With the K-2 grade children gathered at the school during our visit.
When the students gathered around us, the teachers encouraged one the older girls in 2nd grade to adorn my neck with a lei made of frangipani flower, in the tradition of the Pacific Islanders.
Flying Fox, which were bats the size of chickens, were in the air even during the day.
I made friends while at Finsch Harbor... (Part 4)
March 11, 2009
Refreshed by the fresh coconut juice, we restarted to walk again at my crawling pace toward the school. Eva was worried about my painful condition, maybe we should wait for a vehicle, she would say with a concerned voice. I was not opposed to getting on a vehicle, but then we could be waiting for a long time. The few vehicles which passed by us had not bothered to stop. “Even if it is painful, let’s keep walking. We will be that much closer. It is like the tortoise and hare story. I am the tortoise moving slowly toward the school; I could be the hare waiting back there for a faster vehicle all day,â€? I would say.
Pastor Moses was curious about my work and my life in general. He and Eva listened intently while I told them the story of how back in 1997 I had first traced my finger on a world map from Washington to Turkey, which then evolved into the nonprofit work that we do today. I had plenty of time to explain the educational and charitable goals of Around-n-Over and our work to help rural students in boarding schools in Turkey. That we had established Around-n-Over to honor the legacy of fallen friends was meaningful to them as they heard the inspring story of Göran Kropp.
"I want to be the best story teller. As I carry out this journey, I encounter many kind people such as yourselves, and it is important for me to tell their story. It is the good in the people that matter, the rest is irrelevant.â€? That was my job description as I shared with them. This description seemed to resonate at a deeper level with my Papuan friends. Coming from a culture where the oral traditions were how history was passed from one generation to the next, usually through the mother’s side, storytelling was a significant responsibility in the community.
More than once Philip had told me: “Now every adult and child in Finschafen area will know your story, I will tell them,â€? he would say, then point to Jeffrey and Christian and add: “they are my witnesses.â€? I enjoyed the thought that a few generations later, the legend of a yellow boat which had arrived from across the ocean could still be shared with small children. This thought warmed my heart and it gave me reason to continue on our chosen path. That very thought was infinitely more empowering than any effort to compete for the attention of jaded media elsewhere.
When we arrived at the turnoff for the school, I was in great pain; I could use some rest. We needed a vehicle to return if we wanted to be at the wharf by three o’clock. The school grounds for the Newsland Phonic Elementary was where a US medical facility had been after WW2. Through the trees, the ocean was visible to the north. Remaining concrete pads hinted at where the hospital structures used to be, and some of those now had wooden classrooms built over them using local natural materials. Shade was the primary purpose of these one story school buildings, which had a chest high wall above which was open up to the ceiling, allowing for a cross breeze. This was very similar to the set up that I had seen earlier during the Laboratory High School visit at Los Baños de Laguna in the Philippines.
The school served K-2 students who walked there from the surrounding villages. I did not see an obese or overweight child anywhere. They played outdoors, they walked to school, they did not have access to junk food, nor did they have a television or video games to tie them down to sedentary lifestyles.
We settled on a bench in the shade of the surrounding breadfruit trees. A short while later, the students were invited out of their classrooms and they sat down in front of me on the concrete pad in two groups. They were asked to leave a narrow path leading to me from the back. A girl then walked that aisle among the students to adorn my neck with a lei made of white fragrant frangipani flowers in the tradition of the Pacific Islanders. This was a gesture reserved for guests of honor, and I was blessed with their kind attention. I was told that Captain Otto Finsch had introduced the flower to this area along with the breadfruit.
The head instructor continued with an introduction of their school and their programs. I cringed when I heard him say in front of the children that people of Finschhafen were the first to be civilized. At this school they first taught about God, then taught English. Although English is the formal language of education in PNG, the government required that all schools teach children in their local language during K-2nd grade, but the staff and the parents here went against this dictum when they decided to do it all in English. “When they reach 3rd grade, they have difficultyâ€? I was told. Because of this conscious choice, the school now lacked government funding. About 850 distinct indigenous languages exist in the hard to reach valleys of PNG...
The children listened very carefully to my story of how I had joined them there, having come across the Pacific Ocean then the Bismarck Sea. They could not speak English but they could understand, I was told. Then they sang the PNG national anthem, hymns and songs to reinforce their language skills in the company of a guitar. It was all a game and play time for them as they performed these drills and I was fortunate to be among them.
The return trip was much easier when the head instructor offered me his bicycle. It had a flat tire which he fixed, but it kept leaking all the way to the wharf. Fortunately Pastor Moses had an air pump at his home in Kamlawa. We pumped the tire, I rode as far as I could ahead of them until the tire flattened, then waited for him and Eva to walk to me for another helping of air. I was able to cover the second half of the entire distance, which was probably about four kilometers, in spurts of 200 meters by bicycle, sparing us the delay given my painful condition.