Saga Sisterhood is a transformative performance project for women from communities who identify as South Asian that come from non-performer backgrounds but all have something to say.
When Amarjit Kaur moved to New Zealand with a toddler and baby on the way, the last thing she expected was to develop a close friendship with a stranger at the bus stop. Adrienne Smith became a dear friend, but after Amarjit moved with her family to Australia, they lost connection. This story is about Amarjit’s search to find Adrienne Smith.
This recording is from a special edition of Bread & Butter held on 14 August 2019, featuring Amarjit and her daughter Sukhjit Khalsa.
Listen to a recording of Amarjit’s story, Looking for Adrienne Smith, or read a transcript below.
This story and corresponding images have been licensed to the Centre for Stories by the storyteller. For reproduction and distribution of this story/image please contact the Centre for Stories.
View Story Transcript
Amarjit: You want me to start?
She’s told many things about me, I don’t know now what I am going to say. I was born, brought up in India. I left India, I was twenty-one, that was after getting married. It was arranged marriage by parents. My husband at that time worked for Lloyds Bank in Bahrain, in Middle East. It was 1980 when I got married, end of 1980 and January ‘81, I left India for the first time. I was the first one from my family to leave India and from his family he was the first one. He had left before we got married; he was living there for two and a half years when we got married. We were there in Bahrain, in Middle East, for seven years. He worked for Lloyds Bank, I told before, and I had my first daughter in 1986 in Bahrain. In ‘87, Lloyds Bank closed their branch and we decided to move to New Zealand. By then I was about to have another child. In September 1987, we landed in Wellington. It was Friday, 11th of September 1987, I still remember. And he went to work for National Bank of New Zealand and I think ‘86, ‘87, New Zealand had opened ‘if you have a job, you get immigration’, so on that policy we got the immigration in a month. And when we arrived here, bank had organised a motel to stay, near the city. It was opposite to the Botanical Garden of Wellington. It was a beautiful place. And he started working straight away, from Friday we arrived and from Monday he went to bank to work – from seven to seven he was in the bank.
So in that first week, as I mentioned, I was pregnant and I had (my) fourteen-month-old daughter with me. We used to go places. And in that first week I had noticed a bus stop, I had spotted a bus stop just a block away from our place and I had seen buses going up and down. One day I ran out of gripe water for my daughter and I decided, I’ll go get the gripe water. I’ll go on the bus and have look at the city. So, I’m at this bus stop. There were many other people waiting there – women and children – and I caught an eye with the lady who was also waiting for the bus. And I was just in attire like this and she asked me, ‘Are you new in the town?’ I said, ‘Dear, not in the town – but in the country! We just migrated a week ago. I’m an Indian, and I have come from Middle East. My husband has come to work for National Bank of New Zealand’.
‘Oh, where are you staying?’ I pointed to the Motor Inn, where we were staying. ‘Oh, where are you going?’
Maybe she took pity because I was eight months – that was September and he was born in December – she was thinking this woman is going to do in the bus, with the little girl and all. She asked me, ‘Where are you going?’
I said, ‘I am just going to town, I ran out of gripe water, I need the gripe water for my daughter.’
She said, ‘I’m going to town. Why don’t I get the gripe water and bring it to you?’ Because she had asked my motel and she asked me, ‘What’s the room number you are in?’
I said, ‘Are you sure?’ She said, ‘Yes. You go home and rest, I’ll bring the gripe water.’
I started walking to my motel room, I’m thinking stranger – I met a stranger, I trusted her. I should have gone with her and get the gripe water. Who is going to bring me gripe water? I started walking, I thought she told me, but she don’t even know me.
To my surprise, after one and a half hour or two hours, there was a knock at the door and that same lady was standing with gripe water in her hand. I invited her in, we had cup of tea together – I paid her the money of course, because I had not given. I gave her the money for the gripe water, that was another reason I thought, I didn’t even give her money – who’s going to bring me, in a strange country you know? And so, while we had cup of tea and she told me she’s Adrienne Smith, her name. I think she gave a brief introduction at the bus stop but I didn’t pay attention because I thought she was still stranger so she told me she’s Adrienne Smith, she lives around the corner from where I was and where I met her at the bus stop and she works for Radio New Zealand as a journalist. When she was leaving she gave me her number, her house number and she told me, ‘After five o’clock I am always home, because you are new here, if you need something or you need to talk about something you can call me.’ I didn’t call, I didn’t bother – she was still stranger. And that weekend, next weekend, she came to visit me again, check on me. After that, every three, four days she would come and then we became like friendly kind of relation.
So, I moved houses. She was with me, Adrienne Smith, she was always with me when we moved to a proper house. I remember when I had to get furniture and everything for the house she was with us. And when I had my child, second son she was there. Even for his name ceremony, she was with us with her family. We had this sort of bonding – not just friends, like a family member.
Time went on, we were there in Wellington for two and half years and every small thing that was, Adrienne Smith I would call. And in that first year in Wellington, many people came and stayed with us because migration was open so anyone would ask me anything about New Zealand or anything, I would call Adrienne Smith because Adrienne Smith was Google for me. After two and half years we moved from Wellington to Auckland and we were in touch with telephone and letters, even I remember before we moved to Australia, she came to visit me in Auckland. We migrated to Australia in 1992, I was in touch with her – she knew where we were and what we were doing and she knew I was going to have another child. That was 1994, March or April I received a letter from her. She wrote in that letter she’s moved house. She wrote the new address and telephone number for me.
It was April, May, I had my third child – who is this little girl – so, with the new baby coming and in-laws came and stayed with us, I got busy and I put away that letter which I received from her in a very secret spot. And after a few months, when I want to reply to her that I had a baby girl and all, I couldn’t find that letter and I thought I’d lost her. And then this girl came –
Sukhjit: “Do you want to sit down?”
Amarjit: “Yeah, I am going to sit – because of her -”
Sukhjit: “Oh my God! So mean, no it wasn’t because of me!”
Amarjit: “- Because I got busy -”
Sukhjit: “Do you want to continue?”
Amarjit: “Yeah. You just put me down and…”
Sukhjit: “This is like such a Keeping Up with the Kardashians moment!”
Amarjit: “Let me share my story.”
Sukhjit: “Do you want to share your story of when you saw the ad at the Centre for Stories?”
Amarjit: “Yeah, of course.”
Sukhjit: “You don’t have to stand, you can sit.”
Amarjit: “No, I want to stand. Because your voice is very high…”
Amarjit: Anyway, I had never done public speaking. Just I started in February, March, just because I wanted to find Adrienne Smith. In ‘94, when I lost that letter, ‘96 I started working. So, I was busy, raising the kids. We had ups and downs with the financial and with the jobs. So, I was busy but every now and then, I still had desire in me to find Adrienne Smith because I lost that contact because of that letter which I mentioned. So, every now and then, in the beginning I remember I went to the library and looked at the Adrienne Smith New Zealand directory and called a few numbers because I couldn’t remember which city she’d moved in. And in that letter she mentioned that she might come, work in Sydney, ABC radio also. So, I went to the library and took the directory for Sydney and noted down Adrienne Smith, whoever. I called many but I couldn’t find her. I used to read a magazine I remember in 2000 – no, no before 2000 – a magazine called That’s Life. It’s still there. And I used to read people’s letters, you know to the editor, sometimes they want to look for someone and I thought I will send a letter to That’s Life to publish, but anyway I didn’t do it.
So, anyway, two years back I resigned from my work. Now I had all the time for myself and to think and find Adrienne Smith. This year, February, March, I think January they advertised Centre for Stories – I wanted to come and see her last year! I came and this door was locked, I tell you. And I came because I didn’t know only when there is event, I thought it was open house so I can go so, what do you think, one day, no one knows, I came. I thought I wanted to talk about Adrienne Smith just like this. Share the story with people and I thought someone can give me clue, you know. So, February, March, there was an advertisement which she mentioned – story-telling workshops. Oh, I said, this is a chance you know. There is no age-bar, I can go you know. So, I went and joined this story-telling workshop with the intention to find Adrienne Smith. So it was third workshop-
Sukhjit: “-P.S. I didn’t know this.”
Amarjit: “You, listen.”
– I was with another lady, Sisonke, I was with her, and she liked the story. She said, ‘Oh, that’s sad you know. But it’s good, you share your story. It’s good for audience. You know, you have not given up on it.’ So she wanted to bring me, I came to find if someone could help. So, I think it was third workshop, she [Sukhjit] came to know, maybe she read the story maybe Sisonke had written down, I don’t know how. And she said, ‘Mum! Why you didn’t tell me about Adrienne Smith, I could have found…’ and I said, ‘Where you will find?’ Because Manjit, my daughter, she connected me to Facebook and I looked for her on Facebook – where else can you find?
I said, ‘She’s not on Facebook, I didn’t find,’ she said, ‘No, there are other ways.’ Anyway, she found her on LinkedIn. And she sent a nice email, I’m so-and-so, about her, introduction, artist whatever. And ‘You helped’, she wrote to Adrienne, ‘you helped my mum in ‘87 when they migrated to New Zealand. And we still miss you’, this and that and she wrote my email and telephone number to her and she sent me copy of that email. So, I’m not very good with technology so on my iPad, I saw this email which she had sent, in the morning after breakfast I will stare at this email maybe, because I had desire to find her so I thought maybe she will pop out of that email, or some reply. So, it was fourth day and I wanted to write to her. So, I wrote: ‘Dear Adrienne’, I had no experience with the email or anything until then, and I wrote her: ‘Dear Adrienne’, and I didn’t know what to write. So I don’t know which button I clicked, it must have gone! I came to know about this ‘Dear Adrienne’ in the morning next day. There was a reply from Adrienne Smith: ‘Amarjit! You found me online. I was wondering what you were doing all these years!’ And then, because there was no mention of Sukhjit and then I wrote her back: ‘You didn’t get the email from my daughter?’ She said, ‘No, I saw your name, Amarjit’, when I wrote ‘Dear Adrienne’ my name went. She said, ‘ I quickly recognised!’
So anyway, we found each other. I went to see her in May because kids, Sukhjit and my son – before I found her online – they were going to go to New Zealand for an event and they booked me also. And before, I was thinking I should go…I should not go. When I found her then I said, ‘No, there is a reason to go.’ So, I went and saw her on 30th of May this year and we are in touch and she will come here soon. I have asked her to come and visit. And I hope I will bring her here.
Sukhjit: “She forgot one detail that was very dramatic. When we got to Auckland. We were actually going to meet Adrienne in Wellington and then there were these big storms. Mum was in Auckland, my brother, sister-in-law and me were coming from Queenstown and our plane got diverted. We were going to Wellington to meet Adriene and in the air they were like ‘Sorry, we can’t land’, there was some weather warning so we had to land in Auckland. And we were like, Oh my God, we came all the way – this had better happen. The airport was crazy, everyone’s flight had been cancelled to Wellington. And then you guys took the last flight – ”
Amarjit: “That was the first flight. I think I was meant to see her.”
Sukhjit: “And then how many hours did you spend with her?”
Amarjit: “Whole day, whole day. We went to the same spot where we met. The bus stop. We recreated it, my son recorded. And even twenty-six years have gone but when I met her, my son went to pick her up. She came, I hugged her and we just sat on the sofa and just started from where we had left. As if there was no gap.”Copyright © 2019 Amarjit Kaur