It’s not how I planned to end 2018
(or start 2019 either):
At a fish factory.
Doing production line work.

I learned about speed.
I learned about hard work.
I learned about repetitive action injuries.
I learned how to drown out the noise of the conveyer belt.
I learned how to work 13 hour shifts with 3 X 15-minute breaks.
I learned what I absolutely most definitely don’t want to do with my life!

But a job is a job, right?
And even gypsies need jobs.

On the up side, I have the most interesting conglomeration of co-workers:
Philippinos, Ghanaians, Latvians, Dominican Republicers, Somalians, Angolans, Indians, Romanians, Bulgarians, Hungarians, Japanese, Thai, Ukrainians, Russians, Polish, I think there is a Dutch person somewhere; and me!
But, because of the noise of the factory, and all the language barriers (nobody communicates in their first language), I only get to talk to them before or after work, or if I am lucky enough to share a “pauza” (15 minute break) with them.

In the height of winter, work starts at 6 (sometimes 5) and the world is pitch black, silent, and wet as you cycle in.
After downing two cups of coffee, you can feel your fingers again, and you slide into your overalls and apron, hair net, gum boots, and gloves.
You join the line of workers you’re assigned (employees who began even earlier than you),
And squeeze your way closer to the conveyer belt.
And there you stand, fixed in place as an endless stream of shellfish pulses by.


You have ONE JOB: to get rid of the “kaput” (broken, dead or empty) shells as they pass you on the conveyer belt.
This is your soul purpose.
This is what they pay you for.

But you have only a fragment of a second to grab every damaged vessel and escaped creature.
You make decisions on the spot – discerning which are good enough, and which are kaput.
You have to remove all the starfish and crabs that came in with the shipment and separate all human waste (string/ plastic/ garbage) in another allotment.
You grab at the line with determination and keep grabbing until you can fit no more in your hands.
At this point, you dump the carcasses into a waste bucket and then start grabbing again.
Sometimes a perfect shell makes it into the waste.

Sometimes you miss a bad one.
I’ve learned to let that slide.
In trying to chase that one bad shell you see sliding off the edge of your production area, you miss another twelve just in front of your face.
Sometimes the whole line is filled with corpses, and no matter how hard you and your co-workers grab, you can’t catch even half.
This is when the packaging people start yelling at you. I’ve learned not to let other people’s yelling let me down.
I’ve been reminded that I am only human (Read: A Grave Revalation)

Sometimes other parts of the production line get out of synch and the chain comes to a halt.
At which time the two or five of us doing the grading will shoot each other sighs of relief and a smile, stretch our backs, and clear our work spaces of the mushy remnants of creatures that missed the waste buckets.
Sometimes the break lasts a simple five seconds (which surprisingly, feels quite long) and sometimes it’s actually a minute or two.
At this point we get to watch other people get yelled at and we can be grateful it’s not us messing up.

I’ve learned not to look at the clock.
The only benefit of being sentenced to the freezer, is that the clock does not work (it probably froze)
But in all other locations, the sole decoration on the warehouse walls, are clocks.
When you look at them, they stop ticking.
In normal life, I want to make every second count; but at the factory, they are more than welcome to fly straight by!

That said, I’ve found a zen in repetitive labour.
I’ve allowed my mind to turn off from the noise and rush while my fingers continue to play their plucking part.
I’ve spent long hours contemplating life and purpose.
And even longer hours clearing my mind of all the “kaput” thoughts that lie there-in.

If something falls, crashes, or fails, there are yells of laughter and enthusiasm that echo around the room.
On occasion, for no reason at all, there will be wolf howls or Mexican waves circulating.
My colleagues, despite the tedious work, are constant reminders to enjoy your life.

At the end of the day, everything is washed and cleared and washed again.
Aprons, sleeve protectors, ear plugs, and hair nets are trashed.
Overalls are shoved into washing machines.
Gloves are soaked and disinfected.
There’s no evidence of the chaos that preceded!
And slowly the floor clears as employees creep upstairs to more comfortable footwear (yes, I’ve been wearing shoes), civvies, and FREEDOM!
It’s dark outside. Windy. Rainy.
But there’s a beautiful silence away from the conveyer belt.
And when your fingers freeze, you stop feeling the pain in your thumbs.
It feel good to be moving, and even better to be pedalling home!
There’s something rewarding about a hard day’s labour!

Nobody* chooses to work at the fish factory.
Especially not at Christmas!
Some work there because they don’t yet have a good enough grasp of the Dutch language, or aren’t educated / capable of other work.
Some have been there for years, and don’t yet have any further prospects.
Others are using their vacation as an opportunity to earn extra cash.
Some people have 3 or 15 children that they have left behind and need to send money to.
Some are refugees that are integrating into society.
And I’m just a gypsy who’s work / travel ratio is completely out of wack.

After the first day, I swore I’d never do it again
(I’m amazed I survived the first day, there were others who gave up in the first hour)
But getting out of your comfort zone is always good for you;
Even if it means getting into a routine.

This picture is in no way related to this blog, but I’m hoping that if I post it, the snow will be tempted to return!!!
(Although I’m not sure I’m ready to cycle through snow…)

*There may be an exception, but I have yet to meet them.

**Pictures mostly sourced  from Google Images

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