When Joshua (now aged 13) was in primary school, his family lived in Ukarumpa, Papua New Guinea (PNG). He shares some memories with us here:
On a typical day I’d wake up, eat porridge for breakfast, then I’d walk to school with a friend, Emil, or with my brother and his friend Nikki, who was a neighbour. It was a nice walk to school, not too far, and it was always warm. We didn’t have a uniform – we just wore shorts and t-shirts and sandals. I remember when I started school, being outraged to hear I had to wear shoes!
At school I spent most of my time at breaks in the sandpit, finding clay and making stuff and building water systems. The lessons were less interactive than in the UK and the materials there were not as good.
After school I’d walk home with friends. It was only a 10-minute walk and on our centre so it was safe. I’d get home, have a drink and snack and then I’d go outside and play with friends in the neighbourhood until it was time for dinner. We played in our garden, at the ‘park’ – a play area near our house that was like a meeting point for kids – or at people’s houses. There was a cool house/climbing frame thing to play in with a sandpit underneath.
I remember being outraged I had to wear shoes at school!
It was a lot warmer in PNG and there was grass everywhere, whereas here in the UK it’s concrete everywhere. We never wore shoes after school and there was always someone to play with if you wanted to. We used to play tag in the park, Nerf wars, we made a game where we had ‘clans’ and we built bases. We climbed a lot of trees, played in the water ditches, made stuff with bamboo. We had a massive 14ft trampoline in our garden so everyone came to play on that. My dad built us a very cool treehouse too in a big mango tree.
It got dark at 6pm most of the year, so we went home then and had dinner. Sometimes Mum had to call for me from the veranda. After dinner we played Lego for a bit before going to bed.
People here are not as willing to go out and play, whereas in PNG you could always knock on someone’s door and ask them to play or find someone playing outside and join in. Here you have to find other forms of entertainment in the house.
You could always knock on someone’s door and ask them to play
The kids in school in the UK are a lot worse behaved and rude to teachers compared to my school in PNG where everyone was a Christian, or from a Christian family.
Here we can see extended family lots, but in PNG we were 10 time zones away and Skype wasn’t very good so it was hard to talk with family. The internet wasn’t great where we were.
What my parents did in PNG
My mum was a mum – a very good mum. In PNG she had to cook everything from scratch, as food is less available there. In the UK we still do that because it’s what we’re used to, but there are lots of choices of things to make meals more interesting. In the UK we can just go to shops and buy things we need or want, whereas in PNG we had to order things online three months in advance, because that’s how long it takes for post to arrive, and there weren’t any shops near us. Mum also worked for EC [Executive Committee], which made important decisions.
We had to order things online three months in advance
My dad taught Bible translation at the training centre and taught people how to use Hebrew, how to understand the Bible in its original form and how to translate it into their home languages, which is better than us learning their languages and doing it for them.
What I miss about PNG
The thing I miss most is friends, going round to someone’s house to play, being able to go outside and talk to people. You can’t do that in the UK, just go round to someone’s house. People are not as willing to spend time together after school, and when we first got back and I was in primary school it had to be arranged by your parents, not by the kids themselves. It’s different not knowing everyone, like we did in Ukarumpa, whereas in the UK people won’t talk to you because you’re not connected in any way. It’s a lot lonelier.
I also miss the heat!
I miss the ability to live outside, our big garden, playing and rolling around down the hill. Our UK garden is very small.
What I have learnt
I know more than most people in the UK about geography, countries and different places – we learned about that in school in PNG. People in the UK seem insensitive about other cultures. We learned about different cultures in our PNG school because everyone came from different countries.
I know more about American culture, because a lot of people working for SIL* in PNG were American. Obviously I know more about Papua New Guinea than most people! In a quiz at school I knew the answer to the question ‘Which country owns West Papua?’ and no-one else did.
It was a great way to grow up, a really nice childhood. I got to learn about other cultures and met lots of nice people. It has been hard moving back to a very different place, but worth it overall, I think.
*SIL is Wycliffe’s primary partner organisation. The title image shows an aerial view of the SIL Linguistic Center in Ukarumpa, PNG.
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