Underdog

I’m now teaching the grade fours: ages ranging from 11 to 13. Although interestingly quite a few of the children don’t actually know how old they are; their parents didn’t keep track! With my three classes today I set them assignments in their English lesson to write poems about their favourite animals or their responsibilities at home (depending on which class they were in). Quite a few made little, if any, sense but overall I was pleasantly surprised with what they managed to come up with. Here’s my favourite:

Only A Dog

Oh Mum and Dad…

Every night I guard

you while you are

fast asleep.

Every day we go hunting

for wild meat.

Yet you forget me.

Yesterday Verena introduced me to a German volunteer a year older than me called Phillip who’s working in publishing here for a year. We’re planning a bush hike for the weekend – not sure whether leaving tonight or tomorrow morning – but I will not be able to post until we’re back. That is if we make it back: The more I learn about this country the more I see how completely sated with crime it is! (I’ve been learning some fascinating details about the sorcery and witchcraft beliefs here – will write a post on that subject soon.) Phillip’s a black belt in karate though so that could come in handy in a sticky situation!

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Mango Tree

Thomas and Verena’s house is fantastic – I feel really secure here. Thomas is the kind of man who commands respect whenever he enters a room. He’s very tall, broad, with dark hair and an impressive scar on his upper lip. Verena in contrast is a very warm and friendly woman: blonde hair blue eyes, like Thalia, and a tendency to laugh at pretty much everything. Thalia seems a bit of an anomaly with a strong American accent amongst the German – very impressive how they dip in and out of three languages! Recently Thomas brought back 120 Mangos from a visit to the coast so we have had a complete glut: Mango smooties, milkshakes, dried mango etc it’s pretty much the staple food here at the moment. Not that I’m complaining – I love it! Mangos aside, we’ve been eating traditional German meals every evening which is all very new to me. It’s completely bizarre that my introduction to German culture is taking place in the middle of PNG.

 However, Wendy (the lady who set up the arrangement for me to volunteer here) has been receiving messages from Mando telling her that I’m still sleeping in the village. I’ve been noticing some fairly strange behaviour developing: They are very concerned about keeping the support of the rotary club of Australia. I am to them merely an object that must either be looked after well or, failing that, Wendy must believe that I am being looked after well! A little bit of an awkward situation. Wendy and Verena have both suggested that I should teach at a different school for the remainder of the time but, as none of the teachers at Mando seem to have the slightest interest in the children there I would like to persevere, even if it does mean waiting around for PMVs for 3 hours to get home (like today). For example, today I seemed to be the only teacher in the school. I took three separate classes simultaneously all day. Not easy. 

Can I Get A Witness?

‘It was the Law of the Sea, they said. Civilization ends at the waterline. Beyond that, we all enter the food chain, and not always right at the top.’
Hunter S. Thompson 

I spent the day today in court. Alo, the psycho that tracked me down to my hut in Mando, was making a claim against Margaret and the community for the loss of his mobile and 150 Kina. Pretty damn stupid of him. The villagers were ready to kill him. No exaggeration. The words “That man is going to die today” were floating around in general conversation.

The police doing license checks (basically an excuse to take money from the people) yesterday afternoon asked me to come down to Asaro police station to give my opinion on the situation. I agreed and this morning took the 40 minute walk to the station. Inevitably the entire school community came too. 

            In true PNG style we then had to wait for two and a half hours for the ‘station commander’ to turn up before we could proceed to the court room. I say court room; it was pretty much a glorified wooden shed. The police men sat behind a desk and everybody else, squeezed into the small room like hens in a battery farm, squatted on the floor. I didn’t even recognise the man at first; he was standing quietly in the corner with a vaguely determined look on his face and his head of hair newly shaven.

The process of the trial was… interesting. It was mildly amusing how they attempted to conduct an official court case in a dirty shed with everyone sitting on the floor and with the fairly uninterested policemen doodling on their notepads. Alo stood up and gave his statement; Naturally, he fabricated some of the details and glossed over other important parts of the story. Then came my turn. The entire room fell silent and around sixty or so beady white eyes fixed on me. I started by commenting on my disadvantage in not fully being able to understand Alo’s statement (he had been speaking in Pidgin) then went on to recount the meeting outside the post office and the following events. Whenever I clarified a point such as the fact that I did not invite or encourage him to visit Mando School there were general shouts of approval from the crowds which made me feel rather uneasy. I had hoped to avoid stirring up any more trouble. Anyway, they were not even remotely persuaded by Alo and asked me what I thought they should do to him. I replied that as far as his actions towards me are concerned, punishment is entirely unnecessary, however, I felt that his crime was offending the community through trespassing on their land and that the community themselves should be consulted. We were given a break to discuss the matter and (thank god) decided to wave a white flag. Apologies were circulated. The chairman gave Alo a cheap phone and a little money, everybody shook hands and that was the end of it. It was extremely fortunate. I hear that usually in processes such as this the police/judges rule in favour of whoever has the most to offer them or the physically stronger will simply win the case through violence.

Certainly a memorable first experience in ‘court’.

Burn The Witch

I’m getting increasingly concerned that the allegation made casually by Mr Nomino that Margaret was a ‘witch’ may actually develop into something pretty sinister. The nationals here have strong beliefs in sorcery and witchcraft which they take very seriously. Verena was recounting to me numerous incidents in which women, accused of being witches, have been brutally tortured, burnt, maimed, debased and often killed. This is apparently very common here. Circumstances which cause such rumours to emerge are events like the death of the woman’s loved ones (the people believe she must have done something wrong to deserve such punishment), living alone, high intelligence etc Accusations can also arise over simple matters of holding grudges, jealousy or wanting to obtain another woman’s land. Very worrying to say the least, particularly as many of these ‘signs of witchcraft’ apply to Margaret – twice widowed and living alone. Verena suggested I should perhaps try to figure out whether this is becoming a widespread rumour or whether it is just the opinion of Mr Nomino as if it is becoming an established belief Margaret will need to be taken out of there immediately.

Breakfast In America

Today has been one of the most surreal days of my life. I woke up this morning in a Lutheran guest house with food poisoning and a random PNG lady who I had only met for an hour the day before. An hour or so later two Germans arrived at the door to take me away. It turns out Wendy, the lady who set up my volunteering, had been in touch with them (Thomas and Verena) and had filled them in on the situation. I then drove with Verena back to Mando to pick up my stuff, which was difficult, to say the least. Margaret did not say a word. She didn’t even come outside the hut.

We then went to pick up their daughter, Thalia from school. This was where things started to get pretty odd. We drove for 10 minutes from Goroka and eventually arrived at a place called ‘Lapilo’ home to the ‘new tribes missionaries’ who seek to convert the most rural of Papua New Guineans to Christianity (despite the fact that 98% of PNGs are already Christian). This ‘centre’ was basically a secluded slice of America in the middle of the Papua New Guinea bush. Bearing in mind that I have not seen a single white person throughout my two weeks it was a shock to see, on driving in through the gates, that the entire community was made up of white Americans and Australians. They all live on the site, which has everything they could need supplied for them: elementary, primary and secondary schools, a shop, gym etc very much like an isolated campus university. We took a walk around and I felt like I was actually in America – everything was entirely modernised, not a hint of the ‘backwardness’ of PNG was present. They were even playing girl’s ‘soccer’ on their (perfectly maintained) playing field. All of the children, including Thalia have heavy American accents. It was completely and utterly bizarre to move so suddenly between such polar opposite cultures. To exaggerate the incongruity, I was feeling extremely light-headed, as if I might faint in the aftermath of my night with food poisoning. It was unbelievably weird.

Thomas and Ruth themselves seem to be very typically German. Not trying to stereotype or anything! On returning to their house in Goroka they were making “sausage” as apparently PNG doesn’t make proper sausage. I’ve been helping Thalia with her character in the school play this evening. (Feels like being back at home, Sue!) Anyway, the arrangement is that I’m going to get a PMV to Mando everyday to teach and then return here in the evenings. Let’s hope it works out.