I was born in Fiji and spent most of my childhood there. So many people around me seemed to be going ‘overseas’ (or so it seemed to a 7 year old me). I did not exactly know what ‘overseas’ meant but I imagined it involved some travelling over the sea. And it was far away. Some of my friends had gone ‘overseas’ and some said their families were thinking about going. “Why don’t we go too?” I thought to myself. Of course, being a Ms Smart, I voiced this simple question to my Mum and next thing I know we were talking of going to New Zealand.
I got a passport made and Mum got a visa to go to New Zealand. I was told that we have a relative in New Zealand – a cousin – with whom Mum will be staying. She got her visa and everything, and the whole extended family hired a mini bus for the 3 and half hour drive from Suva to Nadi. It was such a fun trip, and it meant we got to stay up late. But when we got to the airport and it was time for Mum to leave, there were tears rolling down me and my brother’s cheeks. This ‘New Zealand’ was very far away, after all.
Mum was away for 3 months. During these months, Dad took very good care of us. He treated us to McDonalds often and took us to the park to play. We visited grandpa and grandma and even took them to eat ice-creams.
On 28 February 1998, Dad, Vishal and I arrived in New Zealand. And what a shock it was!
First, we stayed at the relative’s place but after a few weeks we found our own little place to rent in South Auckland. It was a very small place indeed. 1 bedroom unit. We had a double decker bed, with parents sleeping at the bottom and my brother and I sleeping in the single bed at the top.
I did not realise it at the time, but we were not very rich when we came to New Zealand. We were poor. To start a new life, in an unknown country, with just a couple of thousand dollars is not easy. Mum washed the clothes by hand, because we did not have a washing machine. Since it was an older house, the cold and hot water taps were separate and that meant she had to wash using cold water even in Winter. To save money, my parents bought cheap chicken – which we could get from the butcher for just $2.00 NZD each. As vegetables and fruit was more expensive, we did not tend to eat much of that. Shopping was usually done fortnightly at Pak’nSave and the veges and fruits came from a Chinese supermarket.
Of course, being a child, I did not realise any of this at the time. These are things I see now when I look back to our early days in New Zealand. What I did notice at the time, though, were things that went on at school.
To begin with, school uniforms cost a few hundred dollars for one set of clothes. That meant we kids only got one set of school uniform. For our shoes, we went to The Warehouse and bought the cheapest pairs there. For physical education, we used old shoes from Fiji and old home clothes for sports. At the supermarket, I could not ask for anything other than the bare essentials (and school snacks, deodorant, shampoo, conditioner, skin care products, yoghurt, drinks, etc did not count as essentials).
Because this was a new country, my Dad was not too comfortable with exploring and trying new things. This meant that we did not venture out for family picnics and long drives. In Fiji, we had gone to picnics often, and my Dad was totally comfortable with the surroundings and could drive us anywhere. This new country, however, was unknown and full of challenges.
At the time we came to New Zealand, there were not too many Indians here. One of the things that I will never forget is the racism I experienced in this new country. Of course, coming from Fiji, a country that is not always known for the peaceful relations between its two main ethnic groups, I had already had my share of racism. But I was in no way prepared for what lay ahead of me in New Zealand.
The girls at school (I was 12 years old then) made it a point to make life miserable for the couple of Indian girls in the class, includig me. Of course it did not help that I had not the latest and most fashionable clothes and accessories, and that I was not particularly good at sports. To get the picture, you must imagine a 12 year old girl, weighing 20kg, with black plaited hair and too-large clothes.
We were in a classroom that had toilets and a space that was used as a changing room for the girls during physical education. However, when it came time for the girls to get changed into sports wear, the New Zealand European girls would not let us Indian girls inside. They locked us out and complained that we would make the room smell. We would wait for a longgg time before being able to go in. Then, during the sports session itself, they would spend the time teasing us and would not let us join any of the teams. So, we decided to just sit there in our own little group and be left alone hopefully.
Over the years, though, more and more migrants came to New Zealand and by the time I reached High School, a significant amount of the students were Indians. And gone were the days of racism towards Indians (at least on the top).
Studies, Sports, Social life
My family was quite strict. Okay, so that is a phrase that is often used – a cliche. But truly, they were. I had a simple life – wake up, get dropped to school, get picked up after school and taken home, homework, sleep, start again. My Dad made it quite clear – studies are the first priority. There is no time (and no need/use) for sports, music lessons, oh and socialising – forget it! It’s too dangerous.
Resultantly, I did not spend afternoons going to my friend’s house, I did not got o after-school hockey, I did not have piano lessons (although I did keyboard lessons at school for a few weeks – until the teacher said we would have to buy a keyboard for home in order to continue progressing with the lessons). I did not get to walk to the library. In fact, I did not walk anywhere myself, besides in the house and at school. I did not go to the movies with friends. I did not go to the mall with friends. I studied. I listened to Hindi radio in my room. I dreamt. About a free life – about things that many young girls take for granted, about the usual things girls dream about, and about some things that were special to me.
The point of all this rambling is to give an idea of my background, my experiences of first coming to New Zealand and to see how far I have come. I have successfully completed school, graduated from University with 3 degrees, found my Prince, started my (hopefully successful) career and am even living in my own (rented) place.
But my childhood has left some things lacking – I don’t have the confidence that comes with being encouraged to engage in teams and extra-curricular activities; I don’t have the independence from being able to walk to the library yourself; sometimes feel I don’t fit in with the mainstream New Zealander. and I have never before had the chance to live my dreams.
Now that I have set up my own life, though, I have the chance to live my dreams. To get fit. To eat healthy. To walk. To explore. And that’s what I’m going to do.