When you look down from the plane as you land in New Zealand, you think the grass must be fake because nothing is that green in real life; nature doesn't do dayglo hues. This makes Ireland look beige. My impression was that New Zealand is a virgin, not yet corrupted by greed and ruthless competition. People here are sweet, not aggressive. Even the birds are friendly. There have never been any predators so even the robins come up and stare at you with absolutely no fear; practically feeding you crumbs. It was as if God said to us humans, "Okay you screwed everything up, I'm giving you one more chance," and he created New Zealand.
No question, this is hobbit country (I say that even though I didn't last ten minutes watching the film where everyone was either an elf or Ian McKellen). The forests are covered in moss with gnarly, spooky trees growing out of boulders and caves carved into them. If this isn't elfdom nothing is.
Almost the whole country is a National Park so it's a no-go area for revolting hotel chains or tourist shops selling Lord of the Rings key rings. Anywhere else in the world some business man would sell out to tourism but not here. Milford Sound, a national park, is about a million acres of giant snow caped mountains made of glaciers. Between the Swiss-like Alps, deep in the valleys, are rainforests sitting in iridescent aqua lakes. Hundreds of waterfalls crash down the mountain from the melting snow.
Ok, enough with the scenery, I went there to speak at a conference called APAC - an international meeting of doctors and clinicians, coming together to brain-storm how to create a more human approach to health care. An approach where the patient has some say in their treatment and care. When it came time for me to speak, I almost got up and give my spiel about how I thought New Zealand was paradise and clearly everyone was happy because the place was so pristine and the air was five star.
I couldn't imagine there was any crime, especially outside the cities. I thought you'd have to beg someone to mug you and then probably have to explain what mugging was mainly because I'd been told people leave their doors and cars unlocked.
However, in the lunch break just before I was about to speak, I was told that there are more suicides of males under 30 than anywhere else in the world. It turns out the people suffering from mental problems, including a multitude of addicts of ice and other hard-core drugs, are hidden in communities far away out of sight where they receive no support. So much for the bucolic New Zealand jag I was on. I had to change my tune pretty quickly.
I should know by now that no matter where you are in the world, mental illness is a disease that hits so many people and is even more acute if you're living in dire conditions. Was I filled with so much guilt I immediately packed my bags to go help those people? Did I leave the country in disgust? No, I continued to tour I'm ashamed to say. Sometimes I just don't want to look into the darkness. Is that the human condition or is it just me?