Edited Version for the Blog: Entry for the 2017 Kumul Petroleum Holdings Limited Short Story category by Magdalene Francis
Magdalene Francis is from Morobe Province. She is an Animal Scientist – Crocodile Nutritionist. Magdalene is currently working for Mainland Holdings Ltd- Crocodile Farm in Lae, Morobe Province, Papua New Guinea. She graduated with a Master’s Degree in Animal Science at Massey University, New Zealand. In 2014, she did her research thesis on: Improving water stability of extrudate feed for C. porosus using Sodium alginate. Her thesis was published in the American Journal of Animal Science in March 2017.
I was born into a family of five girls. My biological father is from the Rofumi clan in the Kubalia District of the East Sepik Province. My mother is from the Duwi clan in Wasu, Tewai Siasi District of Morobe Province. We are Papua New Guineans. When I was about four years old, my father separated from my mother. He married another woman. My mother kept custody over all her children. She went on to raise all her children alone.
My mother was born into a small family in her village in Wasu. She had only one younger sister. They were between the ages of about three and six years old when both their parents died suddenly from unknown cause. So my mother and her younger sister were raised by several relatives in the village. They received no formal education. When my mother grew into a young woman, she was brought to Lae city to live with her cousin brother. She was brought to town to help by making sure that the clothes were washed, the kitchen clean, food is cooked and the surrounding of the house is kept. She was also expected to help raise my uncle’s children and carry out other work as required. As a young woman, my mother became attracted a gentleman who was charming and who paid attention to her. My mother and this gentleman soon formed a relationship. My mother’s brothers returned to the village soon after. But my mother remained with the man as her husband. Both my mother and my father ended up having five children who were all girls. Immediately after the birth of my last born sister, my father began coming home less, became stroppier and started seeing other women. Eventually he stopped coming to our house. Our house was at a scary and crazy squatter settlement on the fringe of the city of Lae.
My mother never uttered a word or put up a fight. She never cried or shouted. Importantly she never took out her pain on us or anyone. She went about taking care of her five daughters as if the life was normal and everything was good. I do not remember seeing her relatives, our relatives on both sides of the family stepping in to help us. As an educated young woman today, I sit and reflect on what my mother must have thought off as a single mother of five children, living in the city without any formal education, without any formal employment, without any family support and without a strong plan. I still wonder what she had in her mind when she saw her situation as we were growing up. God’s presence was almost entirely confirmed by blessing my mother with a backyard garden that was filled with luscious and healthy fruits and vegetables. My mother worked tirelessly from early morning to late in the afternoon, tendering the fruits and vegetables in our back yard garden. We sold all these fruits and vegetables at the local market. The income from this sustained almost all aspects of a simple, basic and minimal life.
Growing up without a father anywhere: be it in the village or the city is the greatest struggle for any women. I realised and felt this struggle more when I passed puberty and became a woman. My needs were endless, my mother provided the basics, but I needed more and was yearning for a father, a daddy to step in to provide the rest. My unmet needs and wants is a scar I still carry today.
Life was a great struggle, waking up with tears and going to bed with tears. I tried to confront the world with courage. I smiled, went to church, sang songs and went to school but the pain and suffering were just as close by. It was like a knot in my stomach. Sometimes I feel it more, other times it is just there, reminding me that it can never be eliminated by the prayers, laughs or sleep. All my older sisters withdrew from school because our mother could not afford to pay their school fees.
Despite the struggles, despite that knot in my stomach, I had a dream while attending primary school that I would become an Animal Scientist. I focused on God as the master planner of my life and kept my dream alive. After I completed Grade 7 and from there on, at every end of the school year, I usually ask my teachers/school principle for reference letters to seek out part-time jobs. Most often I would normally find myself a job in large department stores in Lae, working as a packer at the checkout counter. Sometimes, I do stop and look at other young girls walking by and wonder what kind of lives they live.
I was paid K90.00 fortnightly during all these holiday jobs. My mother and I saved as much as we could from that income over a period. We then purchased a box of chooks from Niugini Table Birds. My mother, with the help of my sisters, raised the chooks at our back yard. When the chooks were old enough, we sold them at our local market. The income from the sale of the chickens was extremely useful. My school fees and other basic and important needs for our household were met.
I believe my mother was the woman who saw and felt my struggles. Importantly she felt my hunger and had some idea about my goals and dreams. She smiled and danced with me for our littlest achievements like the K90.00 pay and mostly cried with me as I journeyed. We prayed together and she stood beside me through thick and thin. After Grade 12, I realised I could not raise any money because the school fees of all the previous years had eaten up all the savings. I was offered a place to study after Grade 12, at the University of Natural Resource and Environment (UNRE). By God’s grace, my four years at UNRE was funded by the Government of New Zealand through the NZAID Scholarship program. This scholarship also covered educational aids.
I graduated with a Bachelor’s Degree – Second Class Honours in Tropical Agriculture after four years of study. After graduation from UNRE, I secured formal employment for another four years. I still looked at more opportunities; I still felt like I did not do enough, I still felt like I was not hungry enough. I still occasionally feel the knot in my stomach and the scar continues to linger. When I see my mum or feel her presence, a feeling of having wings engulfs me and I literary fly. All these made me wanted to do more and so I applied for and won another NZAID Scholarship to study in New Zealand. In the year 2014, I was awarded the Degree of Master of Science, Majoring in Animal Science. Today I am leaving my dream as an Animal Scientist.