An entry in The Crocodile Prize
PNG Chamber of Mines & Petroleum
Award for Essays & Journalism
IT was so cold that I had pulled my bed sheet over my whole body. Yet a chill breeze found its way through the betel nut stamp floorings and through the spaces in the bamboo blind walls.
I breathed dust from the bamboo blind the whole night.
My back ached from the rough floor and my body was immobile from the tiredness from the five-hour walk to Marum village the previous day.
I stirred as sparks of light penetrated the blind walls. Birds welcomed me with songs of dawn. Children were already playing outside.
I tip-toed towards the entrance, squinting my eyes to avoid stepping on sleeping, snoring bodies in the house.
Outside was a slice of paradise. Marum Primary School sits on a small plateau surrounded by a range of mountain in the Bugati area of the Raikos District, a mountainous region of Madang Province.
At the southern end of the school the great Yowor River meanders its way to the coast and there is another stream on the northern side which provides drinking water. Everything looked pristine.
At 7am the sun still hid behind the highest peak on Mt Ujili. Every taro harvest season, the villages at the foot of Mt Ujili hear the rumbling of a landslide which marks the beginning of harvest.
To the west of Marum towers Mt Opo’ou which casts a shadow over the village in the afternoon.
This early morning the village was misty but the people were already outside to meet us. They would have heard yesterday that a group of Divine Word University (DWU) students were going to spend a week with them.
The lawns around the teachers’ houses and the playground were well mowed. Power cables connected to the teachers’ houses. The generator runs from dusk to 10pm for school residents.
We were treated as staff and villagers came with food contributions for our stay. Taro, sugarcane and greens piled up under a torn tree next to our house. There were 22 of us, including one girl.
We went to Marum as members of the DWU Adventist Students Association for a gospel outreach and to run seminars on various topics to help the people. These included how to start a small business, information on health and sanitation and talks about the importance of education.
On Easter Friday the principal asked us to share our experiences with the students and staff of the school.
Although Marum primary school is isolated, the school had semi-permanent classroom. Classes range at grade one to eight. Walking into the grade one classroom, I feel for the students. The desks were made of round sticks and split bamboo seats and top. Most other classrooms had bamboo blind walls and fewer desks.
During the day I tried to memorize as many names as I could. So were my counterparts. Students came and offer us fruits, peanuts and sugar cane. They were all competing to at least give us something.
I couldn’t hide my emotion any more and let my tears have their way. As I turned to look at my colleagues, they were blinking regularly. The hospitality overwhelmed us. We felt we were special to them.
Although it was Easter weekend, the students, staff and villagers stayed for games with us. We played soccer, rugby touch and volleyball.
As it was getting dark, the thought of securing a space to sleep in the cramped house came to mind. After a dinner, a couple of us sat around a dimly lit fire telling all the tales we could remember from childhood. Feeling like dropping, I left for the house.
As I opened the door, I almost stepped on three bodies lying like logs. I had to crouch and feel my way to the position where I slept the previous night.
Lifting the mosquito net, I wearily lowered myself.
Before my bum could touch the floor, I sat on a raised knee and jumped across another body to gain my balance. Someone had taken my space.
Sitting and sleeping the whole night I dreamt of my bed in school. I should have stayed back in school and enjoyed my sleep.
The cry of dawn came as a refresher. Our second day at Marum. Enthusiasm to engage with the community had grown.
Friday was our community service to Marum and a nearby villages. The DWU Adventist students were divided into separate groups to visit old people and orphanages in the villages, pray with them and distribute second hand clothes we brought with us.
I was proud as a visitor among all the Adventist students on that trip. The people and lifestyle taught me a lot about the uniqueness of Papua New Guinea, my own country. A country so blessed with natural resources. The lifestyle was simple.
At the end of the week we prepared for the five hours walk back to Yowor bridge where the government road ends. We would get on the truck there for the journey back to school. To get there we had to cross the Yowor River four times, each time hoping the river didn’t flood.
The day arrived and we were farewelled with a big mumu of chicken and vegetables. The entire Marum village and surrounding villages came for our farewell. They lined the road as we shook hands along our way.
The happy days we had shared turn into wailing as they saw us leave. I had never experienced such a heartfelt hospitality.