Metro mishap opens door to Paris

23:52, Aug 13 2014
Huia Brown
Huia Brown has fond memories of her mission to France.

Somewhere in Arras, France, are two little boys who can sing their colours in Maori, thanks to Eltham's Huia Brown.

Back at Stratford High School last week after an exhilarating 16 days on the Young Ambassadors Tour of France, Huia said she was feeling homesick - for the "home" and host family she discovered there.

The trip was a joint project between the NZ Ministry of Education and its French counterpart, with the aim of educating young people about the effects of World War I on both countries.

Huia said she could not find fitting words in English, French or Maori to sum up her feelings about her time in France and the family she got to know.

For most of the trip, the 11 young people selected from high schools around New Zealand stayed in pairs with host families, travelling each day to visit places relevant to New Zealand's involvement in World War I.

"They were amazing, they made us so welcome. I had two little brothers showing me everything, telling me the French words, then asking me what the English and the Maori words were for things."


Another memorable experience was getting lost on the metro in Paris.

She and another girl were buying tickets for the metro, but the group moved on without them.

"It was our second night in the big city of Paris and we were left by ourselves," she said.

After some initial shock, they left the metro station and found their way back on foot to their hostel, contacted the rest of the group, then headed out again, alone, to watch the fireworks for Bastille Day celebrations.

"We even went on the metro by ourselves to Montparnasse to watch the fireworks - they were amazing. After that, we were in charge of getting the group on and off the metro because we know what to do," she said.

She spent three nights in Paris with the group at a hostel before going to her host family, who live in a restored cowshed in Arras, north of Paris. There, she got to try traditional French food, including snails and frogs' legs.

"I liked the snails, they were really small, with a strange texture, they tasted like parsley and garlic," she said.

Mealtime routines were very different from home.

"In my family it is very casual, but in France we were not allowed to get down from the table until everyone had finished eating, and the little boys would be talking and talking," she smiled.

She had many other memories from the trip, including being seated with the Young Ambassadors as the might of the French military paraded during the Bastille Day celebrations, and visiting war memorials for Kiwi soldiers.

At times, seeing the graves of New Zealanders so far from home brought her to tears, she said.

"There were cemeteries everywhere along the Western Front. On one day, we were going shopping and stopped at a cemetery on the way. I saw a couple of Maori names in this tiny cemetery on the other side of the world."

"At Ypres in Belgium, every night they play the last post and lay a wreath. Three of the young ambassadors got to lay a wreath for us there."

Huia said she would return to France in the future to see her host family and travel around more of the country.