I remember a lot about my childhood. Some memories are no more
than just blurred visions that seem more like frozen snapshots
of time. Images that have more in common with an old fashioned
slide show than what is meant to be stored in the rusty filing
cabinets of all your precious childhood memories.
You remember... but you don't.... sort of? All that you know is
that you must of done what the memory is telling you but
logically, you just *know* that it couldn't have gone like that
so you look upon them in a bittersweet way.
We all have memories that are fun to replay every now and again.
Ones that make us smile, laugh and sigh at the warm glow that
flows through us as we open up another folder from the cabinet.
Some make us cry but even with that odd little hurt in the
centre of our chest that accompany these ones, you know its a
Other memories are so crystal clear that they are scary to
remember. They shine like exploding stars and the only way to
dull them is to keep adding layer upon layer of newer memories
on top of them. Sometimes it works. Sometimes they are so loud
and bold, that they can always be seen out of the corner of your
These are the ones that you touch upon rarely. These are the
ones you handle with care because your afraid that all the
emotion that was spilt when the memory was being created will
somehow reach out and punch you in the face.
Make you feel the same way that you did all those long years
ago. Small, embarrassed, ashamed, dirty, unworthy. I needn't go
on, we all know what I'm saying.
These are what are sometimes called 'defining moments'. A pause
where your life is halted for a split second as your realise
that what you have just seen or heard will affect you for the
rest of your life.
Its only when you get older that you realise just how careful
you have to be not to let these 'moments' affect those around
you as well.
I have a few such memories but one stands out the most.
It's from when I was living in Suva, Fiji as a child. Went to
the local primary school, lived in the houses provided by my
Dad's company and had the mandatory 'housegirl' to do the
We had to have a 'housegirl'. No choice in it really. All the
white families had 'housegirls'. The women working for your
neighbours would tell one of their friends about new people
moving in next door and lo and behold! The very morning after
you had arrived at the house that was going to be home for the
next year, there would be a strange woman standing on the
doorstep with a suitcase in her hand, asking if the electricity
was hooked up to the little bungalow that was attached to one
side of the carport.
From that morning onwards, none of us really had to lift a
finger around the house. My Mum was the one who found it the
most difficult to adjust to suddenly having a servant.
You see, white women didn't work in Fiji during the Eighties.
Not only was it frowned upon and those who defied the tradition
snickered at, it was a touchy subject with the Government. Only
their husbands worked. After all, their husbands are the ones
that Fiji wanted. Not the wife or children that just happened
to come with the package.
White women working took jobs away from people who really needed
them, the government said. I've always thought that it was a
good explanation myself. Of course, only being eight and a half
years old and in a country that enjoyed an endless Summer, any
government explanation made sense.
My Mum took a few months to really settle down into the
demanding life of weekly parties, volunteer work with Riding for
the Disabled and riding the bus a few kilometres into the heart
of Suva almost every day. She ripped the guts out of the almost
feral garden every few days. Took up painting, something that
she found that she excelled in. Joined the local shell club and
took monthly jaunts to beaches with other 'Marama's' to collect
In between all these exhausting activities, my Dad made sure
that we had relatives and friends coming over to visit every few
months. With them, we would venture away to small islands with
such names as Castaway and Plantation islands.
Through all this though, Mum was embarrassed to have someone
clean up after both her and her family. No matter how much she
tried, Mum could never seem to bridge that gap that stood
between her and Viri. No amount of extra days off or bonus tins
of Carnation Milk seemed to do the trick. I do know that Mum
was a lot friendlier with Viri and her family than some of the
other wives were. I can remember Mum having a laugh with a few
other women about how one of the other wives would go around her
house after her 'housegirl' had finished cleaning and would
touch every surface with white gloved hands. Mum was disgusted
that the wife would make her 'housegirl' do the entire house
again if the white gloves showed even a speck of dust on them.
I had never really understood just what the 'gap' was that Mum
had often talked about with Dad regarding Viri. Overhearing
Mum's conversation with the other wives made all the pieces snap
It was that day that I felt embarrassed to be white.
It was that day that I first wondered if Viri's daughter
Catherine really like me for who I was and not for the fact that
I was the 'Marama's' daughter. She was my best friend in Fiji.
Catherine lived with her Mum and her little brother, Jossesse,
in the 'Bure'. A home for the three of them that was pretty
much a concrete box that barely held a double bed, wardrobe and
a table with a few chairs squished along one wall.
Catherine was great. She was my own age and we hung around with
each other every day after we both got back from school. We
never really talked much; we just did things together. Played
with my Barbies... burnt our bare feet on the hot concrete while
playing hopscotch... sucked on thick pieces of sugarcane that we
had wrenched from the ground before we jumped in the backyard
I asked Catherine a few days later if she liked me... I mean,
*really* liked me.
Her nickname for me roughly translated to 'white maggot'.
I hadn't known that.
The next day, the Hindu girl next door was my best friend and
that night I started asking how long it was until we returned to