Words from the wise
Friend to many, and nanny to many neighbourhood cats, Maureena Holland has lived a worldly life, moving from the UK to India as a child and later travelling widely before settling in New Zealand. She tells us about growing up in Kolkata, meeting a then-unknown Mother Teresa, and learning to lend a hand
Maureena Holland has always liked to help others, perhaps influenced by her early years in India, studying at Darjeeling’s Loreto Convent, where Mother Teresa (now Saint Teresa) was based at the time.
Born in England, Maureena moved with her family to India at the age of 2, and lived there until she was 26. After living and working between the UK, Czechoslovakia, India, Australasia and Central America, she eventually settled in New Zealand and worked in insurance.
She has lived in the Auckland suburb of St Heliers for over 30 years and knows most of her neighbours. She helps out where she can, feeding pets and bringing in bins or running errands for people. While painting and travelling were once her creative outlets, now daily coffee dates and staying active in the community keep her going. She tells us about her colourful life.
I was brought up as an only child so I grew up with my school friends. We were all very independent. The nuns taught us to think. When we were in the study hall, Mother Teresa would be in charge to see that we weren’t gossiping. She was tiny and she was very sweet. She was very young then, probably only in her forties.
I feel as though I’m international – a bit of this and a bit of that. Having spent so many years in India, I speak Hindi and I’ve got friends of all nationalities. I’m settled here now.
All about India
India is a very interesting country and it has so much to see – the highest mountains in the world and flat plains, and coastline around three quarters of the country – and it’s hot and humid. The history is very complex. There’s so much to learn. The religions and languages and food and people are all so diverse.
I was married for nearly 10 years and I felt as though I was subjugated. I would never marry again; I’m not the type to be subjugated. I don’t like to be domineered by any man. When I got married, the man was the big boss of the house. It just didn’t work with me. I had no desire to get married again; I thought, “No, it’s not for me.”
No, I don’t regret not having children. When I see women, and my friends and their grandchildren, they’ve always got problems, and I think, “Thank God I haven’t got any!” No… what you don’t have, you don’t miss.
I wasn’t very musical – Mum’s side were musical but I wasn’t. But I liked to paint. I don’t do it so much these days because of my eyesight. Now I look after animals. Ever since we moved here I’ve been asked to feed people’s cats when they go away. We all know each other; they’re a very friendly society and they know I’ve got a couple of cats myself.
My pet aversion is cruelty to animals. A bird or animal of any sort, I hate the thought of anybody being cruel to them. I hate to think that an animal or bird is hungry. I get into a bit of strife for feeding the birds. That’s basically my philosophy: take care of animals.
If people need help I don’t mind doing it; it’s just second nature. I say, “I’ll do it for you.” Especially where feeding animals is concerned. My neighbours know I’ll do it, they just bring the food and say, “Here it is.”
How to live
Learn by experience. Help other people. “Be good and do good” – that’s what a Belgian priest in India used to say.