Upon our arrival yesterday afternoon, we were greeted by a kind woman named Maggie and her sister who offered to bring us some fruits and vegetables the next morning. We asked a few questions and found out that Maggie’s husband was the headmaster of the primary school so we asked her to invite him out since we had some school supplies we wanted to give to them. Shortly after awakening from a wild storm the night before, we were greeted by Maggie and her husband John, headmaster of the primary school in Numa Numa. They showed up in time to join us for a morning cup of coffee as well as a bite of hot milk cake that I had baked the day before. Maggie brought us plenty of fruits and vegetables along with a fish that her sister caught during the night. She also had some of her weavings that she wanted us to have. It’s always amazing to see the generosity of a group of people that have so little, but want to give so much to their new visitors.
John asked us lots of questions and told us a lot about the island. With the island being 95% Catholic, he was excited to find three Catholics on board the boat. When he learned that Michal and Monica were Polish, all he could do was give praise to the recently deceased Polish Pope. After telling us about his school, we decided that rather than giving John the books and school supplies, we would like to visit the school and see all of the children to distribute the supplies in person. To John, this was an incredible idea. He told us that no other white men had ever been to visit his school and he would love for us each to tell the children a little bit about life back home and where we were from. We all were excited to share what we could with the children and have a look into the educational system of this island nation.
With Maggie as our tour guide, we began walking through the village and plantation of Numa Numa. As we walked down the old road that was built for the abandoned copper mine, we were surprised to be passed by a truck. Apparently there were a few vehicles still around that managed to survive all of the recent civil war or as the islanders called it “the crisis.” From the road, we were led down a path that took us through coconut and cocoa plantations, the main source of income here on Bougainville Island. Maggie’s sister plucked a ripe cocoa pod from the tree so that we could taste it’s fruit. To get the cocoa part, you have to dry the beans and then crush them. Fresh off the tree, you suck on the milky white coating of the beam for the sweet juices it has. Not a bad little treat to keep you going on a sweltering day in the jungles of PNG.
After making a stop at the elementary school along the way, we finally arrived at the primary school. We were greeted by a loud welcome blaring surprisingly from the headmasters megaphone. The children all welcomed us in and were excited to have all of their photos taken. Each of us was presented with a lei of fresh flowers that the children made for us that morning. John brought us all in and gave introductions, allowing us each time to point to a map and talk about where we were from and how we wound up on their island. It was pretty amazing to see the look in each of their eyes and the smiles on their faces as each of us told our stories and thanked them for having us into their school. From there, the children all sung us a couple of national anthems and songs about PNG. Even though the words were in Pigeon, it reminded me of being a child back in school and saying the pledge of allegiance every day, or even being at a football game and singing the American national anthem. It’s inspiring to see such a different culture taking equally as much pride in their nation as we do in ours.
An event called carnival is coming up soon so after all of the singing and a couple more photos, all of the children ran out into the field where they began practicing for the games to be played at carnival. While the headmaster yelled for them to be faster and faster, they all seemed to enjoy the completion of the games they played. Among them was a game involving six lemons and six sticks. You basically had a relay of people in a line where one person would run out carrying one lemon at a time and set it beside each stick. After placing the six lemons, the next person’s job was to run out and retrieve them one at a time. We noticed that the lines were segregated into boys vs. girls, strange coming from a nation where this would be seen as some form of discrimination. This only seemed a bit peculiar until we realized that the girls were actually winning! They proceeded to win at a couple of other relay races as well as the final event, my favorite, the potato sack race! I can’t tell you how much I enjoyed watching and photographing the children leaping through the air in their potato sacks. With a smile from ear to ear, they hopped their way across the field to the finish line in time for the next one in line to follow smiling just as big!
We left the school and were given fresh coconuts to drink before making the hike back to the boat. Maggie again joined us on the boat with her youngest daughter. As the afternoon lingered on, it began to rain. We decided to invite our guests in for dinner and the six of us sat down to a dinner of fresh fish given to us by Maggie’s sister, some corn on the cob Maggie had grown in her garden, a can of baked beans we picked up in Australia as well as some rice we bought in the Solomon islands. Daisy, Maggie’s daughter was very shy and embarrassed to be in the company of men. Apparently here, the men sleep in their own houses and never ever eat with the women. It was her first meal to ever have around men and she was so embarrassed that she hardly ate anything.
Following our wonderful dinner with our guests, we realized that the rain wasn’t stopping anytime soon. The water tanks on the boat had already filled up and it was still coming down hard. We made the two benches in the saloon into beds for Maggie and her daughter and they were both excited to have the opportunity to spend the night on board. This would be their first and probably last chance to do anything like that. Both gladly accepted the invitation and after cleaning up our mess from dinner, everyone laid down to a nice quiet evening of sleep with the sound of the rain on the deck above putting us all to sleep.