Portraits of Rural New Zealand

Portrait # 4
Heavenly Thai massages…

It took us awhile to get used to the lack of available services while living in rural NZ.

We learned that deliveries take an extra long time to arrive, that they can get stuck in a depot in Whangarai, halfway up the road from Auckland, and get released weeks later……
Many deliveries were dropped off at the Mangamuka Bridge store or gas station, located more than 20 kilometers away from our home, and required us to drive to get them.

Plumbers, electricians and all sorts of repair and service people, would initially refuse to make the drive into the Hokianga, as if it were located in Vietnam…..and finally years later, they would agree do it, but many would add an exuberant fee to cover their “travel cost,” often totaling more than their repair bills.

But these are NOT the kind of services I am referring to as missing.
I yearned for a great meal…. For a bookstore, for a swim in a good size heated pool, for a movie with popcorn, for a massage, for a gourmet food speciality store…

None of these were available to us.
Oh, if you lower your expectations and are willing to sit through a “popular” action (boring) movie, there was the movie theater in Kaikohe.
But it was located over an hour’s drive away, and the last vehicle ferry boat to take us back to Kohukohu was at 7:30 PM nightly, or you’d have to drive the LONG way, which takes more than an hour and a half.

Sure there were good restaurants in the Bay Of Islands where we could have dinner, but they were also located an hour and a half’s drive away from Kohukohu, and the drive back was on narrow twisty roads with no street lights.

These dark rural roads are harder to navigate at night, when many suicidal Opossums cross the road in search of food, and much alertness is required to avoid driving into the river, while at the same time avoiding running over these shiny eyed Opossums.

One day while shopping in the town of Kerikeri, I noticed a sign on the bulletin board, advertising Thai massage given at your home.

I stretched my shoulders in expectation…. Recognizing that both Jules and I needed massages badly.
We had sore muscles from many hours of hard work on the property and in the garden, clearing fallen tree branches, sawing them into smaller chunks and hauling them away.

I called the mobile phone number, and a man named Rashnu answered the phone.

In the familiar hesitant way, I disclosed that I live in Kohukohu…. And was wondering if he would consider driving the distance to give us two massages.

I made an emphasis on the TWO, with the hope that he would be tempted and willing to make the drive.

I did not need to be too worried.
Rashnu, was more than willing to come to give us Thai massages.
in fact, he was delighted at the opportunity to make money for a change….
Rashnu confided in me that despite living in Kerikeri for a few months now, he could not get any jobs there.

“Rashnu” was not his original birth name.
He was not Indian, as the name suggested.
He was an Italian.
He was born and raised in Italy, where he worked for far too long as a car salesman.
Thai massage was his true passion, he told me, and he added that he trusted the Universe to help him finance his way, while traveling through New Zealand and meeting great people.

While listening to him, I had a small gut sensation that maybe it was not the best idea to hire him for our in-house massages….
I got so many bad massages in my life, that by now, I’d rather get NO massage than a bad one.

But despite myself, and maybe because of his enthusiastic voice filled with hope and gratitude for finally getting his long awaited massage job, I could not disappoint him and did not change my mind.

I asked when he would be available, and he said tomorrow.
I asked what time of day would be convenient to him, and he said that the afternoon, since it will take him some time to get to us.

I asked how did he plan to get to us, and he said that he will hitch a ride.
That lit a red light in my mind….
If he hitchhiked to Kohukohu, that means that he will need to hitch a ride out of there also….
And it may be late in the evening… And no rides may be available…. Now I was SURE that inviting him to massage us at home would not be a good idea…

Rashnu assured me that he moved VERY fast by hitchhiking.
He said that he always gets a ride and that it would be FINE…. More than fine….
He told me to relax and not to worry about him….. he would do the massages and be on his way home in no time.

When I put down the phone, I still had this nagging feeling in my guts that this was NOT a good idea…
But heck, I told myself that we were living in a NEW LAND…. Filled with possibilities and adventures…. “Give it a chance!”…… My inner voice said with a mischievous tone.

Rashnu showed up the next day on time.
He was a handsome tall and slim man, wearing a hippy outfit of loose colorful pants and a multicolored shirt.
In one hand he held a long Didjeridoo, which is a unique and ancient instrument used by the Australian aborigines.

We decided that the best place to do the massages was on the floor of the second floor of our adobe home, where we had our large bedroom and a lounge seating area.
Since Thai massage is traditionally done on the floor, we pushed back the chairs, and spread thick fluffy blankets as padding.

I put on soft relaxing music and changed into loose yoga clothes, and Rashnu began working on me.
He stretched my limbs, kneaded my muscles and walked on my back, while loosening pockets of pain from my tense back and shoulder blades.
He worked on my aching body, until tender tears came running down my eyes, and all the stress of the long and taxing renovation, of moving into a foreign rural community that viewed us as an oddity, simply left my body.

When the massage was done, Rashnu asked me to turn over and lay on my back.
He reached for his long Didjeridoo, placed it by my ear, and blew into it gently.

The Didjeridoo has a haunting, powerful and most beautiful sound.
The sound is very primal, and it evoked in me reverence for the sacredness of all of life…. Rashnu and myself included…

Laying on my back, I felt soft and tender, completely surrendering to trust the goodness in life……., I felt all my defenses and guards fall away…. I felt oneness with nature.

The deep drone of the Didjeridoo reconnected me with ancient memories of Mother Nature… in my mind’s eye, I saw the Australian plains…. Mountains and deserts….. Forests and creeks……And I felt that real spiritual healing had taken place in me…

When Jules came up to take my place, he looked into my eyes discreetly, looking for signs if I enjoyed the massage and found it worthy of our time and money.
I assured him that he was in for a real treat.

When I next heard the Didjeridoo magical sound, I knew that Jules’s massage was over. It was already seven in the evening and getting dark.

I made a delicious soup and a large organic salad, and when I saw the sad look in Rashnu’s eyes, I asked him if he wanted to join us for dinner.

Rashnu accepted with the enthusiasm of a small puppy.
We ate the yummy soup and delicious bread, sitting around our new dining table, talking about life, about ideas and listening to classical music.

Rashnu’s eyes glazed over with happiness, and he told us that it has been awhile since he felt this wholesome and happy…..
He said that giving massages was his true calling, and that he loved to get into the vibes of a healer… But he also admitted that it was MORE than that….

“It is all of these….”
He said as he cast his arm around our dining area.
It was our lovely home, with the glowing native wood and the soft light…. The love that we shared… It was all so wholesome, and so different from the drunken, wine-induced happiness that constitutes most friendships and relationships…..

“You have it ALL…”
He said to us…
“And it is also this beautiful classical music… Which I have not heard since I left Italy…. And the quiet inner peace I feel while being here….”
Rashnu’s eyes were getting moist, and I noticed that so was the weather outside.

I knew that we could not send him out to hitchhike on a rainy night…
But we had no guest room in our small home.

Our adobe house was cozy but small, with only one large bedroom, and an office, which did have a sofa-bed for guests, but Jules was working from that office on a New York schedule.

Jules woke up every day at three in the morning, and went to his office, where he would make phone calls to clients and work until nine or ten in the morning, until his office in Miami closed.
Then he would go back to sleep until lunch time, when he would start his day in New Zealand.

“So what are we to do with Rashnu…” I wondered…

At the edge of our village, there is a charming backpackers’ lodge, which rents single or double bed cabins where guests can spend the night.
It is called the “Tree House,” and most backpackers traveling through our area stay there and love its unique rustic charm.

But Rashnu had little money, and I could not bring myself to suggest that he spend half of the money he earned from our massages for his accommodation at the Tree House.

So we deiced to pay for Rashnu’s accommodation.
We rang the Tree House and they said that they did have availability.
We thanked Rashnu profusely and Jules drove him to the Tree House and paid for his night’s stay.

When Jules returned, he was wet.
He hang his raincoat at the door and told me that Rashnu refused to stay in a single cabin at the Tree House, saying that he could not sleep in small spaces, so Jules paid for Rashnu to stay in a bigger double cabin.
Our heavenly Thai massages turned out to be very pricy…

The next day I got a friendly call from Rashnu.
He said that he slept well, and that he was about to leave town….But then he met some lovely people on the Ferry Boat.
He change his mind and decided stay……ln fact, he decided to MOVE and to live in our village.
The people he met invited him to an art opening that was taking place at the local gallery in the village.

At the art opening, he met another Italian man called Claudio.
“Do you know him?,” he asked in an excited voice.
“Did you know that there is another Italian man living in your village?”
he enthused.

I said that I did know Claudio and his partner Lise.
I asked if Claudio invited him to stay with them…or where was he planning to stay…

Rashnu said that NO… Claudio did not invite him to stay with them… NOT YET…
But he was hopeful….
At least he would have a friend that he could chat with in Italian over strong espressos….

He was invited to live with a woman who was running a Bed and Breakfast in the village, and she was willing to take him in, if he would do some handy work for her in return…

But the reason Rashnu was calling was to ask me if, when he moved to live in our village, could he rely on us to hire him for a weekly round of Thai massages….
He could use the income that he earned from us for his basic expenses and maybe he could find more clients as well…

I do not know why….. But I said yes.
Maybe I did not want to tread on his dreams….
I said that we would be happy to get massages once a week.

Rashnu stayed in our village and for awhile, gave us great Thai Massages weekly, uplifting our spirits with the beautiful sounds of his Didjeridoo.

He seemed to have assimilated into the community, which like many rural communities, was starved for the initial stimulation and for the freshness that a new person with new stories brings to it….

We later heard that he had a falling-out with the artist who was running the B&B.
He said she wanted a romantic relationship, and she said that he came on to an eighteen year old girl who was staying with her, and she found it predatory.

Rashnu assured me that he had sorted his living situation… He moved in to live with another woman in our village, who had a spare bedroom and needed a handy man to do work on her house.

This arrangement did not last either.
We were told that they had a falling-out also.

She said Rashnu was lazy and not willing to do any work, and was only interested in living at other people’s expense for free…
He said she was a slave driver and secretly interested in a romance with him, and got miffed when he was not interested in her…

For me, this was all too much.
I knew we were leaving New Zealand and going back to the USA soon, and we had a lot to do.
When Rashnu called me to schedule our weekly sessions, I told him that we were leaving in a week and had no more time for massages.

Rashnu tried to extract from me a promise that we would resume our sessions after three months, when we returned again to New Zealand, but I kept my words obscure, and did not promise anything.

Rashnu did NOT get any more clients.
Kohukohu is a small rural village filled with people who live simple hard working lives.
Visitors fall in love with the beauty and energy of this place, but this is NOT a village of affluent and wealthy people with much disposable funds.

High paying work is hard to find, and the luxuries in life are not what the locals spend their money on….
I knew that if Rashnu had a hard time finding clients in the more affluent Bay of Islands, he would not fare much better in Kohukohu….

I did not see Rashnu again.
But whenever I hear the sweet and primal sound of the Didjeridoo, I think of Rashnu with fondness, and hope that he is doing well….

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