Minute With Mike

This article submitted by Michael Jacobson on 1/28/97.

September 27, 1996

Papua New Guinea's nickname is an oxymoron. In a place dubbed, "The Land of the Unexpected," you can expect surprises. After five months here, you can predict them.

So a couple of weeks ago when it was announced that a delegation of national ministers would tour Lumi, I had my doubts about the visit's success from the beginning.

Preparations started with a bang. An organizational committee of teachers was formed. We discussed their ideas at a staff meeting. Duties were delegated. Elaborate plans were made.

I wasn't very enthusiastic about the whole thing, and I wasn't alone. The reason for their visit was the official opening of the new grade seven classroom, but actually it resulted more from fitting nicely into the minister's Sandaun itinerary. The classroom has been in use for eight months, it's only half done, and as I understand more money came from the Catholic Mission than from the national government. Prior to the announcement of the visit, the headmaster approached the staff about the possibility and the staff reacted negatively.

As one of the largest government institutions in Lumi District, we were chosen to celebrate not only the new classroom, but to christen the new telephone and host lunch as well.

At the preparatory staff meeting, everyone was expected to contribute. With my lukewarm feelings, I opted for something easy: to organize a choir to sing the national anthem. At least, I expected it to be easy. The kids sing the anthem every Monday morning, so I thought we'd practice starting a couple times and be done in 30 minutes.

My co-chair organizer had more grandiose plans, though, and I attended several more practices as a result.

The grandiose schemes for the choir were typical of the general preparations. Of course, the kids did most of the work and most of it required more sweating than listening to a choir rehearse. Hedges and grass were cut by knife. Rubbish was moved. Classrooms cleaned. Dirt hauled. Flower beds constructed. Flowers planted. Walls washed. Speeches written. Food ordered.

To my chagrin, two days of classes were cancelled so the kids could work. The teachers enjoyed a holiday, unless you call occasional supervision and yelling work.

The big day arrived, and it looked ominous: grey and cloudy. Rain cut short our dress rehearsal. It rained all afternoon. By three, we knew the ministers weren't coming. Only one plane arrived all day due to the weather, and it didn't bring them.

We still had our feast. The teachers and other public employees in the area enjoyed a meal with fresh meat in about a dozen dishes, at the government's expense. The students had juice with their usual meal of rice and tin fish.

The next day all the teachers complained about their stomachs, and the headmaster explained to the students that the ministers' lives were too valuable to risk by flying in bad weather.

So, it's back to learning, right? Not exactly. The ministers were supposed to give us a holiday, so we took it. At least the kids deserved it.

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