A Travellerspoint blog

Living in Tapini, PNG

sunny 29 °C

After a four month delay (waiting for visa), I finally flew out of Narrandera on the 17 April 2008 (My niece Aimee’s first birthday). Arrived in Sydney then flew to Brisbane. Met up with Des Hansen (the other Australian who will also move to Tapini, PNG, to work for Palms – we will be house mates). We spent the night walking around Brisbane checking out the sights

The next day we flew to Port Morsby, PNG, and were greeted at the airport by father Brian, the parish priest of Tapini. We jumped into the back of the ute and were driven around town and over the many bumpy pot holes trying not to fall out until we reached our accommodation for the night. We checked out the centre of Port Morsby that afternoon –not the sort of place you would like to spend a holiday!

The next morning at 5:00am we jumped into the back of the ute and were driven to the overcrowded airport. The airport was filthy and smelt of lots of bad body odour. Finally, we flew to Tapini. We arrived and were greeted by the whole village (they all come out whenever the plane lands). We jumped into the back of a ute and were driven to our new house at the school. I thought the pot holes in Port Morsby were big – the pot holes in Tapini turn into mini rivers whenever it rains! On our arrival I was overwhelmed by the surrounding hills and mountains. The scenery is stunning.

We arrived at our house and were very warmly welcomed by the principal and deputy. Throughout the day we were constantly bombarded with gifts of food from students coming to visit us and say “HI” (we did no shopping for the first 2 weeks).

The next day, Sunday, we all went to church where Des and I were officially introduced and welcomed into the community. We both gave a small speech. It was so nice to see all these brown faces smiling at us and looking so happy.

For the first two weeks in Tapini it rained every day – usually in the afternoon and evenings. The mornings are always perfect. The clay mud was constant and I just wish someone told me to bring some boots. In May the rain stopped. It’s now officially the dry season.

For some reason everything living is giant (except for the people – I tower over everyone). Giant snails, bees, butterflies. Mosquitoes are five times the size as Australian mozzies, and insects I’ve never seen before (so many of them – there is always something crawling on me). We also have frogs living outside the bedroom windows which croak all night and six dogs which belong to the school and bark at all hours throughout the night at anything that moves. One of them loves to bark right outside my window at 3:00am. The most notorious of the dogs is ‘Snoopy’ (the killer dog). At the moment some of the students are plotting to kill him.

…and to top it off….we have SNAKES!!!!!!! And plenty of them. For those of you who know me well you’ll know the severity of my phobia of snakes. Every week I hear several stories of snakes entering the school grounds, around class rooms, teacher’s houses, and even inside houses. There are many different varieties here and of all sizes. Unfortunately I have seen four so far. One was about 4 metres long and as thick as a telephone pole (and dead!)

Tapini is a small government station in the mountains of central province. Roughly 2000 meters above sea, the only way in and out is by light plane or walk (the closest town, Port Morsby, is a 3 day walk – which I just completed a few days ago in 20 hours and 2 days).

I’m now teaching at Sacred Heart High School. The students are lots of fun and they absolutely love their music. Every day after school they run to the music room to borrow guitars and play on the keyboards and drums. Many of them are even starting their own bands.

The school has 250 students, mostly boarders, and runs from years 7 – 10. Tapini is in probably the most disadvantaged part of the country where only five percent of children go to school. Many of them start very late. My year 7 class has student ages ranging from 12 to 19 while the year 10 students range from 16 to 30 (although most students don’t know their own age or birth date).

The school struggles with funding. Most of the school funds come from the few students who manage to pay their fees. A local gold mine provides money for the student’s food which consists of rice and tinned fish for breakfast and dinner, and a dry bun for lunch. This is the same for every day of the week. Before the gold mine came to help, classes were often cancelled so students could go to the bush and find food.

There is a store in town but it doesn’t sell much – rice, tin meat, flour to make your own bread, powdered milk, 2 minute noodle, detergents and toiletries. The local market sells fruit and vegetables at unbelievably low prices – 5 cents for a banana. Banana trees are everywhere, thousands of them, you can’t turn a corner without seeing one. Other plants which grow here are avocados, coconut, bananas, mangos, bananas, passionfruit, paw paw, bananas, pineapple, oranges, sugar cane, mandarins, bananas and marijuana (and plenty of it. It’s a weed and grows all through the mountains, but not in the village where it has been controlled).

The school is lucky as it has hydro electricity supplied from a nearby river, although it seems to go out at least once a week. The rest of the village is without electricity. Most of the students come from small villages and live in small huts made from bush materials and have no electricity, so they feel very happy living at the school.

I am extra lucky as my house has solar hot water. The other teachers and all the students aren’t as lucky and must wash in very cold water each morning. I also have a tv in my house which has the one and only channel in the country (unless you have pay tv). Fortunately there are many Australian shows such as the Today show in the morning which keeps me up to date with all the news.

The school bell rings at 5:45am every day. In the beginning it was very hard as I normally used to wake at 9, but I have since adjusted. The students then do an hour of grass cutting with their grass knives while I go for a run to the church at the top of a steep hill. After we all get ready for school which starts at 8:15am and finishes between 4 and 4:30, depending on the day. After we have two hours free time when I normally help the students in the music room, then dinner and then two hours study period for the students which gives me time to prepare for tomorrow. The students have lights out by 9pm and I don’t normally make it much beyond that time. On the weekend I spend most of the time in the music room with students, while Saturday night is entertainment night - dance, drama, bands, debates or watching a movie.

So there is a bit of an insight into my new way of life. For those of you who just read the first and last paragraph, I hope you will at least enjoy the photos.

Above_Tapini_1.jpg Above Tapini

Above_tapini_2.jpg View from above Tapini

Boys_and_banana_trees.jpg High school boys with banana trees

Clouds_behind_Tapini.jpg Clouds behind Tapini

Feast_day_..dancers.jpg Sacred Heart Feast Day Traditional dancers

In_the_village_Ariomu.jpg 'Ariomu' A lovely little village 2 hours walk from Tapini

Living_in_the_clouds.jpg Living in the clouds - my house closest on the right

Resting_on_my_balcony.jpg Resting on my Blacony

Sacred_Hea..day_pig.jpg Sacred heart feast day pig - It tasted GREAT!!!

Sacred_Hea..dancers.jpg Sacred Heart Feast Day Traditional Dancers

Sacred_Hea..ni__PNG.jpg Sacred Heart High School, Tapini, PNG

School_gardens.jpg School, gardens

Students_c.._at_6am.jpg Students cutting grass out side my house at 6am

Tapini_fro..er_side.jpg Tapini from the other side

Tapini__PNG.jpg Tapini, PNG

Teaching_g.._Tapini.jpg Teaching Guitar at Tapini

Teaching_year_7_music.jpg Teaching year 7 music

Traditional_dancers.jpg Traditional dancers outside our church

Traditiona..village.jpg Taditional house in a nearby village

Walking_to..orsby_1.jpg Walking to morsby. Tapini is beyond the furthest mountain

Walking_to..orsby_2.jpg Walking to morsby after 15 hours on day 1, and after lots of mud, mountains, jungle, forests and land slides.

Posted by tonybozz 15:59 Archived in Papua New Guinea Tagged volunteer Comments (3)

Third Year in Tapini

Well just last week I started my third year in Tapini.

Last year my biggest job for the year was my landscaping project. Over 9 months the students and I took the block of jungle next to the music room and gave it a major face life. We dug up the entire land and completely levelled it out, planted new lawn and made flower beds. In the centre of the garden I finished the grotto to Mother Mary which my dad had started when he came to visit. And then the other major job was the traditional round house. Every weekend myself and about 60 boys would go out into the forest and collect posts, sticks, bamboo, vine and grass. A group of selected boys were given the job to build the house according to my design.

The house and garden are now complete. Students now enjoy going there to rest, eat their lunch, shelter from the rain, and after school they sit around and play guitars.

The other highlight for the year was PNG’s Independence Day. Our students all had to dress up in their local tribal costumes while performing local songs and dances. It was a great spectacle for all.

I’m still the boy’s boarding master this year. Most nights I roam around the three dorms and make sure the boys are sleeping. Often I stay inside a particular dorm until it’s only the mice who are awake - sometimes I almost fall asleep myself.

Otherwise all is good. If I’m not kicking and screaming then the students and I spend a lot of time together just making fun.

Garden before

Garden before

Garden After

Garden After

Building the Garden

Building the Garden

Girls working in the garden

Building the Garden

Building the Garden

Placing gravel on the footpath

Building the grotto

Building the grotto

Finishing touches on the grotto

Building the house

Building the house

Boys in the morning trimming the roof

Building the house

Building the house

Flooring almost complete

Building the Garden

Building the Garden

Planting a banana tree - it later died

Fixing pipes

Fixing pipes

Over the months we burst 3 pipes. This was the last one.

Building the house

Building the house

Flooring complete

Building the Garden

Building the Garden

Grotto complete

Building the grotto

Building the grotto

Grotto complete

Building the Garden

Building the Garden

Garden at nigth time

Building the Garden

Building the Garden

Flowers growing nicely

Building my traditional house

Building my traditional house

The builders

Building the Garden

Building the Garden

Me and my landscaping specialists



My garden finally complete



Marching band rehearsing

Independence Day

Independence Day

Students in traditional dress

Independence Day

Independence Day

Independence Day

Independence Day

Ratu in traditional dress

Independence Day

Independence Day

Independence Day

Independence Day

Independence Day

Independence Day

Independence Day

Independence Day

Independence Day

Independence Day

Posted by tonybozz 22:58 Archived in Papua New Guinea Tagged volunteer Comments (1)

A Typical Day in Tapini

I usually wake up at 4:30am and think “ah good, I still have one more hour before I wake up - again”. By 5:30 I’m awake and 15 minutes later the wake up bell rings. If I’m on duty (usually once a week) then I’ll stroll through the boy’s dorms at 5:30am, check to see if they are in their correct cubicles, and confiscate any bed sheets which might be acting as a wall between cubicles - that’s right, no privacy allowed. 5:45am I’ll ring the bell (an old empty gas cylinder)and start yelling “waikey waikey - wake up!, wake up! wake up! The boys know that when I’m on duty they must get out of bed fast or I’ll pull them out and they will land on the floor - sometimes it really hurts.

Work parade then runs from 6 - 7am. They are meant to cut grass for one hour with their grass knives. Most of them just stand in one place like statues, suppose I can understand that - I probably would have done the same. But part of the idea is that they warm up, this makes their 7am cold shower much more bearable. After shower time many students go and make a fire somewhere to keep warm (even on the hottest day they think it’s cold). In this process they manage to smoke themselves.

After breakfast (which is rice and tinned fish - which they call ‘protein’), we have dorm cleanup. Being the boarding master I am usually there to make sure they are all getting ready for school and leaving the dorms nice and clean. Grooming is very important, so I usually check to see if their collars are straight, they combed their hair, tucked in their shirts etc.

At 8:30 we have morning assembly. We start by singing the national anthem. These students have some of the best voices around, but then they shy away with their anthem. Usually my voice is the only one I hear, so sometimes I get up afterwards and make them do it again.

Classes can be a struggle. In music I’m basically trying to get them musically literate so they can almost teach themselves how to play an instrument with me just being a guide. But the keyboardists only want to play with the special effects buttons, the guitarists only want to play their village songs and the drummers only want to make a hell of a noise.

Lunch, ahhh food, yummy yummy… well not so. They get a dry bun and that’s all, no butter/marg, no spreads, just dry bread - everyday. No playing games during lunch like in Australian school, they just sit on the grass and talk.

After school there is work parade or sport, depending on which house you are in. With work parade they either do some agriculture or cut grass, and sport is usually rugby without most of the rules.

If they happened to sing their anthem well in the morning then after school I open the music room for their free time.

At 5:30pm they have dinner, which is the same as breakfast - rice and tinned fish. Sometimes they are lucky and might find a snake around the school which they will cook up for extra ‘protein’.

At 6:30 they have a two hour study session in their class room. I usually go to the music room and have students visit me needing help.

At 8:30 they go back to their dorms and get ready for lights out. Sometimes I hide around in their gardens and try and catch out the smokers, although I’m always a bit scared a snake might catch me out. After lights out I’ll patrol around the dorms to make sure they are quiet.

Ah, finally the weekend, a time for rest, a time to go shopping, Maccas, drink coke, play computer games, and just veg out in front of the TV - mmm, not in Tapini. Work parade from 6am - 8am usually means cutting grass, digging drains, or going into the forest to collect sticks and bamboos for Mr Bozicevic’s house. I’m always up early on Saturdays with my specialists building my house and land scaping the garden (I’ll say more on this soon). Then from 9 - 10:30 we have dorm cleanup and work parades. After that I hand out their weekly toilet paper and soap. After lunch the students have a study period, and then by 2:00 they finally have some free time. For me this means opening up the music room and letting them play on instruments. After dinner comes my most stressful moment - film night. This year it has been my job to select the Saturday night movie, this usually involves me arguing with the students, sometimes turning off the TV and sending them to bed early. After 6 months of choosing films, yesterday I finally resigned from this job. It amazes me that these students, who for most of them have not watched TV for the first 15 years of their life, are the pickiest and most difficult to please.

Sunday (another day of rest) we have mass at 7am followed by an hour study period. After lunch they have an hour and a half study period, then free time for the afternoon (music room opens). After dinner they yet more study for 2 more hours on their day of rest. Usually on Sunday evenings I escape and go to the Sister’s or Father's house for a meal - it always includes meat! This makes me very happy!

As mentioned earlier, this year I have an extra job - Boy’s Boarding Master. This means I am in charge of the three boy’s dormitories and in all 190 students who live there. Basically I take care of any business to do with the boys outside of school hours, including - pulling them out of bed at 5:45 in the morning (that’s if I can get up myself). Also I make sure they are all in bed and lights out by 9:15pm. Other jobs of the boarding master include getting up at 1am and chasing boys back inside the dorms as they managed to get out. Getting up at 2am to calm down an entire dormitory of screaming boys because someone saw a ghost - AGAIN! (Ghosts make a regular appearance), dealing with problem students and expelling them from the dorms, doing surprise inspections late at night and catch out suspicious boys doing suspicious things. Disciplining boys who play up - usually they get a lecture from me (sometimes they even cry) then they get punishment which usually requires digging a drain somewhere or cutting grass on the air strip with their machetes. Also every Saturday I hold an assembly for all the boys and give lectures about things that may have happened throughout the week, discipline issues, or just encouragement talks. I normally manage to crap on for ages about something. It’s good fun, though often exhausting. Also a couple of times each term I do a ‘surprise’ dorm raid, where, with the assistance of staff, we raid their bags and take things they should not have.

And now to my big project - I have a big piece of land next to the music room. It’s mine to do whatever I wish, so I’ve decided to build a house, well actually not me but the students; I just designed it and asked them to build it. it’s a traditional style house made entirely from bush materials - sticks, bamboos, grass (for the roof) and cane to tie it all together ( no nails). We actually started in January when dad was here, but since then it has moved at snail’s pace. At the same time I have been landscaping the garden around the house. It was an absolute mess before but now it’s starting to take shape.

Dad and some of the boys starting to build the traditional house

Dad measuring the distance between posts

House starting to take shape

After clearing many bushed in the garden I discoverd and old bread oven hidden away. We decided to move it in front of the house and turn it into a grotto.

Taking a break and resting in the grotto

Dad and Ratu building the grotto.

Grotto almost complete. I have a statue, now it's my job to make the floor and cement her in.

Putting posts in the ground

Up in the roof

Roof almost complete

My original intentions for this house was to give the guitarists some shelter whenever they go outside to practice. Now they are patiently waiting for the house to be ready to use.

Weaving kunai grass onto the roof

Returning from grass collection

Kunai grass completed

Beginning a path around the grotto heading towards the house. This path will eventually be outlined with flowers.

Starting the flooring posts

Some of my year 8A students. I'm their class parton.

Making foot paths around the dormitories on one of our Saturday morning work parades

Some of the dorm 3 boys with me, their dorm master.

Posted by tonybozz 04:02 Archived in Papua New Guinea Tagged volunteer Comments (1)

After 9 months


Much patience is required here in Tapini:
- Telephones have been out for 6 months and there is no revival in sight.
- Teachers turn up 2 – 4 weeks late for work each term.
- Teachers constantly hold onto your class for an extra 15 minutes.
- Teachers trying to teach illiterate students how to split the atom!
- Waiting 6 months to get my first pay.
- Waiting several weeks for the local trade store to order in flour (so I can make bread – and survive!)

Despite all of that there is naturally a lot of good as well. All the people in Tapini are extremely welcoming of us Australians. They love to stop and talk to us and give gifts of food. Students are lots of fun, always laughing and rarely complain. Living with them 24/7 is most enjoyable.

The last three weeks in particular have been amongst the best so far. My mum and dad came to visit me in Tapini. During their time they were constantly receiving gifts of food where ever they went – at the market, at home, or just while walking on the road. People would love to stop and talk to them and come and visit them at their home. They were the talk of the town for those few weeks. Whenever they were out amongst the people, everyone would turn their heads and just stare at them as if they were celebrities. Everybody loved being in their presence. Mum and dad got a good taste of PNG culture while here, seeing traditional villages and being special guests in several village feasts. They also did much walking through the rugged mountain scenery - by the end of their stay, their fitness level was back to where it was 20 years ago! During the days, dad helped me and several students build a traditional house made entirely from bush material, while mum proved that even in the most remote of areas, with very little supplies, she was still the master of making a great dinner from even the simplest of ingredients. Best of all was just having them around and sharing time together. This morning I farewelled mum and dad at Port Moresby airport. As I am typing now, they are probably landing back in Sydney. They will be greatly missed in Tapini by all the locals, but especially by me.

I’ll now stay in Moresby for a week, and try to gain some of the 13 kilos I lost while living in Tapini (you think I was skinny before, you should see me now!). Forget Jenny Craig, Tapini is THE place for weight lose.

3.jpg In the music room. Students enjoying free time on the weekend

2.jpg In the music room. Students playing keyboard and enjoying their new head phones. The noise level was unbearable before the headphones

1.jpgIn the music room. Teaching year 7

4.jpg The school computer room . The school received an AUSAID grant which allowed them to purchase computers. Students are now learning the basics. Our school now has one of the best school computer rooms in PNG

5.jpg Studying in the school garden

6.jpg The Marching Band on sports carnival day. The marching drums were also purchased with the AUSAID money

7.jpg Tony and the primary school kids

8.jpg Ratu & Linus - my two sponsored students

9.jpg Ordination day. One of our brothers was ordained a deacon, and a local deacon was ordained a priest

10.jpg In Ratu's village. They made a feast for me to say thank you for helping him. I got to kill the pig!

11.jpg Ratu's family. The other white guy (also Tony, from Australia) sponsors Ratu's brother (We are actually the same height).

12.jpg Me and dad enjoying life in Lamina vilage. This house was recently built for the two Tony's.

13.jpg Me and Ratu infront of the 'Tonys House'

14.jpg Resting in the house

15.jpg Dad enjoying the feast

16.jpg At the end of the day I was given a whole leg of pork.

17.jpg Lamina village

18.jpg Trying Betel nut for the first time. Everybody in PNG does it. It has an intoxicating effect, although I didn't feel it.

19.jpg Me, mum and the locals at a feast in Tapini

20.jpg Mum and dad in Tapini

21.jpg Dad and I building a traditional round house. My guitar students will use this to practice in.

22.jpg Me, mum and dad above Tapini

Posted by tonybozz 09:47 Archived in Papua New Guinea Tagged volunteer Comments (1)

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