Tag Archives: Joycelin Leahy Memoir

The Ownership of the Yam Hole – My Oral History


The Yam Hole – JK.Leahy memoir series

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A yam garden in PNG. Public Domain image.

Currently, the case of the Yam Hole (Ambisi) is an ongoing dispute amongst our people in Wagang Village, Lae, Papua New Guinea. The national government is negotiating with the villagers to build a large fisheries wharf on my village. Wagang is a small coastal village less than 20 minutes drive to the heart of Lae City. This is the story about the site of the proposed development which is referred to as Ambisi, or the Yam Hole. The Yam Hole is my family’s inheritance, but due to foul play, the authorities have been negotiating with other people who have claimed to own the land referred to as the Yam Hole. With the permission of my Uncle Ahe Max Mambu, I am proud to tell you this oral history and a story about the Yam Hole as told by my late grandmother Geyam Baim to me. This story was told to my grandmother by her mother Geyamtausu Baim and her aunt Awelu Hampom. In one of the flash fiction stories I wrote in Monday’s Finish the Story, I made a reference to this story in Scatterings of the Blood River (Budac) and how a child was discovered.

My grandmother told this story almost every evening and in between other stories after our dinner. When I was 15, I presented the story of the Yam Hole to a large crowd of Lae City residents in the Lions Club Youth of the Year awards. It was in 1980. I represented Busu Provincial High School in the Lions Youth of the Year challenge. In the competition, an outstanding student was picked from all high schools and tertiary schools to give a five-minute original speech of cultural significance. After a gruelling week of interviews in an elimination process, the final test was to give a five-minute speech in front of business houses, leaders, and distinguished guests of the Lions Club (a large charity organisation) in a 3-course dinner event.

That evening, I borrowed a batik skirt, a white cotton blouse and a pair of sandals from my high school principles’s wife. I did not have anything of such quality and was specifically instructed that it was a high society gathering and I must not even wear slippers. Most children owned a pair of slippers or jandals, which we wore to school. None of my family members had any fancy clothes, let alone shoes of any kind. Despite not having anything smart to wear, my family was excited because I would make this speech about our ancestry. I tried to practice my speech in English because in Bukawac, I knew it by heart. It was after all, out family history.

My speech, although based on the Yam Hole and our family’s oral history; featured my great-grandmother and her sister and how they fought the white men/Australian administration and German missionaries to settle and remain in our village. The two sisters were not prepared to give this land away because it was fertile, had clean drinking spring water and completed with two large rivers circling the entire village portion of the land. Part of this land is where Lae city sits on and part is where our village is.

The Lions Club evening was also the evening I learnt to use knife and fork at a table for the first time. Each finalist Lions youth was sat at a table consisting of dignitaries and business people. Our conversations were also marked. I sat in my ‘borrowed’ clothes, the wrap skirt feeling too tight. I struggled to keep the slightly larger sandals on my feet with my napkin still on my lap while I carried on what seemed to be a normal polite conversation with very important strangers at my table. In front of me, on the huge white dinner plate, I tried to elegantly spear my dead cooked half-chicken while it gracefully danced on this huge white plate. I remembered, how crowded the table was with no room to move. It had too many flowers, candles, cutlery, glasses and people, while the food on the huge plates were in very small neat quantities. I could not really tell you which was scarier; the conversation, avoiding the glasses on the table, using the wrong cutlery, losing my borrowed skirt or shoe or catching and eating the dead chicken on the big white plate without getting any of the sauce on my white cotton borrowed blouse from the principle’s wife. I was very hungry, but I had to keep calm and keep it all together until I told the audience my oral history about the Yam Hole.

More on the Yam Hole later on this blog.

 

The Hillside Find – A short story entry in Crocodile Prize.


The Hillside Find is a short story I wrote when I first started blogging  over a year ago.  It is based on my life as a young journalist working in my first job in Papua New Guinea’s leading daily, The Post Courier.

I have entered this story in the PNG’s annual literature competition which closes on June 30th. If you are interested, please visit also the two links below to see other entries from PNG writers. I will post my second entry tomorrow. The word limit is 1000 words.

The Crocodile Prize

Keith Jackson & Friends: PNG Attitude

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Peter John Tate picture of a Kone settlement, Port Moresby

 

The Hillside Find

Joycelin Kauc Leahy© for Crocodile Prize Short Story

We climbed together, side by side. Chief Superintendent Roy Tiden and I stepped through the tall kunai grass and up the rocky Ranuguri hillside. The mid afternoon sun fought with its last strength, throwing an orangey tinge on the grass and on vibrant houses on the hillside. Ranuguri is in Konedobu. Below, the sound of traffic in Kone died down as we moved further up. It was a Tuesday in February 1985; the year Papua New Guinea would celebrate its ten years of independence from Australia. It was also the year the country recorded the highest crime rate in Port Moresby. Solving crimes excited me. At nineteen, and reporting for PNG’s leading daily, life was never dull.

My mother had called the night before from Lae, asking me to bring my little brother to Port Moresby and care for him. I was the eldest of four and Rivona was turning eleven. Port Moresby crime figures were escalating and living here was hardly safe enough for me. I wondered how a historical government post such as Kone boasting the best harbour and a bustling business centre could also be afflicted with such a high crime rate. In the newsroom the talk was that a state of emergency would be declared for Port Moresby. I stopped briefly to wait for Supt Tiden. As he got closer, I continued climbing.

I wanted to care for my brother, knowing how hard it was for my mother with three young children. But I was afraid journalism work would keep me away for long hours. This was my first job, and I wanted to do well. Maybe I could also bring my grandmother, so she could help me with my brother. With my mind absorbed, I didn’t realise I’d left the superintendent behind. Glancing down at him for directions, Supt Tiden pointed to the top of the hill. I headed there with my bag and notebook, stepping carefully over the loose gravel and scattered boulders.

Down the hillside, Mr Tiden’s blue uniform showed through the green swaying Kunai grass. Further past him I could see some of the old colonial buildings. Colourful clothes danced on makeshift lines and smoke escaped from open fires. Next to the police headquarters other old buildings had been converted into the mining department offices. Several dozen vehicles were parked there. I brushed the sweat off my forehead and wiped it on my skirt.

When I got the call, Mr Tiden had mentioned a rise in death amongst gang members, especially young boys. He said he’d been called out a week ago to a crime scene where the body had already decomposed. While moving the remains onto a stretcher, the rotting arm dropped onto the superintendent, and as it brushed him the fingernails came off. Thinking of that story and what we might discover today, I felt nauseous. I wanted to get it over and done with and return to the comforts of the Post Courier newsroom.  My workmates there have become my second family, away from my hometown Lae.

I neared the hilltop. Supt Tiden was several meters downhill. His large body restricted his speed up the hillside. He’d started puffing at the foot of Ranuguri and joked about racing me to the top, making light our reason for being there. By then he was already an astute detective with over 20 years of police work.

With the incident report descriptions of the crime location, I figured I would see a crime scene near where I stood. I expected the obvious: signs of damage to the land surface, a scrap of bloody clothing, and any kind of evidence. “Maybe, I am ON the scene,” I whispered to myself. The hairs on my skin stood. At my feet the ground was bare and uneven with rough limestone.

I called out, “Mr Tiden!’ Mr Tiden!” Out of respect I always referred to the superintendent as Mr Tiden. I could hear the wind blowing my voice down the valley. No response. My throat dried up as I hugged myself.

I looked around and across the hilltop trying to see where the sound of buzzing flies came from. I didn’t want to step on anything or anyone. I could not even see those damn flies, but I heard them very close. A crow soared and two others joined the circle, just metres above me. I held my notepad tight. I pulled my bag up to my chest and smelt the leather. Inside it were my no-brand cinnamon lipstick, an extra pen, a bunch of keys and the police issue can of chemical mace. Mr Tiden said I might need it one day.

“The mace!” I almost said out loud. But what help would it be? Apart from spurts of kunai, there was nothing else here. Whatever there was would not be too hard to find, but my legs refused to take me further. I waited. The flies buzzed and the grass shooed. I wished the police helicopter would blast up the hillside and break the silence.

I was about to call Mr Tiden again when I heard muffled cursing and knew he had arrived. “There you are, Joycelin.”

“Am I in the right place?”

“You are! That is great detective work,” he answered cheerfully.

I pretended to smile.

“Come this way.” He started turning down the opposite side of the hill then halted suddenly.

I walked up to him and looked down. Stretched out before us was a boy’s body. He had three large rocks weighing him down – on the neck, the abdomen and the legs. The head had a massive dent and the rock on his neck was covered in blood. “He can’t be more than 11 or 12 years old,” said Supt Tiden after a complete circuit around the body. I had not moved yet.

Supt Tiden looked up at me, waiting for a reaction. The only thing running through my head was my brother, Rivona.

It could have been him, I thought.


Thank you Isabel for all your help.  This story is a tribute to Chief Supt Roy Tiden and also my brother, Rivona who are both no longer with us. Roy died years later and Rivona lived to be a young man in Port Moresby. Almost 20 years later and two weeks before his 32nd birthday, Rivona died suddenly. 

 

 

 

Short Story: The Christmas Opal


Picture: http://www.aussietreasurechest.com.au

Draft (Opening Chapter – JL Memoir series)

The Christmas Opal

I looked at it. The black briefcase sat by the door. It was Saturday, mid year, 1988. The mid morning light through the slit in the curtain, drew a right angle across the exposed top corner. This did not lightened the case colour, only, it darkened what remained of the briefcase in the shadows. The thick heavy-backed curtain kept the case concealed. There was a twirling spectacle of dust stirred by the slow-moving fan. The dust particles moved between the dark case, and the top of the opened window. This twirling dust caught my eye briefly as this spot of light was the only light in the room today. From the dark interior, it was hard to tell that the sun was high, the sky was blue and it was 36 degrees outside. The unit had trapped dust but how do I get it out? I was limited to what I could do, and what I could not do. My boundaries were quite clear as they were bashed into me several times over four years. I also knew whom not to speak to and where not to go. Sometimes I felt like a trapped animal and sometimes I was just like a chipped, trapped dog in a yard with electrical fencing all around and someone watching from the shadows.

It was getting hotter and I felt thirsty. I took a step to the briefcase. It was bulky, large, and square, with gold fittings like a pilot’s or a travel case . It had black strong rubber wheels and gold clasps that snapped shut. I looked at the briefcase and did not touch it, afraid.

I have heard him snap-shut the clasps and the lock so many times. He liked that, the strict, military-type barking of orders and routine snapping of things into place. Orders for curtains to close when night fell. Open curtains, he said, meant, I was sending out invitations to be seen, to be looked at, by strangers and our neighbours.

“What if it’s a trap?” I almost whispered, delaying my urge to open the damn briefcase. My curiosity tugged at me one more time but I refrained from touching it. I could never imagine what could be held inside this large dark briefcase.

I went upstairs to the bathroom and washed my face. It was hot. Then I returned down the stairs and sat down at the last one. My legs were weak, but I was not hungry. My eyes went back to the case.

It could fit a small gun perhaps, but he already had a sewn-off rifle. I remembered him removing, caressing and dressing the gun with a soft towel and placing it like a baby in its cuddle spot, in his car. He was excited by his newly acquired possession. Apparently, he got this gun from his cousin, and that was a piece of information I needed to know. I thought to myself, as I poured myself a glass of water, to cool down. What a cunning backstory to cushion my fear that he had access to a gun or weapons, any time, from his relatives.

I stood up and walked the few steps to the front door and peeked outside. The car-park was still empty.

He had stored the rifle in his car booth, under the spare tyre. A fine hiding place, where betel-nut chewing, sleepy, corrupted Port Moresby police were too heedless to look during roadblocks.

“No”, I told myself in realisation. He would not trust me with a gun inside the house. It has been almost four years. I was not dead yet, but something has happened to me. I was no longer myself nor was I the 19-year-old virgin from strong Lutheran faith. I was no longer the traditional Papua New Guinea village-innocent girl that he had conquered. I believed that he knew this. I believed he knew I had changed and this meant one thing – my days were numbered.

I collected the large pillows and took them outside. The colourful coleus amongst my tropical plants in the pots cheered me up. The pillows were heavy and only for show. No one used these pillows; they sat and collected dust on the New Zealand sheepskin leather, which covered parts of the downstairs/lounge. Under the cream sheepskin was a large olive-green, black and white carpet. The carpet looked Moroccan. The lounge was a sombre decoration completed with a collection of prints that I thought were depressing. Curly haired, empty, pale and ghost-like maidens, stared down from sepia prints. They showed no particular emotion, yet, their eyes looked sad. Whoever drew these miserable women, sold them to the right person, that was my view.

I picked up the last pillow and went out the back. I shook bread crumbs off the pillows into the backyard and laid them on stacked sandy-brown pavers, lined with pot plants. There were three of the pillows. Regaining composure, and letting my aching body breathe fresh air, I stepped inside. I thought of cleaning the windows but it meant, I would open the curtains. He liked them shut.

“It keeps the sunlight off the artwork,” he said sarcastically. I wondered if I was the artwork he referred to. Not the monochrome of beautiful and sad curly-haired pale women with very large haunting eyes.

I crossed the small lounge to the front door. Remaining inside, I opened the door enough to look outside. I kept my hand on the handle. I dare not step outside, someone might see me and report back. No-one was there. The normal raucous of the compound seemed to have disappeared. The compound area of 1000 square metres encased three blocks of cream concrete airline employee residential units. They were all quiet. His unit was in the first block, second last. The Talis tree outside, in full bloom had seduced bees and insects and a few city birds watched for their own meals. The wide, long leaves were turning yellow,  orange and red, like autumn colours in the movies I had seen. The Talis tree usually housed wives and babies of employees under its cool shade. Today, the shade was abandoned.

I pulled back into the unit, closing the door behind me and locking it. I felt the coolness of the ugly 1970s brown tiles on my feet even when the air inside was hot. I looked at the case again. I had nowhere else to go today. The order was to stay home. I stared at the briefcase again. It was Christmas Eve. He left it there. Why had he not taken the briefcase to work? I decided to ignore the briefcase. This was a test and I was very tired.

I completed and took the washing out and hung it. I returned inside the hot two-bedroom brick unit and counted seven small presents I had bought and wrapped. I felt ashamed. I told myself, I was weak and revolting. I was pathetic. I bought these presents – for what? I hated him. My hands were sweaty, I was trembling and my heart beat faster as I thought of what lay ahead. Three things could happen this Christmas. One, I could be dead. Two, there could be a resolution to this relationship. Oh, the third thing…I could kill him. The third was pathetic and I knew it.

My eyes glazed over with tears as I laid the presents under the green, fake Chinese-made Christmas tree. The tinsel and the plastic brush leaves scattered and messed up the base. I did not care. I hated fake things. I let the tears come, that’s was all I had. The tree had red and white bells with some glittering reindeer. I was very careful not to trip the tree over even though, I did not like it. Then, I picked myself off the floor and went to the briefcase and opened it. I felt my face burnt with excitement and fear. My trembling hands worked swiftly over books, papers and travel documents. The smell of planes mingled with the strong smell of vinyl.

My hands touched a small box. It was a dark blue jewellery box with sharp edges. I pulled it out, unafraid anymore. I opened the lid and it stayed ajar. Inside, immaculately placed in white cushion padding were a set of Australia’s beautiful white Opals. There was a pendant with matching earrings. The settings were in gold. It was a perfect Christmas gift for a woman, I thought, marvelling at its beauty. I remembered these opals from the Brisbane duty-free shop. The white opals were my favourite from all the other colours but it was not something I would ask for. I looked at the stones, mesmerized by their beauty, even from the mouth of the dark briefcase. Briefly, I thought of the depth of the earth where they came from and years the stone took to form and evolve into such luminous work of art. I thought of the person that spent laborious hours grinding, polishing and shaping them. I made jewellery so I knew the work involved. The light sipped into and was trapped in the stones, lighting and reflecting layers of intricate colours. The Opal had a sense of innocence, purity, and tenderness. Suddenly, I felt cold and quickly placed the small box back in the briefcase and snapped it shut. Deep down I knew, these Opals were not for me.

The Sorcerers’ Watch


The Sorcerers’ Watch

JLeahy memoir series – opening chapter/short story

We buried him this afternoon. He had died a week ago. There were a few hours left before the sorcerers would come for his remains. That’s what his father said. We needed to get to his grave before dusk and guard the grave until dawn. His father, mother and I left for Karogo’s graveyard after the last of the gathered family members left.

My aching joints gave me small comfort as I forced them to help me walk quickly up the main road, away from Saroa Village. We were near Rigo, Central Province, Papua New Guinea and in this region, witchcraft and sorcery were rife. We walked inland, headed for the small hill where Karogo and some of his deceased family members had been buried. Other villagers buried their dead in their backyard, gardens and other special places; something I was not used to. In my village, we had one cemetery for everyone.

The heavy rain and dense humidity kept the soil on the road, wet and slippery. The red clay had been washed frequently down the hills by the torrential rains leaving earthy red lines meandering through rough patches of grey and black gravel. I placed my feet carefully away from the soft red mud and in between the milky puddles. I wore thongs and these flipped a backsplash of sand and muddy water onto the dress. My clothes and looks were the last things on my mind.

For a few minutes, I stepped off the main road and I walked along the greyish clay roadside track. The muddy track was imprinted with hundreds of footprints from local traffic. I passed a few thongs left stuck in the mud and this made me want to smile. A pair of thongs was a priceless footwear. Obviously the toe parts of these pairs came apart so the thongs had been abandoned. Karogo’s father was ahead and his mother was walking behind me. I knew the couple had planned to be in this position, to protect me.

I walked as quickly as I could because it was getting dark very quickly. The moon was still rising but night creatures were already on the scene, I could hear them.

Today had flown by quickly like each day in the past week. The funeral only ‘formalized’ the death certificate. Karogo was long gone and this absence was so stark in this strange village. This place was an hour’s flight and several hours on the road, south from my home town. Apart from his immediate family, I did not know anyone. That did not bother me. I wasn’t afraid to spend the night in the graveyard. I knew I was a stranger and as his father told me, “you are a target, so you must follow everything I say”.

“Ok” I said. My own family had taught me how to handle any kind of situation with sorcery. It was always best to follow local rules as grandma would say. I had really wanted to go to the graveyard. That may have sounded crazy, as it sounded to me, but I needed to know what the sorcery-watch was about and I wanted to see Karogo again. Fear was not my issue. I could face the sorcerers or anyone from the dead.

It was not fear, as I had said, it was my anger. Karogo’s death made me very angry. This anger was so strong, that I felt cold and hardened inside. I started to feel older and stronger than my 17 years. I had insisted to his parents to take me to the grave tonight.

The torch slipped out of my tired hands and dropped into the mud almost tripping me.

“Shit!” I cursed and picked it up quickly. I quickened my pace to reach Solomon, Karogo’s father. As I caught up, my mind went back to the funeral again. My eyes salted and I wiped them quickly.

This morning about 9am, while the pastor was preaching, trying to cover his eulogy and bring closure to Karogo’s 18 years of living, I had felt every vein in my heart burst into tatters. Our past three years together were a mixture of child-play and maturing into adulthood together. Then, there were the mysteries in his life that I now could never ask anyone about, ever.  He was beautiful inside and out, but he had secrets.

In the front pew, among strangers today, I felt I had been thrown off a plane into a strange place where no one understood my language or me. People were just staring at me, even in church, while the pastor was preaching. To find comfort amongst the staring pitiful eyes, I had looked down at the bright red roses on my black polyester dress. The hem had come apart but the dress kept together. My “Gypsy dress”, Karogo had called it. We were together when I bought this Gypsy dress at the second-hand store in Lae. I was on two weeks mid-year holiday from Year 12. The dress cost me 50 cents. It was strange to feel at ease for a moment while looking at the red roses on the Gypsy dress. I wanted to see Karogo alive in my memories about the dress but only briefly I saw him before my eyes moved and focused on the coffin. The roses in the wreath on his coffin were alive. Karogo wasn’t. He laid there, just like he could have been on the day-bed at his father’s house. His eyes were shut, but he wasn’t sleeping in the opened, beautiful, rosewood coffin.

My dress was the only item that connected us briefly and at that moment in the village church. I sat amongst hundreds of strangers. Mourners, children and adults, dressed in white,  kept sneaking glances at me, probably feeling sorry for the young widowed girlfriend. I had cried inside and begged for my heart to stop right then. Yet, above the haunting Perovetta hymn at the funeral service, I could hear my heart still beating while I tried to understand why death could come to a life so young and promising.

“Joyce!’ someone had called me in the church. I remember, I did not even turn. Perhaps it was someone else with the same name. I didn’t know. I was in a daze. My thoughts were too far-gone. I had wanted to know why my chest kept moving, expanding, and contracting. I was breathing air and life, which I did not want, into me. I had wanted to stop breathing.

“Joyce!” Solomon called.

I turned my head quickly to him. I paused. He was a large, tall man with a large Afro. He combed it out neatly and sweat combined with water from his wet hair was coming down his face. He pointed a few metres ahead of me. The physical and emotional pain returned to my body once more as I stepped in the slippery, pale mud towards him.

“Come this way”, Solomon directed and I walked closer to him.

“Are you ok?” he asked, searching my face when I stopped and looked at him. We were both sweating from the walk. His wife caught up and wiped her flushed, sweaty face. She also looked at me concerned.

“Yes”, I tried to smile.

“Let’s go”, Solomon said.

We turned away from the main road and reached a small, slow flowing creek, about ankle-deep. The stones in the creek were all covered in green and black algae. We crossed the creek as the day’s shadows dissolved, forcing us to use artificial light. Solomon lit the Chinese kerosene lantern and gave me the large torch. His wife held the smaller torch. We climbed. In a few minutes, we will be at Karogo’s graveyard.

(Draft only)

The End of the broom – Part Two


This is the second part of a draft chapter I am working on and sharing with you. If you find grammar or other errors, just smile and forgive me. This chapter may change as I edit and re-write. There is still a lot to be done.

……………………………………….

JLeahy Memoir Series   The End of the broom

“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”

I hummed the song in my head. It really wasn’t a good song for the start of a day. I was too distracted today.

I had to get my Saturday morning chores done. I picked up the broom; a bundle of dried brown coconut sticks, and went to the back of the house near the pig pen to sweep. In preparation for my getaway, I threw my red on the weak, bouncy, low wire clothes line that was slowly coming apart from the two ends, tied on coconut trunks. I was careful not to ‘bounce’ some of the wet clothes off; they had no pegs on them. We did not have any.

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

From the back , I used the coconut broom to sweep to the front yard. The bare sandy yard studded with beach pebbles embraced two houses, both of distinct characters. The larger house faced the main road to the village and the other faced the side of the larger house. There was a large hardwood tree at our entrance called Abong. Because we lived under this tree, our place was called Abonghu, which meant, “at the foot of the Abong tree”. The larger, white house, had blue trimmings and two blue door exits. With her nursing money, Mother helped her father to build this house for all of us. It happened before I was born. After I was born, when I was asleep, she hung me in the bilum on the Abong branch. The three rooms were shared with her two siblings and parents. Mother often fought with her older brother and his children over the ownership of this house. Each time, she would count the number of cement bags, timber, and roofing iron and tell them the total amount of her pension she had spent.

I tried to avoid the pig droppings as I swept. Pigs made such a ‘neat’ mess. Little black round balls looking almost as if they were rolled by hand. It did stink though. I swept past Mother and my room.

There were three bedrooms. Each room in the house Mother built housed several people. There was a lounge room, which turned into guest room when our families visited from the coast or inland. The lounge room had tired old fly-wired windows. Scrawly pen and pencil marks drawn by kids on the wall. The brown unpainted Masonite walls dropped down to unpolished evenly nailed timber hardwood floors. Various stains in years, soaked into the fibre of the dead wood giving it a distinct character. The other house was made from unpainted timber with a mis-matched stacking of planks. The roof was made from sewn sago leaves, and topped with a few iron roof sheets. The sheets had holes in them. Inside, the house was blackened by the built up of daily smoke from the fire. My grandma’s fireplace was on the verandah of this house. The two rooms had no fly wire, just cotton laplaps. The roof had holes. If your bed is positioned right, a raindrop will fall from heaven straight through the hole into your eye – shocking you. My cousin and I have tried this. It was funny.

To my readers:  If you had enjoyed this draft, let me know. I won’t be posting the end of this chapter. It will be in my book. I shall be posting other parts of chapters as I start writing them. These last two stories (in The end of the broom) were parts of the first chapter I have ever written of this memoir. I have been writing a series of short stories in the last two years in my creative writing workshop. I am now attempting to connect them together and create a structure and a spine for the story. If this is the wrong way of writing a book – then I guess I have created a new way. Thank you for reading.

 

 

The End of the Broom


The End of The Broom

JLeahy Memoir Series

Unknown
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).

 

An Eel Escape


From memoir series JLeahy. Part 2

Click link below for Part 1.

https://tribalmystic.me/2014/11/12/an-eel-escape/

We had split the number of holes we saw on the creek beds as early as 8am this morning. Grandma took the right and I took the left. Each hole we dug into would have at least one eel. I was very excited. Sometimes I would find the eel and try to grab it before it knew what was happening. But they all got away. I knew Mother was waiting with our nets for them, so I was not too worried. Most times, the eels could sense the vibrations and make their way out very quietly. The eels were 20-30 centimetres long and had yellow and white bellies. Their backs were pale grey, dark green, mouldy grey and sometimes greenish black.

After at least two hours, Tinang, my grandma, called out to Mother in Bukawac.
“Have you seen any eels?”
“No! Nothing came down”, mother called back. That did not sound right and I peeked through the leaves at my grandmother.
“Keep digging Kalem”, Tinang said and pointed to the next hole.
We both worked our way upstream. We needed to at least catch a dozen baby eels so my two uncles would throw their lines for the ocean fish.

If we had gone to the river, the eels wold have been too big and hard to catch. The creeks were the best place for baby eels. Three hours later, I had exhausted every hole.
“Ok grandma, I am at my last one”.
“Good girl, finish and wash, we will sit down and have a betel nut”, Tinang promised me.
I tried to reach into the last hole and the eel quickly went out the other way. I saw it with my own eyes.
“It’s coming, I yelled out to Mother”.
“Ok, I am waiting”, Mother said.
I sat into the creek and threw the cool fresh water on myself, removing all the mud, rubbish and wiped the insect bites. There were red and swollen. I could not take all the dried leaves and rubbish out of my hair, so I left it there. I cleaned up, and walked out to the side of the bank.  Mother and Tinang were seated under a shade. No words were spoken.
“Where are the eels?” I asked. I was excited to see how many we had caught. Mother was very quiet. She had no expression.
Tinang looked at Mother and then me.
“Would you like a betel nut?” Tinang finally said.
Mother did not respond.
“Yes please”, I said. I wanted to chew and warm up, the water had cooled my body temperature.
I turned and looked at my mother. I searched her eyes and she looked ashamed.
“What happened?” I asked Mother.
Grandma was silent. I could see that “I knew it” look in grandma’s eyes and it was like, she could almost laugh.
“I am sorry. I lifted the nets and let all the eels get away”, Mother said.
“Why?”
“Because I could not bear the thought of touching them”.
It was too hard to get angry. I popped the skin of my beetle nut and sat down with grandma and gave her a hug. I knew how she felt. We sat awkwardly together. Then, I reached for the lime pot and the mustard to add to the betel nut. I had already mashed the betel-nut with my teeth. I began to chew. Grandma reluctantly reached over to mother.

“Here!”,  she said, offering her daughter a beetle-nut and mustard. Mother relaxed and accepted the peace-offering.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RvyC1xo3v1A

In the South Pacific Islands eel farming is quite common. In Papua New Guinea, eels are farmed and also treated like pets. Here in New Ireland Province Cathy’ Larabina’s eels are some of the biggest pet eels. They have become well-known in the PNG tourism industry.

 

 

An Eel Escape


From memoir series JLeahy. Part 1

Suki workshop3 066
We learn early to fish and catch food for our families. In Papua New Guinea, as in many indigenous cultures, children are taken with their mothers to learn about nature and where to find food. Picture taken my JLeahy on Suki River, PNG. 2008

I stuck my right fore-finger into the freshly dug sandy, mud holes. A crab must have tried to invade this hole and got chased out. It left tracks in the mud. I imagined how it happened, and smiled. There were other holes, all about bottle-top size. The sandy mud was soft and pale brown. We needed food so my uncles had to fish tonight. My job was to catch bait; baby eels.

“Kalem! Ampom!”, Tinang called. Tinang was my grandma. She used both my names meaning, a welcoming joy, and light-skinned.
“I’m here!”, I responded softly, trying to not disturb the eels nor other life forms.
“Go there!”, she directed me, pointing to the other side.
I nodded and stepped to the other side of the creek and my eyes canvassed the freshly dug holes. I was in my blue shorts and T-shirt. At seven I was tall so mosquitoes loved my long bare legs. Even when they had filled their tight blood bellies, I could not smack them for fear I would disturb the catch. The mosquitos were also too ‘drunk’ with the blood, so I rubbed them off.

There were crab holes and eel holes but there was a difference. The eel holes did not have a messy gathering at their entrances. From the size of the hole, you could tell how big the eel was. These were small. The eels had two exit points. I started digging into the top opening and then feeling my way to the ending at the second hole. Where I had interfered, dirty water trailed down the footprints to the clean running creek water.  I looked back to see where grandma was. I stepped carefully to avoid the small openings. Then, I picked one and I inserted my fingers into the hole and followed with my hands. I trusted my instincts and repeated the process until we had enough eels.

As early as you could, most children in the village were taught how to catch an eel. I was around seven and very good at catching eels. Catching eels was always exciting and scary at the same time. Physically, the eels scared me, but they were beautiful when I watched them gliding through the water.  There was a certain peace and calmness about them. We were not allowed to catch very large eels. I have watched many get away. The large eels were considered landowners, art of us and our ancestors.

The trick to catch the eel was all in the hands. You reach the eel in the hole by touch, and caress the eel until it relaxes, and you can catch it. Sometimes you can catch the eels with bare hands, but they were slippery and difficult. My aunts were better at hand-catching the eels. The way we were catching today was by scarring the small eels back into the creek and they swam down into a hand-held net.
My uncles and grandma’s brothers would use the eels on large hooks for the open and deep-sea fish.

About six metres downstream, my mother was waiting with the open nets ready to catch the eels. I could not see her, but I could hear her smacking mosquitoes and flies and trying not to curse.
There was bush and wild banana trees between us. Vines from cane and pandanus crisscrossed above me, letting rays of sunlight spill onto the sandy bank. Not far from me, I could see the eels easing their way out and following the creek downstream. We only had to catch a few. Tinang was a few metres behind me, digging on the opposite side. If she started a song, we would sing together quietly.

Sometimes we just hummed in low tones while we fished but we were in a little creek and catching eels so we could not sing. It was very quiet except for the silent scratching noises on the sandy bank. I did not even hear one bird sing.

“Tinang!” I called in a whisper.

She looked at me.

“Did you see?” I asked, excited about the eels that swam down.

She just nodded and kept digging.

Earlier, I had asked Tinang to hold the net. We always fished together. I held the net and she brought the fish into the net. Today, Mother came along. I don’t know why because Mother hated eels. Just like snakes and anything that looked or shaped like snakes, she would run if she saw any. Mother even hated lizards and lizards had legs.

I didn’t eat eels but I didn’t mind them. My uncles said, the eel had a special smell that attracted fish-just like blood drawing sharks under water. An eel was the best bait.

“No, let your mother hold the net Tinang had told me earlier. You are better at catching the eels”. Tinang said.

“You go with Tinang” Mother said, smiling at me. I gave her my net and followed grandma up the creek. I knew mother was up to something. She wore her evil eyes in her funny smile.

The nets were cut out of small knitted nylon fishing nets. They were shaped and sewn along the sides. The top part was held in a hoop by a cane/rattan stick. To catch an eel, we got all our three nets and plugged their mouths halfway into the muddy base of the creek. Half of the mouth of the net would be open to catch anything that floated downstream. The three nets joined and combined at base, blocked off the width of the creek. The creek was about three metres wide.

Mother had bent forward and held onto the three nets. Where she was positioned, Mother could see everything that came downstream – fish, eels, yabbies, nuts from the trees and any other floating rubbish.

TO BE CONTINUED..tomorrow.