested to understand New Zealand’s relationship with clubfoot in greater detail. One fascinating point we learned is that treating clubfoot is different not just between individuals, but between different ethnic groups. He told us that the Maori seem to have less cases of relapse than patients from European descent. Dr. Crawford expressed that this might potentially be due to biological differences between Maori clubfoot patients and others (i.e. more flexible tendons and muscles) or cultural differences. He said that massage is a common cultural practice among the Maori, and that massaging a child’s foot before or between castings may make it more flexible and less likely to relapse as well.

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Later that day we heard more about the practice of massaging when we visited a Maori family in Hamilton. We were welcomed by Te Aorangi and her adorable 15 month old son, Paora, with a feast. Ironically, our families were just sitting down to their Thanksgiving feast on the other side of the globe. We ate sweet potatoes, turkey, squash, and stuffing! Although we weren’t at home, it was still nice being able to sit and eat a big delicious meal with a family.

After we ate, we interviewed Te Aorangi on her experience with Paora’s clubfoot. She also gave us a great amount of insight into the history and significance of Maori culture. She taught us some new Maori words and also spoke about massaging her baby’s feet in hopes of making the treatment easier and more effective. As tattoos are very significant in Maori culture, Te Aorangi showed us a tattoo she displays in honor of her child’s clubfoot journey.

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When the interview completed, Te Aorangi’s sister, Taniya, brought Paora out to play in the yard. He was quickly drawn to our cameras and to Zach. We spent the rest of the afternoon looking at pictures taken of Paora when we was going through various stages of treatment with Te Aorangi. It was hard to believe that this was the same little boy in front of us, running around the room, dancing to the Despicable Me “Bananas” song. No wonder he’s such a source of joy for his mother – he was so curious and genuinely happy.

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Overall, the day was a great start to learning about clubfoot in New Zealand. I think I can speak for both Zach and myself when I say we are both so happy to be finally, directly involved in what we came to this country for. We cannot wait to meet the rest of our contacts here in New Zealand.

-Hannah

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Piha Beach, Mission Bay, and Spicy Chinese

So I guess I’ll start where Hannah left off: exploring downtown Auckland on Tuesday. After a day of veering through city streets and, incidentally, tasting the most sour candy known to man, we headed to Grey Lynn, a sleepy little suburb where we were told we could get some classic Kiwi dishes for dinner. We grabbed a short bite to eat at a local pub in Grey Lynn and had an early night.

Bright and early on Wednesday morning, I decided to surprise Hannah with a little adventure. We were both itching to film some fantastic scenic stationary shots and get some neat photos to send home. Piha Beach, just an hour out of Auckland, didn’t disappoint.

Yesterday, as we drove towards Piha Beach, I learned that Kiwis are officially insane. Suicidal, almost. After careening around sharp tropical curves on narrow roads with limited visibility, I noticed that despite my decently fast speed, I was being passed by the locals. According to the local speed limit, I was expected to hit highway-level speeds as I swerved through what felt like a small jungle. Sorry, but I’m not quite that crazy.

We reached Piha Beach. Although it was a little cloudy, the view was breathtaking. Enormous volcanic rock cliffs line a foggy, surreal shoreline. In fact, the clouds only added to the effect. If you know Hannah and I, you understand that we couldn’t just look at these bluffs without climbing them… and so we did. We made our way (carefully) around the rocks, which were lined with thousands of small crustaceans, and cratered around the backs of the boulders that dotted the beach.

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After some photos and a lot of huffing and puffing, we lunched at ‘Elevation Cafe,’ an eatery that hangs off of the edge of an inactive volcano. It’s one of the highest points on the island, surpassing the Sky Tower in Auckland. We enjoyed the view and stopped outside to snap some shots of a farm just a little bit down the road.

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After driving back to Auckland, this time traversing the winding roads in the pouring rain (which was not fun), we found ourselves napping for a few hours during the storm. In Auckland, when it rains – it really truly pours. We used the time to catch up on some sleep and watch some television.

The evening was… an experience. Being highly recommended, we decided to try a Szechuan noodle shop just a few blocks from our hostel. The menu, written completely in Chinese, was an adventure in itself. We decided to assume that the sanitation grade at the restaurant, “D,” stood for ‘delicious,’ and we gave it a shot. We both opted out of trying the ‘sliced pig ear in marinated egg sauce’ and instead went with rice noodles and dumplings. The food was delicious, but my affinity for spicy food and the lack of air conditioning in the small shop had me leaving the place in a puddle.

Which brings me to today! After another breakfast of fresh fruit and muesli, we headed out to run some errands. I grabbed a quick haircut, which led to some very interesting conversation with the barber, and we stopped by the mall and grabbed a few things that we needed for our trip.

We made a beeline back to Mission Bay, this time for some photos and video footage during the daytime. We grabbed some salad and seafood chowder (which was unbelievable) and walked along the beach. We stopped by Okahu Bay, a little ways down the road, and snapped some shots of the hundreds of sailboats bobbing along the water. An adorable dog (with a love of the water) turned the harbor and a 2×4 into a wet game of fetch.

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We stopped off at Mt. Eden again on our way home to try and catch the tail end of a double rainbow! Hannah, of course, was giddily directing me to drive to the top of the mountain as she prepped her camera for stills. She got her rainbow shots and we headed back to our little unit at the hostel. Update on the hostel: after three days of stagnant heat in the room, they finally gave us a fan. Victory!

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Tonight, we’re preparing for our first interview in New Zealand: Dr. Haemish Crawford, an expert in the study of clubfoot and the Ponseti Method. We’re brushing up on his writing and putting together our final list of questions. We meet with him bright and early tomorrow morning before heading off to Hamilton to visit with a lovely clubfoot family.

We’ve definitely enjoyed our first days of settling into New Zealand, but it’s time to hit the road and start our ‘interview tour’ around the North Island.

– Zach

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Skipping November 24, 2013

The first time it really dawned on us how far we were actually traveling was when we were purchasing our tickets to New Zealand and saw that our departure was on November 23, but we were to arrive November 25. However, this didn’t make much sense because our travel time was less than 24 hours. Where was this extra day coming from? Well, it comes from crossing the International Dateline – the Prime Meridian’s evil twin which causes you lose a precious day of your life. When we were waiting in line to board our flight to Auckland, there was actually a girl whose birthday lands on November 24th. I guess for her, the International Dateline means that she maintains her youth for one more year. Either way you look at it, to us, losing this day was synonymous with how far we were actually traveling.

When we arrived in NZ, it was about 8:00 AM in the morning. After breezing through customs and buying cell phone SIM cards, we picked up our little rental car. Driving a car in New Zealand is very different than driving a car in the US for one major reason. Its on the opposite side of the road (and so is the driver’s seat). I am severely challenged when it comes to knowing my left from my right and am also a very timid driver, so I was quick to volunteer for the role of navigator. In other words, Zach’s our driver. He’s been taking it slow, but is really doing a good job adjusting. New Zealand does a good job at making it hard for foreigners like us to follow our natural inclination to drive on the right.

Yesterday, our first day here, we decided to just get a good feel for the area. We checked into our hostel and then went up to Mt. Eden, the tallest point in all of Auckland, which is very close to where we are staying. We hiked around a bit, and took some neat shots of the city. We headed down to a cute neighborhood, walked around, and grabbed some lunch.

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Not only did we cross the International Dateline, but we also crossed the Equator to be here. I have yet to really notice if the elementary school rumor about toilets flushing in the opposite direction is really true, however I can tell you that the weather here is pretty incredible. So far it’s been warm, but with a nice, cool breeze. The sky is blue, and the sun is shining, but the humidity is low. Because we are in the Southern Hemisphere, it is turning into summer here. All of the flowers are in bloom, so whenever a cool breeze comes by, it also brings the wonderful scent of flowers. I am fairly certain this is the nicest smelling city I have ever been to. Also because it is warm, there are so many wonderful fruits in season. We tried a citrus fruit called the tangelo. I think it’s a cross between a tangerine and a pomelo, another fruit which I’ve never had.

Last night we ventured into Mission Bay for dinner. There are so many different Asian restaurants here in Auckland – which would be great if we weren’t already going to Vietnam next for a whole month. We decided that an Indian restaurant was good enough, especially given that there was a promotional deal going on which made the meal cheaper (and tastier) than our greasy Bojangles dinner in the Charlotte airport.

Today we’ve spent the day exploring and filming downtown Auckland. The doctor we were planning to meet this week here cannot meet until Friday, so until then, we have some time to get adjusted to the 18 hour time difference and driving on the other side of the road. If any of our readers know of any clubfoot families in the Auckland area, let us know! We’re also open to suggestions of cool places to shoot and see. We’re booked pretty tight after we leave Auckland on Friday, but have plenty of time before then.

-Hannah

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