From KGB to home by the sea
Not many of us can say that we’ve had a KGB file on us. Makes for great dinner party conversation. But for one Picton local, it’s a tale she can tell. And just one of many stories she has about her colourful life working overseas in some of the more unforgiving parts of the world.
Sarah Arias, and her husband, Paraguay-born Mariano Arias, have a settled life now in Marlborough. He works in IT for the New Zealand Defence Force, and says that he could tell me what he does there, but then ‘‘I would have to kill you,’’ he laughs.
Both Arias and her husband have had quite a journey.
Arias now has a new role as the Stroke Foundation’s new community stroke advisor.
Along the way to getting here she’s been followed by the notorious KGB secret police, lived in a log cabin in a rustic Russian backwater, and worked as a missionary.
Now the trained nurse will be helping Marlborough’s stroke survivors and their families.
‘‘It’s my dream job – I enjoy being in a situation where people are at a loss and I can offer them hope and encouragement,’’ she says.
Arias was born in Bath in the United Kingdom before coming to New Zealand on the immigrant ships in 1966, along with others seeking a better life here.
After training as a nurse, Sarah felt a calling. She’d read a book called Chasing the Dragon by Jackie Pullinger, a missionary who saved hundreds of drug addicts in Hong Kong.
Inspired, she headed for Paraguay to work as a missionary. There, she met her husband Mariano , and the pair decided to travel through China and Mongolia to the remote Siberian state of Buryatia.
‘‘It was like living in a time warp,’’ Arias says.
‘‘The people there were direct descendants of Genghis Khan. Initially we were housed in a log cabin with a well in the street and had to grow our own food or queue for it,’’ Arias says.
The town the pair stayed in had been founded by Cossacks in 1666, and for many years the region hadn’t allowed foreigners to visit. It was so staunchly Communist that the capital, Ulan-Ude, boasted a 42-ton statue of Vladimir Lenin’s head.
It was only in 1991, with the famous Russian ‘‘perestroika’’ reforms, that Buryatia started to admit Westerners.
‘‘It was 1994, and people were quite suspicious of foreigners. A friend of ours who had worked for the KGB told us they were following us, and apparently had a file on us, but we had nothing to hide,’’ Arias says.
Working in temperatures as low as -40C, the couple built the region’s first Bible School in their four-year stay.
In all, it’s a very different lifestyle to the one they enjoy in Picton.
‘‘We returned to Marlborough six years ago to enable our children to benefit from the lifestyle that Marlborough offers,’’ Sarah says.
‘‘I believe that being a community stroke advisor enables me to make use of all my various life experiences – I’m really looking forward to meeting and helping stroke survivors in the area.’’
Sarah Arias at her home in Picton. Mariano and Sarah Arias moved to Marlborough six years ago after spending much of their married life in far-flung places.