Archive for the month “June, 2015”

Population Pressure – Another ‘When we…’ Picture

A medium-sized town in the outback of Queensland at 4 o’clock on a Saturday afternoon.


Look, Mum!  People!


(You might have to click on this picture to see them.)



A Geography Lesson.

We’ve just moved into a smart new office at the University.  We had to move out of our old office because it was wanted as a classroom.

To celebrate the move, we invested in two new coffee mugs, to help us memorise the different provinces of Papua New Guinea as we drink our afternoon tea.

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And then, when you get to the bottom of the mug, there is a helpful reminder that “It’s finished.”

Time to make another one!

new office 026

What a great language this is!

You learn something every day.

It turns out that if you click on any of the photos on  my blog, they go big!

Who knew?

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When we….

One of the problems I have in writing my blog is that new things tend to happen before I have had time to process some of the previous topics that I meant to include.   Our recent long weekend in Australia is one such example.  So many pictures, so little time.

So I hope my loyal readers will forgive me if I set up an occasional “When we…” feature, where I abandon any sense of chronology and just write about things that I thought were interesting at the time.


When we were in Australia at Easter, we came across a war memorial.  We had been driving for several hours, so we thought that it might be a good opportunity to stop the car, stretch our legs and get some fresh air.  It was unlike any other memorial I had ever seen, because instead of honouring individual soldiers who had been killed in battle, it remembered the fallen by recognizing the contribution of their battalions and regiments and listing their respective battle honours.

The other thing that struck us, quite forcefully, was how many of the plaques mentioned the sacrifices that Australians made Papua New Guinea, which in the Second World War was the last line of defence between the invading Japanese army and the mainland of Australia.



A quiet and dignified corner of Queensland.



These soldiers actually fought in Madang, where seventy years later I can sit under a coconut tree and have a quiet beer overlooking the Pacific Ocean and remind myself, once again, what a bloody lucky generation I was born into.


These men fought along the infamous Kokoda Track, undergoing tremendous suffering in a desperate, and ultimately successful, attempt to prevent the Japanese from reaching Port Moresby.  What I found particularly moving here was that someone had placed fresh flowers in front of this stone, a tribute to someone who fell so many years ago. For someone, the memories are still very real.


Again, Papua New Guinea prominent in the list of battle honours.


One unfortunate omission, as far as we could see, was the mention of Papua New Guineans who died alongside the Australian forces.

The Papua New Guineans were non-combattants – their country was colonized by Australia and they had no armed forces – but thousands of them worked as porters and stretcher-bearers, earning themselves the nickname of “Fuzzy-wuzzy Angels.”


Even the Salvation Army were acknowledged for the part they played in the war.

All in all, a sobering and moving experience.  I was glad that we hadn’t driven past.

PS.  (I thought a ‘salvo’ was a round of artillery fire until I came to this part of the world.  Our cousins to the south are past masters at shortening  perfectly good English words and expressions, like “Australian” or “Salvation Army” and then adding either an ‘-ie” or an “o”, hence  “Aussies” and “Salvos.”)

What’s all this then?


Ah, Yes.  It’s one of these.


The Epitome of Irony

Not in my wildest dreams did I ever think anyone would describe me as ‘Academic’.  I am the guy who, after four years at the University of Manchester, wanted nothing more than to go off somewhere and build a wall or dig a ditch or something – anything so that, at the end of the working day, I could have something to point at and say “I did that.”

What actually happened was that I ended up doing VSO in Khartoum.  Funny old world, isn’t it?


OK, OK, I admit it.  I cheated.

When I went to take a picture of my pigeon-hole there was nothing in it, so I stole some paperwork from one of the other pigeon holes, just to make myself look like a real academic.

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The awful truth!

A Big Deal

I don’t know what is filling the front pages of the British newspapers this weekend.  My guess is that it will be either be the Greek debt crisis, the influx of migrants across the Mediterranean or the latest unspeakable outrages going on in the Big Brother House.  I would be surprised if any of the UK papers carried the same story as PNG’s major daily newspaper, The National.




So now you know!  For a country like Papua New Guinea, being part of the Commonwealth is important both politically and economically.  It also provides good photo opportunities!

So you forgot, again, didn’t you?

I’m not angry, I’m not upset, I’m just disappointed.

Once again you forgot, dear Reader, to wish my blog ‘Happy Birthday,’ when it reached its third anniversary on the 6th of this month. I had expected better of you!

(To be honest, I’ve only just realised it, myself – and I’m the editor!)

The blog started on 6th June 2012 with a posting entitled “D-Day minus 72.”  It talked about our preparations for going on VSO.  I recalled telling our neighbour in Northampton about our plans to go to South Sudan as volunteers and him leaning over the garden wall, a few days later, and asking “Why, exactly, are you doing this?”  And my only answer had been “Adventure, Frank.  Adventure!”

The birthday posting a year later was on June 4th and took the form of two cuttings from one of the few newspapers that ever got through to Rumbek.  One said, ominously,”World Food Programme to feed 2.8 million people in 2013,” and the other was, a bit more encouragingly, “Miss World – South Sudan wants to advance education.”

With Miss South Sudan on our side, how could we go wrong?

By my blog’s second birthday, at the beginning of June 2014, we had already been unceremoniously evacuated from South Sudan and redeployed to Papua New Guinea.  The birthday blog was entitled “A Piece of History”, and told the tale of the father of a very long-standing friend of ours, (I’d have got into trouble if I had said “very old friend!”), whose father was with the US Air Force, fighting the Japanese in Papua New Guinea during the Second World War. He survived either being shot down or crashing on no less than three separate occasions.  (If you want to know the whole story, just trawl back to the postings from June 2014. I think you’ll enjoy it.)

Then, this year, my birthday posting was an unashamed attempt to extort money from people in aid of VSO’s appeal for victims of the Nepal earthquakes.  Its title was “Just a Giving Opportunity.”

So, three years old, little blog.  Well done!  Not a baby anymore.  You’ve received 544 comments from readers, hosted 1091 separate entries and chalked up a total of 25,071 views!  Let’s see what you look like when you are four!


(One of the great perks of being a secondary school teacher was that I got to know some delightful young people and was able to watch them transform themselves from scruffy school kid to competent young adult over the space a few years.  Before we left for South Sudan, I occasionally had the opportunity to meet up with groups of my ex-students, who had since moved on to university or wherever and who were keen to meet up for a meal or a drink and re-live old stories.  On one such occasion, one of these ex-students made a remark that, four or five years earlier, would have elicited a stern rebuke from ‘Sir’ at the front of the class.  I fixed her with an unremitting stare, complete with raised eyebrow.

Her response was immediate.  “Oh, No.  Please don’t give me your ‘disappointed’ look.  I always used to hate that! It was worse than being told off!”  The entire company collapsed laughing.)

An Important Visitor

A couple of weeks ago, Divine Word University played host to none other than the right Honourable Mr Peter O’Neill, the Prime Minister of Papua New Guinea.


The purpose of the PM’s visit was to formally open our new clinic, our new admin building, Divine Word’s first steps into on-line learning and a new TB ward at the local hospital.  Well, if you’re getting a visit from the Prime Minister, you’ve got to make the most of it.

It’s a sad reflection on our days in South Sudan that the first thing that struck me on seeing the Prime Minister’s little cavalcade of vehicles sweeping into the car park of our admin building was the absence of visible weaponry.  There wasn’t an AK47 to be seen. In fact  the only protection that we could see was one big bloke in a military uniform who spent most of his time standing behind the PM.

The contrast with Rumbek couldn’t have been starker.  Just compare the two pictures below.


The Prime Minister of Papua New Guinea on a visit to Divine Word University.


The Minister of Education and the Director General of Education of Lakes State, South Sudan on a visit to some schools in their area.

Anyway, back to Madang.


When the PM turns up, the Sing-sing group turns out.


And the serious talking starts.



This man was pretending to be the leader of the Sing-sing group, but I wondered if he might have been a plain-clothes member of the PM’s security detail.  You’d certainly want him on your side if there was any trouble.


Where this rather splendid chap came from I have no idea…272

… but he wasn’t alone.  I felt positively under-dressed. I wasn’t even wearing a tie!







Wow! A Record Day.

One of the addictive things about writing a blog is that WordPress, who hosts it, gives you feedback about how many people have looked at your blog on any given day, which country your ‘viewers’ come from and, on average, how many blog entries each person looked at.  Occasionally someone feels moved to write a comment, which is always exciting.

I know it’s a bit sad, but I check the blog every morning just to see how many people took a look at it the previous day and if anyone has commented. Once I have satisfied this bit of my addiction, I can get on with the rest of my day.

Today was a very good day.  Yesterday, 19 visitors to the blog chalked up a total of 120 ‘views’, almost all of them in the UK, but with  some from the United States, Australia, new Zealand and Papua New Guinea. Normally, I’m happy if I get 20 views on any one day.  120 is unheard of, apart from a freak day about two and a half years ago when the blog must have somehow gone ‘fungal’ or ‘viral’, or whatever the expression is, and 189 views were recorded, some of them from countries that I had never heard of!  My guess is that, yesterday, someone logged on who hadn’t checked the blog for a while and went trawling back reading some of the back-stories.  I love it when that happens.  It does wonders for my ‘stats’.

In the past month I have also had viewers from Germany, Spain, Mozambique, France, Kenya, South Africa, Poland, India, Pakistan, Myanmar and Russia.  I’ve even got one ‘viewer’ from a country called ‘the European Union’, which is a bit strange.

The excitement I feel when I get a viewer from a new country is very akin to the thrill I used to get as a child, when I was able to add a stamp to my stamp collection from a country whose page was previously empty.

For the benefit of my younger blog followers , I should point out that when I was young, – many years ago, – almost all little boys used to collect postage stamps from all over the world and stick them into albums, using bowls of water to soak the stamps off the envelopes, magnifying glasses to study the dates on the post-marks, tweezers to avoid getting sticky finger marks all over the new stamps and lickable stamp hinges to fix them into the relevant pages in the album. (I know it sounds geeky, but we weren’t able to collect Facebook friends in those days, because people were too busy getting over the aftermath of the Second World War to think about inventing the internet.)

I can still remember the day I got my hands on a triangular stamp from Monaco!  How special was that?  I had no idea where Monaco was, but my triangular stamp had pride of place on an otherwise empty page, marked ‘Monaco’.  Very exotic!  Stamp collecting is what taught me most of the geography that I know.  I had three pages, yes three pages, of stamps from Germany, some of them with pictures of Hitler on them!  I even had some stamps from the period of the Weimar Republic that preceded him!  So I suppose I learned a bit of history from my stamps as well.

I often wonder what happened to my dog-eared and battered stamp album.  I wonder if my parents just threw it out after I left home. How ironic would it be if they had donated it to OXFAM, with whom I went on to work for nearly fifteen years. I’d give anything just to be able to thumb through its pages again.  I’d probably even be able to locate some of the countries on a map of the world by now.


A free bunch of tropical flowers to celebrate a bloody good blogging day.

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