#32 The Good in Bugandi Secondary

This is a piece I recently got cross-published on the blog mylandmycountry. It is about Papua New Guinean’s celebrating all that is good about our country.

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Media attention awarded to Bugandi Secondary School of late, has tainted the name of this pillar of education within the Lae City community. I do not want to dwell on the events that have garnered such infamy, but it would be fair to say, there exists a sense of bitter distrust from the part of the greater Lae community.

But the nature of trust is that

it can also be earned back because bad does not necessarily mean ‘there is an absence of good’. At least that was my experience with the Bugandi Secondary School students on Friday, 6th October. An incident transpired during that day that showed hope and goodness that often goes unacknowledged about that institution.

I am not at liberty to fully disclose the details of the incident, least to say it was a hit and run and I, along with the students were first witnesses. I’ll add though that it was the quick thinking on behalf of the Bugandi students that led to the survival of the victim; the emergency ward named ‘Mr Friday Unknown’.

In a show of spirited heroism, the young men from Bugandi Secondary School gathered the seemingly lifeless pile of aged bones and soft tissue onto my ute. Without time to spare we rushed the Mr Friday Unknown to the accident and emergency ward at ANGAU Memorial Hospital.

There is always a moment of sho

ck that follows accidents so gruesome as that that reminds us humanity is nothing but skin and bones. It is the spirit that connects us to each other.

Seeing the spirit the Bugandi students showed to save a life gives me faith enough to say that the school is raising integral community members and citizens of Papua New Guinea. That lesson cannot

be overlooked. That lesson is more important then any piece of information that can be found in textbooks.

But this is not an isolated event. This act of selflessness is evidently engrained in these students. Almost a month before this incident a head on collision between two vehicles on Jawani Street (next to Bugandi) was witnessed by Bugandi Secondary School students who were unwilling first respondents to the scene, doing what they could to save the lives.

The description of the incident is not important here, but the character

demonstrated by the students is, again, testament to their strength and value as members of the greater Lae City

community.

I would like then to commend the teachers and for their commitment towards their students. For believing in the goodness in your students. To the Principle, Mr Tony Gaul and your leadership team, it takes real courage and strength to believe in your mission with limited resources and the clout of negative media – for that I applaud you and your team.

Bugandi Secondary School has quite the journey ahead of it yet I believe that in the not too distant future, the institution will give the great city of Lae reasons to look upon it with the endearing fondness that it deserves..  

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#31 Cafe Whispers in Lae, PNG

Cafe Whispers.

Cafe whispers muted, rustling and audible. Ice in my coffee, K4 wara, na K2 coke, surrounded by non-Indigenous Papua New Guinean residents. This is what the weekly pilgrimage looks like.  Same-same but different. 

I put on my best grin as if to greet a long time friend. It’s only the girl behind the counter. I expect something, but not even a momentary silence could solicit a response. No courteous pleasantries. 

I sigh.  It’s different.  Different is just another normal – I tell myself for the hundredth time this week. 

I hope she makes good coffee though. She’s cute, I could stay in her eyes for endless moments but I check out instead.  Her innocent smile gives her away,  I see a whole world between us that would be pointless crossing. 

No small talk today pretty lady. 

Short. No sugar. No milk. I like mine black. 

I find my place in the middle of the cafe. In the corner, there’s a group of expatriate wives and girlfriends sharing a laugh over their regular Friday coffee-mornings. Behind me, a group of ladies, both non-Papua New Guinean and Papua New Guinean sit huddled practicing their Tok Pisin, mastering the art of ‘Maus Wara’, all dressed in Morobean meri blouses. A missionary pilots wife and the mother’s leaderdship group – she is pregnant. There is something oddly calming about it all.

Cafe whispers muted and rustling.

But there’s the noticeable absence of men here. Why?-

A child scurries across the floor to catch her mother’s laughter. Between the ladies, the table is set for play. Toys lay littered between mugs and plates of half eaten cakes. The child is passed around, resting in the arms of the oldest in the group. The child’s mother prepares a bottle of milk. A well rehearsed drill between the six of them. 

The strength of women. I am reminded of my aunties and mothers sat atop woven-mats spread across a creaky wooden bed in a ‘haus win’, sharing a child’s cries. 

Same-same but different. 

Cafe whispers take on a whole new meaning now. I see this third space more for what it is then what it was. Here, the humble cafe serves more then just coffee. It is an elevated space – almost sacred to these non-Papua New Guinean residents – offering a taste of what is normal for them in a land foreign to them. A space to reproduce some semblance of their culture while they wait out their time in this timeless land. Sharing stories, rearing children, creating their version of a Papua New Guinea they will not soon forget – that their children will call home forever. 

Sitting between both worlds, I too have come to associate the humble cafe with a space for respite. I gravitate to it to escape the strangeness – to make sense of the strangeness – but mostly to find familiarity, to sit and meet with my thoughts, to make memories I would not soon forget. 

I notice these things more, the more I come back to this place. 

I catch a young Papua New Guinean child pierce the hum-drum chatter of the cafe with his curious stare. Hiding behind a plastic pot plant, he peers through his fear of being seen, wondering how far apart our worlds really are. An outside observer making mental notes, who will no doubt tell his friends of this strange gathering of white people and this black guy at the monestary of the black juice. 

How primitive they must be to work so hard, to earn that money, to spend on expensive dirty black water. Samting bilong ol waitman.

Our eyes meet and hang a second too long, reminding me of my own foreigness – both in this cafe and in my own land. 

I avert my eyes. I sip my coffee. I continue to write. 

He’ll never know how much I need my dirty black water. 

Sigh. 

It’s different. There is nothing wrong with different.  

One-hundred and four. 

Hans

#16 Big Bel, Pig Bel

I believe that PNG is on the cusp of one of the biggest epidemics of our short modern history. We unknowingly wondered into the era of preventable lifestyle diseases. Eating surgery foods, having high cholesterol diets, and worse still, normalising obesity as an image of success! The saddest thing is that it is affecting our young business and aspiring political leaders. 

I will present imagery to question our own unwitting validation and seemingly present comment on a new narrative about a changing culture. You can decide what that change is but I think the hope is in what the girl says and what the kids are asked to remember.

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#12 Dear Uncle MP

On the eve of Papua New Guinea’s 2017 National Elections, I find myself reflecting a lot more on the realities of being a public politician in Papua New Guinea. The nuances and ironies that the politicians have to deal with is disconcerting.

I often criticise without understanding why people do what they do. There must be a reason for every rhyme. Think about it, serving the interests of a nation where they should think of me first because I voted for them.

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#11 Trading my stori

This poem was inspired by a work trip to Wewak, in the East Sepik Province of Papua New Guinea. It is partly written in Tok Pisin and in English. It was written for a particular audience and a particular purpose so no attempt at translation has been made. This also marks my first attempt at writing a poem in Tok Pisin.

The constant rhythm changes in the second stanza (english) were intentional to illicit a conflicted psycho-emotional response from the reader/ audience that ‘something is not right here’. Jumping between Tok Pisin and English was used to show the two worlds I constantly find myself confronted by. I find myself being modern and western but at the same time, looking back over my shoulder to a world I cannot negate nor forget; it is non-western but complete. 

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#7 His Story

This poem came out as a burst of creativity in one sitting at the Blackbird Espresso Bar on Grafton Street in Cairns. The inspiration behind this came from the image of the Huli Wigman (a locality in the Papua New Guinean Highlands) while I was using Pintrest in a brainstorming session.

Part of the thought behind this piece of prose was aimed at being an exploration of how the Papua New Guinean man balances his own identity between pasin kastom, in the sense of being traditional, and being modern.

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