Letters From the Field

Letters From the Field

Tapini, PNG

Des Hansen, from Foster Victoria, is volunteering for Sacred Heart College, Tapini, in Papua New Guinea.

Just as I’m off to period one I get the message that I’m to drive the ute down to the airstrip to pick up supplies from the charter. How did I manage to get that job too? Of course the ute is totally clapped out – it whines like a Collingwood supporter – and there is no key for it, because the key is lost. Though, according to the locals, it is somewhere… well of course it’s bloody somewhere! That word is possibly the most overused word in Tapini – everything is SOMEWHERE. It drives me crazy when I hear it, but I find that I’m beginning to use it myself, which is frightening (I’m also tending to get around barefooted… My skin remains the same colour though).

Anyway, back to the ute. Driving up the airstrip to the station (admin HQ), is treacherous at the best of times with huge potholes, ravines and sticky red clay. Despite all the weird noises, I negotiate a path and arrive. I’m there till 12 o’clock loading and unloading. One tyre becomes very flat when there is weight on the back, so I decide to drive down the actual airstrip for safety reasons, hoping not to stall. I go for the ignition, and there is nothing there (I forgot to tell you, no key means I have to use a screwdriver to start the motor). I have the screwdriver but alas, nothing at all. Well, we get the bonnet open and not to my surprise the connection lead to the battery terminal has fallen apart. A student holds it with his hands as I screwdriver the ignition again. The machine roars into life. We have to leave the 44 gallon drum of diesel behind… no room. It will be there for later on. Back to school and unload, completely uneventful!

A group of boys volunteer to help us roll the drum of diesel from the station, almost a kilometre, after I manage to get the last 5 minutes of my year 10 English Class. I walk up to the station and await my helpers and, you guessed it, they don’t arrive. So one of the security guards and I proceed to roll the diesel. We must have looked quite a sight – a white man rolling a drum. The greatest hoots were from the students at the edge of the airstrip, the same students who told me they would help. (They love to sit and watch. Rarely do they get in and help – they’d rather observe, laugh, and tell you how you should be doing it). So the school day is almost half over.

It’s not as depressing as it may read. Actually, every second day is like this – certainly a bagful of incidents and they all seem to be different. Pity I’m too old to write a book!

Read Des’ full story