23rd March 2008
We're up to the gunnels in mud!I've never experienced anything like the amount or density of the rain, it sheets down for hours on end, often accompanied by amazing lightning and thunder.Consequently the tracks are knee-deep in mud and I have no trendy wellies!!A wonderful sight out of our window, a couple of pikininis, stark naked, about 2/3 years old, jumping up and down in a huge puddle and throwing mud balls at each other. The rainy season should be over soon though, which should also do for the mosquitoes, which will be a relief. They're not a huge problem, just irritating.
Life is fairly physically demanding here, not least because we live at the top of a hill.We have to shop most days, which isn't a simple trip to the supermarket.We do that (very limited stocks) then we go to the bakery (bread reasonable) then the butchery (very rarely meat that looks edible) and then trek over to the other side of town (more hills) to the market, where fruit and veg are gorgeous and plentiful, then carry the lot back home, in the heat and or rain and up the hills, so it's quite challenging. I'll have calves and thighs like a Papua New Guinean before long!
We're getting into work now.Travelling to schools is very difficult and time consuming, as it has to be on public transport which is of varying quality.In a couple of weeks we're visiting a school where there is no other way in other than to fly and we'll have to stay probably the week - there's no electricity!I observed 8 lessons yesterday.All pretty dire but for two of them the teacher didn't turn up at all.The students regarded this as normal and just sat, did homework, read the paper or slept!Imagine that happening in an English school!When a third teacher didn't turn up after 15 mins I sent a student to find him.He eventually turned up, muttered threats about a project not being completed on time (even though half the students didn't have paper to do iton) and bumbled off, with an aside to me that when I observe him next week, he'd do some teaching! The teachers I've witnessed treat the students like di rt, though I haven't come across any corporal punishment in school, but the kids get plenty of it outside.I've just this minute witnessed one adult holding a child (about 8 yrs) while another great big woman laid into him with the twig end of a witches broom. He's escaped and run off screaming.
The students are delightful though, open and friendly but so docile and repressed, at least in the classroom. The ages of the pupils in one class I observed ranged from 14-18! Mind you, they've had the fear of God drummed into them and are terrified of hell and damnation if they don't behave.There's a lot of witchcraft and sorcery goes on too apparently, though I haven't had any first hand experience of it I'm glad to say.One of the volunteers had a bad accident last year.His car, which was being driven by a priest, veered off a bridge in driving rain and one of the passengers was killed (the VSO guy survived).But, apparently, there was a woman from the village allegedly standing on the bridge at the time.The villagers accused her of witchcraft and causing the accident.They burnt her house to the ground and apparently if she doesn't move from the district she's likely to be killed as a witch! Terrifying stuff - sounds more like England in the Middle Ages!
We're getting the hovel round.I've made some cheerful curtains, the toilet is clean, we've bought a toaster (you can't believe how much we missed toast - my camping stove doesn't have a grill) and some cheap and cheerful floor covering, which John has laid this weekend. (You wouldn't be seen dead with it in your home in England!) We've also now got one cupboard and some bookshelves, so we're cooking with gas! Lisa a sent us another box of goodies which I'd packed before we left, which contained a lovely calendar with pictures of the family and one with various views of BSE.This month there's a picture of daffodils in Nowton Park, so that, plus various cards and photos, has cheered the place up no end.Oh yes, we now have one 'comfortable' chair purloined from the staffroom (a metal frame with thin foam cushion, so to call it 'comfortable' stretches the imagination a bit.) So we've folded a duvet that we don't use and put it on the chair and it's now it's verging on the snug.Quite acceptable to curl up in of a night with a Wilbur Smith, when tiredness hits me and John's fed up with my prattling and wants a bit of peace! However, it has caused problems. We fight to be first in the door after work in order to bag the chair, and when the question is asked 'shall we go to the pub tonight darling?' (dream on!) the answer is, 'Not likely, it's my turn on the chair!'
We've had a landline telephone installed.Due to happen last Tuesday at 9am - engineers turned up at 11am (at least it was the same day, month!) So ringing family is so much better now, as with the mobile, not only was it difficult to hear and be heard, but there was a very annoying time delay which made conversation very trying.The next step is internet access which we'll tackle next, then we will hopefully be able to reply to emails more promptly - bliss!
Our balcony has a lovely view over the valley, but it also runs parallel to another balcony next door.Last Sunday, I took some lunch onto the balcony and joined John.I was about to sit down, when I noticed a chicken hanging upside down from next door's balcony, still alive.I wasn't happy and sat with my back to it, but then John said, 'Whatever you do, don't turn round.'Of course I did, to witness the older girl in the household chop the chicken's head off and the younger child, holding the basin for the blood!Yes, I know that's how things are done here, but it did put me off my lunch!I'm a bit perturbed though, this Sunday a pig has appeared in next door's garden - please no!!
This balcony thing has caused a bit of consternation amongst the locals.John has brought with him some elastic exercise equipment.He hooked one round the strut of the balcony and started doing exercises, which I think the locals thought was his attempt at suicide!Luckily, they couldn't see what we were up to inside, as I dread to think what they might have surmised, with me laying on the floor with one endof the elastic round one of my legs and the other end round John's waist! It's a bone fide exercise, honest!
Well, it's Friday, so a bottle of wine could be on the cards, if we can find a decent one (or even if we can't!).If it's too bad, the oven needs a clean!
We have just returned from visiting a school high in the mountains - totally stunning views.It has been raining and we got delivered there by our school 4WD as nothing else was going to make the journey because of mud, landslides etc!For some inexplicable reason, the school guard accompanied us and I wasn't entirely sure what he was guarding us against, but all was revealed when he frequently leapt down from the back of the truck to remove stones and boulders from our path, which had slid down the sides of the road as a result of torrential rain.I'm not easily scared, but some of the vertical drops we went down through huge lakes and mud baths was pretty terrifying, but we arrived in one piece and the drivers agreed that we would be transported back to Kundiawa by the school were visiting's truck(not a FWD), the theory being that by the time we left, the ground would have dried somewhat.We did what we had to do at the school and went for coffee in the staffroom.All staff sitting round, speeches made, then the kettle and instant coffee appeared with two mugs.Then disaster struck - not one spoon to be had anywhere!So we all sat around looking at each other for about 15 minutes whilst some unfortunate member of staff was dispatched to find spoons, she eventually returned with one!!After some questions and a tour round the school, were invited to lunch in the library.Boiled chicken, which could have lasted as shoe leather for several months, some rice and greens, which tasted like boiled grass!! Mmmmm!I couldn't find a suitable repository, as napkins aren't invented here, so I had to bite the bullet, which might have been tastier!We were served first, then the staff walked in with their own plates, helped themselves, walked to the other side of the room and proceeded to eat their food with their fingers, standing up! It's not a pretty sight watching John trying to eat standing up at the best of times, but luckily we were invited to sit down with the headmaster!Boiled grass could have ended up as a mulch on the floor otherwise!
Suddenly there was a kerfuffle!We must leave quickly (thankfully I hadn't finished my food) and I was a bit concerned that we might have inadvertently upset someone.We were ushered out to the truck (which had a shattered windscreen incidently!) and realised the haste was because it was about to rain and if we didn't leave immediately we'd be stranded.As we left, about 15 strong looking lads leapt into the back of the truck, one carrying a coil of rope.I presumed they were getting a lift home at the end of the day.We bumped and jolted along the 'road', descended into a lake, took a run at a vertical slope and got stuck in the mud half way up.Immediately, three quarters of the boys jumped out of the truck, some threw stones under the wheels whilst the rope was fastened to the front of the truck and the boys in the front hauled whilst the remaining boys in the back jumped up and down with huge energy and whoops of encouragement to their mates at the front.After much heaving, engine revving and the production of clouds of evil black exhaust fumes, the truck eventually gained purchase, the rope was removed and the boys jumped aboard and we proceeded as though nothing could be more normal!The driver just muttered that he really must get a new tyre!A new truck would be more appropriate!There is no call for fairground rides in PNG!
So, we survived another day, regretfully I forgot my camera, but they have invited us back (hope lunch isn't included!) so the experience may be repeated, though I am assured that the dry season is on its way.
Can't remember if I told you, but we have an address now:
PO Box 125, Kundiawa, Simbu Province, Papua New Guinea.
Tel: (don't know prefix) 7351900 (not that I'm expecting a call from anyone, but it just feels good to be able to quote a phone number, I told you I'm easily excited!)