My Waru Reflections
DISCLAIMER: If you haven’t seen Waru then I suggest you don’t read any further, because this does contain spoilers!
Now that Waru has been out for a while, I wanted to write why it spoke to me.
Because it spoke to me like nothing else I’ve ever seen. It spoke to my bitter lived experiences. It’s familiarity both comforted me and wounded me.
Waru didn’t speak to everyone tho. A non Māori colleague of mine said she felt like she’d go to sleep, implying the movie was a bore. I don’t blame her, how could she connect with it as someone who has no lived experience in that world? That’s not her fault. But she is why people like me need to exist, the broken and the fractured who have some sort of voice in this world. A friend of mine recently told me that fractures and breaks are ok, because the cracks help let the light in. So it’s on us, the fractured, to shine light on why Waru and other stories have relevance, even when ‘they’ don’t see themselves in those stories.
I’ve written this in four parts, and I’ve decided to start with:
I am Mihi. I am the solo parent.
When the media came after Metiria it showed a real lack of understanding about a solo parents struggle. It had no recognition of the struggles that solo parents have to make, the fact that we are largely young, are still working out what’s going on, while trying to raise functional human beings. It’s a mammoth task.
When Met was asked if she had heard of women selling their bodies to make ends meet and then told ‘well, you can’t have been THAT hard up could you?’ the implication being she didn’t sell her body so she wasn’t that desperate, cloaked in the ‘we’re-the-media-we-ask-the-hard-questions’ bullshit, that was a real fucken low point for NZ journalism.
Unfortunately, that is how we (solo parents on the DPB) are seen by a lot of middle NZ. How absolutely heart breaking. (NB: I write about this in my Masters Thesis).
Seeing what Met went through and then seeing Mihi’s story in Waru made the memories flood back.
Particularly my interactions with WINZ, which still fills me with dread.
I was a solo parent, mid twenties with four kids under 6. I had a degree under my belt and my job had just been disestablished so I was on the DPB. I had run out of money for the week to feed my kids. Every week I was just about out of money. My weekly shopping bill was always in the low to mid tens of dollars, $20-$50 a week. To feed five. Every week it was mental chess just trying to figure out how I was going to feed my kids 3 nutritious meals a day on sweet F.A.
I made it work, like we all do, but when you’re treading water for so long inevitably your head is going to go under. And my head did go under. Which meant one week I was forced to go into the WINZ office to ask for a food grant so I could feed my kids.
I was told by the receptionist that I couldn’t see a WINZ worker and that I probably wouldn’t get it anyway. I told her, ‘What the hell am I supposed to do?? I have no food for my kids.’
Her response was, ‘I understand what you’re going through.’
I asked her if her kids were going to starve that week? She didn’t answer. I told her that she didn’t fucken understand what I was going through then did she?
I had just been employed as a social worker, had my degree, had a history of stable work and this was the kind of “help” I was getting. I was at a real low point in my life and this was how I was being treated by the system that is meant to help me.
This issue isn’t something new. The majority of people on the benefit don’t want to be there, they want to work. They want more for their kids.
When Mihi was lying on the ground looking for change under the fridge, shit man, I remember doing the exact same thing. I remember my MUM doing the same thing! Who in their right mind would think people on the benefit want to do that everyday?!
And because I was treated like this I became self conscious and suspicious of every little stare. I’m gonna be honest, I evil eyed that next door neighbour in the movie and muttered ‘what the fuck are you looking at?’. I felt all THOSE emotions come back. I felt the emotions of being asked if I got the right kids when I went to pick up my three daughters from daycare. I felt the judgey eyes of the people outside as you walk into the WINZ office. I felt the stares of walking through Pak N Save with two carts, one for my groceries and one for my kids.
I judged the SHIT out of The Neighbour. And I felt shame when I was wrong.
I forgot about the daycare workers who would do my girls hair up at daycare. Like Mihi, I would be flexible out of necessity. For instance, I would let my girls go to daycare however they wanted. You wanna wear a tutu, your fluffy jacket, gumboots, a singlet and fluffy hair? Sweeeeet. Coz that’s one less fight I have to have in a whole morning of chaos. Rock your tutu and fluffy hair my baby! I forgot about the person who offered to take my daughter to netball on a Sat morning coz she genuinely cared about my baby and wanted to give me a break. I forgot about all the times whānau packed up the kai after community hui and gave it to me to take home. Sometimes they drove to my house coz I was too embarrassed to stay coz I knew they would try to give me the food. I forgot about the ‘neighbours’ in my life.
I’m ashamed I forgot. I won’t forget again.
I remember sometimes sobbing out of gratitude and relief coz that time in my life was stressful. And those gestures did help. Mihi’s story told that part of my life so well that I was like ‘Holla girlfriend. I FEEL you!’. Coz I did. I still do.
That part of my life has never been told in my way before. It touched me. The familiarity was nice, even if the memories it brought back up stung.
If you’ve experienced it then you know what I’m talking about.
We all haven’t tho, like my friend I allude to at the start, and if you’re like her then I implore you to be The Neighbour.
That’s how YOU change the world. That’s how YOU help our babies.
This last message is for us solo parents. Look for the neighbours in your life, cherish them and remember,
the cracks help let the light in.