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Experiment 13

Sketches Of A Childhood

Sketches Of A Childhood

Once a fortnight the district nurse came around and all the children at school had to have their hair combed with a kutu comb. This was a very strong close-set long-toothed comb that hurt when it was pulled through the hair at first, (the kids heads jerking violently with the force of the comb as it caught in the tangles, and the tears coming involuntarily into their eyes because it hurt so much), until it broke all the knots and ran through smoothly. Then it was quite pleasant with their heads hanging over the basin and one of the senior boys or girls combing furiously, yet tenderly, almost lulling them to sleep. But at the same time they would be watching the basin and listening to hear if a kutu fell into it. If one did it made a small metallic pinging sound. The Josephs were always shocked and surprised and even a little hurt if one was found on them. They couldn't believe it, for they were a clean family. Their mother was a clean woman and kept them clean and their house was a lways spotlessly clean. But they knew that the rest of the children would know that it came from the Eru kids, especially page 5Molly who was lousy with them, for they lived down their way and they often played together on the way home from school. You couldn't help getting them sometimes mixing with all the other kids around. Everyone knew that. Or they hoped they did. Why even the pakeha kids were found to have some in their hair at times. And what a shock that was.

If a kutu was found in the hair they had to have their heads washed in disenfectant along with the other unfortunates. This was a very embarrassing moment, for all the other kids would stare at them as if they had something wrong with them. Yet going around with the smell of disinfectant in their hair for the rest of the day wasn't so bad really. In fact it was quite pleasant.

Some of the pakeha parents resented their children having to be put through this inspection. They complained to the teachers. Some gave their children notes saying they were not to be inspected. And others even kept their children home those days, if they knew before hand what time the district nurse would be coming around, because the inspection was compulsory and everyone came into it. And there were some pakehas who said, "why should our children be treated like Maoris? It's only the Maoris who get it. That's where it comes from. It's a Maori thing. Why..." The Josephs' heard some of the pakeha kids repeating this. So there would be a great silent rejoicing amongst the Maori kids whenever a kutu was found in one of the pakeha kid's hair. They thought it amusing and one back on the pakehas.

About every three months the district nurse with the aid of the teachers looked all over the childrens bodies to see if they had hakihaki (scabies). The children would have to pull their clothes away up to their necks and the boys had to drop their trousers down around their ankles while the nurse and teachers inspected them. If they were senior children they would be allowed to go out into the porch to be inspected. Nick Joseph was always embarrassed whenever it came his turn to be inspected, even when he was a primer boy. But the nurse was very quick and unless she found spots on you it was over in no time, before you had time to really think about it. And it was always a great relief when you got through without them having found any spots on you. For you could never be really sure whether you had them or not, especially if they were only starting. But if a telltale sign was found you would have to stand there for some while, sometimes with your trousers down while the nurse and the teachers gathered around to inspect you closer. Turning you around, touching you, and peering closely at you to see that it was hakihaki. Again you couldn't help catching them sometimes, no matter how clean your mother kept you for the Eru kids were covered in them most of the time. And sometimes when Colonel Eru came up behind you and put his arm around you, while you were walking home from school, you would feel the squashy wetness of a sore rubbing against your leg and you couldn't very well tell him to go away because you didn't want to hurt his feelings.

If they only had a spot the nurse would put that thick dark smelly ointment that she kept in a container the size of a four gallon petrol tin and that looked like grease, on them. So that all day long they would have the smell of it in their nostrils and would be very uncomfortable for they would feel it sticking to their clothes. And it left a stain on the boys trousers on the inside and on Nick's pyjamas and the sheets of his bed. The children all hated it and Nick felt sorry for some of the kids for they had to go around, sometimes for several days, with this horrible smelling ointment smeared practically all over their bodies because they were covered all over with sores. And the smell would be all over the classroom and nearly make the children sick, it was so strong.

Rowley Habib.