By Gretel Matawan
I woke up to a pleasant air and cool silence, not even the wind or the sounds of crickets. I looked around the comfortably cool room and sighed to myself, “Another night gone spent at Ridge Camp – Kutubu.” Somehow, this morning felt slow and idle. I myself felt sluggish. I stretched my arm across the bed to reach for my phone, wondering about my relationship with the alarm clock. It seemed we were at odd to the norm; which is –“the alarm clock screams and I struggle to wake up, the alarm clock wins”. I observe a dramatic change here; I have changed the roles here and felt guilty about our relationship. This relationship is at its cross road. I wondered why I had woken up before my alarm again this morning. I forced a smile and did a fist pump, I beat the clock again, in spite of the state of our relationship, I thought as I kept that smile on my face. I moved the phone toward me and glanced at the screen. I jumped right up and out of the bed because it was 5:45am. I had surprisingly slept right through my 5:00am alarm. Honest to the higher beings, I promise that, the clock poked its tongue out at me. It did a little dance and rolled its eyes, not once but twice. Am not kidding, I turned again to the clock and literally heard – “Alarm Clock Rules!” I stood there staring at it. The Clock stared back at me and for the second time, it poked its tongue. I wanted to give it the finger but held in check my temper. Instead, I poke my tongue at it and showed my fist to it. I jumped straight into the bathroom seeking a hot shower and let the long hot steam soak through my freezing bones. After I had decently dressed, I broomed everything with one sweep and threw everything into the luggage bag. That was packing for me. All the while, the corner of my eye was steadily eyeing the alarm clock, making sure it did not try to go off. I was a bit scared of it too. Then, I heard Iona’s voice outside, beautiful Iona’s voice from her beautiful self. I responded quickly, more to steady myself and to let the alarm clock know that I was not alone. I turned to the alarm clock but it did not do anything. I threw it into my hand bag but only gently. It was still my phone, my precious ………mmmmmmm precious, precious I thought. Ah no, I stopped and corrected my thoughts. Precious food I thought as I forced my mind and sense of smell toward the messing facility and forced the images of food in my head.
We walked into the mess to the delicious smells of hot food and that siren call of that much needed coffee. We decided to have a light breakfast as we knew that we had a long road trip ahead of us today. Through breakfast, we talked about my anticipation and uncontrollable excitement to get on the helicopter. Iona talked about what MRDC had done for the schools in the rural areas. My excitement was immediately brought back to the ground as I came to fully define rural with my experiences here in the last 2 days. It’s its not just rural but also remote. MRDC had presented Kikori Secondary School with a Land Cruiser Ten-Seater last year. MRDC also had built several classrooms along the highway from Kikori to Moro.
7:00am on the dot, we were buckled and seated in the 7am shuttle bus headed down to the Moro Airport, it was just the five of us this morning because the majority had left on the 5am and 6am shuttles. It was still early but the sun had risen, the sky a light blue and the air, fresh and crisp. Adrenaline pumped through my veins and I felt nervous as I thought of speaking in front of a school of students and their teachers. Questions flittered through my head, more like remained there unanswered as I try to arrange my thoughts and logically build a set of points I had to present. Some say knot in their stomach, well this morning I had a knot in my mind and my head and it seemed to have encapsulated my whole being. Will the students understand me? Would they be encouraged to enter into this year’s Crocodile Prize competition? How should I address them? Have they ever heard about the Crocodile Prize? I calmed myself to the sound of the slow beating of the wheels as we drove down the mountain side. I took the knots and threw them out the window of the bus that I was in.
I looked out the window to ensure the knots were gone and focussed now on unwinding the anxiety I felt back there, a minute ago. The breath taking scenery of the untouched rainforest, the luscious green and the crispy air exuberantly displaying their ability to seamlessly connect with the blue sky which was growing in its presence gave way to a very gentle and serene atmosphere that enveloped me. The wind, the breeze and the smell of fresh air washed over me.
We checked into the helicopter terminal at 7:30am in time for the 8:30am chopper flight out to Kopi Camp. The sky was blue and calm as Lake Kutubu. It was gonna be a magnificent day. I looked down to check for my Visitors Pass clipped to my ID Holder. My heart skipped as I realised, I had dropped it in the bus on my way out. I quickly ran as fast as I could (mind you, I am not a runner, I do not have the courage or the desire of running, but even I impressed myself) to the bus and asked the driver if he had seen my Visitors Pass. The hunt for that valuable pass started as panic rose up to my throat and the words of warning echoed through my mind. “Here it is, daughter,” the driver called to me. “Thank you so much,” I panted as I breathed a sigh of relief, only noticing Iona frantically calling me to go back into the terminal for our Safety Induction. I dashed back in and just seated myself when the safety video started. After watching, we signed our names on the clipboard, acknowledging that we had heard our safety induction and were ready for our flight.
We headed out to the waiting area, just as we heard the loud beating of the helicopter Bel 202. I shivered in anticipation as I handed over my Visitors Pass to the security personnel before heading out the door. My phone was set on ‘flight mode’ to enable me to take pictures up in the sky but before I could pass the last gate I saw a sign that screamed ‘Turn off All Mobile Phones’, without any hesitation, I quickly switched my phone and ran towards the side of the helicopter. I could feel the excitement run through my veins as I sat in the seat near the door, I glanced around to see everyone buckling and fastening their seat belts and all thoughts ran away from my mind as I started to panic. I had forgotten how to buckle my seat belt. Luckily, the load master was near me and he helped to show me how to buckle my seat belts and he put the ear muffs onto my head. Then realised I had been grinning since I don’t know when so I tried to yawn. I also realised that my cheeks were aching from the constant smiling and grinning. I tried to remain clam but the grinning just broke back and remained there permanently. I swear, if we had crashed, they would have found me still grinning.
The roar of the engine grew louder as the rotors sped up. I looked down to my horror as we lifted off from the ground. I felt I had left my heart on the ground. I looked down just to make sure it was there so I can ask the pilot to retrieve it and at the same time beating my chest to ensure its also there in its original and usual place. We gently and spectacularly ascended to the skies. I continued to press onto my chest, just to remind myself that my heart was there and kept checking the door like it was going to blow off and I would pummel to my death. I can be very imaginative sometimes and a bit of a drama empress. My boyfriend, Clanton, calls me a drama queen but I believe I supersede drama queens; I am the drama empress, every other dramas report to me. I am the Monarchy of dramas! I couldn’t wipe the wide grin of my face as I looked around at my fellow passengers and watched Iona take pictures of the scenery on her phone and her camera. She seemed completely oblivious that we were in a helicopter above the ground and the bloody thing was shaking and was loaded. I tried to calm myself and forced myself to enjoy the scenery. I watched the rivers flow in and out of the mountains, some small and some big rivers but they always stay connected. I reflected to my life and life in general and thought of the connectivity. How everyone and everything seem to be connected. The rivers were a beautiful metaphor of connectivity. We flew just above the tree tops because the sky greyish, cloudy and murky for the pilot to have clear vision to fly this scary arse, noisy rumbling machine. The sight up from the helicopter is beautiful and breathtaking, so much untouched virgin environment, the white birds flying away in a flock from the loud beating rotors of the helicopter. I was surprised to see that three of my fellow passengers were asleep through the flight. They must have been bored or extremely tired. I do not think sleeping pills would have worked on me on that flight. I remained intensely exhilarated, excited and my grinning remained permanent. We landed at rainy Kopi Camp after a 30 minutes flight. I had 30 minutes in the air but it felt like a lifetime. Time is imaginary and only an abstract of everyone’s imaginations.
After the induction, we were led by the Camp Manager to the waiting MRDC Vehicle which is a blue Ten-Seater. We were met by Sanga and Bata, both are protocol officers with MRDC. Sanga is the protocol officer for the Kikori and Gobe Area, so he had set up all the meets with the schools prior to us heading out there. Don Mosely and Wemi Primary Schools were scheduled for us to visit that day but due to the delay with the weather we decided to visit Kikori Secondary School.
It was about an hour’s drive up, through the rain and the never ending mud, the cold rushing to my face through the windows, the smells of the bush and fresh crisp air. The bumps in the vehicle and the rolling down the seats. I had to struggle to keep myself from sliding down the seat as we drove up hill and down the mountains. It wasn’t as cold as the weather up at the Ridge Camp, it was clear and it was a beautiful sight despite the rain. As we drove nearer to Kikori Town, we came up to scattered houses and people walking around with bush knives and gum boots. They were ready and were heading to their gardens, some heading out to catch fish and collect crabs.
We made a stop at the main market so that Iona could buy super glue because the soles of her purple trustworthy hiking shoes were coming apart. There was an okay store with adequate supply at Kikoki that is situated near the small but sufficient market. There were so much sago (compared to all my market trips) being sold as well as fresh peanuts and smoked catfish. I headed straight for the prawns (I am sorry to say but I did not know what breed of prawns they were), bought three with five packets of roasted peanuts to hold my grumbling stomach till lunchtime. The Principal of Kikori Secondary School had asked us to come and talk to the students at 3:00pm. This gave us ample time to look around and enjoy the little town that the locals had nicknamed “Kiks Town”. I loved Kiks Town. Its like a name of a town in a movie in which Jennifer Aniston will play a Doctor and Michael Learns to Rock would be the only music band of that town. The name felt good. I smiled at myself, wow; I thought to myself, I am a Kiks Town girl today. I did a little twirl and curtsey (in my mind, of course).
While at the store, we bumped into the Town Mayor, Emma. She had heard about The Crocodile Prize coming to speak to the students. She was small and articulate. She expressed clearly that literacy levels were low in Kikori area. She asked if MRDC and Crocodile Prize could help in donating books to the schools to help the students increase the reading and writing skills. This should give them a better chance in getting into tertiary institutions. We advised that we would do our best in helping in any ways that we can. Iona had the brilliant idea of doing book drive when we were more settled and back home Port Moresby.
We settled at the MRDC Camp located in and waited for the time. Iona and myself sorted out the flyers and entry forms. We decided that because the school did not have electricity, that it would be easier and practical for the students to write the literary pieces and send these along with the entry forms to the MRDC Camp where it could be mailed to Iona to deliver to the Crocodile Prize Organising Committee before the closing date of the Competition.
At 3pm, I started having mixed feelings of excitement and nervousness as we drove up to the school. The Headmaster, Mr Sauka gathered the students into the mess hall and welcomed us in. The students all clattered around each other, curious to know what these two women were doing there. Mr Sauka did a formal welcome and introduction of MRDC and The Crocodile Prize. Iona took the stage to explain why we were there and the importance of literature. She explained that MRDC was sponsoring the ‘Women in Writing’ and encouraged the students to enter in this year’s competition. I watched the students, as they were captured by Iona speaking. It was my turn. I stood up and greeted the students, teachers and the headmaster. I talked about the Crocodile Prize Competition and explained the guidelines and rules. I asked if the students had access to Facebook and a few of them raise their hands with shy timid smiles. I talked about the FB and NBC Radio Competition and how they can enter. The students nodded their heads in understanding and anticipation as the cash prize money of K5, 000.00 was mentioned. I wanted to give them hope and believe that they can be just as good so I told them about our 2016 youngest winner of the Crocodile Prize. MaryCatherine Tavore, only 14 years old took out the 2016 Paga Hill Fundation, Writing for children Category , this brought on shocked waves as the young pupils shook their heads in disbelief, glances thrown everywhere and excitement rippled through the room. I used the phrase “If a 14 year old can do it, then surely anyone of you sitting here can”. They clapped and some whistled. Several students smiled and screamed. I could see the determination gleaming in their eyes as they looked on. I imagined ideas and thoughts flittering through their young and energetic minds.
This was one of the best opportunities to come out and speak to the Kikori Secondary students about the Crocodile Prize, Reading and Writing. I was very much grateful to MRDC for bringing me along with them on this trip to spread the awareness for the Crocodile Prize Competition so that students out here can be given that chance and opportunity to win a category or two. We always say at the Crocodile Prize that writing is only one tiny aspect of learning and development. It is one tiny aspect of art. The real joy is the expedition of: imaginations, observations, dreaming and the creations of beautiful stories that tells of passion, dreams, goals and aspirations. Ultimately, the journey of self-reflections, reflections of life, conceptualizations, imagining and creating a life outside of oneself. That journey, to a writer is a priceless gift.
When we stepped out, three boys and an elderly man stopped us to ask us more questions. They seemed enthusiastic and they expressed their great interest in the Illustrations Category of the Literature Competition. They promised to send in their entries as soon as they could and thanked us whole heartedly for providing this opportunity for them to enter in a competition like this.
We headed to the main market of Kiks town, where the wharf was situated. Iona and I had arranged to get a dinghy ride back to Kopi Camp so that we avoid the return road trip. Amid warnings of crocodiles in the river, we borded the white and yellow dinghy that belonged to the town mayor, Emma. I felt safe with Crocodile, I am a Crocodilian enthusiast, a literary Crocodile. I belonged and the crocodiles in the river belonged. Like the river from the Helicopter view this morning, the Crocodiles and myself were connected. The crocodiles in these very waters gave meaning and space for imaginations to Sir Vincet Eri, the Author of “The Crocodile”. The Crocodile Prize competition and the organisation was named after the first published novel (The Crocodile) by a Papua New Guinean who incidentally was from this area. I shrugged my shoulder and sort of danced to my seat because this is my Crocodile roots. I paid my tributes to Sir Vincent Eri, and was more comforted by the idea that he led the Crocodiles here.