An entry in The Crocodile Prize
Cleland Family Award for Heritage Writing
I AWOKE to the chorus of cock-a-doodle do and the familiar smell of burning frami, a highly flammable wood that can be found in the stack of firewood in almost every home in Tarawai.
Sluggishly I sat upright, cursed the fowls roosting on the young kalapulim (Calophyllum inophyllum) tree and looked through the window.
From the rhythmic swaying of the coconut leaves I could tell that Rai, the north-easterly breeze would be moderate today and that the ocean tide would be fit for a little fun with my bow and arrows after school.
Bathing was the toughest of my morning routines as I had to walk a few hundred feet from home with a bucket and old towel, fetch water from the dug-out well and, if unlucky, wait a couple of minutes for the people who managed to book the bathroom before me.
The bathroom consisted of sticks deposited firmly into the soil on which old remnants of sago leaf woven roof covering were tied right up to the desired height. Inside this topless stand-alone square cubicle, white beach gravel was laid over the loamy soil that sucks in water from every shower session.
Sensing that I might miss out on the morning’s round of the latest gossip and stories of my friends’ adventures the previous evening, I tossed water over the foam of cheap bath soap on my hair, covered myself with the towel and rushed home.
After helping myself into a clean pair of khakis and a singlet, I tossed my stationery into an old school bag and raced to the kitchen which by then was choked with smoke from burning embers and filled with the smell of freshly boiled sweet potato.
Using a coconut frond as a fork, I served five pieces into my nu horoma (lunch basket woven from coconut leaves) and dashed to the main village path to catch up with colleagues whom together made a mischievous bunch on the way to school.
From Muote’, my little hamlet, we’d have to pass Se’etem and Urate’ before a half a mile walk along the stony track that weaved through dense coconut plantations and shrubs.
A fine morning’s walk as you get to enjoy the view of the ocean, the coast of Dagua and the blue Torricelli Mountains. And if there was a dinghy heading to Wewak, we’d keep chase on the stony track until it disappeared behind Cape Isua, the only entrance and exit for vessels.
A long reef stretches from Isua to Tamba’uati which is another headland past Wolomu, the last village, making entry impassable for big ships and even many smaller ones.
On Fridays we were dispatched to our respective classrooms after morning assembly, looking forward to another day of learning.
Classroom activities were the usual arithmetic, dictation and composition which we completed before lunch. And as the assigned bell-ringer walked out, we shoved books and pencils into the home-made wooden desks and went after him to the thatched-roof lunch hut, the lunch baskets hanging from suspended hooks made of string and young tree branches.
A group of friends would have a favourite secluded spot, usually filled with white beach sand in the shade of the trees, or amongst little shrubs along the beach. We would gather to discuss our test results or just go on a marathon of storytelling while enjoying our boiled sweet potatoes and coconuts.
The days always seemed bright with the sun hovering above puffy cumulonimbus clouds. We searched for a spot far enough from the vicinity of the girls so that, naked, we could enjoy the soothing cool sea and achieve a couple of good dives from the kalapulim trees.
The school bell (which was a small old diving gas cylinder) would ring and halt our fun. We scrambled for our clothes on tree trunks and branches.
But we were eager to get back to class and put up with the teacher until 2pm, when we’d leave the classroom for some physical action. Volleyball was our main sport and we flocked to the volleyball court for a couple of matches with mixed male and female teams. I can remember my team was called Dugongs and we were quite a hit when it came to volleyball.
Finally, as the final games ended, we’d congregate for another assembly where general announcements were made and at times discipline executed.
I raced home thanking God that it was Friday and that I’d have two full days to go on a fishing spree or just doze.
The low-tide greeted me with its smell of sulphur blended with salt water. I reached Manarawa, a small sacred lagoon surrounded by reef, and jogged home under shady kalapulims and other leafless trees that cast silhouettes over the lengthy patches of sand.
I reached home and changed into rags, fetched my bows and arrows and took to the reef.
I’d almost reach my favourite spot for the parrot fish mom would yell. From the tone, I knew I was in for my usual afternoon chores of coconut scraping or fetching water from the well.
I’d sigh, stumble over rocks, coral and empty clam shells and head for the shore.
What a way to start my weekend.