I REMEMBER being much closer to my mother growing up as a girl child. The relationship with my father was one of affection, yet punctuated with an oddity of distance.
He was a soft spoken man, a person of few words, and always thoughtful about the unfolding of life. He spent most of his time and energy in the garden. I can’t recall a moment of direct conversation with him, yet I feel there might have been and that it’s my frail human memory that can’t fit the puzzle of recollection together.
When my father died, I had already entered into the world of womanhood. The occasion of my father’s death brought about much soul searching. I was freshly minted out of one of the main universities but was without a job.
It seemed at that time the future was meant to be uncompromisingly bleak. The prospect of employment was grim despite a relatively positive performance in my undergrad studies. I never attended graduation or my father’s funeral in the village. I was in a different part of the country and attending both events required a plane ticket. I was resigned to my financial condition at the time.
The only resource at my disposal was my ability to think and contemplate what both events meant. After all I wasn’t quite a stranger to a world of precariousness. Much of my life, even where I am today, it seems to me, was carved out from this thing called uncertainty.
Where many people openly express disdain for uncertainty, I have developed a peculiar relationship to it. This is the understanding that our lives are hardly programmatic, that chance plays an important part in shaping our lives.
I’ve always considered myself to be an average woman both intellectually and professionally. This self-assessment is borne out of a personal understanding of the journey I have travelled thus far. I wasn’t a bright student in primary school.
I remember protesting vehemently against attending class on Fridays in fear of the weekly spelling assessments called ‘dictation tests’. But I never won any of my battles. Mother rule ensured no petty excuses stood her way.
Even in the final years of high school I barely knew there were places called universities. That if I scored good grades I could continue on to National High School, and if I did even better there I could possibly secure a place at a university. And as the combination of my own naivety, dullness and fate would have it, I ended scoring well below average in the high school examinations.
But during the time between when I finished high school and when I arrived in Port Moresby (this was many years later), somewhere deep within my psyche there was an unsettling impulse to continue education. I think this must have been due to a sense of maturity which evolved over the more than five years I was in the village after high school.
When I first arrived in Port Moresby it was an intimidating and strange place for my uninitiated and timid village soul. Everything, it seemed, operated on a different plane of existence compared to the village life I was accustomed to. In fact the first few months after my arrival to the city were an exercise in moral torment.
How could I survive in such a place? Did I make a futile and silly decision to travel to Port Moresby? What exactly was I there for? For how long would the hospitality of my relatives with who I lived last? Looking back retrospectively I can see how silly it would be to think that I had answers to any of these questions.
This has taught me yet another lesson: that wherever in the station of life we find ourselves, we will be confronted with questions for which we don’t have immediate answers. But only with the passage of time meaningful retrospective answers will begin to crystallise.
After a few months I garnered the confidence to confront Port Moresby on my own terms. With the help of relatives I enrolled in the distance learning program hosted through the Institute of Distance and Continuing Education (IDCE as it was called in those days).
I failed the Math entry test and managed to barely scrape through in English. These were simple tests, but my brain was inevitably rusty from years of absence from any sort of schooling. I completed all modules within two years. Upon completion I applied to a number of universities and got accepted by one. Since then I have embarked on this amazing journey of self-discovery.
Along the journey I met and married a Papua New Guinean. My partner helped to push me beyond the boundaries of my fear and complacency. Many different people have helped me along the journey. And this has convinced me about the hospitality, virtue, and kindness of our people who often become targets of unfair generalisations regarding the social ills that beset many societies.
As I remain cocooned in the comfort of my room in the Western world writing my doctoral thesis I sometimes glance through the glass pane over the ocean and wonder how things could have been completely different. Not that I would have regretted if it did.
I love going to the village and spending time with relatives and visiting my parents’ grave. I like to ponder about the World War 2 stories my mother recounted several times. She must have been nine years old when the war was fought on our Pacific shores.
She would tell us about how she walked with others for a week through the jungle and swamps to the nearest allied force base to escape the invading Japanese troops. And she would ponder about why she survived when most of the children her age perished during the war period.
Listening to those stories I never imagined that one day I would step into the land from which Hitler stirred the domino of conquest in motion which caught on with the Japanese. It was a poignant feeling to view for the first time the sun trail along an amber horizon in Germany.
I felt like a lost and forlorn orphan in the vastness of the Frankfurt terminal. My mind was caught up in what felt like a strange time warp. I was transiting through Deutschland yet my mind was back in the village with the images of a nine year old girl trudging along the swampy marshland in search of safety from an event that she and most of the Pacific peoples had nothing to do with.
* The author’s name was provided to the editor