Life Lately: Apples, Apples, and... More Apples.
Emmett and I recently started a two month stint at a fruit pack-house in Tasman on the upper northwest corner of the South Island. We're currently helping sort and pack apples; but only for another week or so when we'll be onto kiwifruit. If for some reason you're curious about our factory job, here are some excerpts from a log I kept during my first week there:
First things first, we put on our hair nets and blue mesh jackets. There are about a dozen of us starting today. We all line up, mish-mash, until we're separated by gender. Emmett and the other guys head towards the back to do something manly? We females wait patiently until our floor manager says: "Girls, come this way." I can't help but wonder why there is such an obvious gender divide at this job. It's strange - especially in a country that was the first to give women the right to vote. I'm torn between being slightly offended and just accepting it because I actually don't want the guys' job: lifting boxes.
I expected some sort of training to occur but all that happens as we're beckoned over is that we take an all-too-fast peek at some blemished apples and then suddenly, I'm alone in front of a conveyor belt. The belt starts pushing out pulped-paper trays automatically as apples tumble onto it from a raised chute. The apples we're sorting today are royal galas. With some hesitation, I begin turning each individual apple to inspect it for potential bruises or spots. But then, suddenly, the apples are coming out crazy fast and more apples are falling out of the chute than I can examine. That's when I'm told that my first priority should be putting the apples in trays. Unlike what I imagined, looking for blemishes is second to sorting. I start to worry that I'll never get the hang of simultaneous placing/searching. Soon someone yells that it's time for "smoko" - the union-issued ten minute smoke/tea break. Upstairs in the break room, we find pre-made mugs filled with hot tea or coffee just for us. I think it's a perk that I could definitely get used to. As the day wears on, I somewhat get the hang of scanning apples for blemishes as I sort. However, throughout the day, the women from Quality Control come around and show us more examples from bad apples that have made it through the lines of us newbies and some are nearly indiscernible.
Later that night, I fall into a deep sleep right at 10 PM.
A few other items of note:
- Most of our co-workers are either other backpackers (Germans, Czechs, Brits, Chinese, Malaysians, Argentinians...), locals, or ni-Vanuatu.
- I seem to be the tallest girl in the pack-house(?)
It's official: Though I've never considered myself particularly tall, I am indeed the tallest girl here. This is not good. In fact, it makes it harder for me to sort apples. I have to hunch slightly and cannot rest my arms on the edge of the belt line like many of my shorter co-workers can.
Today we are sorting Braeburn apples and they are tiny. They come out of the chute at an alarming speed and shoot too far up the belt. A couple of times, the trays get caught in the machinery and the apples all roll loose. They just won't stop, and I begin to feel like I'm being attacked by tiny apples. All I can think are furious thoughts like "F*** all these f-ing small apples. F*** you apples! Get back up the chute! I hope I never see another tiny apple again! I'll never catch any blemishes at this rate." Then, as my irritation increases I have a somewhat hateful and resentful thought: "Ah, yes. This is why people get college degrees, to avoid this kind of work." I end the day with more foot and back pain than the previous two days combined. All I want is to fast forward to two weeks from now when my body has physically adjusted to the work load.
I must be in a better mood today because the ridiculous tiny apple onslaughts just makes me laugh. Phew. I can only hope that I've gotten all of the fury out of my system. Today we are packing Koru apples, a "fancy" New Zealand specialty apple that gets shipped back home to the States and can sell for up to 5 bucks an apple. Any of the bruised or blemished apples are fair game to us workers, so we even get to try the gourmet Koru. And they are delicious. Definitely worth the hype. Crisp, juicy, apply - what more could you want? Emmett and I take at least six or so home with us. (If you ever see any Koru apples in the supermarket, consider splurging on at least one because they're tasty. And it might be one that I have packed up. So that's cool too, huh?)
I keep thinking "tomorrow's Friday!" but that doesn't mean much. Our work week is six days here. Saturday's are new the Friday, just another thing I've got to remember.
**P.S. Sorry for the lower quality pictures, they were all taken on our phone because it's easier not to bring a camera to work.