I started my life as the transportation van for the Saint Felicity Monestary in Japan. My job was to help the nuns keep their grocery stocked and minister to the sick and downtrodden in the nearby areas. The day I arrived, they ceremoniously hung the Ribacious Jesus Christ on my rear view mirror, to remind me of our lord and savior and to pray every day. They taught me to be quiet, meek and humble, and above all reliable, self-sufficient and caring for others. We didn’t go out often, and we didn’t go very far together, but for sixteen years, I humbly served my Sisters as best I could.
Then, one day, Mother Abbess arrived in another van that looked just like me. She stepped out, shut the door, then leaned in close to polish a streak off this van’s shiny paint. She walked into the monastery and left the two of us sitting in the parking lot.
“Hello,” I say, turning to my new friend. But the van ignored me. “Hello?”
Pretty soon, a group of nuns return to the parking lot and all climb into the other van. What is going on here? Sorrow filled my soul, as it seemed I had been replaced. I prayed ten rounds of rosaries, hoping they would change their mind. Soon, though, a few of the junior nuns were sent to clean me up. Once they had taken everything out except the Ribacious Jesus Christ and one flip-flop, a man came to pick me up. I prayed more, and God gave me comfort saying, “Be not afraid.” So, I said okay and I humbled myself to His plan.
Three months ago, I found myself huddled in the corner of the Backpacker’s car lot, dead battery, but otherwise feeling fine. I watched countless youngsters pop in with their backpacks on, looking to rent a car. Next thing I know, Andrew is opening my hood, poking around, taking me for a test drive. I was watching for pedestrians in the city traffic when I suddenly realize Andrew is trying to make a U-Turn, (I hate U-Turns) and before I know it we are 90 degrees to oncoming bus in Auckland traffic. "Lord, have mercy!" I cry out.
But, we escaped unscathed. Andrew and Leslie decide I am the van for them and my slow, quiet days are over. Before long, my rear benches are gone, replaced with a big wood board and a foam mattress. I am filled with camping gear and Andrew is trying to navigate the left-hand traffic. Leslie adds a Saint Nicholas Medal that she refers to as the “good joo-joo” medal next to the Ribacious Jesus Christ. On the back of the “good joo-joo” medal it reads: “Be not afraid.” It's a sign!
Soon, we are speeding southward. The wind blowing over my hood feels like freedom! I wait patiently in parking lots, on the side of dirt roads, and in meadows trying to look inconspicuous. Osmond the Comfort Owl usually waits with me, and he tries to calm me down when I get nervous. I pray: “Lord, protect us from the evil doers.” But, we don’t find any evil dooers, just sheep. I’m safe and sound.
Early in our trip we pick up another new friend: Tasman the Rolly-Polly Kiwi. Tasman is meant to be our New Zealand tour guide, but we discovered one problem. She has a rounded bottom, so as we drive the swervy roads, she tips over all the time. She will be perched in a good spot giving us driving directions one minute, then the next she rolls over and gets trapped beneath camping equipment or the laundry bag filled with stinky socks. Eventually, Andrew and Leslie determine Tasman and Osmond should ride tucked inside the camelback or in Andrew's adventure hat. It keeps everyone better contained.
We drive a lot. Every day, we wake up and drive a bit more. As we left the backpackers place, I heard the owner say if we drove all the roads in New Zealand we would drive about 8,000 kilometers. I started with 110,000 km, and now I have 122,000 km. We listen to music, debate politics, brainstorm electrical power grid or energy storage innovations, and stop here and there for a picture. Andrew only refers to the Lord as "His Noodliness." I don't know what that means, but it worries me. "Thou shall not take the Lord's name in vein." I tell Andrew, and this starts off a rousing religious debate. Now, whenever Andrew hears me praying my rosaries, he calls out at the end "R-amen!" I will pray for his soul.
(Here we are. Driving and debating.)
When we stop at night, Andrew and Leslie wrestle out some folding chairs and sit behind my bumper talking, drinking wine, eating chocolate (My stars, they eat a lot of chocolate!) My back door is open, and a breeze flows through to keep me cool. The next morning, coffee is served in the same arrangement. Usually, Leslie stays snuggled up in her sleeping bag, typing away at her computer on something.
But, with my door open we sometimes get swarmed by mosquitos or black flies. Right before they go to sleep, we close all my doors and windows and use their headlamps on "redlight mode" to spy any mosquitoes trying to stay the night and steal some dinner while we sleep. Andrew and Leslie squash them all, one at a time on my roof. “There’s one!” I say, then “WHACK!” Andrew thumps a flat hand on my roof just in time to flatten the poor mosquito. It kind of hurts, and it generally leaves a bloody/mushy mosquito body on my roof. Gross.
Leslie says she misses Sonrisa all the time, but then Leslie feels guilty and pats my dashboard. I wish I could meet this Sonrisa, she sounds like a real card. She seems to like travel a lot; she has already been many places. Andrew and Leslie worry about whether she is okay in Tonga, and we all check the weather apps together to see if a Cyclone is brewing. Nothing yet, thank goodness. I will pray for Sonrisa.
When I hear them talking about sailing to Fiji and Thailand, and I feel a bit sad. I know I can’t go. They did take me sailing twice though - or at least they take me on the ocean twice. Driving into the ferry was a strange experience, and as we rolled along on the big waves in the Cook Strait I realized I get pretty seasick. I probably don't want to go to Fiji anyway. The Ribacious Jesus Christ really gets swinging at sea.
With all this driving, sometimes I worry that I will tire out and something will break. At seventeen years old, I’m not a young lady. One day, we were bumping along a dirt road I felt a jab or a jolt right through my left shoulder. “Aahh!” I say, my electronics flash once, and then we keep rolling. That was odd. Andrew noticed, too. “Hey, did the dashboard lights just flicker?” Yeah, they did. But we all shrug, don't know what that could have been. A few days later, we are on another dirt road and the jab happens again, then a jolt. Then my vision got blurry, my balance wobbly. I couldn't steer anymore, Leslie had to use her muscles to turn my wheel rather than my normal power steering. “This is the end!" I swoon, “Lord, have mercy on my soul!" And my engine cuts out.
Next thing I know, the drama is over. Andrew climbs inside and Leslie fires me back up. The bolt holding my battery in place had just shaken loose and the battery slid a bit out of place. Apparently, something on the battery touched the sidewall under my hood and it caused everything to short out. Andrew tightened the bolt down, and I am all better again. Praise Jesus! He has spared me another day.
One day in Northland, Andrew promised to take me onto a beach. On one hand, I’m a little nervous I will sink in the sand and never come out again, but on the other hand, Andrew says it’s a special beach and I will be ok. I trust Andrew, he is always yelling at Leslie to drive more carefully, so I know he has my best interest at heart. We pull up to the road that is supposed to take us onto the beach, and Andrew gets out to inspect. Soon, he says it is safe and he waves us forward giving Leslie a whirling motion with his pointer finger.
I don’t know what that means, but I’m sure Leslie knows so it will be fine.…until Leslie says “I have no idea what that means.” Hm. Blessed are the vans on beaches?
Andrew gives Leslie a more insistent finger-whirl , and she rolls down my window. “Go faster? Or what?” Andrew nods insistently, and Leslie punches her foot down on my accelerator. I bounce and jiggle over the lumps in the sand, then emerge on the other side easily supported by hard packed sand stretching beyond me in either direction as far as the eye can see.
“Well, I never…” I think, looking this way and that.
Andrew climbs back in and away we go. Ninety Mile Beach! We speed along for a bit, getting our bearings on the sand. There are a few other cars out here, so that makes me feel better that I am not going to get stuck in quicksand. The ocean rolls up and leaves little waves lapping up on the shoreline. Birds scurry out of my path. Leslie gets out to take some pictures as I zoom by and Andrew decides he wants to drive me in circles.
“Whhoooo, Whoooo, Whoooo, WHOOOOO!” I sing as we swing around in an orb.
“HAAAAALLLLIIIIILLLLUUUUUJJJJJJIIIIIIIAAAAAAAHHHHHH!” I exclaim as we speed past Leslie.
Leslie climbs back in and we carry on down the beach. This is the most fun I’ve had in a while.
A couple weeks later, we are back in Auckland staying with friends Phil, Laura and Max while Andrew and Leslie prepare some odds and ends to go back to Sonrisa. I sit quietly in the drive way for the first time in three months. Time to reflect and pray.
I know this is the end of the road for our time together. They told me from the beginning that we could only be together for three months. At the time, that seemed reasonable. I didn’t know if I would like these people or if in the end I would be sad to see them go. At first I wondered if this was a good idea, going at all. The roads here are windy and we drive fast. We go places I have never been before, and do crazy things like drive on beaches. But, I prayed about it and the great man in the sky said “be not afraid!” So, I went with it. I’m glad I did. It’s better to have loved and lost, then to never love at all. We had great times together, and I have memories I would never have had without Andrew and Leslie, Osmond and Rolly-Polly Tasman. I’m sure I will meet new friends and have more adventures, too.
Before you go, let us pray: "In the name of the father, the son and the holy spirit: God's angels guard and keep you, all the way that you must travel, till earth's days are past, when blossoms fade and, time is fleeting fast in times of purest joy or pain and fear, God's Angels guard and keep you safe...."
Don't forget your joo-joo medal, Leslie! And tell Sonrisa to take good care of you at sea.