Tag Archives: childhood

The End of the Broom


The End of The Broom

JLeahy Memoir Series

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Brooms. Credit: Wikipedia

The day was hot, thick and sticky with humidity. School was over yesterday. I was nearly nine. My mind was lost. Mother was going away. I had no idea when and for how long. She had a new job in Kundiawa, Simbu Province, Papua New Guinea.

It was so hot. I was dying to have a swim. Already, the children in the village were swimming in the river near our house. I looked down and saw them. Then my eyes caught the broom on the ground. I knew I had to get down there and sweep.

Mother trained women to sew clothes and make a living. She loved her job with the Lutheran Mission at Ampo (Lae), but now the government welfare office gave her a real job, she had said. Werner Knoll offered her this job. Werner was a German kiap who became a welfare manager and headed the office in Lae. He had told me he was my guardian. I knew being a guardian meant, he was not my father, but something like an angel.  I heard that word “guardian” used in our church. I also saw it in grandma’s bible.

I went to our room to get my red towel and walked back to the kitchen. I stood there and looked at the children. They were jumping off a platform we built on a tree, and landing in the river with a bombing sound. The water splashed everywhere. I was jealous. I looked at them but my mind went back to my mother. May be Werner could not pay us any more. Maybe, he ran out of money.

Mother and I visited Werner each month to collect money. Mother said we collected $AU20. When we arrived at the Welfare, Werner would beckon me with his pointer. He then lifted me onto his lap and pinched my cheeks. Then he pecked me on both the cheeks with his beard scratching me roughly. He had a large pink mole on his cheek. Then, he would order me to open my mouth so he would check my teeth for betel nut stains. I was terrified but I did as I was told. Mother and all the women in the welfare thought it was funny and laughed. After, Werner would tell me to  promise to be a good girl.  He would warn me not to chew betel nut and wink at my mother as he handed her a pink slip to go with to the bank. This ritual started when I was able to walk and speak.

I was to find out much later, this money came from my father whom I had never seen nor heard about. No one told me the money was from my father then, so I never knew. I had always thought Werner was related to me somehow and it was Werner’s money that he gave us. He was being kind. Mother had to bring me every time she visited Werner to get this money. I thought the whole ritual with Werner was part of the reason for getting the money. It was Werner’s rule.

“I will make a lot of money in this job”, Mother had said last night.

“Yamandu?” Really? I said, not convinced.

Mother promised me with such excitement in her eyes, I started to wonder what we would do with a pile of money. I did not think it was ever possible for us to have money except for Werner’s $20. Grandma said too much money was evil. Not many people made money, unless you had a bank; that’s what the village children said.

Mother’s job sounded ok. We could share the money with everyone. However, I was also concerned it would be too cold for Mother in Simbu. She needed to keep warm. She was smart, she could make fire in the evenings, I thought. I could not imagine how we would be apart. Deep inside, I had too many questions and felt uneasy about this job as I embarked on my own jobs for Saturday morning. I decided not to think about Mother. I went and started my chores.

“Kalem! Kalem!” the children were calling me from the river. I could see them from our house. I waved and made hand signs that I was busy, and would join them later.

To get my chores done I started with the coconut broom. I picked up the bundle of dried brown coconut sticks. They were held firmly at the thick end with re-cycled black rubber from tyre tube. I started sweeping from the back of the big house. My chores had increased with my age. Each day the chores changed, but most of the tasks were the same. We shared the chores between all the women in my family. The boys and men shared theirs. My chores were cleaning, washing, cooking, and helping Mother. Sometimes I helped my grandmother and aunties. If not fishing, the girls and women would be gardening together or making art and singing. On special occasions we would prepare our costumes and dance. The evenings were for story telling, and laughter after the church service. There was an occasional women gathering or village meeting. On Sundays we went to church and cooked a feast after. If someone died, we all gathered and cried together for at least two days before we buried them in our village cemetery.  As we carried the dead to the cemetery, we sang in Yabem:

“Where is the mouth of the road?

At the entrance of the cemetery.

That’s where my body will rest and become soft.

But my spirit would fly to you,

Where I will see your face Lord”

………………………………

(Draft only, and to be continued in my memoir series).

 

My favourite time as a child – fishing


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This little girl takes a ride on a huge fish in Caras Ionut’s artwork.

If I had to show a visual story of my childhood, this would be it. This photograph by artist Caras Lonut. I remember often thinking about living underwater and swimming with the fish or getting a ride from one.

Growing up in a small village on the coastline of Lae, Papua New Guinea meant I spent many hours and days fishing. My early years were dedicated to catching fish for food. Most of my family fished. Sometimes, we would start at dawn and end at dusk.

We fished on the shoreline and in the swamps. I knew where to fish and where not to. I also knew when to fish. The climate and the weather patterns were our guide. Certain fish came when the moon rose. As early as I can remember I could make my own fishing equipment using nylon lines, small metal hooks, fishing net made from strings. These strings we made from bush ropes and vines.  My aunts, mother and grandma and I would knit the ropes into nets. Like other children in my village, I kept a collection of empty coffee jars I lured fish into by putting a small portion of cooked rice at the bottom of the jars before placing the jar in the water. This was another kind of fishing but that is another story.

Fishing remains one of the most fun and rewarding experiences I have ever had.

In Mosquito Net


The mosquito net was white, light and airy. I could see everything outside my enclosed bed. I would not have been five yet, and mother and I shared this bed on the floor. It was made of a blanket and a sheet with a pillow on the wooden floor. The room was packed with our clothes and things. To cover, we would use one of mother’s laplaps.

The mosquito net flopped around me.  Mother had tucked its ends by weighing the net down with some clothing. At the bed head, the net was tucked under my pillow. To keep the net from touching my head, my old T shirt was rolled length-wise into a sausage and laid behind my pillow. If the net did touch me, the mosquitos would penetrate through the holes and get me.

Mother was a nurse. She knew how seriously and often I got attacked by Malaria. She had told me last time I was too tall to be carried to the nearest clinic, several hours walk away.

In this bed, the mosquitoes will not get me, and Malaria will not touch me. I drifted off in my sleep and enjoyed the comfort of my luxurious bed in Wagang Village, outside Lae, Papua New Guinea.

I prayed: “Oh give thanks unto the Lord, for his mercy and endurance, forever and ever, Amen”.

After what seemed like a whole night had gone by, I was woken by strange voices talking. There were two new voices. I could also hear my Uncle Sam speaking in English. Uncle Sam only spoke English when he joked or when he was drunk. His English was impressive. His voice was quiet but Uncle Sam sounded confident. “Yes, you can go and see her”, Uncle Sam told someone.

I recognised my grandmother’s low disapproval as she told Uncle Sam that no-one should disturb my sleep. I heard footsteps coming towards me. They walked up the old steps of the Fibro and timber house.  Mother and grandpa build this house from his teaching and her nursing money. Most of the fly-wire was ripped so I could hear everything.

At the top of the landing, the shoe soles brushed the sand on the wooden floor as they approached my room. There were more than one person. I felt nervous and I wanted to call out to my mother but I was not sure if the footsteps would come to me.

The footsteps stopped at my door. My heart pounded. My door opened and I looked up. In the light of our small kerosine lantern by the bed,  I saw two white men peeking down at me through the mosquito net. One was fair and the other had dark hair.

“Mama! Mama!”, I yelled out.

The one with the dark hair sat down and reached out to me, smiling. I saw his white hand come to me and I threw my cover and crawled to the end of the bed. The man’s thick black hair was brushed back neatly. His eyes were dark with thick eye-brows. I stared at his face. I had never seen him before. I started to cry. The man tried to hush me but he seemed nervous. He said in English, “It’s ok! Everything is ok”.

The more he tried to speak, I became terrified and recoiled into the further corner of the mosquito net. I called my mother and cried louder as I backed into the corner. There was no way out and they were at the door. The man with the dark hair put his hand in his pocket and pulled out some notes and coins. There was a lot of money. He put them on my bed and beckoned me. He told me that money was ALL for me. I had never seen so much money. I was sure I was not dreaming. It was unbelievable and scary.  “Come!” he said again.

I refused.

“Mama!” I yelled and my mother came running up the steps.

She walked into the room and the fair haired man stepped outside. My mother smiled and I could not understand it.

Why was mother smiling at this stranger? And why was the stranger giving me money? Was he going to take me? Was he going to buy me from my mother? I did not move. I wanted my grandmother.

(copyright-JLeahy)

Tomorrow: Short story


Dear friends,

I shall post one of my short stories tomorrow (Brisbane time). It would be a story from my Memoir series. The thing about this short story is that many of us think that we are not capable of remembering events and things that happened in our lives when we were very young. I don’t remember as many things as I would like to. On the other hand, there were things that have happened that I wish I could just forget.

In general, when something very significant happens some time during our early years of life – it sticks in our heads. Make time to sit somewhere and remember those times. I bet there are many stories to write.

Some of my memories are as fresh as those of events that only happened yesterday. Often I do not remember them straight away, but things can happen in the present to trigger me back – through layers of life to find that piece of memory. It is just like doing a search on my computer for a file.

I enjoy some of these forgotten ‘files’ but by the same token, some are not always pleasant to go over again. But together, good or bad, they make a great story.

I am grateful that I have these memories. The memories make “me”. Without the memories, I could not write my memoir.