Fight For Your Mind

“True knowledge exists in knowing that you know nothing.”
Socrates

This is incredibly frustrating: The other teachers at the school apparently didn’t feel like working today. I was the only teacher there. Again. The school has around 300 students. The grade four classes (around age 12) present even more of a challenge than my previous groups. The majority are almost illiterate so we did some basic work on reading, writing and spelling! With all of my classes I’ve been prioritising work on hygiene, sanitation and various diseases such as Typhoid and Malaria. I’ve also been sneaking in a bit of emphasis on responsibilities concerning pets; Most of the cats and dogs here are walking, breathing skeletons. My efforts seem completely futile as I know there is ultimately very little I can do; this is their culture. If the country was thoroughly well educated it would be a completely different place. My experiences have demonstrated how charities that simply throw money at a problem do not actually improve the living standards of the people. Teachers should be paid according to the number of days they are actually present; Very few make the effort to come into school. The teachers are now spending the majority most of the school’s yearly budget on ‘prizes’, decorations and food for their speech day. There is absolutely no concept of saving money (or anything for that matter) here.

Observation of the day: During break I’ve noticed that lots of the little children go around catching cicadas with cups on long sticks. The local children from the area tend to hang about in the school during the day – mostly peering in the windows of my classes as if they were at a zoo; I tend to have a fairly large audience . They then grab the cicada, rip off it’s wings and legs and carry them round as a ‘rattle’ for a while before eventually eating them. Charming.

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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!

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. 

Babel

“I like nonsense, it wakes up the brain cells.” -Dr. Seuss

Pigin: Sampela meri i lainnim mi long tok pigin. Mi tok mi interest long how yupela makim bilum na ol tok olsem bai mipela go makim bilum. Ol nice tru. Lo morning mi kirap, mi kai kai. Big Mami boilim wara. Mi was was na mi wasim grass blo mi. Mi long walkabout lo tik bush! Em no hard tru long mi. Behind, Mi go lo skul na mi teachim ol pikinini. Em narapela samting hai. Mi like lukim ol sing-sing na mi like go long lukim solwara.Mi lukautim cas cas – mi got em insit lo haus. Em col Kai. mi likim em! Mi week, tasol mi bai sleep behind. Em ol gutpla

English: Some girls are teaching me to speak pidgin. I said that I was interested in how they make bilums (special wool/rope bags) and they told me that they would make me some! They’re very sweet. In the morning I wake up, I eat. Big Mami boils the water. I ‘shower’ and wash my hair. I go for a walk in the jungle. It’s not too difficult. Later, I go to the school and teach the kids. It’s different here! I would like to see a sing-sing and I want to visit the coast. I have a pet possum in the house called Kai. I love it! I’m tired, but will sleep later. All is well.

Not sure how much of this is actually accurate – just stringing together bits and bobs that the girls have taught me! I’m getting there though.

I’m teaching the grade 6 this week – they were fantastic today: really well behaved.  The trouble is some of them are clearly very bright and need to be given extra work to keep them occupied whereas a couple of them can barely speak English and can’t even grasp the most basic concepts so need lots of extra attention. I’m shocked by how some of the other teachers treat the children though; In the assembly this morning (held on the mud outside) the headmistress was calling them ‘dirty pigs’!

P.B. I tried a thing that they call a ‘tree tomato’ today. It tasted a bit like a cross between a tomato and a guava, except much more acidic. I’m not sure I’m particularly taken with it.