All you have to do is look at Nathan Matata’s oil stained hands to know what he does for a living.
Matata’s love of motors both, combustion and electric, is infectious. His opinions are sought after and valued in Rarotonga.
His wife knows him too well, when asking if they can watch a movie on a quiet Sunday afternoon, Matata pulls out his laptop and put his saved YouTube automotive videos on.
She doesn’t question it and they laugh, this is her husband’s passion and his way of making a living for their family.
In fact, any chance he gets to learn more about the industry he works in he takes with both hands.
When he sits down to talk with us, he apologises for “talking too much” and says he doesn’t want to offend anyone by saying what he’s thinking and putting it “out there” on social media.
But Matata is faced with a dilemma – on paper he is yet to be recognised as a fully qualified mechanic.
People have said to him that a qualification is just a fancy piece of paper with your name written on it nicely. They’ve told him not to lose sleep over it, and that the quality of his workmanship speaks for itself.
But to Matata, everything that he has in his head, all the hours he’s spent pulling motors apart and putting them back together – none of that means anything without that piece of paper saying he’s completed his theory.
He looks down at his well-used and oily work boots and looks up with a sad expression on his face.
“I don’t want to be known as some “bush mechanic”,” he says.
Matata is a valued member of the workshop staff at Raro Cars.
He joined the team in 2015 as an apprentice, while doing his automotive mechanic course at Cook Islands Tertiary and Training Institute.
Going back to “school” for a second time was beyond exciting for Matata; he says the first time he didn’t really like school very much and used to “wag” all the time.
“I was so happy to be learning. I’ve had a fascination with motors since I was a kid, so to read books and see how they work was cool,” he said.
But when the year came to an end, the training institution couldn’t find a tutor to carry on the course.
At first, Matata didn’t think it would matter much after he managed to land an apprenticeship.
At the end of the day he had a paying job to support his wife and his four children.
But as the years started to roll by, it started to eat at him that he wasn’t qualified.
Numerous phone calls to CITTI reception came with no answers; getting in touch with the Ministry of Transport led to nothing and while his employers agreed to run training sessions they also asked other businesses to contribute.
Many of his friends decided to leave the trade all together and get other employment, while others left the shores of Rarotonga to work and get their qualifications overseas.
For Matata having to leave the only home he’s ever known “freaks him out” and is massive for a young family.
“I’ve worked my a*** off to get to where I am now. I don’t want go somewhere and start all over again.”
Matata is pretty proud to be still alive after working with a 400-watt electric vehicle.
And every time he sees that vehicle rolling around a year and a half after he fixed it, he smiles.
“It was a bit scary at the time, but I’m confident in my skills and I’ve watched enough YouTube videos to sort of know what I’m doing,” he laughs.
When it comes to vehicle diagnostics, everyone calls him. Matata’s the go-to man when heavy machinery on the island breaks down and has one of the few key cutting machines on the island and can program a key in half a day.
While he dreams of owning a vintage 1967 Dodge Charger, he rebuilt the truck that he takes to work every day after picking up a “dunger” for next to nothing and spends his spare time tinkering with other people’s cars.
For eight months him and his cousin rebuilt his grandfather’s truck.
A month before it was supposed to be finished his uncle visited from overseas, and it was in a million pieces. His uncle couldn’t believe his eyes when he turned up to find it in pristine condition.
But seeing the announcement that a Cook Islands Tertiary Student Loans Scheme proposal was before the Budget committee gives him hope that one day soon he might be able to spend a year studying full-time towards completing the theory required to become an A-Grade mechanic.
“Our country has mechanics just like me who have the skills but we don’t have the papers to prove ourselves,” he says.
“My hope is that the Government will look at us in the trade industry too so we can finish our qualifications here and stay here at home.”