Sunday, November 21, 2004

Birthday Second Installment

Well this has been a great week, one of the best ones I’ve had in ages. It’s getting so close to the end of the year now, and I’m really looking forward to going home for Christmas, but I’m also feeling very positive about coming back for next year now, a point I certainly didn’t think I’d be at about a month ago. For most of October I was seriously contemplating returning to Australia at Christmas time and staying there, rather than coming back for the second year in PNG, but I think I’ve turned a corner and am starting to get enthusiastic about 2005 in Moresby now.

The school week seems to be getting smaller and smaller as my number of on-class periods keeps dropping. I’m now down to 16 periods of English a week, tasol – and those 9 periods that were once Library and Computers make a huge difference when they’re gone – it’s now only 3 or 4 periods a day – which sounds great, but in reality leaves a lot of thumb-twiddling time. Though not so much this week – not with 180 Library assignments to mark (which, BTW I should really be doing now. I’m using my birthday as an excuse to procrastinate still further.)

English this week was all about debating – we’d been working on it for last week too, with me giving out model speeches and working on vocabulary, structure and a whole class debate. But the girls then had the chance to brainstorm different debate topics, and choose the one they wanted to be in. I put them into teams I thought were evenly matched, and they had to prepare their speeches, ready to ‘perform’ this week. And it’s been fun!! These girls – some of them have really surprised me. The debates have been about everything from whether or not Makoma (a very popular African gospel band, who just toured here last week) should be played in nightclubs; whether Marianville should be co-educational; whether bride price is outdated; to whether abortion should be legalized. We even had debates on whether or not condoms should be freely distributed, city life vs village life, and whether or not clear-felling should be banned. Some of them were a bit disorganized and nervous, but there have also been a few students whose performances were brilliant, inspiring their audiences into spontaneous cheering and standing ovations. One of my favourite moments so far was when Eileen, so passionate in her conviction that work parade should not be compulsory every afternoon (ie cutting grass / cleaning etc) that she needed to pause for breath in the middle of her diatribe, punctuating her speech by picking up her pencil and shoving it fiercely into her ponytail!

This coming week we’re having a State of Origin, where 9 Purple and 9 Yellow each select a squad of 9 players to form 3 teams who will face each other in 3 debates over 3 days. Should be a lot of fun. (Wish I had Tash here to give them some professional advice and coaching!)

It’s also been a good week in terms of getting out and about because I’ve actually managed to get out of Marianville on two separate school nights!

On Tuesday night we took all the Grade 11 boarders, and the Grade 9 class captains to see the Moresby Amateur Theatre Group’s production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. It was their dress rehearsal, and they called and offered us 70 free tickets, along with the City Mission boys. So that meant Sister organizing Keith to drive us there in our big orange and white bus, with a police escort there and back! (Sounds serious, but it was actually our resident police officer, just as a precaution.) If this seemed like a big deal to me, you should have seen how excited these girls were! Not only was it their first time to see/hear Shakespeare, for most of them it was their first time in this theatre or at any kind of play at all. As well as their first night excursion!

When we got there I gave them a very quick run down on what the play was going to be about, because I was anticipating that they would find it very hard to follow. And for the first 10 minutes as the actors warmed up it seemed like maybe it was going to be a very long night. But they soon got into it, and I don’t think I’ve ever been in an audience that laughed so much! They just had an absolute ball! Puck was a short and tubby woman in overalls who was very dramatic and enthusiastic and bouncy, and Oberon was an older ex-pat man with long-ish Dracula-esque grey hair and painted on sideburns and eyebrows, with leather pants and a leather jacket only partially zipped up (Aging rocker, eat your heart out). Of the group of bumbling players, all were excellent, and the one who had to dress up as Thisbee (man dressed as a woman) was a young Papuan bloke who hammed it up so well all he had to do was ponce out on stage, and the crowd were hysterical. But the best of all was Bottom, who was absolutely fantastic: grotesque and funny and self-important and an all-round brilliant entertainer. Even better was our realization (about half way through the play) that this man lying on his back kicking his legs up in the air, bum to the audience, or cavorting about on the clamshell hee-hawing while pressed up against Titania’s sensuous Papuan bosom was actually the (Aussie? English?) Anglican Bishop!!! The girls just loved it. Needless to say, it was a fantastic night out.

Then the next night was an AVI dinner at the Holiday Inn because Christine (one of our PNG ‘managers’) was in town for a few nights. I had to figure out how to get myself in there, and ended up catching the school bus into town with the girls in the afternoon, and being dropped off near the hotel so I could wait there til dinner time. A couple of hours wait, but I figured if I took my swimmers and a book I’d be perfectly alright lazing by the pool. And I was, but even better, when I walked inside I saw Jennifer, one of our Goroka AVI’s waiting in the foyer – she was there for a conference, was about to go out, but gave me her room key so I could more legitimately pretend I had a right to be at the pool, and even better, have a shower afterwards in her bathroom!

Dinner itself was delicious and dessert – bliss! And I went home with Lea, our most recent Moresby AVI, who invited me to stay in her spare room, and would drop me at the bus stop in the morning to catch the school bus back to Marianville. The girls thought it was very funny to see me sitting in the front seat as we did the rounds of Gerehu and Gordons to pick them all up (Lea had dropped me at the stop just as they were pulling up to begin their rounds – perfect timing). A fun night, and a fun morning.

So, all in all, it’s been a great week – fun times with friends, and fun times in class. Some excellent teaching moments – seeing how well some of those girls had prepared their speeches as a team, taking into account all the patterning and rhythm stuff I’d taught them about public speaking; seeing Miriam, my 9 Purple mouse, who I had almost let just be a helper rather than an actual speaker in the debates because I was sure her shyness would cripple her, stun us all by reading an excellently prepared speech outlining the advantages of having a single-sex education because it helped boost young women’s confidence in expressing themselves in the classroom (proving her own point so conclusively with her totally unexpected confidence and conviction that she brought the entire class to thunderous applause and enormous grins of amazement as she finished – seriously one of those moments teachers live for); and watching Hua, one of my most delightful students, bring the whole school to tears of laughter as she auditioned to be a Rotary ‘ambassador’ (they asked us to select one girl to be in the running for a trip to Australia, and I had to help the 9 girls we were choosing from to prepare speeches to give to the whole school). She didn’t win because there was some debate amongst the selecting staff about what criteria to judge by, but in terms of public speaking she just blew me away. I knew she was an excellent writer, but I really just put her name forward because I believed she was intelligent and would really benefit from a trip away if she was chosen (she’d come to me the previous week with some real doubts about herself and troubles at home) – I had no idea just how talented and confident an entertainer she was. She was fantastic.

And a great week for feeling as though I had friends here, both at school and in town – a night with friends in Moresby, laughter in the staffroom, and my girls cheering when I told them I’d be teaching them again next year. Yup, a good week.


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