Biscuits to Banquets

If you're looking for a 'come from nothing' story, this ain't it chief.


I was lucky enough to be given the position of Youth Member of Parliament for Northland for 2016. I was given $150 a week from Studylink to pay power, water, internet bills and sustain life for 168 hours.

I couldn't afford a consistent 3 meals a day lifestyle, so on Saturdays I'd try for a big lunch. There were nights when I would wait for my student allowance to come in and I would walk to Burger King (17 minute walk) so that I could eat dinner. 1:41 AM every Wednesday in the second semester, the $150 would come through. I was never alone in this venture. We called it Struggle Season; a season that lasted a whole year.


I started to do a lot more research around youth policy, mental health, civic education and other topics that interested me. I met Winston Peters, Bill English, Nikki Kaye, Louisa Wall and many other 'movers and shakers' in New Zealand. I shared the rooms of Parliament with some of the greatest young people New Zealand had to offer. Commended for my speaking and commitment to my community, I was commended with an international award from Nikki Kaye and travelled to China.

I lived off of $175 a week. You ever buy a $23 dinner and stare blankly into the abyss 'this is 13% of my weekly income'. Yeah I'm eating two weeks worth of expenses in 7 minutes; lush life right here. Fell asleep on a bed in the Shangri-La in Beijing. The next night I fell asleep on my mattress in my moldy, damp room.

The hours I was working to create my project, hold my own in Youth Parliament and study at university was not great for my sleep pattern or my health. I would stay up and work until 3AM, and wake up just before 10AM. Of the 168 hours a week I was given, I slept for 42 of them (6hrs a night). I picked up a job serving people Mexican food. I started on minimum wage ($14.75) on 5 hours a week. The boss initially told me that I didn't know how to deal with pressure and was unsure if the job was going to work out.


The job worked out. Woke up every morning with a runny nose at 9:56AM and immediately hopped in the shower. I'm out the door by 10:17AM and on the way to work. 14 hours a week gets me $194 after tax. I work until 2:30 and will do the 'lunch rush' for all people around The Terrace or Lambton Quay. The same people who I met at the Beehive or in the government departments would come to get lunch every day. The look of confusion on their face when I asked them what they wanted to order was unforgettable. "What are you doing here, Kii?" or "Ooh, didn't expect to see you here!" were the conversation starters everyday.

I was massively embarrassed, to the point where if I saw someone from the Ministry or Beehive that I knew I'd actually hide in the back and do some dishes for three minutes until they left. The most embarrassing thing to me was feeling like I had two lives and one was lesser than the other.

One where I needed to remember a notepad and a pen to everything I went to, look professional and be able to communicate openly in English and Te Reo Maori if need be. A life where I had potential and could grow into someone memorable. I'd be invited to the Banquet Hall to sip wine, eat cheese and talk politics with some of the most fascinating people in New Zealand.

The other was where I needed to remind myself to ask if the customer wanted guacamole. The other I would make financial decisions on how many Domino's pizzas I could buy with x amount of money.


What I learned later on was that these weren't two different lives. These were just two different jobs. One where I could build my skills to a point where I could label myself as valuable in my preferred field, and the other to pay bills. I was frightened everyday of the scenario that someone would eventually come in to the shop, see me and then change their opinion on me. Frightened someone would look at my social media account and see me with the likes of Winston Peters and Nikki Kaye and then look up from their phone to the image of me asking if they wanted hot, medium or mild salsa. What a horror.

Who cares? Who gives a toss? I'm out here getting my money. There's no shame in that.

There's never been any shame in getting ahead and it's something I probably should have learned sooner. If you're my age and you're embarrassed about working two jobs or grinding through customer service like I was, understand that I vouch for you and think of you constantly. You may not wanna bring up your other job during conversation because anyone over 35 may not understand the need for it, but I got you fam. They won't understand it and may struggle to respect it because of the "in my day you see, we used to..." yarn. If I had a nickel for every time I heard that I wouldn't need three jobs, Marty.

If you gotta research policy in the daytime and drive Uber Eats at night, that's the way it's gotta be. Accounts and invoices on the 9am - 5pm, but serving drinks and over-salted chips 10pm - 3am? Smile through it, work for it and own it. Don't be afraid to tell your workmate who wants to go to Louis Sergeant for morning tea that you're on struggle street and this lavish life doesn't stretch past the tim-tams for breakfast.

There's no shame in eating biscuits before banquets.

Kii Small