Thank God it's Friday

13th March 1998 at 00:00
Monday I arrive in Papua New Guinea from Poole in Dorset. I'm fully briefed in Teaching English as a Foreign Language, totally jet-lagged and tense. Forget the Office for Standards in Education and Department for Education and Employment documentation, I've got pidgin English and giant insects to worry about.

This foreign traveller receives a rapturous reception as 100,000 cicadas sing their praises to me from the amphitheatre of mountains that surround the school. The small house is a welcome refuge until I discover the cockroaches. But there's nothing like being too tired to be bothered, and I sleep deeply.

Tuesday My eyes and ears have at last caught up with the rest of me, but I'm not sure I want to see what I'm being shown or hear what's being said.

I've never seen leg sores quite like the ones on the children here. And I'm not entirely convinced they had to burn the injured rat in the school gardens when I told them to put it out of its misery, but they did follow my instructions - unlike at home. Learn some new pidgin English today; an unlikely phrase to describe Prince Philip, who once visited these parts. They call him: "man bilong Missus Kwin".

Wednesday It's a topsy-turvy world, the kids are like adults, and the adults are like children. 7M sit in respectful silence and give me presents. The teachers demonstrate beetle flicking. (These juggernauts of the insect world clamp their jaws around your ball point so you can spin them and flick them across the staffroom.) At morning assembly I have to send children to fetch the teachers as they are still in bed.

Later that afternoon I go into the bush with the school driver, Kale, the sanest and most sensible adult in the school. We go to buy wood for the kitchens. On arrival, an elderly gent sidles up to me and briefly and gently cups my testicles in the palm of his hand. Then he retreats, obviously satisfied that Europeans have got them.

Thursday It's wild, it's wacky but it's also wonderful. Today I decide it's really nice here. The mountain air is intoxicating and the water crystal clear. It's a walker's paradise of breathtaking views and a technicolour landscape. It's a place where the teachers don't know how old they are. And my children can be seen in the village with their own children!

Friday War breaks out! No, it's not 8C poking each other again. It's the real McCoy and I've got the photos to prove it. The school is forced to close as warriors equipped with obsidian stone axes, bamboo bows and arrows, and Coca-Cola T-shirts confront each other.

The school cook leads a party of children down the ravine and up to their home village while the teachers watch events from the tailored grass outside the staffroom.

My colleagues call these events "Highlands Football". I think of home. How often have I prayed for fire or flood before a rainy Friday afternoon, but I never thought my prayers would lead to conflict. One of our teachers has gone walkabout, but I'm not going to follow his example as there's too much I might miss. Wait a moment - did I just feel the earth move? It's those tremors I've been warned about.

Nick Melton has returned from VSO in Papua New Guinea and is now supply teaching in Dorset VSO recruitment crisis page 6

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