“Just be warned that if you clean upstairs at night,” said a miner in between chews of her sandwich in the crib room, “it smells pretty bad from the skippies.”
“Wait, what?” I asked, “Skippies as in kangaroos?”
Yes, as in the marsupials. One of the miners rehabilitates abandoned baby wallabies, kangaroos and wallaroos in her free time – and the mine permits her to bring them to work. Today we left our morning tea (break in the morning) early and snuck upstairs to “ooo” and “aww” as we saw the babies poke their curious heads out of their makeshift pouches hanging on her wall.
Their innocent faces and miniature paws totally made up for the 40 degree heat I am now experiencing as a cleaner at the mine site. It’s round two here and after my one week break I placed my size 10 feet delicately back into my steel-toed black boots the blisters on my toes and the heat rash on my ankle made a comeback. This time, I’m not being thrown back into housekeeping. I’m not chilling out in the kitchen in the night shift sitting for an hour because I’m not allowed to pick up a knife. This time, I’m running around the mine site with a mop bucket and chemicals drying to disinfect the toilets, offices and crib rooms.
A glamorous job it is not. An interesting one though, it is. I have to be “inducted” into each department of the mine for safety reasons, which means that besides learning where the defibrillator, first aid kit and emergency exits are I also learn about the mining process. It’s like I’m back in AP environmental science again where I loved hearing my teacher talk about how it all worked – you know, the environment and sh*t- but when it comes time for the exam I’m not going to get a five. But that’s why I’m cleaning up their poop marks from the toilets instead.
I am learning more than just about the processes, though. I’m slowly understanding that the Pilipino man in one department is a “shit stirrer” (he will unscrew your chemical bottles or isolate your car so it won’t start) and the guys who work in engineering have trouble aiming their pee (or should I say wee as they do here) at the urinal and instead get it all over the wall (according to very informative signs above it). Maintenance is full of men who take long poops – I know this because who else has time to carve out holes in the wall, sharpie around it “big hole” and fill it with trash?
The buildings that house the offices of the different departments are sterile, full of puke-colored neutral tones and remind me of the way the inside of McDonald’s used to look. I’m sure you’ll recall the poop-brown brick? They have bulletin boards that attempt to advertise social events and community fundraisers but end up sad evidence of their negligence in this area. I read one poster today that was dated 2011. Another one in the engineering building said “March for victims of domestic violence 2012.”
After seven days at the mine I’m still confused as to how many of the miners actually work. Every time we go into a crib room or control station, most of the guys (I am highly skeptical of the mining company’s professed “20% female employment. I’ve seen three women) are goofing around, making fun of each other or drinking coffee. We even caught one group of three young boys watching Game of Thrones in a dark crib room at the back of the site. They said they were on standby and didn’t get assigned a job yet. Maybe on my next job I’ll get paid $80/hour to watch a misogynistic TV series.
If they’re not sitting around it seems like they’re texting each other which joke to tell us cleaners next. You know how one person decided that saying they were on the “seefood diet” was funny, and every other parent in the United States did too? That’s how I feel on the mine when it comes to the choice between full cream and light milk. Part of my new duties are to keep each department’s fridge stocked with milk. Since it’s been our first week we’ve been asking – what type of milk to do you drink here?
Their favorite response, consistent throughout every department? If they’re fat, they’ll say, “What kind of milk does it look like I drink?” If they’re skinny, they’ll find the one chubby guy on their team and say “Does it look like he drinks light milk?” with a laugh and say, “Nah, we want full cream, thanks, doll.” And when I say this joke is rampant, I mean it. It’s everywhere.
It’s not only bad jokes the Northern Territory is full of (and not only just inappropriate town names, either). It’s also home to a number of species of nauseating bugs and I can’t help but feel like I’m the wrong person to be experiencing this. It should be my college roommates, who during one semester of entomology and collected over hundreds bug specimens and kept them in our freezer. I’ve seen scorpion beetles, green frogs, cockroaches as big as your Iphone and inch-long flying beetles that kiss you and leave you with a pulsating red bump. I’ve been told that, honey, this is nothing yet. Wait until the floods come in “the wet” and the crocs float over the road as the water rushes. Wait until you get moved to night shift and you have to clean the airport. Eight times out of ten you’ll find a snake in the air conditioner.
Back at camp, my biggest concern remains those damn ants. (Which are, apparently, an indicator it’s going to be a bad wet season) Last time the ants found my food, but this time they came back and decided to nest inside my computer. This severely displeased me when I realized that when you put your computer on your lap and you’re wearing shorts, those nasty red things will come out of their holes and bite you continuously.
English teaching moment: If anyone ever asks you in a trivia game where there is a large amount of money at stake, never forget this: To pinch something means to steal it; the tip is the open air trash dump and the skip is the dumpster. If you’re sick you’re crook and if your phones goes dead it’s gone flat. If something goes off it goes bad, like meat and cheese left in the sun.
I still can’t understand the majority of conversations. And I call myself an English teacher…
Featured photo: My beautiful boots.
Read other updates from life on the Mine Camp here.