Twenty years ago, a woman tried to recruit me to join a cult. But I’m pleased to say I resisted and didn’t drink the Kool Aid.
For a few months, when I was 19, I worked on the reception desk in my then-boyfriend’s father’s business. I fit it in around my uni work and it was a good way for me to earn some dollars while he recruited to find someone new for the job.
The business was located in an inner Canberra suburb full of car dealerships, businesses that pretty much existed to provide services to other businesses and the public service, cafes and, it transpires, the headquarters of a cult.
One day, I was sitting behind the reception desk, invoicing people like a mofo and answering phones and such, when this woman walked through the front door.
“Excuse me,” she said. “I’ve locked my keys in my car. Would you mind if I used your phone to call the NRMA?” It was 1996 and most people didn’t have mobile phones, you see, so it wasn’t a very unusual request.
I obliged and, as it was pouring outside, she asked if she could just wait there in reception until they arrived. Of course! Who would say no?
So after five or so minutes, she struck up a conversation with me.
“Are you interested in communication?” she asked.
“Oh yes,” I said matter-of-factly. “I’m doing a degree in Communication at uni.”
Immediately, she fished a flyer out of her handbag and gave it to me. It was for a seminar being run at a place, right around the corner from the office, all about “communication techniques”.
HELLO, RETROSPECTIVE ALARM BELLS… WHY DIDN’T SHE JUST GO THERE TO CALL THE NRMA? DUH.
“You should come to this!” she told me. I humoured her and said I’d consider it. Fuxache – it was on a Friday evening and everything. I’m what you might call a functioning anti-social person. I HATE crowds and group situations, but even people who know me and love me are often cheerfully oblivious to the crippling social phobia I feel in groups. It takes every fibre of my being a lot of the time to go along to things that people I like want me to go to, let alone something some random asks of me.
And so she went and I thought that was the end of that.
The next day, she called me to see if I would attend the seminar… because she knew the name of the business and that I was the one answering the phones. Stalker much? And she called the next day. And the next day.
“FUCK IT.” I thought “I just want to get her off my case. It’s just around the corner, and it’s on the way home from work. If I go to it, she’ll just leave me alone.”
HA HA HA. Yes, famous last words. I think blind Freddy can see where this is headed… but I was 19 and only about 25% as cynical as I am now.
Papier MÃ¢ché pigs heads and other WTFery
My boyfriend also worked in his dad’s business, so I told him that we had to go to this thing on Friday evening on the way home from work. It shouldn’t take long and then we could go to the pub and have fun. I told him maybe some of it would be remotely useful for my course.
I’m sure he rolled his eyes, but he humoured me, because let’s be honest, who wants to go to a seminar about ANYTHING on a Friday night at the end of a work week?
Feeble minded people who can get sucked into joining a cult, that’s who.
The place was called Kenja Communication. It sounded like a consultancy and so the name itself didn’t set off any alarm bells. It was located in a pretty typical two-story 1960s era office building. We went upstairs to where the seminar was going on… I think they had maybe 10 or 15 people attending, and we sat and watched people on a stage flouncing and sashaying around like an undergraduate theatre company. They were putting on a very odd performance, crapping on about energy and synergy and wearing papier mÃ¢ché pigs heads.
“What the fuck?” I whispered to my boyfriend. He shrugged.
Some dude came out on to the stage and started giving a spiel about human spirit, space, time and energy, and how if you join with them you could do theatrical performances like the pig people. Why? I wasn’t sure exactly because I don’t think they were your ordinary theatre society. I was thoroughly baffled. Then they started going on about a technique called “Energy Conversion” and I started thinking to myself that maybe I was tricked into attending a Scientology thing or something.
“I THINK THIS IS A CULT!” I whispered more harshly.
“Don’t be stupid,” he said. “They’re just a bit weird.”
They must have sensed me saying it was a cult, because the guy on the stage was at pains to point out that they weren’t a religious or political organisation, by still being as vague as all fuck about what they actually were about. Whatever it was, it wasn’t something I wanted to be part of. Cult. Pyramid scheme. Terrible amateur drama society. That shit is not for me.
As soon as the presentation was over, I pretty much fell over myself trying to retreat from the room, but was blocked by some of the Kenja people who were manning the exit. They wanted to bend our ears and try to talk us in to coming back for more. Being polite, I just told them I’d need to think about it. This, right here, is why being polite to everyone is over-rated.
Unfortunately, on the way in, they had taken our names and asked for a phone number… you know, before we heard all about the Energy Conversion and watched performance art from people pretending to be pigs. Even though it was 1996, my boyfriend had a mobile phone number and I wrote that down on the sheet on the way in. In hindsight, it was a great gift from me to him.
Ring ring ring goes the telephone…
So the calls commenced. My boyfriend was getting them to his phone at least once a week. I was getting them on the reception desk at the office until I stopped working there. We kept telling them we weren’t interested. They kept calling back anyway. They were the most persistent people I have ever encountered. I think the strategy was to hound us until we caved in. We had no interest in converting our energy or wearing papier mÃ¢ché on our bonces, thankyouverymuch.
This went on for months. And months. We eventually broke up (not because of this) and they were still calling him afterwards. Given the circumstances in which we did break up, I’m not actually sorry that I left him on a “please call me!” register with a cult. It was the least I could do for him. Only we didn’t actually know for sure they were a cult. Just really weird, annoying, scammy people.
I was right!
Fast forward several years later and I was reading a news article about allegations made about the leaders of a cult and I went cold when I saw the name: Kenja Communication. I furiously texted my ex: “I WAS RIGHT! THEY WERE A CULT!” He shot back with something grumpy about how it took him YEARS to get them to stop calling. (Side note: LOLOLOL).
If you look them up, you’ll see they have been linked to all sorts of terrible stuff, including pedophilia and sexual abuse.
A woman named Cornelia Rau who was embroiled in controversy in 2005 was wrongfully deported to Germany after being suspected of being an illegal immigrant and turned out to be a victim of the cult.
Reflecting on it, it was a little bit unnerving. I realised the woman who came into reception on that day had obviously seen me and decided I was a mark. Something about me clearly screamed “Yes! I am likely to join a cult!” even though I’m a cynical, antisocial atheist. Whatever that vibe is I give off is probably the same one that sees me singled out and swabbed for explosives, without fail, every single time I go to an airport. Lucky me.