The phlebotomist tightened the strap on my right arm. She was getting ready to draw three tubes of my blood, the last step of my immigration medical exam. She double checked my passport which lay on the desk in front of her. Then suddenly she asked me what seemed like a simple question: “Do you like the United States or New Zealand better?”
The young woman’s slight accent hinted that she had learned English at a very young age, her golden skin and dark hair told that her family was from another sunny island in the Pacific. Her belly was huge, she clearly was due to have a child of her own any day now. I found I didn’t know how to answer her so I stalled. “Have you ever been to the United States?”
“No, but I would like to someday,” she replied.
“It’s very big,” I stated randomly and wracked my brain for the answer to her question, when all I could think of was how surprised I was that I suddenly couldn’t answer such a simple thing. “Everyone in New Zealand has health care. That’s really nice,” I finally blurted out.
“Just look at the poster on the wall. I’m going to draw your blood now,” she suggested.
I looked up at the poster. It was a government notice that all children going into school at age 5 were eligible for a free health checkup. It reminded me how thankful I was that since Michael has a two-year work visa that he and the girls are in New Zealand’s public health system now. It’s the first health care we’ve had in nearly two years.
“They actually seem quite similar to me,” I finally said. “They are beautiful countries.”
“I think Americans are so friendly,” she pondered aloud. I wasn’t sure if she was suggesting that New Zealanders were otherwise so I just agreed, “Yes, I think they are too. Kiwis can be a bit more, um, reserved.” I could relate to most Kiwis in this regard though, being one of the shyer Americans myself.
The poster in front of me blurred as she silently filled the tubes of blood. All the reasons I love America came flooding in suddenly but I didn’t think it was the type of answer she was looking for: my Dad, my step-mom, my brothers and their wives, my cousins, my aunts and uncles, my grandparents, Michael’s family, our friends, the girls’ friends they’ve known since they were infants. This was all I could feel that America had that New Zealand didn’t.
The woman withdrew the needle and placed a cotton ball on the wound. “Hold this for a moment,” she said and got a piece of tape ready. “That’s it! You’re done,” she declared. “Best of luck with your visa.”
“Thank you,” I replied, “Good luck with your new baby!” She smiled as I walked out the door back into the lobby, then out the glass sliding doors into the bluish glare of the Aotearoa sunlight.