By Gretel Matawan
I woke up sluggish and annoyed to the shrieking sound of my alarm clock. It seemed our relationship was coming back to its norm. It was hot and humid here at Kopi Camp unlike the mornings up at Iagifu Ridge Camp. We had been assigned rooms with common bathroom facilities. It was 4:00am in the morning. I sat up and looked at my day’s tasks. We were scheduled to go up to Gobe and Sembrigi to visit Gobe Agri High School, Don Mosely and Wemi Primary Schools. After my visit to the ablutions, we headed to the Camp Mess. Kopi Camp was much smaller than the Ridge Camp and didn’t have that many Oil Search personnel working there. Operations had closed down in the Kopi Area but there were contractors that came to and from other camps to make sure the valve was in good condition as well as to maintain the oil pipes in the area.
Breakfast was at 5:00am and was quiet. A lot of the employees there kept to themselves. We had been asked by a few of the employees the previous night as to what we were doing there and we had explained that we were carrying out awareness on the Crocodile Prize Literature Competition to the schools in the Kikori and Gobe Area. A gentleman there, exclaimed when he saw Iona and myself on the TVWan News the previous evening. He added that the news was on The Crocodile Prize Competition. He was impressed that MRDC sponsored a Category and also that MRDC went out of its way to bring awareness to the rural areas to encourage more students to take part in this year’s competition. Iona and I gave a small “high 5” for our 1 minute claim to fame on TV. We were happy that people did watch and listened to the message on TV. I secretly gave myself a fist pump, a small one for being famous on TV for 1 minute.
At 6:00am we were informed by the Camp Manager that the MRDC vehicle was waiting outside for us. We quickly said our last goodbyes as I had once last glance around, I didn’t know if I would ever come back to rainy Kopi Camp. But deep down, I have to admit that I was happy to be leaving because I had heard that a lot of the Papuan Black snakes live in the area (I have Ophidiophobia – fear of snakes). Also, there were facebook messages saying the anti-venom was K15,000.00 a pop. It was still dark outside and cold as we headed straight to Bata who was standing near the ten-seater. Sanga had gone ahead to Sembrigi to organise for our visit to Gobe Agriculture High School and Don Mosely as well as Wemi Primary School.
It was going to be about an hour’s drive to the junction between Gobe and the road leading to Sembrigi then a further two hour’s drive up to Sembrigi. Our aim was to be at Gobe Agriculture School and Don Mosely Primary School by 9:00am in the morning. I did a mental pat on my shoulder as I had had two cups of coffee but then on second thought that would mean I would have to hold any visits to the toilet until we arrived at the school. I meant it when I said I have to hold it. I thrive on beating myself. Therefore, when I say it, I knew I could hold it till I arrive at Jackson’s airport, Port Moresby next day. This was to shame myself for having beaten myself. It seems so bizarre but I have done similar things like this before. I say one thing and do something extra ordinary. This time my resolution was to avoid Mr. Papuan Black.
As we drove up slowly along the highway, I looked around at the scattered sleepy huts (yes, they were all thatched roofs and bamboo walls), I imagined how we could make it easier for people out here to be able to enter the competition. I saw the Crocodile Prize Literary Competition as a good opportunity for the people out here but I was saddened at the fact that they did not have access to the internet. They could not be able to see what The Crocodile Prize had done or to be able to read fellow citizens’ writings regardless of age and gender. I wanted Crocodile Prize do so much more, bring more awareness to the rural areas and give them the same opportunities as urban centres. I think art and illustrations could be something they could do well. Also heritage writing would be something central to them. I reflected on the faces of the students of Kikori High School and how excited they were and I smiled to myself. This is what brought joy to what I do, this is the reason why I had volunteered my time to Crocodile Prize. I am one of several who are watching Crocodile Prize grow to help build the literature in and around Papua New Guinea.
The sun showed its sunny smile for a few minutes before the rain and clouds moved in and took over the day. The sun, rain and clouds were playing hide and seek as we drove slowly and steadily up and down the mountains, through high big iron bridges fit to carry 44 tonnes. I could see the river rushing and the speed and strength of its big brown strong arms as it washed down dead logs and dry twigs and a few long grasses. My my, was I thankful that I was in the vehicle and not down in the river, I believe I would have drowned in like 3 seconds tops despite my swimming prowess.
As we passed the junction, the road turned from being smooth to being bumpy. I was thrown around the vehicle like a rag doll and this was a surprise to me because I am big. I had to hold on tight as we drove up and down the rough terrain. We drove over rocks and through puddles, it was a tiring experience and it was only in the morning. We picked up Sanga and headed the rest of the way up to Sembrigi. I could feel the cold air seep into the vehicle, wrapping its freezing hands around my body. I shivered, my teeth rattled and my bones started to ache. My ears started to pop as the fog cleared and I saw the beauty of the huge mountains. The mountains had been cut down the middle to create the roads that we were travelling on. We crossed a huge river that was so deep, it looked like a huge brown monster ready to rear its ugly head to swallow the ten-seater.
As we approached Gobe Agriculture High School and Don Moesly Primary School, we could see all the students jumping up and down, calling out “M-R-D-C”! It was exciting and exhilarating to see that the students were just as excited as I was. I could see their faces pressed to the windows and kids pushing each other to get the better view of the visitors. The headmaster of the Don Mosely came up to welcome us and ushered us to the school office. He showed us the library and showed us the closed boxes that had been shipped from USA for the students here. The headmaster suggested that we talk to the Grade 9 and 10 students of Gobe Agriculture School as the primary school had already started classes and we didn’t want to disrupt their learning.
Looked around the luscious green fields and mountains and was overwhelmed by the beauty. I felt the mountains calling out to me to let go and run like a child in the field and throw my hands in the air and just scream my mighty roar (I am a Leo of course, so I see myself as a lion). The scenery reminded me of one of my favourite movies ‘The Sound of Music’ when the children go and sing in the fields, feeling that freedom seep through their veins. I was dazed by everything around me. I felt teary too when the students welcomed us in with open arms. I felt their excitement written on their keen young faces.
We were introduced by Ms Steven to the students. There were about a total of 30 students that made up Grade 9 and 10 at Gobe Agriculture High School. I smiled at the oldest student who looked to be about 40 years of age, he returned with a kind smile. Learning never really stops. I thought to myself and I was proud of this gentleman that was sitting across from me. Iona did her presentation of the books. I stood up with confidence and pride as I spoke about the Crocodile Prize Literary Competition. As I spoke, I watched students put their heads down and start writing all the information that they could write. I could see the enthusiasm in their writing and the focus in their eyes as they watched my every move and gesture. I had a captured audience, showing me their interest and I felt that pride grow. I felt content that I had brought awareness to the students and teachers of Gobe Agriculture High School. The Deputy Principal of Gobe Agri High School, Mr Kenneth expressed his love and passion for his school and thanked MRDC and The Crocodile Prize for coming up to present the books as well as to provide the opportunity for them to enter this year’s competition. He expressed that the schools up in the Gobe and Sembrigi area did not get much recognition and he thanked MRDC for bringing Crocodile Prize up there.
The rain started to get heavier and the place grew darker even though it was just eleven in the morning. We were advised against going to Wemi Primary School due to the bad weather. We passed all information and flyers to the teachers. We asked them to kindly deliver the information to the other school so that the pupils in that school too can enter the competition. I wished that I could have spent more time out there talking with the students and interacting with them one on one. They are young intelligent students that just need more help in forms of reading and writing. I am certain that with those skills, they can go a long way. I feel like their champion in ensuring they lead successful lives.
After many sad goodbyes we seated ourselves comfortably in the ten-seater ready for a long journey of road tripping back to Moro Camp. To be honest I was not pleased about that ride but I knew that it was a need. It was a great need because we can then be able catch our morning flight back to Port Moresby, next day.
We have many stories to tell. But who want to listen to these stories? Texting and fb messaging has made stories become short like syntax, like a logarithmic symbol for a computer. We do not listen to another anymore. We do not tell the full stories anymore. And in the greater Kutubu area, I feel their stories, I hear their stories, but I want to read their stories in a book. I want to open a page and read about the mystical beauty of their heritage and be inspired.