I did make it Kiunga, but not without considerable drama and shenanigans regarding an overweight plane at the Mt Hagen airport. I was first told I couldn’t take the flight—I had arrived too late, which was not true!! So then the story changed: the plane was too heavy to fly—which was at least closer to the truth. Next, we were all told that everyone could take the flight, but no one could bring their luggage!!
We all watched, helplessly, as our luggage was taken out of the plane and put out on the runway. Since the luggage was supposed to follow us at some undetermined date in the future (given that the flight is only scheduled a few times per week, and clearly accompanying luggage is low priority in the first place), and I only had two days in Kiunga, then one night in Port Moresby, before flying on to the Solomons, I had visions that my luggage would never find me again….I decided I simply couldn’t go if my luggage couldn’t go with me. I waited back, to tell the security agent, and was already thinking how I was even going to get back to Mt Hagen, since the one phone number I had was to a misplaced cell phone…. The photo below on the left is of our luggage being offloaded. The photo below on the right was of something I found beyond amazing–given the absolute absence of Internet I had had up to that point in PNG, AND, right in the middle of this intense dramatic scene that was playing itself out, one of the Airlines PNG employees was checking her facebook page on the airline’s computer.
I’m gathering up my courage to tell the agent that I won’t be making the trip after all, but then, at the absolute last possible moment, a group of seven (7!) people agreed not to take the flight, which meant that everyone else taking the flight got to travel WITH their luggage—a minor miracle! The plane’s weight had to be totally recalculated, but I think none of the passengers who DID get to fly minded the hour delay.
We had lovely views of the Fly river and the city of Kiunga just before we landed. I had been advised to call the Kiunga Guesthouse to confirm my pickup before I arrived. I had been ringing them all day, with no answer, and was therefore nervous. When I got off the plane, I must have looked worried. A friendly local (in the dark blue shirt in the photo below) cheerfully volunteered the following, completely unbidden: “Don’t worry—you’re not in Hagen anymore. Kiunga is safe.” I was immediately put at ease, but have since puzzled at how much we can be affected by the things others tell us. However, it was absolutely, positively unanimous—even and especially from the people who lived there—that Mt Hagen and Port Moresby weren’t safe. So, being told by a complete stranger that I would be safe here, I felt safe here!
I went in to the airport—pictured—inquired, and someone was kind enough to use their cell phone to call a personal acquaintance at the Guesthouse, and a van was dispatched immediately—it turned out all land lines in the area were down for the day. Everything explained, everything ok.
And that evening, I finally met the person who rather singlehandedly made my trip possible—David Leeming. We had been exchanging multiple emails per day, basically since we had been introduced electronically, about a month and a half prior to my trip. I had so many questions—it’s impossible to imagine what a place will be like or what the situation truly is until you’ve been there, and I am so extremely grateful both that David was so patient with me and tirelessly responded to my neverending stream of emailed questions, and that he has a limitless supply of energy and enthusiasm for the work that he’s doing…
David and his co-workers/crew had just finished up the week-long training session at the Jim Taylor school I had just visited in Kisap the previous day, and now they had flown up to the North Fly River area, between Kiunga and Tabubil, and were very busy outfitting seven schools along the main road (which meanders along the river) with the same solar setup I had seen in Kisap. In fact, I was following them!
Instead of simply watching them work on the solar installs, however, which is what they were busy doing at that point, David suggested I visit the one school in Rumginae that had been given the laptops before the others—in May of this year. Thus, they had been using the laptops for three months, and I was told that there was a star teacher there with very creative in-class uses for the laptops.
We made plans to go to Rumginae in the morning—about a half-hour’s drive from Kiunga. Above is the road leaving Kiunga. As we took the side road that would eventually lead to the school, I couldn’t help noticing an airstrip on our left! This, of course, meant that planes landed there, and I also eventually learned that there was a mission aviation station there, a regional hospital, and, because of this, electricity!! That explained why this school in Rumginae received the laptops in advance of all the other schools—they could charge them. We drove past a huge generator in a barn-like structure that provided electricity to the hospital, as well as to employees of both the hospital and the school.
Above on the left is the airstrip. Above on the right is David, deciding whether the truck can make it across this collapsing road… It did.
We arrived at the school, where Mr. Musi, the principal, was waiting for us. Before I could even be introduced, Mr, Musi wanted to speak to David about the sustainability of the program, when they would be receiving both more training, and more laptops, and expressed his strong desire to get an Internet connection for the school—it’s difficult to communicate with the administration without it (among other things!). I took this as a sign of the seriousness of his concern about these issues, as well as his interest level in the program.
I was eventually introduced, once David had addressed his questions, and was explained that all the teachers could meet with me in about a half hour, during their lunch break. I was also informed, unfortunately, that the star teacher I had been told about would not be there—her husband had beaten her that morning, and she had to go to Kiunga… I later learned what a serious and widespread problem domestic abuse is in PNG. However, the 4th grade teacher who was covering her classes would make use of the laptops in his classroom in the afternoon, for my visit.
While I waited in the teachers’ room, I looked at the content that had been pre-loaded on to the XOs, which could be accessed by the teachers and students from the server. I had my own initial impressions about it, but wanted to hear what the teachers themselves had to say. I got an earful!
Next post: What the teachers had to say, and the students in Rumginae using the XOs.