Wednesday, 5 April 2006

a day in the life

On Thursday I went with a friend to visit the school where her husband teaches. We had some surplus books lying around at work, so I brought them along to donate. Good good she said. When we arrived, a school assembly was going on. There are 800-900 students; they were all sitting, squeezed into the open air hanger-style assembly area. We chatted to the husband, and I casually handed him the books.

He told us to wait where we were - just out of sight of the assembly - and he ran up to the vice-princpal and conferred. Then he returned, smiling.

"Littlepilgrim," he said, "We would be very happy to accept your gift but to be proper it must be in front of the students. Yes, that is the proper way."

I demurred, but he was insistent. "You will just need to make a short speech," he added as he was steering me in front of the masses.

Suddenly there I was, standing before 800 students, the only whiteskin around for miles, smiling wanly and clutching three lousy books as if they could protect me from 1600 eyes. They all politely welcomed the doctor (titles are very important here, and are used on every possible occasion), gave her the special visitor clap (I'm not sure why, but this was three quick sharp claps) and then waited expectantly. Embarrassed at being treated as if I were as lovely as Princess Di, I then could do nothing but, well, act like I was indeed a princess. I thanked them all for such a lovely welcome, told them that I came from Australia and was very happy to be in PNG, and that I hoped they would find the books useful and enjoy their studies etc etc. More claps, and then photos, awkard minutes standing smiling with arms outstretched and the books midair, being received by the librarian (in one shot I am caught giving my friend daggers at this unexpected publicity).

the geezer
The three books were quickly distributed amongst staff. The library has been closed to students for months anyway; the school needed more admin room. Whilst they need more books, they need new, bigger buildings as well, and new toilets (2 toilets for 800 students + staff; no comment needed).

Finally another special clap ended the display, and I was given a tour of the school. Mostly this was fun - the kids are great and full of laughter, especially at my pidgin - but it was a little uncomfortable when we visited the special ed classroom and the blind students sand and the deaf students signed a depressing song for me, called "Nobody's Child". It was a great performance, but after the first verse I was jiggling a bit and ready to leave. I hadn't been prepared for the ceremonial handover nor the tour, and am not really a princess, you see; haven't got that royal patience or tact.

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