Well though we're only a week into our adventure, we seem to have met everyone and done everything. Suffice to say that when we have undertaken our in-country orientation which starts tomorrow, we start all over again up in the highlands.
On Monday of course we walked straight into an all-day education workshop and surprisingly were able to contribute to the discussions. On Tuesday and Wednesday we visited primary schools in the Madang area and on Thursday and Friday we returned to two of the schools to carry out observations as part of a baseline assessment for VSO. You'll see photos on the blog of children in their classrooms and showing some of the school sites. Health & Safety take on a different meaning here - try everything and survive. Young children carry machetes in school and out - used for keeping the school grounds beautiful, or for cutting back the bush or for cutting crops and coconuts etc. On their school desks some children have a razor blade - for sharpening pencils. Thankfully we have seen no arguments breaking out between pupils!! You may notice in some classes that there are pupils with moustaches, beards and sideburns sitting alongside 7 or 8 year olds. This is because parents run out of money to pay fees, so when they do have enough - which may be several years later, the pupils pick up from where they left off. The oldest we saw in primary was 20!
The children wave and smile from a distance but up close they giggle and are shy and a little awkward.
Some of the schools have no electricity and some have no water. One headteacher walked eight hours to get to a meeting. It is amazing.
Talidig Primary school invited us to attend their assembly at 8.00 a.m. on Friday.
As the school was some distance away, it meant leaving at 7.00 a.m. and having breakfast even earlier. When we arrived (a little late) the whole school was standing out in the heat, waiting to start. All the pupils were in lines facing the PNG flag. They sang the National Anthem which was lovely with equal numbers of basses in unison with the sopranos.
Every school we have been to has been very welcoming and happy for us to visit lessons. One school put on a spread on, which was unnecessary as we had taken packed lunches. However we had to eat and drink something, because none of the staff would touch any of the refreshments until we had started off. Surprisingly there were even chocolate cookies. On the way back from one school we stopped and bought flour ball-like doughnuts without jam or sugar and ate them with bananas.
Our chaperones for the week have been Lyn and Roger who have been VSOs out here for the past year. They invited us to join them, as we had a week with nothing organised, due to having to wait for other new VSOs to arrive before we could start the orientation. Its been really good to chat and spend so much time with them, as it gives us even more idea of the kind of work in which we'll be involved as well as giving insights into the way of life for the indigenous population and for the VSOs.
Embarrassingly, we are being accommodated in the Madang Lodge for the 3 weeks we are here and it has to be said its beautiful - lovely grounds, swimming pool, breakfast looking over the sea with mountains in the distance. We have seen dolphins on several occasions whilst dining on the terrace. So its not the kind of rough living we were expecting, though no doubt when we get up into the highlands it'll be no holiday. We have bought two packets of cockroach powder in preparation.
Today we ventured out on a boat with 5 other experienced VSOs and we headed for some islands off the coast of Madang on the way to Karkar (not sure of spelling) which is an active volcanic island with activity as recent as two weeks ago. It was a hot and sunny day with idyllic scenery and glimpses of flying fish accompanied by many oohs and aahs. Once anchored Alison floated in the sea on 'noodles' and Mike snorkelled. It was a wonderful experience in such clear water. Numerous exotic fish were seen, beautiful coral and even brilliant blue starfish. It's a hard life.
Tonight we're heading off to a leaving party. We have walked into an instant social life! We have to take food and drink. Fortunately someone told us that you can't get alcohol on Fridays and Saturdays as it stops disorderly behaviour in the town. One volunteer said she had eaten bat this week. She said it tasted like duck.