The PNG Letters.jpg, 14kB

So, what have I done in the first four months?

My letter writing has dried up for a while; maybe it's just the onset of the dry season, or life on campus seems busy? The rain has certainly changed. On most of our regular town days (Tuesday), we would drive, or run to the car, or pack supplies, or move supplies from the ute tray into the cabin, in the rain; now, it rarely rains in the afternoons. Often over night, but rarely during the day. Actually, just to prove that my own memory can prove me wrong, the other day was overcast and drizzly for the whole day until about 3pm: the exact opposite of normal wet season weather! So here we go: a little drizzle from my pen (keyboard).

The Student Dining Hall
The first job the builders [see the builders outside the new staff units] were doing when I got here was completing the extension of the students' dining hall [see GSC Location Diagram]. The existing structure had its original internal walls removed (to create a larger dining area) and a new kitchen added to the rear. The previous arrangement suffered from competing functions: the main entry to the dining hall was through the kitchen. The only problem with that was that there was a rule that Students were not allowed to go into the kitchen. So the kitchen was moved to the rear.

The new dining area is quite a large area, quite magnificent really. Except for the floor. When I first looked at the floor, it resembled a body of water with a moderate swell; the vinyl tiles which were waiting to be laid had congregated in an eddy, in one of the corners. The original internal walls were of timber stud construction on raised concrete plinths. When the walls were removed, and the plinths ground down, it was quite plain to see that the floor levels of the 4-5 rooms were significantly different. We overcame this interesting effect by issuing surfboards to all the students. Well, not really, the problem was that the tiles would have cracked where the levels changed (as a matter of fact, we have cracking vinyl tiles in our new staff dining room: the timber floor (on metal posts) must have dropped!). After much discussion we decided to ease the gradient changes with bondcrete and strong mortar. It still obviously goes up and down the same amount, but the changes are less perceptible (especially when you close your eyes)!

Front Elevation of the Students' Mess Fr. Kees said he wanted to make the students dining hall special: so I also decided to put an awning on the front. I had been warned that the builders were liable to make mistakes: so I warned, cajoled, asked nicely and pleaded that we get it done without mistakes. Certainly, no mistakes occurred, as such, but some of the carpentry was so bad, it had to be re-done.Awning to Students' Mess: Side Elevation The X's had Brunno completely baffled, with gaps almost 10mm wide at the joints! John Kongie (the best carpenter of the group) re-did them, and maybe reduced the gaps by 60%. We are putting on new front doors too. Nice Tongue and Groove, with a window in each one. The glass has been on order for& goodness& it must be almost 4 months now! Anyway, when we finally get the glass in the doors, the doors will go in too: and it will be finished apart from the flyscreens.

The New Staff Units
Cross section through the new staff units showing air flow The new staff units that we are building (must be half way done now), has been more than a little interesting. We've kept the same basic design that was here when I came, although I pushed a few front walls in or out (making the front veranda bigger or smaller), made the internal walls to support the roof and then raked the ceiling (with exposed beams), opened the bedroom to the sitting room via high unglazed windows and put a highlight window in over the dividing wall: all this to allow more light and a better air flow through the units. Much of this has really befuddled the mind of John Nambis, the building foreman. Although, he has taken to changes like a duck to water: I cringe now when he walks up and says, "I've been thinking&". It is usually the prelude to some strange idea (like painting the facias all different colours). Sometimes John, for one reason or another (it could be communication, I guess), changes everything!

Plan of the new staff unitsThe units are two sets of mirror imaged pairs, originally anyway. I wanted to make them all a little different so that the staff would have something to choose between (all the staff are a bit different& some more than others). Some of the sitting rooms are bigger or smaller than the others (because of moving the front walls), so I changed the position of front doors and front steps to suit each unit. This in itself was confusing for John, but I edited the original drawing with a thick marker. Even so, I seemed to be endlessly correcting John's perceptions; foolishly maybe, but I presumed that all this going over the positioning details was reinforcing them. The greatest problem seemed to occur with unit one: maybe because it was different from the rest (but only sort of!). John had put the front wall in around the wrong way (with the door on the wrong side), so we had it turned around; this was possibly only a problem with his carpenters making a simple mistake. Anyway, one day not long after, I found that the door alcove to unit 3 was on the right side (which was the wrong side), so I asked for the wall to be turned around also (not a difficult task). Next morning when I was making an inspection, I discovered that they had, as well as turning unit 3 around had also turned the front wall of unit one around: to the wrong side again, when it was correct! I was a little horrified, and a touch upset, though well under control. I asked John why he had changed a wall that was correct? He replied that that was the way it was meant to be, I had told him! When I suggested that he turn it around again he lost it completely and spat the dummy! He pulled all his workers off the job, him and me disintegrating into a shouting match. He accused me of changing the drawing all the time! I replying that it was his mistake completely, the details he had changed had never been changed since the first occasion! It was a stand off. The workers were a spot mystified, John refused to work, and wouldn't let the workers work either. I was pretty angry, I guess John was too. The next day, they all came back, turned the wall around, and I agreed to put things in writing (it was my concession to making peace). At the end of the week they all wanted to be paid for the time they didn't work as well! I don't think I did pay them?

We've had similar problems with the front steps. Only yesterday I discovered that Unit 1's steps were not opposite the door, but set in (like 2 & 4). I asked, "Bilong wanem?" "So it's the same as all the rest!" Often I think they have understood, but when it's done, it is obvious that they have not.

Fr. Kees is kicking me out of our shared office, into Unit 1 of the new block [see Staff House C]. I've also added a huge picture window to the side of Units 1 & 4. Unit 1 looks out to Mt. Sui [see: Location Diagram of the College], Unit 4 over the very high mountains that boarder the Wahgi Valley (very nice indeed: see The View from our House).

College Water and Pit Toilets
The new pump that was set up to pump Wara Ka water from the river to the tank has just been returned. It had to be repaired, as when it was stolen, the thieves broke bits and put mud into others. K1,500 of repairs. One rainy night (most nights can be rainy), the pump was spirited away. The first we knew of it was when John Nambis came back after washing in the river [see The Swimming Hole close to the College], and said that it was gone. The carpenters were incensed! In fact, John thought he knew who took it (obviously a man with a poor reputation!). The accused man was the same one who took his (which means our) circular saw some time ago. Accusation is one thing, proof is another. So sure were they, that they performed a modern day stake out of the accused's house. For two nights! Then on the third day, a small boy came up to Andrew and asked him what they was doing. Andrew replied that he was looking for a stolen pump, and to everyone's surprise, the boy knew where it was (in whose house it was!). So John raced off and collected it without too much of a scuffle. So what we are planning to do is to only have it down at the river when it's pumping: we had put on quick release sockets to the hoses, and we'll get a yoke made up (so two can carry it with ease).

I wanted to install pit toilets (they call them bush toilets here), in case of a another big dry. John Ding was keen: he has one, and uses it in preference to the splashing toilet. If water became so precious that everyone washed in the river, and did their laundry there too, I couldn't see the point in flushing this precious water down the toilet: especially when our well water is quite drinkable.

  • The plan to pump the typhoidy river water into the clean well water header tank to ensure water for the toilets had problems:
  • The header tank is no longer clean
  • No water allocated for irrigation
  • Where as using pit toilets and the river water for irrigation, seemed to:
  • Save water
  • Use river water to maintain vegetable crops, thereby
  • Saying money by not having to buy vegetables
  • Keep the drinking water system clean.

The whole idea was stopped in it's infancy though: Kees would not hear of pit toilets. That was that. I must admit, I was disappointed.

College Staff
The College head is Fr. Kees, who has only been in that position for a few years. Previously he was teaching philosophy at the College. Kees is a complex character (as most people who devote their lives to the missions are), and is generally a real joy to work with. Though his technical inabilities on the one hand gives me a chance to help him learn more advanced computer skills is counter balanced with the extreme frustration that that causes in the office& and generally resolves itself in some laughter!

Kees' main aim is for the spiritual development and formation of those in his care. This often leads to actions on his part, or non-actions, that I find hard to understand. Some of the lines of authority and responsibilities are a little vague I think. The staff members too are in his care, and I think that this is the part of his job that he finds the hardest to cope with. I have heard rumblings of discontent in the staff house and some of my relationships with the other staff members has cooled somewhat; and there are calls for a general meeting to resolve certain issues.

The Spiritual Directors position is currently empty. This is a great shame and I know it frustrates Kees that he can't get someone to commit to a significant period of time here at the College.

The College employs a national Priest. We are very lucky to be getting Fr. Matthew who is coming back to Papua New Guinea from his studies in Rome, and will also be doing some 'community upgrading' in his old village near Yonki.

We currently have two Indian Priests (Fr. Valerian and Fr. Joseph) who add quite a bit of spice to the community (especially the cooking). Both have been at the College for a number of years now, and have developed a nice little garden not far from our house. Unfortunately one occupant of that garden is bitter gourd, which is very nice in the garden, but when the fruit is cooked, produces an unpleasant food. Bitter is not an adjective that is wasted on this plant. But, they keep saying it is good for us, so we are trying not to be too dismissive.

At one stage the College had a full Convent of Nuns, three I think; actually our house used to be the Convent. But now we only have our Sr. Mary, who is not a young woman anymore, but often puts us more youthful workers to shame with her energy. Mary looks after the library and Catechetics mainly. She bought 17 cases of books and tapes on her last holiday in Tasmania and had them shipped up to the College. It was decided that the best way to organise the tapes, was to lend only copies in the library, and keep the masters safe in the office. Although I've summed that up in one sentence, it seemed to take weeks of discussion to come to that simple conclusion: but many of the decisions in the College seem to come about by public discussion (and sometimes argument). This was going to be a huge task: too big for Mary, as she was busy cataloguing all the books she'd brought. Sandi volunteered and Mary was extremely happy to have that job off her plate.

We are also very lucky to have an exceptional scholar in Br. Maurice. He is a linguist and seems to be a repository for most things intellectual. He has a long history in education and cares for these nationals with a tough love that is not afraid to make the hard decisions (especially in the sick bay when they come in exaggerating their ailments). During our all day walk around the local hills, he didn't stop talking the whole way: a born orator! He is a storehouse of information usually with much excitement, plenty of gore and not a little tongue in cheek.

John Ding is our Dean of Students, a very well respected national from the local area. He is the other family who lives on the College with us, and maybe because of this we have quickly grown very close to him and his family.

Francis is another PALMS volunteer, he is halfway through his two year term. Francis is a bustling sort of fellow, quite likable in his obscure sort of way, who always goes for an afternoon walk down through the coffee for exercise.

Student Food
The student food was a great problem when I came. I know that those who were here should have known: but no one agreed (especially on amounts). Fr. Kees said there was a cut back half way through last year (so that explains some of the records which show huge amounts of food?), otherwise the money would have run out. I also realise that the students will always want more. I think the "us and them" attitude makes it hard work.

I've tried to cut down across the board (staff and students): the prices have grown wings! Trying to be reasonable is very difficult when you're not sure what reasonable is. I sort of just bumbled into term one. I set up a spreadsheet to do the calculations for their food, and tried to create a menu from the records that were here (no easy feat!). We didn't go too far into the year before the first SRC meeting requested my attendance to explain the food issues. I'd deduced from a meeting with last year's students what they felt about the food: too boring! Life in the village must be amazing! One idea I was trying, was to teach Jack and Vitas a few more recipes (they're not too bad really, most of the teaching was really just letting them do such and such). "Kaukau was too dry," the students said. Gravy and sauces are now on the menu. They also have 'Soup' each meal, I always imagined some sort of broth, but in reality it's a stew, with everything thrown in (corned beef + fish + vegetables + noodles +++) = no variety. We're trying to isolate some flavours, rather than mixing them all together every night. Anyway, the students were happy about that, we had gravy & sauces instead of communal tea (which Kees said was a messy and wasteful affair). The SRC focused mainly on Tea, Coffee & sugar. "If we can't afford it, tell the Bishops you need more money!" I was concerned with price rises, and pacing ourselves till the end of the year: I didn't want to get caught in June, having spent most of our money! All the students agreed that each house got 2 x 30Ogm milk powder, 2 x 75gm coffee & 2 x lkg sugar. John Ding (Dean of Students and severely overworked), didn't agree before the meeting, but capitulated in the meeting. "Too much sugar is unhealthy" turned into head nodding. Kees was no better, his original, "Tea, coffee, sugar and milk are not essential food items" turned into, "It wouldn't hurt to give a little extra?" Ah, the shifting sands of management, where did that rock go I was standing on?! What convinced me, was that some of the houses went without for half the week: nothing hot to drink for breakfast. This of course could not have been entirely true, or caused by excessive consumption at the beginning of the week, but I only wanted everyone to cut down, not go without. The compromise we all agreed to was: 1 x lkg milk per fortnight instead of 1 x 30Ogm per week, 1 x 20Ogm coffee per fortnight instead of 1 x 75gm per week; and 1.5kg sugar per week instead of lkg. It was up to the house captains to ensure that they were metered out judiciously.

New arrangements in Student food storeThe Student food is still a bit of an issue: it constantly goes missing from the store room. The three Dining Room Ministers know nothing about it. The last week of term one a case of corned beef grew legs and walked away. All the baking powder disappeared. The thing that broke the camel's back was one small bottle of soya sauce. I couldn't believe it! I asked the Dining Room Minister on at the time, and he knew nothing. I had built a new wall in the store room, so that, those with keys could only get into the ante room (which I fill with the week's food. This also solves the problems of excess pressure on the Dining Room Ministers. Early on, Philip Mogia complained that it was very hard to resist constant pressure from your fellow students). I complained bitterly to Kees about the lack of honesty amongst our future priests (the canteen was also broken into over the term break with 6 cans of soft drink going missing!), so he put a notice up, asking for the guilty persons to come forward. The soya sauce thief (Billy Joe) said that Joseph Tungi (Dining Room Minister) knew all about it (which Joseph denied), but he apologised to me and the whole college (I had to explain to him that I was sorry that he copped what he did, but it was the long lead up that was the problem that broke the camel's back). So Kees was not happy with the extra walling, "Their formation should take care of it." I'm not sure whether it is a good idea or not: it speaks of distrust. I don't like that, but I also wanted to keep the food.

This term I've tried to buy a whole term's food at once, sometimes two! I got some good prices from Bromley and Manton (Best Buy) and Kabuka, and Namasu in Banz had good cheap sardines and milk. The factory that produces the canned mackerel (Besta & Supreme) closed down earlier this year. Actually, the students (and John Ding) are quite fussy about their canned mackerel: only Besta is good enough. When we read about the factory closing down (in the middle of our regular town day), I decided to buy 2 term's worth then and there. Huge! MuMu at Kabuka could hardly believe it! Supreme was unfortunately out of stock, and when quoted by Bromley and Manton later, was the same price as the Besta I bought. No Supreme? Sardines will have to do! Supreme mainly went into the 'soup' as protein, so sardines can do that too (John Ding said he actually likes the sardines so there we go).

I got the major wholesalers to quote on our two term requirements: Bromley and Manton was best for most tin meat, Namasu for sardines, tulip and boston tinned meats and milk, and Kabuka for everything else (sugar, tea & etc.). Quotes have very rubbery figures here though: Kabuka's sugar went up K3 a bale and peanut butter K6 a carton between quoting and ordering. Namasu's Tulip Meat went up K6 a carton! Ron, the manager from Kabuka said he'd credit me the difference, and was sorry: it's not the way he likes to do business. Bromley and Manton and Namasu delivers (which makes their prices even better), and I borrowed the high School truck to pick up from Kabuka (that was one exhausting day!). I spent so much money, the bank account became dangerously low! So we're juggling our Term Deposit around to keep the bank manager happy.

The basket ball court
The basket ball court is still not up, or running. I don't know how long the hoops have been lying on the ground. Kees wanted it behind the hall, in the middle of the, student houses, but due to 100% disapproval from the students, he agreed to have it replace some of the vegetable garden close to the rugby field. I unfortunately disagreed with this location, as did John Ding. Kees though, was adamant in his decision, and would not hear of change, "It's decided, and that's all there is to it!" Until the term break. Apparently Kees had a rough time chasing some local kids from the rugby field: if they play on the rugby field, they'll play on the basket ball court! The decision on the position is now in the balance again.

College Telephones
I think I've managed to organise a pay phone for the Students. I hope this will bring me great glory and a huge loving following amongst the students, but I doubt it: it's amazing how short their memories are! I'm hoping to upgrade the telephone system (which is really nonexistent: just two lines and lots of parallel handsets) to a extension-switching system. I actually saw an old quote in the filing cabinet for one, so I'm not sure what became of that? Telikom will put in the pay phone for free. We just have to sell the telephone cards (for a slight profit!). For one horrible moment, I thought Kees was going to recant on the pay phone when he said he didn't think it was a good idea, and that it might interfere with their formation, but he is apparently happy to have it installed and make rules as we go.

The College Garden
The garden is another matter. I think it is controlled by John Ding and the three students who make up the Garden Committee. The students work three afternoons a week in the garden for a couple of hours. Well, to be honest, they are in the garden for a couple of hours, I doubt if most of them would do more that 20 minutes actual work. The garden is very haphazard, the organization solely in John's head. They seem to chase the weeds around the property, without ever actually getting on top of them. I put together some rough figures (with John Ding's help), that suggested that it would be cheaper to buy the vegetables, rather than trying to grow them ourselves. I tried explaining to Michael Olmi (a Garden Committee person), that our work practices are creating our high production rate. He didn't seem to understand, he was more concerned with trying to convince me that it would be agriculturally and financially viable to grow Soya beans in a rotation, and press oil from the crop (for cooking use). I think the gardens need a full time manager, not John, who has too much on his plate at the moment. The students need to pull their collective fingers out too! I'm trying to think of a way to create a situation that will enforce the fact that they are growing their own food. No crops, no food! Maybe we could dump some food into the ocean to create a shortage: but that sounds like the policies of multinationals I criticised!

Kees and I decided to get the students to build a 'Haus KauKau' near to the kitchen for the kaukau peelers to sit in (out of the sun and rain), and behind the pines, a compost heap. This was at the beginning of term 1. It is now the third week of term 2 and nothing has started, and they're planting crops where the compost was planned? Who knows what this means, not me.

We've had built a 'Haus Sekuriti' between the front gate and the garage. Gabriel and Thomas, our faithful security men, were in the habit of sleeping in the students' Haus Win, or even under the dormitories, and if the gate was locked, getting in and out is a real problem. So we are trying to make them feel important, give them some firm rules, reduce their hours a bit (from 12 to 8 hours a night) and maybe raise their pay a bit if everything goes OK. Gabriel has had a few problems this year: apparently harassed in his village about being childless: which is not what the leader of a community should be. He came to work drunk a few times. The first time, I said, "If I even smell drink on your breath, you'll be fired." The second time (he slept most of the night asleep in the middle of the road flat on his back), he explained his problems, and a wee, small voice within said, 'A bruised reed He will not break; a smoldering wick, He will not snuff out." What could I do, but say, "All right Gabriel, one more chance: but I expect a change, not just only on the outside, but on the inside." The conversation was really quite lengthy, my Pidgin is still no where near fluent, John Ding did the interpreting when necessary. Gabriel has been good since, but part of the agreement was to pray together. John still hasn't organised anything yet: it's got a horrible feeling of going nowhere.

The tupela lapun that built the haus security are part of John Nambis' line: one is Billy's father, the other is some sort of relative of Johannas. They got paid K100 (K50 each) for a fortnight's work. I was so impressed with their work, I've got them working on a haus win for the staff (behind the staff dining room). KI50 worth. The back veranda gets a lot of use during the Saturday B.B.Q. a most relaxed affair. I hope the haus win will increase and extend this feeling [see The finished result].