“We are moving”
Life for a 9 year old was never boring. It was 1966 and I was in my own world.
My younger brother was only 15 months younger – but he could add a twist to our existence that was built around our family’s 5 acre farm with a timber and corrugated iron home built on a ridge. We walked the 200 yard gravel access road to the main road (which was also gravel – but much better built) Monday to Friday to catch the school bus. One day, my father installed a barbed wire gate across the access road entrance and this slowed our exit, which made us miss the school bus.
It was an advantage living on a ridge between the plateau and the valley below, The main road past our farm dropped down into a valley. We could look up half a mile away and see the plateau (where civilisation and sealed roads were), but we could not see the river at the foot of the valley because it was too far away. It was a steep drop and the school bus would take a good 7 minutes grinding up the climb before it got to our gate. When we were able to hear the bus, we had 2 minutes to get to the gate from our front door.
The regular bus driver knew us and often slowed down as he approached our gate to catch us at the end of our sprint from the front door. One day, they changed the bus driver. It was raining and when we got to the gate and I searched through my rain coat for the key to unlock the sticky padlock, we watched the school bus chuggingly past – oblivious to our frantic shouting and waving behind our gate. Our punishment that day for missing the bus was a day off school.
Most kids would not see a day off school as punishment. But because we lived off a farm, a day off school meant a day under a tin roof sorting out rotten smelly tomatoes from ripe ones. My parents tried growing tomatoes for sale in the markets. The tomatoes had to be gathered while green, stored under the tin-roofed verandah or under our beds until they ripened. The problem was that some ripened too quickly at the innards of the piles and rotten tomatoes have a smell that is quite putrid.
However, it was not all work for us. A small brook ran through the farm, and with our baby sister in tow, Wah and I would spend hours looking for prawns. Then we would go picking wild guavas and passionfruit. When Wah started to slow down on our rampages through the farm, I just felt frustrated. He was no longer any fun.
He had to stay in the house and the visits to the doctor started.
We even had a ‘Medicine man’ come to the house to drive the evil spirits away. But he couldn’t save my playmate.
I was too young to know about death and I cried – not because I had just lost my brother, but because Ma was so distraught that crying was the only relief for all of us. Trauma over death affects adults a lot more than children. Our family size was suddenly reduced, and whilst this trauma stayed with Ma and Pa until their death, I got over it.
Obedience is our cultural trait. Pa would tell stories to us and much of them would be themed around the ‘obedient son’. It was a blessing for me as a child because I did not need to waste energy asking ‘why not?’.
A couple of years after Wah died, Pa got picked up early in the morning and did not return until late. When he got back from that 7-hour trip and said “we are moving”, I just replied “where?”.
The lease had run out on our farm and there was no chance of renewal, Pa had found another farm with a 20-year lease. I never got to ask my parents what it felt like to lose a child and then lose a home that they had spend over a decade building. It was a world that they had to cope with. My world was just about growing up in the cocoon that Ma and Pa was building for me.
Distances seem greater for children. The trip to see our new farm took hours. It was only 18 kilometres away (we had decimalised in Fiji), but the slow bumpy and dusty trip must have stretched my perception of time.
Neither Ma or Pa could afford a truck – so they never ever learnt to drive. I bounced around in the back of the hired open trayed pickup truck on my first trip to our new farm and another world opened up for me.
In our farm that we were leaving, there was a little stream that we had spend endless hours playing in – but it was no comparison to the river that we were about to cross.