Friday, October 28, 2011

Kiwi Packing

Yesterday morning I was eating breakfast when Tony, the owner of the hostel we are staying at, came in.

"Hey, ya wont a job?" He's from Wales.

"Sure, why not? What is it?" I ask.

"Kiwi packing."

An hour later I'm driving the hostel car to Orangewood, a company that packs kiwifruit from local growers. Celine, a French girl also staying at our hostel, gives me directions in her heavy accent. James is left back at the hostel, where we have been working in exchange for accomodation, to clean up.

I was told that only girls are allowed to sort kiwifruit because boys handle them too roughly. 

After an introduction and safety video, we don plastic aprons and hats and stand in a big wherehouse with 10 other girls, mostly from Germany. (The majority of tourists I've met in New Zealand are German. I'm not sure why.) We are taught the technique: pick up two kiwifruit, flowered ends up, inspect the top, bottom, twirl them in your hand, gently feeling for any soft patches with your fingers, and then give it a firm squeeze - but not too firm! - to see if its soft. It's actually quite difficult and takes a lot of concentration. A tiny soft spot called a rot that is usually invisible can cause the whole box to go rotten.

The first day wasn't bad. But by the second day, we were expected to go faster and make fewer mistakes. Our boxes were checked by supervisors and we were told how many bad ones we let slip. It can be a bit stressful, as you're trying to sort as fast as you can but not make any mistakes.

I've been trying to look on the bright side - at least the radio is on.  I'm making new friends and learning new things. And the big one: think of how many people in the world have to do this kind of job full time! For just a week, I can get a taste of what life is like for a huge percentage of the world.
It's scary how much waste is produced. The fruit varies dramatically in quality depending on the grower.
One grower today had beautiful small goldish fruit; about 80% of their kiwis were acceptable. But the batch before that was splotchy and moldy and we have to throw away most of them. At the end of the day there are car-sized crates filled with reject kiwis, most of which only have tiny blemishes. We took a few bags back to the hostel. I head that they feed the rest to pigs.

I've met a few interesting people so far. Stephen* only has one year to go before his retirement. He was helping me stack boxes (a much better job that sorting kiwi because you get to move around more and are not constantly being scrutinized by the authority). Stephen used to own a flower shop but it went out of business after 10 years, so about 7 years ago he came to work for Orangewood. He seems quite bitter about his current job but still jokes about it. He has grandkids who live in Auckland, who visit "when their parents have time." He has been thinking about moving to Auckland to be closer to them, but "who wants to live in Auckland?"

I started talking to Karina* during the 'smoko' (thats what they call breaks because so many people smoke!). She lives down the road with her husband and 2 kids, ages two and four. They moved to New Zealand from Peru, where she owned a computer repair shop. Her business was was going well until it got robbed. Now she owes a lot of money back on the loan that she took out. (I'm not sure if she had insurance.) She has to work at Orangewood to support her entire family. We make minimum wage, which is $13.50 NZD per hour (about 10 USD).

Besides the job itself, it's an interesting experience. I like talking to people from different countries. But sorting kiwis is really boring. I wont be too upset if we decide to leave before the week is up.

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