18 Jul No Good For Apple Pickin’
When we pulled up at the house that evening the taxi driver wasn’t quite sure we were at the right one. We were on a street of bungalows and each one looked the same. He got out and knocked on the door. No reply. I started to think I’d got the address wrong. But 603 was next door, so this one must have been 605. He knocked again and suddenly the door came ajar.
photo by joyosity
About 6 or 7 faces poked round the door and for a second I thought I was at completely the wrong house.
“Is this number 605 ?” I asked nervously.
“Yes, you stay here.” said one of the women.
I quickly handed the taxi driver the money and she took my bag as I awkwardly scuttled through the door. They took me into the living room, where even MORE people were sitting watching TV.
“James say you stay here tonight. You stay here.”
“Where are you from?” I asked.
“We from Samoa” one of the women replied.
I had been expecting to arrive at the orchard owner’s house, but I soon felt like I had been smuggled into a house of illegal immigrants. It turned out they were not illegal, in fact they had been living there for years, working in different orchards across the country. Their little 8 year old girl, who was a chubby little thing with bunches and a cheeky grin, was the only one I could really communicate with because she was fluent in English, having gone to an English school. For the duration of my stay my conversation was restricted to High School Musical and homework, I felt like a kid again. Most of the time the others spoke in Samoan, and I would sit there trying to guess what they were talking about. They say you can learn a language by being with the people, but after my time in their house I still couldn’t speak one damn word of Samoan.
The living room was adorned with pictures of Mary and Jesus, and “God Bless This House” embroidered tapestries. You couldn’t guess they were religious. I sat there nervously not knowing quite what to say.
“Have you eaten?” one of the ladies asked?”.
“No actually I haven’t” I replied
“You want some prawns?”
“Are you sure?”
“In our house everything is everybody’s- we share.”
That was the lovely thing about the Samoans, they would feed a complete stranger they had never met before. They were always inviting people round to eat, and though they didn’t have much money on their meagre apple picking wages, they managed to make a little go far.
They fed me prawns and what can only be described as a block of chalk. It was rock hard and pure alabaster white.
“Bread” one of them said. “It made from fruit.”
I dipped my chalk bread in the sardine broth they had poured out for me and sat there quietly as they gazed at me with absolute amusement. One of the men said to me “You married?”. “Oh no” I replied. There was an awkward silence as they stared at me while I ate- I could imagine what they were thinking. What is this little white English girl doing apple picking in Hawkes Bay by herself?”
I never learnt any of their names; if I can’t remember English names I’m hardly going to remember Samoan names, except for one called, Ki Lopau “You’ll remember it if you think of Cindi Lauper”, she giggled. And she’s right, I do remember it.
I was shown to my room which I was sharing with another girl. She was younger than the others and spoke a little more English. I think she appreciated having someone her own age to share a room with. “James he see you tomorrow at the orchard and we pick apples. He find you place to stay. I hope you stay with us” she smiled. I was starting to get intrigued about meeting mystery figure James. Whilst they were nattering on in Samoan I would hear “James” pop up quite frequently. It felt like he was this mystery boss we worked for as secret agents, like in Charlie’s Angels or something. My room looked like an old ladies room, with mismatched curtains and sheets with a frilly bed spread. As I tried to get to sleep all I could smell was damp coming from the wall next to me. As I nodded of I wondered how the hell I ended up here…
The next day when I woke up I was pretty sure I heard singing, but thought I must have been dreaming. Gradually, as I came out of my unconsciousness, I realised it WAS singing, in Samoan.
“You join us for family prayer” the girl I was sharing a room said.
I was ushered into the living room where all the members of the family were sitting in a circle, eyes closed, singing in harmony. They could have been singing about flying elephants for all I knew, but I gathered they were praying. Suddenly they stopped and knelt upright. “Do I join in?” I thought to myself. I didn’t want to be disrespectful so I knelt with them. I was quickly spanked on the bottom and told not to join in. So at the ungodly hour of 7am in the morning we set off with more people in the car than the legal limit to the orchard.
When we arrived at the orchard it turned out I was obscenely underdressed. I turned up in my flip flops and jeans and the orchard workers looked at me in absolute amusement. “You be careful going up those ladders” the tractor driver said. “Don’t want you falling off now do we.” The other pickers all had crappy trousers on and wellies- i definitely stood out like a sore thumb. ‘Next time you’d better bring trainers’ he said.
Now apple picking is one of those things that backpackers just seem to do, and they government insist you can earn around 100 dollars to 160 dollars a day. That’s definitely an overestimation. You’re paid $30 a bin and before I arrived I thought “Hell yeah, I can do that”. Well let me tell you something, these bins are about 2 metres wide by 2metres high and take approximately 35 baskets to fill. So they’ve set you up to fail. The tractor driver gave us a quick lesson on apple picking- there’s a trick to it you see, you cup it in the palm of your hand and then pull it up, and off it comes! Only pick the ones that are 50% red he told me, if they’re not ripe don’t pick em. And don’t pick ones with bruises or ones that have been scorched by the sun.
It’s easier said than done to decide which apples are good for pickin’. And I’m the most indecisive person ever so this took me longer than most. There’s a trick to the way you carry your bin as well. Too low, and it pulls on your neck and back, and when you try to stand on the top of the ladder with that bin of apples hanging from your neck, you topple…as I found out on many occasion. It became a bit of a race between the pickers, and there was no way I was going to win. With my bin only half way full someone was already shouting “new bin please sir!!” At lunchtime, with the sun blazing down on us and my forehead now lobster red, the tractor driver said to me “So let me get this straight, you got all As at school, you have a degree, yet you’re out here pickin’ apples! Ha!” That’s probably the moment that spurred me on to write this.
I managed to pick 2 bins, and only because the other two in my new ‘family’ took pity on me and helped me finish my row so they could all go home for dinner. A whole days work and only 60 dollars! We went to pick the rest of the family up who were on a different orchard and one of the men sat next to me and put his arm round me, “So you like Samoan Boy?” he asked. “You have boyfriend?You be my girlfriend”. So that was that. For the next couple of days I was his bride to be. When I decided to call it quits on my fruit picking days, he insisted on having a photo with me with his hands around my waist. A photo I assumed he was going to show to his friends and say, “this my English bride.” That night the family were in fits of laughter at the dinner table and I had to ask what was so funny; “they say they pick your row for you because you so slow at apple pickin’. Apple pickin’ no good for you, you need to go to the pack house.” I couldn’t help but laugh, so I was sacked from being a fruit picker.
In all honesty, when I sat round with them at the dinner table eating my bananas in coconut milk, or when I sat with them to watch the Samoan version of American Idol, or even when I sat there for family prayer every morning, I could see how much their family cared for each other. They were so giving, and it really did touch me. They fed me without any questions, they cleaned up every cup for me, they wouldn’t let me buy my own shampoo and they even dropped me off at the bus station to go home. The day I left they insisted on getting photos of me with each of them like I was this strange being they had never seen before, who they needed to show to their friends.