An entry in The Crocodile Prize
Cleland Family Heritage Writing Award
I BEGAN MY RUDIMENTARY formal Western education at Bogo St Nicholas Primary School in Simbu Province in 1985. After six years of primary education, my headmaster congratulated me and said I had qualified to attend Rosary High School at Kondiu to continue my education.
I spent four years at Kondiu, finishing in 1994. The years of hard work at high school paid off for me with two places opening up at tertiary level. It was my mother’s wish that I become a Catholic priest so I decided to go to the minor seminary at Kap, near Alexishafen.
I was there until 2006, eleven consecutive years in the seminary program. Adding this to my 10 years of primary and secondary education it was cumulatively 21 years of schooling, which was really tiring and boring.
My bishop must have seen me weak and tired after a long period of seminary studies so he called me into his office and said, “In the past, Gaby, you were enthusiastic and endeavoured well in the seminary program but now I see that you are different from what you were before.
“I know that you are weak and tired of staggering through the hard, rugged and difficult program of the seminary. I therefore would like to suggest that, if you wish, I would withdraw you from the program and give you a year’s holiday.
“After your break, you may replenish your physical and spiritual strength and may come back the following year to finish off the last few years of your priestly formation.”
My response to this suggestion was an affirmative ‘yes’, and I was withdrawn from the seminary program and was given a year’s holiday. Thanks to my bishop, instead of him sending me to my home district, where my beloved parents and people are, he had arranged a plane ticket for me to fly to a distant place; a place of solitude where I would be staying alone to discern more on my life.
More than that, the bishop had arranged and rented a house for me. That house was so beautiful and exotic that my mind could not hold or imagine how it was designed and constructed. When I looked inside, everything was perfectly arranged, rooms in perfect order, lights, fans and cushions set up, bathrooms and lavatories carefully cleaned and sprayed, bedrooms perfumed and a beautiful aroma permeated the entire building.
The workers in the house were one hundred percent up to date and they were working around the clock to ensure everything that was supposed to be at the table in the dining room was there on time and in time.
In each room, there was a computer, a TV screen and a radio and they were remotely controlled. The floor was of glass or ceramic tiles and the walls were decorated with beautiful paintings. I did not have to use energy to open the door of my room. The door seemed to know that I was coming so when I pressed the button, it opened itself automatically and closed behind me after I had entered.
I had a tremendous life experience there. Everything I needed and wanted was there. This boggled my mind and, because of that, I forgot about my beloved parents, siblings, people, and even my sweet home.
I was so carried away by the immaculate building and its setting that I forgot about the date and time of my departure. My time there expired and one night I received a surprise telephone call from my bishop. He said, “Gaby, it is about time for you to go back to school so I would like you to return and spend the last three months of your holiday with your parents and your people at home.”
That night I drafted a letter for my mother. I asked her to come and meet me at Kundiawa Dicksons Airport. In the letter, I included the date and time of my arrival so she might come at the right time and meet me there and carry my luggage home with me.
For a very long time, nine months, my mum had dearly wishing to see me and when she got my letter that I would be coming home, she was so completely elated with joy that she did not sleep or eat. She informed my dad and they both had prepared for my coming. They prepared my room, harvested the crops they had planted for my homecoming, cut the best sugar cane and left them in our house the day before my arrival.
On the day of my arrival, my mum was the at the airport. When the plane touched down, through the window I could see crowds of enthusiastic and curious people pushing each other, stretching their necks and even squeezing through the gaps of the wire fence to see who would be the first to come off the plane.
I knew my mum was there among the packed and curious crowd but I could not see her because of the numbers. But she spotted me disembarking so she ran to the gateway and waited for me there.
When I came out of the terminal, I saw my beloved mum with her hands over her head and tears streaming down unendingly from her eyes. For a long time she had been waiting and longing and anxious to see my face and when she finally saw me, she could not hold back her emotions – she burst into tears, took me into her warm motherly arms and embraced me dearly.
She held me ever more closely to her heart and her breast, which was a sign of her deep motherly love and care for me. I too was longing to see my mum for the nine months I was away. When I saw her, I felt how much she loved me, and having sensed how long and daring she had been waiting to see me by knowing from her holding me against her heart, I too burst into tears. The most clearly paradisiacal experience I had ever experienced ended right there.
Explanation of the paradisiacal life: The phone call
The telephone call is not a call from the outside world nor is it from my bishop. It is in my mum’s body. In the ninth month of being in my mother’s womb, the body fluids developed in my mum’s body sort of ringing and signalling to me and telling me to be aware of the most imminent changes that are going to take place. It would be a change of position and place of living. It tells me that the time has caught up with me to leave my wonderful life experience and luxurious living to enter a new world, a world I had never known before. It would be a world of new life and new experiences. A world in which I would break away from my mother and no more confined in my mother’s womb. A world of more freedom and movement and a world in which I would see the face of my mother and my mother would see me too. We would see each other’s presence in happiness.
The message to my mother
A foetus, as feeble as that, I could not be able to draft a letter to my mother or do anything of that sort. The parabolic meaning of the message (letter) I sent to my mother that I would be coming was the ‘pain she bore.’ That was my letter and my message to her that I would be coming. Feeling that pain, my mother knew that I would be coming soon so she prepared for me. She prepared a new bilum (a local hand woven stringed bag) where I would lie. In those days napkins, plastic pants, bum bums, baby oil and all other stuffs for babies were rare, so she collected special aromatic leaves from the bush.
There is a special tree in the forest called ‘gugldiun’, which leaves when dried give a wonderful smell. She collected all these aromatic leaves and put them in the bilum where I would be lying to give my body a nice smell. The other two bush leaves called ‘dodin’ and ‘kiglawa’ were used as my napkins to clean and purify my body.
Although she bore great pain and labour, her greatest dream and desire was to see the face of that beloved treasure that was hidden inside her for the last nine months. Whether it was a boy or a girl and whether my face resembled that of my mother or father remained a mystery to her and she dearly longed to see how I looked like.
However, since I knew not of the new world, the world outside my mother’s womb, I was reluctant and somewhat afraid to leave the womb. I thought if I leave the womb I might die or be in serious danger. My strongest thought was that the womb was my dome of a paradisiacal world which I would live there and enjoy my entire life in that confined world. Anyhow, I can no longer resist the pressure of the walls of my mother’s womb. The pressure was so great that I had to give in and move out of the womb. That was the moment of my birth.
The final encounter
As soon as I was born I had a dreadful loss of my confined world to enter a new world. In this world I encountered my long-awaited mother in a very terrifying experience as I could hear rushing sounds of people going and coming in urgent need. As my head entered the new world I could feel unfamiliar hands pulling on it.
The break away from my mother and my paradisiacal life began immediately as a sharp scissors ran across my umbilical cord. I was then given a pat on the ass and I responded with a loud protesting cry. Every day and night in the delivery ward of the hospitals or health centres we would hear sharp and protesting cries of the newly arrived babies.
My mother told me that when I was delivered I cried for hours and the midwives took me away and put me in a heater. She said when the midwives brought me back and put me on her tummy my little face wrinkled up in protesting cries until I ended in her warm arms. When she saw the long awaiting baby and how I looked like after the nine months being away, tears of joy coursed down relentlessly from her cheeks and I, seeing how much she loved me through her tears, sobbed.
That moment of meeting each other, my mother seeing my small face and I feeling, smelling and touching the presence of my mother is a significant experience in my life as a newly born baby. For so long my mum was yearning to have a baby and at pregnancy she waited another nine months to see my face. For a very short time she was in great pain and labour but after all was over she was overwhelmingly thrown into ecstasy when she saw the long awaited face – the blood of her own blood and the flesh of her own flesh.
Every human being regardless of race, religion, culture and nationality was laboured over and given birth to, loved, nurtured and cared for by individual mothers. Mothers in all human societies play a significant role in bringing forth new human life for the family, community and the society at large. All of us have come to life and taken flesh and blood through our mothers and through their careful and protective arms we grew up to be who we are today. If my mum had dropped me or rolled me over a cliff there would have been no person by the name of Gabriel existing in this part of the world.
A mental journey back into my life and pondering on all the labours and pains of my mother I realised that she has contributed more than enough to the progress of my life. Her labour, love and caring hands are worth more than gold or silver. She bore all the suffering in silence; without a single word of complaint exiting from her mouth.
How can I repay for all that she played in my life? As a Melanesian a mere word of thanks would not suffice to equate with the labour and the hard work my mum had wrought for me. It is indeed an unpretentious, plain and humble career of my mother. But what else can I do or say? It is beyond words; I will only remember her as long as I live and think of her love, care and labour.