Marta Levitt


Marta Levitt's portrait
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“Being a Brazilian and growing up in Brazil in the era that I did, I was pretty much geared up to be a revolutionary and change the world and change society and take on head on the injustices and the corruption. I guess living here has allowed me to refine the revolutionary in me. I’ve kinda transcended that energy into more productive thoughts in terms of looking at what I can do in my own life; my own patch, that is significant in the change I would like to see.”

Marta is a force of nature. She has been one for as long as she remembers. She used to bring wounded animals back home and heal them when she was little. It is this inner strength that would lead her years later to stand up for what she believed in as a young adult growing up in a corrupt Brazil and not compromise her integrity in the wake of a social status quo that tried to silence young idealists. Eventually it is this same inner strength that gave her the freedom to leave her motherland to wander her universe and grow, rather than grow old. We arrive at Marta’s house on a beautiful afternoon and she welcomes us into a home which is a larger than life expression of who she is. It is more than a home; it is a haven of natural beauty.” Marta has cultivated this haven in her home with her husband, she has created one for others in her holistic health practice and most importantly she tends to an infallible one within herself.

She explains that she arrived in New Zealand in the 1980s with her husband, through “divine intervention”. During that time, New Zealand had begun its own expansive social experiment as the worldwide hippie movement introduced new possibilities to create local meaningful spaces and the freedom to thrive in a wide range of lifestyles. Communes began popping up in Nelson and Takaka and purposeful wanderers and adventurers like Marta and her husband arrived in New Zealand settling in smaller towns where they could enjoy the richness of land that would allow them to pursue their “alternative” interests. For Marta and her husband these were sustainability, biodynamic agriculture, organic growing practices and developing a deeper relationship and awareness of the land. New Zealand was perfect…

A strong celebration of her deepest self lies at the centre of Marta’s journey here in New Zealand. Unlike many migrants, she was never really concerned with fitting in. When she moved to Ashburton to involve herself more in her holistic health clinic, Marta soon recognized that she had a very different inner and outer life, epistemology and belief system than the rest of the community. Looking back on her journey, she realizes that had she not been so outgoing and with a real love of people, but also quite brave really, her experience settling into Ashburton could have been very isolating and difficult. This is not to say that people were unkind but more that the Mid-Cantabrian community, being “busy and hard- working” and founded on strong ethics and traditional values could somewhat be slow at embracing the unfamiliar.

Imbalances between the cultural needs of locals’ and migrants’ ways of living, thinking and knowing reflect the tensions between the ‘local’ and the ‘global’ in an age where national barriers have been broken down significantly. Nowadays, as people move freely from place to place, individualism seems to have taken over communitas. Where before people came together as one community or one nation, a fluidity of boundaries has opened the doors for an equally more fluid negotiation of belonging. Yet, in smaller and more insular communities, this friction between the ‘local’ and the ‘global’ is still very relevant. Migration to Ashburton and other rural towns is not something new or something that we have just learned to adapt to in the last 20 or 30 years. Migrants have been dramatically changing the fabric of social life in rural New Zealand since the 1840s, with a massive revival in the mid 1940s to the mid 1970s. Yet, rural New Zealand still negotiates cultural diversity quite clumsily, even now; albeit not as much so as when Marta settled in Ashburton back then.

Marta’s response to the challenges she faced in creating a place for herself in the local community, was to dig deep and focus on growing this inner light and to reach out to and enrich the lives of those around her. She explains that she really needed to put herself out there. She embarked on a personal mission to build rapport with the local people by sharing her knowledge with local service groups, involving herself with women’s groups, joining the school parents’ association and even learning local arts and craft skills such as felting and spinning, which were very popular among women at the time. She started tutoring yoga, first aid homeopathy, wholefood cooking and personal development classes through the local ‘Adult and Community Education Program’ run from Menorlue, an adult education facility then based in Ashburton. All this was very new to her, but as she began to contribute to the well-being and social life of the local community, the community began embracing and supporting her.

Although Marta challenged the status quo, she did do from a place of love and positivity. In return, Ashburton provided tremendous freedom from the sometimes stifling overpopulation, traditions and history of England and the rigid dictatorship of South America. She acknowledges that Ashburton has changed immensely since she arrived here thirty years ago. What has remained constant however is that living in Ashburton gave her and her husband the space to express themselves and cultivate new ideas and for that she is.

Marta believes that it is up to migrants to reach out and offer their cultures, knowledge and the ways in which they can enrich a community in return for the opportunities that the communities they choose to settle in offer. “If I am offering, there will be people who will be interested in taking. It might not be the whole population but you will find people who are in that space as well…”