It started out in 1996, when I (Juanita) spent a year abroad in the province of Québec (French-speaking Canada) as an overseas exchange student.
A native from the biggest city in Middle Earth (New Zealand) of over 1,000,000 people, I was placed with a host family in a remote, rural village of 1000 habitants. I had more people at my high school than in my new overseas 'home'. My new home was also very French, a language which I had not yet acquired. In my little village there were few people who knew English, Jimmy was one of them.
What I remember of Jimmy was that he was a nice guy. Although, no bells or whistles were sounding off for me at that time for him.
At the end of my exchange, a year later, I returned to New Zealand to begin my university studies. During my first year at university, a good 9 months after I had arrived back from Québec, I flew back there for the 50th wedding anniversary of my paternal host grand-parents. On the beach where the event was held, I ran into Jimmy with his girlfriend at the time. Once again, I told myself 'he's a nice guy'. Just a thought before I returned back to New Zealand.
Many years went by, so too did our lives. I continued to study, work and travel. Jimmy studied, worked and started a family. I had applied for and been granted permanent residency status in Québec before winding up working in France for a year.
My plan is to 'follow the sun'. That is, change hemispheres every 6 months when I retire to get summer all year long. This idea stuck on me after visiting a family friend in Croatia who does exactly that: spends 6 months in Croatia and the other 6 months in New Zealand. What a life huh?
During a holiday in Sardinia, I reconnected with Jimmy on the infamous Facebook. I was blown away by his sincerity and honesty about the breakup with the mother of his two sons.
From that point on, it seems as though the Universe willed us to find each other.
The relationshp I was pursuing with an ex in England fizzled out and died. Left in career limbo for several months while I awaited a response regarding the renewal of my French contract, I decided to leave Europe and head to Québec.
My best friend in Québec who I relied on to pick me up from the airport each time I returned was unavailable to do so. Jimmy came to my rescue and over the months chaperoned me around the place for jobs and apartments.
The bells and whistles for him finally hit me, a few months later. Our love story started in October 2010. Within the first week, I kept saying 'you are my list'. That is to say, a 'wish list' sent to the Universe for the ideal man which I had made at the encouragement of a cute elderly couple I had met while travelling around Ireland. My list was so detailed I figured that there was no chance that a person like that could ever exist. Besides, seriously..creating a list then asking the Universe to provide for you was a bit too far-fetched for me. Yet, deliver it did in the form of Jimmy.
Ironically, around the same time Jimmy had asked the Universe for a sign or a guide to get him through what has been one of the most challenging phases of his life. For him, the Universe delivered on both by my arrival in his life.
Talk about, be careful what you wish for!
In July 2012, we got married in Jimmy's home village (where we first met). That night, we were graced by the presence of the Northern Lights (few people from that area had ever seen them especially at that time of year).
We had planned to spend Christmas 2012 in New Zealand (summertime down there) for our honeymoon and to re-do the ceremony in front of my family and friends. However, my father's health suddenly declined. So, we decided to go to New Zealand in August 2012. After only three weeks of his diagnosis, my father passed away from pancreatic cancer. I am so thankful that Jimmy and my father were able to meet each other. Dad kept on saying 'when are you going to give me a moko ?(grandchild in the Maori language)'.
In November 2012, we discovered I was pregnant. That same morning I found out, I put on the radio and the first song that played was a Maori song. Ironically enough, it was the song my dad requested that we sing at his funeral. Perhaps a sign from him, as I had a miscarriage on the 24th December 2012.
However, within no time, I was pregnant again.
In October 2013, we were blessed with the birth of our son Étienne. It saddens me that Étienne will never know his maternal grandfather. Although, how I can honour his memory is to teach my son the Maori language, culture and way of life.
This now leads into why we are wanting funding. We live in Québec, Canada. It has been really challenging being so far away from my family particularly now that I am a mother. I have longed to intoduce Étienne to his aunts, uncles and cousins. (I was fortunate to have my mum here for the first month of baby's life). It is imperative for me that Étienne knows his New Zealand family and culture, particularly his Maori origins.
Talking about an experience is completely different from living it.
Jimmy and I have joint custody of his two older sons who are aged X and Y. Recently the eldest asked me 'Juanita, do you promise me that one day you will take us to New Zealand also?". I said 'yes'.
Anyone who has made the trip knows you spend over 24 hours flying. It is a good two day trip to New Zealand. The cost of FIVE tickets (three children, two adults) alone merit a stay longer than 3-4 weeks. So, Jimmy and I decided that we would all go down to New Zealand for a year.
In that way, I could finally introduce my Canadian family to my family and friends in New Zealand. Yes! Finally a way to connect my two families.
My French-speaking stepsons would learn English and Maori, become tri-lingual, go to school with their NZ cousins and experience true Kiwi life while surrounded by their NZ family.
I would have the opportunity to reconnect with my extended family while sharing my roots, origins and culture with my new family.
Job wise, I would earn more in one year than what I can earn here in five years (due to challenges getting my teaching qualifications and experience recognised in Canada). This all helps for us to buy a house back in Québec after our time in NZ.
Jimmy was diagnosed in 1996 (the same year I met him) with Multiple Sclerosis. We are curious to see the impact on his body from the milder climate and change of diet. This all helps with our overall quality of life.
The trip to New Zealand for a year, while the kids are still at primary school (to provide the easiest transition between the two academic systems) is an opportunity of a lifetime (for us all).
The thought of it alone, inspires us each and every day.
It is said that to know where someone is going, you must know where they have been.
My new life with my husband and children will be shaped by this trip as only then will they fully understand who I am, where I come from and why I do things the way I do.
A journey of a million miles starts with a single step. Thanks for taking one for us!
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