Back in my day, flour was a precious commodity!
Gather around tamaiti, because I have a story to tell.
But, this is no ordinary story. This is a talatu’u. A story that I will tell, and hand to you to tell, and hand onto your children, one day, someday. So, do we start?
From the beginning. Aue is the word you will use as I tell this story. You’ll say Aue when I pause. You will say Aue if you agree, or feel joy or you can also say it if you're feeling sad or simply, say aue so I can continue the story.
This is a story about a time, when everything changed. You wouldn’t believe it.
You see, children, back in my day, life was tough enough as it was. But we had seen nothing yet ...
The year was 2020.
Samoa had just recovered from a horrific few months of a measles epidemic that claimed the lives of so many innocent children. In Australia, bush fires raged and raged, destroying everything in its path. So extensive were the fires that from outer space, Australia looked like it was burning before our eyes. You see, tamariki, we woke up one morning and the sky was shroud in an eerie shade, the sun was obscured by the clouds of smoke carried across the Tasman, almost as if to remind us, that the chaos has just begun. We stood upon the edge of the Waitākere cliffs and wondered; what else is beyond the horizon? Children, we had no idea at that point, it was going to get a whole lot worse.
It all started so very gradually. Breaking news of an exotic wildlife market in a town far far away. The camera moves and in the distance, people pass by, in layers of plastic and masks. News of people who have become unwell, some in hospitals, some no longer alive today. Well, I thought. That's a far away land, we are safe here in New Zealand, we are isolated and far removed from the danger. Then the news began to grow and spread, it went from an isolated event to a world polarised by a whole new language, of Covid-19, isolation, vaccines, and changes. Changes always. From a market to a region, to a nation, to a continent, it spread. From Wuhan to Iran and then in the most unexpected turn of events, older people started dying all around Italy, Sweden and Germany. Then mass graves were dug in upstate New York and I tell you know, it all felt like everything was falling apart. Yes children, a terrible pandemic had gripped our world.
While our country had shut our borders fast, Covid accompanied travellers from afar and wrecked havoc in our backyard. It forced us all to stop. It grounded planes, shut up shops, paused factories, people lost jobs and it all seemed too much! Aue!
And so it was to be, that everyone, and I mean everyone from Kaitaia to Bluff, to Niue, Tokelau and Chatham Islands, all did something strange. They stopped. And formed bubbles. Most of us got accustomed to being isolated and we had to learn to simply, STAY HOME. Home which then became work and play, where we cooked and read and watched tik tok and ate snacks, yelled at kids, played with pets, grieved loved ones far away, took naps and lost jobs. Locked Down.
As terrible as it seemed, let me tell you this ... The last time something terrible like this happened was back in the day, when men and women were at war. And Kiwis waited, many for months on end, for news that never came. I suddenly realised, what it was like, back in those days. When life was really really tough. Oh how far we’ve come, and yet, we are finally having a taste of what life might have been like - before constant travel, busy streets, ever changing technologies and takeaways took over our thoughts. We finally have to learn to like the food we cooked, learn to tolerate the people in our bubble and adapt to a strange new normal.
But let me tell you something else kids, with many of the shops closed and trade disrupted, the things we once took for granted, became the things we really wanted. Can you guess what those may have been? Well, aside from many things, we ran out of flour. Yes, you heard it, flour for cooking and baking. Oh I tell you now, the feeling of helplessness, after walking to the supermarket. Queuing up - 2 metres apart, a line all the way around the block, step forward, pause, step forward, stop. Step fooorrwww, wait, do I stand on the line or do I stand- Behind the line? Does it matter that where I stand doesn’t align with the lady in front of me and the man in his pajamas behind me?
Good gracious, the decisions we have to make. And then after a 30 min slow move, I reach the front of the queue and the supermarket man looked at me and said. Yeah, you can go. I step forward, I spritz and wipe and toss the tissue in the bin. And in I dash, only to find, no flour in sight. Nothing in the aisle. Nothing in the front. Not in the sugar section, nothing in any damned aisle. No flour alright!
And all around me, are others looking for the exact same thing as I. Searching for flour to bake bread and pies and things we googled online. Oh child, I tell ya, those days were tough. One day, I wandered down the sleepy streets of Glen Eden and into the dairy. By then, I’d given up hope of ever finding flour. But I just wanted to give it a try. Yeah, nah, no flour in the aisle. But out of interest I ask the bored shopkeeper behind the plastic barrier. “Excuse me, do you have any flour left?” He looked at me with distrust and asked. “How much do you need?” He quizzed, as if to ascertain whether I’ve passed the flour competency test. “Whatever you have,” I plead sadly, realising he cannot see my sad sad expression behind my damned mask. He steps to the back of the counter where the flour stash hides. Wow! A stash of precious flour, now taking center stage alongside the smokes, and the corned beef. I held my breath, waiting for him to ask; Do you have ID? Are you eligible for this rare commodity?
But no, ... he simply places the precious bag of 1 kg flour on the bench and steps back with caution. Child, I tell ya. Back then, that was a special special day. We had flour to make bread and pies and whatever recipe we could find online. Oh, this reminds me, back in the day.
All the men and women - bored to death with Tik Tok and Instagram and Facebook, stumbled upon bread recipes and proceeded to bake, rolling dough on clean surfaces and ... wait! Posting the evidence on Facebook, cropping out the burnt bits and filtering them on Instagram. Yes, because back in my day, you had to post it online, only then does it matter. Only then does it count. Scrumptious, freshly baked bread - butter melting, filter, zoom in, and post. #Homemade #Covid19 #Imsoamazing. Like, like, like.
Oh child, life was so tough, it reminded so clearly that long before our time, another generation of people, had once queued up like us, at shops down the road, to buy rations and scrape through the tough days. They too had to made do, with what was left on the shelves.
Despite all that was wrong and the fear that surrounded us, I do want to tell you also, it was one of the most precious times in our lives. That terrible pandemic may have wreaked havoc but also united us. The silence, oh the silence I tell you, it was wonderful. Walking down a normally busy stretch of road, devoid of cars. Passing cautiously by children and the parents learning to ride a bike and climb a tree. Seeing a party of tui dancing in the trees. We were dropping off food and doing shopping for our vulnerable families and the elderly in our communities. In our home, we had to learn to get along, and co-exist and tolerate each other for an extended period of time. Or at least, we tried.
Compassion was the currency of the day. The lockdown made me realise what was truly important; our loved ones, doing what we could for those in need, and having an abundance supply of flour, always. You see, you do not know how lucky you are, cause back in my day, we had no flour. No yeast. No bread. I tell you now, life was tough, back in my day.
FOTUOSAMOA JODY JACKSON-BECERRA
Fagogo - Stories / Dance / Tuiga Maker
Samoan born, Auckland based Jody had brought together the richness of indigenous culture and her love of learning and performance into Fagogo and Tala tu’u, stories that we hand onto the next generation in the hopes of keeping our histories and memories alive.
Jody uses her expertise in storytelling and Samoan culture to collaborate with children in NZ and the Pacific, educators, dance companies, organisations and whoever needs to weave a compelling story. This has led to dance productions, poetry and exploring indigenous chanting, heritage artworks and so much more.
Jody also teaches siva, makes tuiga headpieces and runs creative workshops with children and adults.
This article was made possible by a Copyright Licensing New Zealand COVID-19 Contestable Fund Grant.
Cite this article
FotuoSamoa Jody Jackson-Becerra .
Back in my day, flour was a precious commodity!. Auckland War Memorial Museum - Tāmaki Paenga Hira. First published: 15 September 2020. Updated: 29 September 2020.