It poured for three days straight. Usually starting with a light drizzle, then progressing into a torrential downpour and eventually slowing to a steady pace. Any slight dips in the road filled with murky water and created what felt like hundreds of puddles. The sky lit up purple with lightning strikes in the distance, and just as I was admiring them Rebecca mentioned that two people died in Darwin last year, at the exact moment, during a lightning storm. “People who aren’t from the NT don’t understand how powerful lightening is up here,” she warned me. Noted.
On the mine site, the dirt roads turned to mush, and the tire tracks from the monster dump trucks made them seem like scaly crocodile tails. An ominous sign of what might crawl out of the lake in town or the flooded creeks along the road.
With rain and mud brings muddy shoes, and muddy shoes bring the cleaners a lot of scrubbing. We did so much mopping during those three days that I had constant dreams of mopping the same areas over and over again. My fingers and hands began to tense up. Some people – i.e., Rebecca – use the dirt and mud as an opportunity to undermine the fellow cleaning staff.
Were back in the crib room where we seem to have all of our deep conversations when she said, “Ah, ha!”
“What’s up?” I asked her.
“I always leave a mark or a footprint,” she explained, “So that I know if the day shift crew came and mopped here. And the same mark from yesterday is still here, which tells me they’re not doing anything.”
As I previously mentioned, since I’m just here temporarily, I have tried not to engage with the alliance battles or establishing groups. I listen, of course, usually enjoying the reality show that’s unfolding in front of me. But pledge allegiance or spread false rumors, I do not. As such, I didn’t feel the need to verbalize to Rebecca that us, the night crew, ends up missing or not mopping a lot of places because of time purposes (and on some occasions because we took to long on our breaks). They could be saying the exact same thing about us.
As the week progressed and Rebecca’s last days of her swing were approaching, she became more and more sleep deprived and gave “less and less f*cks” (direct quote). That, however, didn’t stop her blaming and complaining about fellow workers and often getting a sharp tongue with me. It also didn’t stop her from being constantly on Facebook, showing me her old primary school classmate’s ex-wife’s step children or explaining to me, with vivid pictures, the stages of a former coworker’s terminal illness. (For all the times that I hear strangers grumbling about “millennials” and their “social media” I would like for them to have a look at any of the adults I see at any given moment constantly glued to their phones.)
Because Carla got sick at work and hasn’t come back since (and I had to drive her delicious smelling FWD back to her house for her one night), it was just the two of us. Had there been more of us, her bad attitude might not have fallen so heavily on me. But in trying to keep my sanity and keep the mood light I tried to engage with her, asking her questions about Australia and her life. She is, after all, an enormously interesting resource to have.
Even though it rained and even though she was beyond exhaustion, she would see the pink and orange clouds above the mine site as we drove up and say, “See, there’s always a silver lining. Nature is stunning.” She marveled at the big dump trucks, hoping that one day she could be a driver. “It’s my new dream,” she confessed. She even spoke to me about her ability to be a good listener and was honored when one of the minors would unload his woes onto her.
Just like all of us, Rebecca had her weak moments; she was pushed the brink of exhaustion. Unfortunately, because of the circumstances that we live in – working, eating and sleeping with our coworkers- I see all of someone, not just the show they present to their place of work for eight hours a day.
That being said, there are some versions of people that despite my empathy, I struggle to understand. I was at the security office of the mine chatting with two of the guards. I walked past a massive cane toad and we got to talking about invasive species and the cane toads’ history in the NT. (If I felt like a zoo in Ibiza, I had no idea what working on a mine site would be like. I’ve gotten slapped in the face by an abnormally large firefly, startled by green tree frogs and stalked by dingoes trying to eat the leftover food out of our rubbish bags. The other night one dingo actually jumped into the back of the ute while we weren’t looking. I unlocked the admin coffee maker to change the beans and found a deer-in-the-headlights lizard staring back at me, paralyzed in fear.) I asked him about the other wildlife I had come into contact with, such as the scorpion beetles or lizards and whether or not they were also detrimental to the environment.
“No, the only other nuisance around here are the aboriginals,” one said with a huge grin on his face and a chuckle. The other let out a hearty, boisterous laugh.
It’s always in these moments that I freeze, unable to even do anything because I am in shock. It’s the subtle way in which he declared his position that makes confrontation difficult. Hidden underneath a joke, he could have easily said, “Hey, I’m kidding, that was just a joke!” In hindsight, I wish I would have stood up, I wish in those moments I had the courage to do what I encourage others to.
I wish I would have told him “Mate, I would appreciate if you wouldn’t make jokes like that because they can hurt.” Maybe if I was even more assertive, I would have detailed how on this mine, like many other mines in Northern Territory, it is the white Australians who are the nuisance for indigenous and their way of life, and so are their industries, tearing up the land for foreign capital gain. (That is, of course, a huge debate and completely different depending on who you speak to.)
Instead, I just kept my shook my head and kept it low, continuing to mop. “I can’t believe you just said that,” I said, almost in a whisper. And instead of preaching about rights and land, I continue to work here, condemning its presence but reaping the economic benefits of its production.