After a 30-minute boat ride, we were finally off the tender that took us to the port. It was a Papua New Guinea cruise. I have very few memories of this country as we didn’t dock there often. The first time we went to PNG, I was sick and couldn’t get off the ship.
But there is one special place in Papua New Guinea that’s very close to my heart. I’ve only been here once yet my short stay gave me so many lessons worth remembering. The island was called Kiriwina.
Girls on a Mission
We were carrying bags of used toys and other school materials. I even managed to squeeze in a box of chocolates, toiletries, and some clothes. They were heavy. My heart was excited, my hands numb. It was very hot with the royal sun shining so bright. We were welcomed by a thin old man wearing a long-sleeved top. He wore his tie that day. His shoes looked worn-out. It seemed like it’s a special occasion for them whenever a ship was docked. The old man was welcoming. He shook our hands and politely greeted us. His eyes told a story of a hard life. The smile on his lips told a grander version. That he fought hard. That he would never give up. I wish I remember his name. I wish I paid more attention to what he said.
It was a busy day. There were many guests all eager to see what beauty this island can offer. The locals were happy to see us. They were all smiling. We continued walking along the pontoon. The old man called a friend much younger than him. The young man helped us with our bags. He also became our guide.
When we finally reached the end of the pontoon and started walking on their land, we saw lines of people selling different kinds of stuffs. Most of them were hand-made souvenir items. They didn’t have tables to put their things on. Everything was displayed on mats lying idly on the ground.
Finding the School
There were fans, key chains, bags and many other pretty things carefully made by magical hands. For in adversity, creativity can thrive. These items were sold for a very cheap price. There were many children selling with their parents. They looked happy without much care about tomorrow or what the future holds.
After passing through their mini-market, we finally reached the school, the reason why my friend and I went out. We saw more children inside. There were many of them because it was their break time. They were playing games outside their classrooms. The noise they made was more amusing than annoying.
Then we went to see the school principal. We were led to a tiny room that served as her office. Her name was Teacher Fiona. She was thankful for the gifts we brought. They’re not too much. Most of them were old toys from the Kids Club where my friend and I both worked. Teacher Fiona was very glad to see us. She was one of the locals. She had to leave some years before and go to the city to study. When she finished school and finally got a degree, she decided to come back to teach. To generously shared what she learned.
Teacher Fiona in Her Classroom
Teacher Fiona showed us the other rooms. They were similar to what we have in public schools in the Philippines. There was the green board that one can write on with chalks. There were charts on the walls for the children to remember the lessons. There were other decors scattered to brighten up the room and I guess lift up the students’ moods. And there were those desks. Those long ones where my classmates and I used to sit on. It’s usually just for two people. Although three can fit if the place was crowded. I remember cleaning them with a special leaf called “pakiling.” We scrubbed those old and dirty desks so hard to give them a new look. After a few minutes of cleaning, those desks transformed.
We said goodbye to Teacher Fiona and the other kids we met. Before we left they gave us colorful fans to show appreciation for the gifts we gave. My friend promised to go back and see them again. As for me, there was no more chance left because I was about to go home.
Since we still had some time to spare, we decided to go for a walk and see the beach. We had no plans of swimming that day, so we didn’t bring our swimmers. And then something happened. We saw the water. And we didn’t expect to see something really amazing. We stood from afar, but we can see how lovely it was. Then we sat in a small cottage and debated whether to just look or go for a quick swim. A mom who happened to be a guest saw us and offered her sun screen. Without thinking twice we took and thanked her. It was really hot that day and the beach was calling. Oh it was calling so hard we couldn’t afford to ignore its screams.
And so we made a silly choice. We took off our clothes and left only our undies. We ran straight to the beach and went skinny dipping. It felt so good. The water was a good mix of cold and warm. It was very clear and you can see what’s down under. It soothed our skin, refreshed our spirits and slowly took our worries away.
The Boy and His Boat
Then we met a young boy. He was riding his boat and his hands were tightly holding a big paddle. His name was Amos. He offered us a ride in exchange for 10 dollars. My friend and I both agreed. Soon enough we were out there farther into the open sea, entrusting our lives into the hands of a captain we just met and who happened to be just twelve. We took pictures while the young boy told us stories. Simple stories of a teen-aged boy who had to work at an early age to help his family.
We went farther and farther. The water got deeper and deeper. My friend and I took turns in paddling to help Amos move the boat. The paddle can no longer reach the bottom. We were away from everybody, with just water surrounding us completely. I felt fear gradually creeping into my body. But the clarity of the water distracted me. When I looked down, I saw my reflection in the sea. I knew I was happy. Happier than scared. Less worried and more excited. Thankful for the gift to be in that place I never even knew existed. Grateful to be with friends. Awakened by the heat. Calmed by the gentle touch of the wind. Inspired by the waves and everything around me that quietly spoke of peace.
When our time there was up, we slowly started paddling back. We went around a big rock to see what’s on its other side. We went to the shallow part of the beach and got off the boat. We stood in the water that was high above our waists. We can clearly see our legs and feet as they played and made fancy movements. Amos left to buy us some coconuts to eat. My friend and I transformed into fish. We danced with the water and chased the small waves.
Amos came back with some coconuts. We drank the sweet juice and ate its flesh for lunch. We almost forgot we were hungry. We were overwhelmed by Kiriwina’s unexplored beauty.
It felt so long ago. But whenever I would see our pictures it seems as if time doesn’t really matter and it just happened yesterday. In my head everything still looks real. And I can still feel the love we gave and the love we received that day. We went there to give gifts. But in the end, we were the ones greatly rewarded. Not with material things. But with a humbling experience brought by witnessing how others live the simplest lives and work so hard to make both ends meet.
We may always complain about life’s smallest nuances, yet in the end we are still blessed in so many ways. May I always remember this day, this place and all the kind people we met. When troubled by many and trials don’t end, may I look back at this experience and not forget. To feel greatly blessed. To not get discouraged. To always give thanks.
If you find yourself losing battles take a step back, breathe and take time to think. Do not be tempted to whine or feel sorry for yourself. You are not alone in your struggles. On another side of the world, people are fighting their own battles, too. Their problems can be bigger than yours. But they don’t lose hope. They press on even when winning is uncertain. They just keep trying and believing. We should do the same.
Follow your dreams.