said a small voice to me. It came from a young boy maybe eight or nine. I was siting in my car when I heard a small noise and saw this boy bent over my strawberries. Today was the first day in doing bit of roadside selling, times are little tight for me so I am selling some fruit and vege on the roadside to make a few dollars. Young “John” had picked up three chips of strawberries and said how much, I told him 7.50 and he put them back. He surveyed the rest of the things I had for sale and asked me how much it all was and he repeated himself, you must be rich. you have all this stuff.
John said can I have some I am hungry. I explained that I didn’t own the stuff I was just selling it, I gave him a carrot and we sat on the back of my wagon talking and each eating a carrot. We talked about life and I explained some things to him. I thought about saying I was poor as well and I did but he didn’t understand it. I had all this food and money for change, I must be rich, end of story.
John was small, long hair, a little grubby, a little smelly, John was friendly and gregarious, charming rogue no doubt at all he would have made off with a chip of strawberries if he had the chance. I didn’t pity him because of his ethnicity, his clothes or his smell and apparent hunger, these things are common place unfortunately. It is well documented that John because he is a part of a first people group he like many of his counterparts around the world will die younger, suffer more disease, be more likely to offend and more likely to be imprisoned for his offending compared to his other New Zealanders. The list of negatives is lengthy. The thing that stuck out for me was his teeth. Hid teeth were shockingly deformed, twisted erupting behind each other and just a mouthful of trouble, potentially an easy ten thousand dollars worth of trouble.
Now he didnt appear to me affected by this, he smiled widely, an engaging smile till one sees his teeth, no attempt to cover his mouth at all. It may be a European thing to be worried about ones teeth but you see I could tell that he was having difficulty eating, it was a real effort. I know about bad teeth, not mine but my daughters, hers were pretty bad but these were just shocking. In the case of my daughter she had to get hers done,it was way beyond cosmetic although that was reason enough, it affected her eating enough of that however. In her case we were blessed by someone from our local church paying for her complete treatment. The cost was significant, more than enough to pay a great used car. I would have paid and indeed had started to pay for her second treatment however this wonderful person stepped forward.
I wonder who will be there for John, I fear no one. The cost is prohibitive, John told me he came from the Pa, a small group of houses on Maori land just down the road. We sat chatting about school, conversing in my limited Maori which intrigued him even more, “are you sure you got no Maori blood he said” I confused him even more by saying my mokos, (grand children) were married. Where they from he demanded and I told him, oh he says we must be cuzzys, cause I got family down there, looking at the apples, I asked him if he wanted the bag, nah just one he said, if I take it home they might say I must have pinched it, no worries, I said, gave him the bag and he called his bro over, gave him an apple, took one extra and got his brother to double him back home.
I wonder what John thinks of the “rich pakeha” who must be a cuzzy. I tried to enter the world he lives in once, sadly without success but that’s another story. I drove away thinking of John, was he really hungry, what would he eat for dinner, would he ever get his teeth fixed? The small questions. the big questions for me was dos he have any hope, or will he be like so many other young maori men, filling our courts and prisons, bottom of the heap for everything but negative statistics.
I drove away feeling hopeless and despondent for many young people like John. I think I have a few answers but I realise the likelihood of anything changing significantly are slim…. Are we are too caught up in consumerism to want to change our world? I have no answers on that
Arohanui, lots of love