09.02.2012 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 (and nuns too!) 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.
View from above Tapini
High school boys with banana trees
Clouds behind Tapini
Sacred Heart Feast Day Traditional dancers
'Ariomu' A lovely little village 2 hours walk from Tapini
Living in the clouds - my house closest on the right
Resting on my Blacony
Sacred heart feast day pig - It tasted GREAT!!!
Sacred Heart Feast Day Traditional Dancers
Sacred Heart High School, Tapini, PNG
Students cutting grass out side my house at 6am
Tapini from the other side
Teaching Guitar at Tapini
Teaching year 7 music
Traditional dancers outside our church
Taditional house in a nearby village
Walking to morsby. Tapini is beyond the furthest mountain
Walking to morsby after 15 hours on day 1, and after lots of mud, mountains, jungle, forests and land slides.