I never realized the importance of having clothes before coming home to Kokoda to attend school there in 1982. I always had clothes it seemed before then.
Funnily enough when I recollect now, I didn’t have that many but I had enough and this seemed just fine then. I was so busy playing and we had a house girl and she always kept clothes clean for me so I guess I was spoilt somewhat and had no idea about the importance of not having clothes.
That was until I was sent home from Lae to live with my widowed Grandmother in Block 168 Kokoda and do my 4th Grade.
I was sent on a Talair plane by myself (this was also not new, I travelled alone frequently) and met at the Popondetta Airstrip by some cousin or uncle and taken to Kokoda in a PMV with a bag of clothes and instructions to go to school and do exactly what my Grandmother told me. This was no problem because I loved her and respected her and was best friends with her.
The problem was some of the kids in school who didn’t seem to care for the fact that I was mix raced. I realize now it was not their fault. But it was not mine either. Despite this, a few kids made friends with me and I have remained theirs till now.
The teachers were great though.
How I came to understand the reality of clothing shortage was from my cousin. This cousin who lived with us was in the same grade as I was in Kokoda. He attended the same grade but was in the other classroom. Each grade had two classes in the Dame Mary Kekedo Community Primary School, Kokoda, Northern Province. He had only two pair of shorts. He wore one when to school and the other was hanging to dry. He would come home and after his chores immediately wash the pair he wore and hang them up and wear the next pair. They were tan shorts and he was very careful of them. He also had only two very faded shirts.
I asked him once about his clothes and told me. I felt terrible that I had more clothes then he did and promptly handed him two of my shirts. One was a blue t shirt that said “Morobe Agricultural Show” and the other was a green tshirt with “North Sydney Bears” and a picture of a bear. Now we had equal shirts. He cherished his clothes and always took care of them. My mother always admonished me for giving away my clothes but my Grandfather who had since passed on but was always in my heart and mind had taught me always to share equally and that lesson was firmly engrained in my character.
IN Kokoda I realized that store bought food and clothing and money were things that not everyone had in abundance including me, “Gary Juffa, little bastard child of Felicity Juffa whose father was God knows who”.
I soon found out that most people could not afford meat and rice. When we ate a can of meat it was either 777 tinned fish or Says or Sita Corned Meat.
As for my status as a little bastard many would say so at the market place forgetting that I spoke and understood the languages of Hunjara and Kokoda very well and knew exactly what gossip they spoke thinking I heard nothing. I said nothing and just waited for my Grandmother to sell her things at the market and walk home or just busied myself somehow with books that I had borrowed from the library. The library was my escape. It had many books, old books, but still intact and great to read and dream. I had many dreams and when they started on the subject of my father and what and who I was, I escaped into that world. It was a make believe world but it was much better then listening to the opinions of people who thought I could not understand their painful cutting words.
As you grow older you realize differences in what you have and what you do not have. For instance I never really thought of what I didn’t have prior to coming home because I lived with my mother and she provided the security of shelter, food and clothing. She worked wherever we were and was always confident and dressed well and spoke with much confidence and pride and so it never occurred to me that I needed anything.
I was always busy playing and keeping occupied with a creative mind. And so I never realized that these things were unusual - walking to school and back and staying alone in a house watching at the window as the night approached and it grew dark and finally she would finish late and come home to cook the evening meals.
We had been doing it for so long – living alone - it that it seemed normal to me.
I remember thinking a passing thought once as I trudged home on one of many rainy days why all the kids seemed to have people come and pick them up but I walked home alone. Some kids even had parents pick them up in cars and they would wave as they drove by and I would wave back enthusiastically – drenched to the bone and struggling to keep my soggy socks up my skinny legs as I marched home. It never occurred to me that this was unusual. I went to so many different schools, that I never quite figured out what a normal experience for kids in school was in the 1980s.
Every year it seemed I was in a new school. Sometimes it was a Community School and sometimes it was an International School. I later found out it had to do with whether my Mother worked for the Government or Private: Government – Community School if Private – International. The differences were interesting. In a Community School I was told I was a bastard and targeted by many of the kids at sports and in fights. I went home with bruises and cuts and just told my mum I fell while playing sports because I was ashamed to tell her the kids called me a bastard and her a whore. I could never figure out why that was my fault and they had to steal my lunch or push me or beat me up. I was always the smallest and skinniest kid in class. Some of the kids looked like adults and boy when they played soccer and belted my skinny legs it felt like it too!
In International Schools the expatriate teachers would be particularly harsh and often rebuked me for not having my parents turn up at parent teacher meetings and not having clean clothes. I never had parents come to such meetings because for a start I didn’t have parents, I had A parent and she was always working two jobs to send me to this expensive school! And sometimes because her job required her to, go these field trips, I was left alone for a day or two and so staying alone and being a kid I sometimes forgot to shower and sometimes wore the same clothes as the previous day.
White kids would often be reporting me to the Principal for winning their marbles or fighting or swearing at them. I was usually fighting because they made fun of my cheap shoes and said I smelt. I spoke pidgin often and was accused of swearing if I said something to them in pidgin like “yu pekpek het”. I didn’t even think that was swearing. I could swear. Remember I lived most of my free time in a settlement.
It wasn’t all bad and I made some great friends and there was some good teachers too but it seemed I was never in their classes.
I remember once when I was sent to the Principals Office at Bulae International yet again, Mr. Hooper, for some indiscretion and he quietly closed the door and handed me a cup of Milo and let me read the magazines while he worked. He never punished me. He seemed to be sympathetic always. “Where is your Mother?” He asked. “She works on field trips” and I explained as best as I could. She was a family planning coordinator and often went to remote villages and stations to do awareness and would come home late. I knew that so I told him so. He nodded and said “You know you are in trouble for taking all of John’s marbles?” John was an Australian kid whose parents always bought him these fancy marbles from overseas and every time he brought them to school he would challenge the kids to a game of marbles. PNG kids are the best marble players. We learn on the street. I played in settlements were my best mates lived and the competition there was cutthroat.
So I most often beat John and won his marbles. He would go crying to the most racist obnoxious expatriate teacher of all school in PNG who would instantly reprimand me and force me to hand over all the marbles I had won fair and square back to John.
Then she would send me to either the Principal because I would protest at the injustice and unfairness or send me to the corner of the class. I would mutter all the swear words in pidgin I knew with angry tears coming streaming down my cheeks. To add insult to injury, since it rained almost every second day in Lae, on such days John would pass me by and would grin and make funny faces at me as he was driven by in his fancy car while I marched home drenched carting my bag in a plastic bag so my books would not get wet collecting empty bottles on my way home.
I would just glare at him and wished I could break his pink nose and force him to swallow all his fancy marbles one by one.
In Kokoda, the marbles we bought at the Chinese shop were very ordinary and only singular colored but I didn’t mind. If I won them no one forced me to hand them back, especially racist expatriate teachers who thought my pidgin was swearing warranting the Headmasters attention.
|Garry as a child|
|Gary as a Member of Parliament and Oro Provincial Governor|
Source: Garry Guffa / Facebook post