Tuesday, May 2, 2017

100 Vineyard Stories: He escaped from Zimbabwe to a New Zealand vineyard

To show rebirth and future promise, I was photographing a new-born Syrah leaf in a vineyard on Roy Hill above Trinity Hill Winery in Hawke's Bay region of New Zealand's North Island

Rain drop covered Syrah leaf. Hawke's Bay region, North Island, New Zealand.

And here comes Matthew Stobart, a friendly vineyard worker (I never actually met an unfriendly New Zealand vineyard worker) on a mower.

He turned off the engine and asked how I was doing.

I replied my usual: "When I count my blessings, excellent." 

He said likewise. It turns out we both are immigrants with amazingly parallel stories.

Matthew Stobart: "I escaped from Zimbabwe in 2001, with my parents, when the government took our farm. We got out with just two boxes of things. Everything in two boxes."

Mowing the vineyard grass. Trinity Hill winery, Hawkes Bay, New Zealand.
Matthew: "And it's not like we stole the land. My parents paid the government for it. Then 10 years later the government took it away. Gave it to the president's relatives, cousins and relations. All for politics, for votes."

Janis: "The Communists arrested my father and tossed him in jail because we owned land. Landowners were criminals. Fortunately, friends broke my dad out of prison." 

Matthew: "We're lucky to get out in time. Many farmers didn't. Now they're stuck with no farm, no pension, nothing."

Janis: "After hiding in the forest for months, my father and mother packed a few things in an ox-drawn cart, buried some valuables in the forest and left our farm forever." 

Matthew: "Zimbabwe used to be the bread basket of Africa. Now they can't feed their own people."

Janis: "Latvia had the best standard of living of all the Soviet states, yet at the end of the Soviet Union, it was very difficult to even get a bottle of milk without connections."

Matthew: "Things are good here. The people are great. The government is stable. Now my wife and I own a house. We're doing all right now."

Working at Trinity Hill winery, Hawkes Bay, New Zealand.
Matthew: "There isn't a morning that I don't wake up and count my blessings."

Matthew Stobart
Vineyard Worker and Landscaper
Trinity Hill Winery
Hawkes Bay, New Zealand.

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