About 18 years ago, I was out of a job.
My wife had returned to school to complete her degree. We had made that decision together a year prior.
Our children were very young and without an income, I had to explain to my eldest son and my daughter that I would not be able to buy them the little things that they asked for. They looked worried and slightly baffled. I could tell, they tried their best to understand.
As a dad, this was one of the toughest moments telling them the news. It is very unfair on children when things like this happen.
I had brooded over this for several hours before telling them. It was on a cool afternoon that I took them for a walk and told them. I tried my hardest to keep it together. I worried a lot about the difficulty they would have and the hopelessness that I would feel later.
The next day, I took the little cash I had, which was about K300, and headed for the Vanimo Vocational Center where I bought a beautiful cast iron drum oven. It was heavy. The workers at the center helped me transport the drum over home, that afternoon.
It was a spur of the moment decision and one driven, very much, by desperation. I had a choice either to buy food with the last K300 I had or make some money from it. I chose the latter.
Over the preceding six months, I had collected pizza recipes from a book I borrowed from an Indian nun, Sister Daisy. I had intended to cook something but didn’t really find the time to do it and besides, I didn’t have an oven. But things happen in life for a reason, I learned later.
I didn’t know that, later, the pizza recipes would become central to what I was going to do.
The next day, I went to the shops and bought ingredients for four large pizzas. I spent K30 kina for everything because, things were quite cheap back then.
The next morning at 4am, I fired up the oven, mixed the dough. This was the first ever pizza I made in my life. I followed the instructions to the letter. Oiled the pans, kneaded the dough chopped the ingredients. I didn’t have fancy meats. So I used one large ‘Tulip’ for each large tray and four cheese blocks for the same.
Tomatoes were difficult to find. The best I could get were cherry tomatoes at the market. But if you make pizza, you know that you can’t do it without tomato and cheese. Without it, your pizza will not have that “Italiano” punch.
It took a long time. I was going by the recipe book.
By 8am, the first four trays went in. Without accurate temperature control, you had to either put in wood or remove wood to maintain the heat.
The second four trays went in at about 10am. By 11am, they were cooked. I cut each RECTANGUAR pizza into quarters and wrapped each of the quarter in glad wrap.
At 11.30am, the three of us – me, my son and my daughter, walked down the incline from Tower hill to town. They were both very young. So they took turns riding on my shoulder as I carried the large, heavy box full of pizza. My daughter wasn’t heavy. But the boy was heavier than the pizza box.
This was the first time I’d ever done this. I had no idea where to start. We chose the easiest target – Westpac Bank.
The staff were very kind. One of the ladies took the box into the tea room and within minutes, they had bought everything. She brought back the box with K80 in it.
It wasn’t all easy. Over the course of the year, there were many disappointments. Sometimes it rained heavily and I couldn’t sell anything. On days like this, I taught them how to pronounce letters and how to read.
Sometimes, my son would be ill. Other times, people would be rude. They’re tell me they didn’t have the money to buy the pizza. Then within earshot, they’d complain about me coming everyday to sell pizza at their office. It did hurt a bit.
But it didn’t matter. I was in control. K80 a day minus the K30 for ingredients left me with K50 per day. On a sunny week, I was making K500 every fortnight. Occasionally, I made pizzas for the Catholic women’s group or a school function.
I taught a few mamas how to make pizza. Little things like that helped me keep my sanity, really.
With some of the money I made, I bought paint and printed t-shirts I bought from the secondhand store. It didn’t sell as fast as the pizza.
In between, I wrote short stories for the ‘Independent’ newspaper. They paid up to K30 a month. The cheques were sent by mail.
My father and mother-in-law were very supportive in my small pizza venture. They helped pick me up when there were disappointments and when I couldn’t sell anything.
I share this because I hope it will help others. It was a humbling and empowering experience. I had to put my pride aside and do something from scratch. I had to learn to be kind to my kids and not ‘lose it’ when things got hard.
I also learned that you have to give everything you got even if hope seems lost and even if the daily grind seems futile. Above all, I learnt that you will be rewarded for EVERYTHING you give. Usually the blessings are 10-fold and come in many forms.
Today, the boy is 20 and the girl is 17.
The rest is history.