Tuesday, September 11, 2007

2007. Christchurch NZ, Nursery Work and Retraining, 1995

< 1995. Esslemonts at Lyttelton viewing a copy of Captain Cook's Endeavour.

I found a three month nursery job in the Port Hills, working a 40 hour contracted week, paid NZ$7.8/hour. I worked during weekends, but wasn't paid time-and -a-half for weekend work. It was impossible to support my family on $246.52 gross per week, as I paid $180/week rent. My SA funds subsidized our NZ residence. I'd been employed to cover my boss Horty's Xmas holiday.

During the spring rush, I watered, bagged and shifted trees. I drove a badly repaired tractor (a bent six-inch nail secured a front-end-load bucket), and front-end-loaded tons of potting-mix into a hopper. Beside a noisy compressor, without earmuffs, I daily bagged scores of tree seedlings into black, plastic bags, then trolleyed them to the sales area. I worked with four unfriendly potting-shed blokes who shovelled potting-mix into black, plastic punnets, then pushed punnets along metal rollers to grubby ladies who pricked out thousands of flower seedlings - boring, mindless, dehumanizing work. On rainy days, vehicles churned mud outside the shed.

One bloke washed reusable Lannen black, plastic containers in a formalin tub. Protective gloves were available, but he rarely used them as they were holed. Sometimes he wore a gasmask. I wondered when he'd get cancer, as formalin imbibed through skin. Ignorant, temp labourers were disposable.

Horty, wearing a gasmask, sprayed pesticides in plastic greenhouses. Gasmasks were unavailable for the rest of us. When I sensed gas, I left the shed and worked outside.

At a Commonwealth Head of Governments meeting in Auckland, Nigerian Ken Wiwa pleaded with Commonwealth leaders Bolger, Mandela, Major and others, to save his father from hanging by Abacha, Nigerian dictator. Ken Saro-Wiwa was hanged. (Ken Wiwa, In the Shadow of a Saint, Black Swan, London, 2001).

By December, dry nor'westers had browned Port Hills, and I watered potted trees for hours. One sweltering afternoon, Horty grabbed a half-filled paper-pot from me saying, "Fuckin' useless! Pu' more soi' in po's!"

"You can't take heat. I haven't come to NZ to be abused." I left.

Months later the nursery went bankrupt.

I flew to Auckland for a Jewish school interview. The Jewish principal said, "You present well..." but didn't offer a teaching job. A Manurewa principal offered a temp teaching job without interviewing me. I declined, as Manurewa was a low decile southern suburb.

At a Christchurch College of Education teachers' retraining course, I read new curriculum documents. A lecturer touted the whole-word reading approach, and mocked phonics, as phonics was eradicated from NZ schools 25 years before. Leah's eclectic training in infant reading had emphasized phonics, enabling Leah to use several reading approaches. Leah believed whole-word and phonics complemented each other. She felt neither approach should be used exclusively. Because children had different learning styles and different needs, the whole-word approach was inadequate for some kids. Teaching kids phonics skills enabled them to overcome reading problems. In 2001, the NZ Labour government reported that phonics was needed after 30 years' disfavour, as many Kiwi kids couldn't read properly.

A PT teacher coached us in her gym. While I drum-majored with a stave, a lady teacher said, "Go home! You should rebuild SA!..." She should've recommended Australia. Her attack was unprovoked.

"What do you think Maori traditional challenges are?" I asked. "Why do you imply that Africans are incapable of sorting themselves out?" Silence. I told her why I'd left SA, and quoted KwaZulu-Natal killing statistics, and mentioned my brother's "accident," and described murders of people I'd known, and emphasized murders of citizens and farmers, and the distant drumming of violent crime. The teacher excused herself and went to the toilet.

When I sat at the back of a classroom observing a teacher, I couldn't hear him, despite my Phonaks, as class background-buzz obscured hearing-aid reception. I noticed kids sucking their thumbs. I wondered why teachers and parents allowed thumb-sucking. I could no longer teach, but over the next two years I applied for teaching jobs. Having been involved in teaching for 22 years, falling from my peak was painful.

We moved to a three-bedroom house at 40 Nottingham Avenue, Oaklands, within walking distance of amenities, and enrolled Jake at Oaklands School near home. We settled at Oaklands in Halswell for eight years, as the $200/week rent didn't increase, and built-in -cupboard-space was adequate. Most pondoks we'd viewed had little built-in-cupboard-space.

My third degree, UNISA BSc, remained incomplete, as I was reading scholarly stuff I'd absorbed years before. My reading was wider than degree subjects.

I registered for a postgraduate horticultural diploma at Lincoln University. A Pom said, "Call me professor! The muck-'n-magic organic farming course you applied for is unavailable."

See Lincoln University.

Copyright Mark JS Esslemont.

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