Sunday, February 28, 2010

Kokoda Station, Oro

Well there I was, I had spent a week working with a crew down in Milne Bay and going for walks to Waterfalls and the plan was to fly Airniugini out of Gurney to Jackson's on the Tuesday afternoon and then catch the scheduled Airlines PNG flight from Jackson's to Kokoda on the Wednesday. Now I have travelled to Alotau on many occasions and I know the afternoon flight often gets re-scheduled to the morning after and it did so on this occasion. So this meant I had one hour on the ground in Moresby to race home to Town, empty my week of dirty laundry, pick up a new fresh batch of clothes and camping gear and get on a plane to Kokoda. Which I managed to do quite successfully.

But then I arrived at the Airlines PNG terminal to watch the Schedule flight come and go and come and go and come and go. Three Charters meant that the same plane would go to Kokoda, get some Trekkers, bring 'em back to Moresby, get some more trekkers, take them to Kokoda and so on. I and my companions and a few locals would have to wait, and wait, and wait. Eventually, late in the afternoon, it was our turn.

In a weird twist of fate as I see it, our pilot that afternoon was the late Jenny Moala and she was quite pleasant and chatty to us as we were preparing to taxi. Motoring down the runway, she seemed in constant communicae with the Tower. I noted to my fellow passengers that the clouds were hanging heavy over the Owen Stanleys and that it may be a rough flight. Well, Jenny then turned to us and said "Hey Guys, we're not going to Kokoda today, there is heavy rain at Kokoda and I don't want to take the risk"

While I was annoyed at yet another cancelled flight, I felt that if the pilot says it is too risky, then its too risky for me.

So, that one hour rush in the morning meant that in reality, I had 24 hours in Moresby to sort out my things.

The next morning we left Jacksons and flew into a sunny Kokoda, and after visiting the Chinese Store at the bottom of the plateau, me and the crew were walking/half running up the Kokoda Track to go and get some work done.

Well the work got done and it was time to leave the mountains and wander back to Kokoda. Here we discovered we had a few days to wait around for our flight, so I engaged in some work with the locals and made a few friends. One such lady is the reason for this blog entry; despite my crazy work schedule and missed flights and hard yakka work and walking up and down Mountains, this lady named Cecily was a shining light.

Cecily was a lady who I believe represents all that is beautiful about the land of PNG and the people of PNG, her work was volunteered and unheralded; she had travelled extensively throughout PNG and to other parts abroad yet knew where her heart called home and she operated at a grass roots level. Here's her story.

One afternoon, resting after a hard day's toil, I was sitting around on the edge of the road saying "Apinun" to all who would wander past when a group of young children left their primary school and wandered down the road past the Kokoda Hospital and down towards the Memorial site. I said "Apinun olgeta" and the kids laughed at the white guy. We then all broke out into conversation about their day at school and sports and stuff, when I spotted a Motuan amongst the children. I said "Hadorai namona" to the young girl and she giggled wildly and the other kids all slapped each other. Then I heard Cecily say "You say Hadorai Namona to the nice man, he's speaking your language" and the young kekeni said "Hadorai"

After an "Oi namo" exchange the kids all ran off laughing. Cecily stayed around and looked at me, she said "You speak Motu, not too many white guys speak Motu these days, you're not a trekker?" and I said no I wasn't and that I was working in Moresby and had many Motuan friends there, but this week I was in Kokoda. We talked about the work I did and also of the work that Cecily was involved in. I asked if she were the teacher for the children and she said sometimes. Cecily volunteered her time a few days a week to offer support to the education that the children were trying to get through the proper school by teaching the children English.

Cecily told me that when she was a young girl growing up, they taught her her tok ples first, Motu second and then English, and everyone would speak English, none of the brutish tok pisin that the Highlanders spoke. Cecily told me of her disgust at how she travelled the length and breadth of PNG and had visited countries overseas only to return to find all the children speaking pidgin. So she decided to rectify the problem and she spoke English and English only to the children of Kokoda, hoping to educate them in the language of the planet. I promised Cecily that I would too greet the children of the school in English.

The next afternoon as the children wandered past again, I spoke with them in English and they responded, some in English and some in Pidgin, so I said that Miss Cecily would not be happy unless they spoke in English and they agreed and spoke in only English. We all sat down and we talked stories about the work I did, my family and life in Australia. I asked them about their families, their parents, their brothers and sisters and what they wanted to do when they grew up.

Then Cecily walked around the corner and the children all looked up to her. Cecily had let it slip that she had once married a Tolai man and lived in Rabaul before the eruption, so I said "Boina rabian" and Cecily looked speechless, her jaw dropped, and she then responded in Tolai. The children too could not work out what was going on, so Cecily explained that I had spoken to her in the language known as Kuanua or the language of the Tolai people.

Once again, the kids all rain off laughing and Cecily stayed for a story or three. Some years ago, the people of Kokoda Station needed electricity so a brand new diesel generator was installed, you can see it behind its locked cage on the hillside near where this young fellow was sitting and unfortunately due to an argument about maintaining the generator, someone locked the cage and went bush. To this day, the generator has never turned over and Kokoda Station is without electricity, despite having powerlines (that are falling over); so story telling is the pastime of choice. Cecily and I talked of Rabaul and how it once was, and how it is now.

The next day, I wandered down to the airfield along with the rest of Kokoda Station and we watched the charters come and go. We watched the tired and exhausted trekkers get on their plane and head back to Moresby to electricity and running water and we watched a new batch arrive. Again, my flight was the last to leave but this day we did leave.

I met Cecily once again at the airport and we chatted amongst the gambling meris and we told more stories much to the laughter of the gambling meris. Cecily and I, our conversation was part Tolai, part Motu and mainly English, and this had the gambling meris laughing and slapping each other, but that is another Oro Province tale...


Walt said...

Nice article, Steve. It's cool that you know something of several of the local languages. I found a Tolai course online and I'm listening to my Telek "Serious Tam" CD, trying to pick out the occasional word.

Steve Bennett said...

Thank Walt, by learning just a few phrases of the local Tok Ples, I had some great fun times in PNG. Loved it!

Anonymous said...

Hi, I am a Orokaiva woman, last visited Popondetta in August/September 2011. Melbourne is my acquired home but been working in Darwin since late 2005. I have been working in Australia since 1986, mainly in Melbourne. I go back to Popondetta every few years to reconnect with areas I grew up in and family...very important to me.

I cry at the sight of decay every time I return to Popondetta. The joy of being with my family and school friends who are retiring back in the villages cannot be measured.

My local community is Waseta, along the Popondetta to Kokoda Highway. The Waseta Anglican Church building was built by the people of this community. This is where I attend church service on Sundays.

Ayn Sunana (Ms)