ALPHONSE M HUVI
DEVARE - It was late one evening during the second week of March 2015. I was home at Bialla, West New Britain. The night was quiet except for the sound of laughter coming from family members who were cracking jokes.
The twenty toea full moon was providing a bright light, allowing me to fumble with my Nokia trying to play a snake game.
“Tring! Tring! Tring! Tring”
“Hellow! Lalogo Penias. Mave?” I answered. (‘Good evening Mr Penias. How are you?’)
“Eme gougolu tai?” Penias asked. (‘Are you working?’)
Penington Penias, a colleague, and I were speaking in the Lakalai language of West New Britain.
“What subjects are you specialised in?”
I told him.
“We have a vacancy in the school for that combination. Are you prepared to join us?”
I let out a long breath.
“Is it safe? I am scared of going there.”
“There is no fight,” Penias said. “We are moving around freely.”
“If you agree to join us then the school can pay for your ticket. The people here are friendly.”
“Give me time to think it over.”
“Don’t you have a heart for these students? Some of them have even transferred to other schools.”
That question struck me. I sighed, ending the call.
Do I really have to go there? What about the work that I am doing for my church youth group?
I sat deep in thought staring at the moon. My mind was in a confused state. Part of me wanted to go. The other half floated in darkness.
However, I thanked God for giving me the opportunity. I told myself that if it is His will then I will go.
The groundwork in locating the school was actually done by my father.
I texted Penias and told him my intention of going.
“Hello Miss Huvi, I am the principal of Devare High School,” said Mr David, the then principal. “Thank you for accepting our request. I am going to book your ticket now.”
“Can you book a weekend flight?”
“Sure. As you wish.”
Mr David texted the itinerary number of the ticket to me. The pastor as well as my youth members were sad to hear the news.
I picked up the ticket at the Air Nuigini office in Kimbe. The package came with a travelling allowance. It was an invitation not to be resisted.
“I am ready to come to Devare,” I texted after getting my ticket.
The flight was on a Friday. The trip was from Bialla where I lived to Kimbe town and then to Hoskins Airport.
But I missed Friday’s flight due to late PMV buses and had to rebook for Monday.
The flight was via Tokua and was to take me to Buka on Wednesday. Mama gave me a cordial welcome when I arrived at Rabaul. On Wednesday I left her and boarded the plane for Bougainville.
New Ireland Province drifted peacefully below with its outstretched islands. As the plane flew above Buka, I noticed for the first time the white sandy beaches and the green mountains and blue sea was a catching sight.
I grinned as the plane was about to land at Buka airport. Through the window I saw people waving. A vehicle wanted to cross the tarmac but had to wait for the plane to land. The airport did not have a fence.
“Well, you are in Bougainville now,” I told myself as I walked from the Fokker 100.
I looked around and saw my black skinned brothers and sisters. There were just two ‘retskins’ (the name given to Papua New Guineans and expatriates).
Mr Penias was there with his son, Mesulam. The delay in my flight had caused an inconvenience. By the time we crossed the Buka passage to Kokopau at 3pm, most of the vehicles had gone.
Sibeka Trans was the last vehicle to leave. Penias hesitated about whether or not we should get on because it was already loaded with passengers but we had no choice but to squeeze ourselves in.
I was introduced as the new teacher so was given a seat as was my colleague. The vehicle was full of passengers and I thought it would leave but, as we were about to drive off , evenmore boys hopped on.
I was squeezed now by the boys standing near me. Others got on the bonnet. While they were sharing drinks, some poured on me.
I smiled and asked the other two, “Tatou ge tartigi ka?” (‘Are we going to be okay?’)
“Lapaga isasa ouka,” my colleague replied. (‘No problem’)
“Have you heard of the saying: ‘Only in Bougainville’? Well, now you are seeing it with your own eyes,” Mesulam said.
“I guess I am going to enjoy my stay here,” I replied.
While we were travelling I asked a number of times, “Are we nearly there?”
“It’s not far. We’ll be there soon,.” I was told. And later, “Just around that corner and we’ll be there.” And still later, “Noken wari. Bai yumi kamap lo ap blo upla.” (Don’t worry, we’ll soon be at our place”)
The driver, Peri, also assured us that we would soon arrive.
By now I was not bothered. All my fears had escaped. I was quietly enjoying the trip because the passengers were having a good time and cracking jokes. These people had a great sense of humour.
It turned out that the school was the last destination for Sibeka Trans. We arrived at 9pm, just as the students were ending their night studies.
The school’s name Devare means ‘spread the light’. I was welcomed in darkness. There was a blackout that evening.
But the warmest welcome was given to me by Mrs David, another colleague and Peter Kehu Junior, the school’s head boy. My gear was brought to the staff house where I was to reside with another colleague, Miss Senar.
Miss Senar had prepared dinner and I was enjoying my meal when the principal arrived. He asked about my trip and thanked me again for accepting the challenge to teach at Devare.
After a week of preparation, I started teaching the Challenge Takers class.
I had discovered the thrilling experience of life in a new place with a different culture.