Childhood Memories Forty Years On

IMG_0410In my part of the world, it’s currently winter and the only ‘color’ in the garden are the white snow drops. It’s been cold, we’ve had a lot of storms and the mountains are dripping in snow so we headed north for the sun…Yes, North! Everything is different down here 🙂

This year we went to Papua New Guinea. I spent four years in PNG when I was a child; from age 4-7. I started school there and I have some very strong memories like standing under the huge Banyan trees watching the ladies in the telephone exchange manually connecting calls while the fruit bats wielded overhead.  I was keen to go back and see how things had changed after PNG gaining Independence. I was in for a surprise but not quite in the way I imagined.

This photo was taken when I was five and my older sister was nine and in the garden of our house. I adored the frangipani IMG_1451trees and still do to this day. Whenever I am in a tropical place…Bali, Fiji, Hawaii, PNG, you will find me with a fragrant frangipani flower behind my ear. There was also a lagoon behind the houseand yes, I fell in once. I SO remember that. To this day, I hate mud between my toes. I launched out of that muddy hell-hole so fast, which was fortunate because a week later, a baby crocodile was pulled out of it!

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PNG is very poor and as a result not a lot has changed in Madang. Many of the old houses the ex-pats lived in are still standing,  including my house! The PNG National who now owns it with his family allowed me to stand inside the gate and take a photo which was very generous of him. He was confused as to why this white face was peering through the locked gate! Today, inside of the car-port, they have a traditional Haus-Win, the lovely sago-palm leaf roofed building that catches the breezes. The two families who own the house, gather there.

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My father worked for Shell Oil but I went to school with a lot of children of missionaries. There are still a lot of missionaries in PNG. On our plane alone there was a nun seated in front of me and I was sitting next to a US Wesleyan pastor and a few seats back a New Zealand missionary couple. I used to be jealous of the missionary kids who came by boat to school each day from the islands in the Madang harbour and got to ride in a troopie. All I got to do was walk to school!  I was invited to Krangket Island with my school friend and my son and I found the small church on the island when we went sailing this trip.

My kindergarten classroom was built new the year I started, however the louvre windows and doors never arrived from Australia…it took until the following year…so I have very strong memories of rain coming in now and then and often in the mronings having to mop the concrete floors. I also remember when the new school logo was launched and today, the logo is still the same! I remember our school concert and the time the teacher chalk drew the Easter Bunny’s big feet on the concrete floor!

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Me outside my classroom telling Boy Wonder about the fact the window were not there. 40 years ago it wasn’t this brightly painted either!

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Most PNG kids still live in villages without power and attend dirt-floor schools. We visited one and the classes are taught in English and the curriculum is very similar to Australia’s, although you don’t get to read about ‘Bride Price’ or ‘Sing Sing’ on the kid’s reports on food.

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The Lutheran Church I attended Sunday School is still there as well as the only book shop in town where I still have books that were birthday gifts. There was no TV in PNG when I was there and I learned to read there and learned that books are great entertainment. A lot of the books came from the USA, so I read Dr. Suess, SUMMER and WINTER and Robert the Rose Horse. Oh how I loved those stories. I was very disapointed that there were no fireflies in PNG or Australia! When I lived in Wisconsin, my US mates used to wonder why I got so excited about fire flies and why I wanted to put them in jam jars 😉

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When I was a kid, every afternoon after school we would walk down to the hotel and swim in the huge saltwater pool. Guess what? It’s still there! In fact the old hotel is now the very lovely, Madang Resort, where we stayed for 8 nights. I got to swim in the pool and tell the boys how I terrified my mother by jumping off the top diving board. Of course, back in the day, there was no pool fence or buildings near the pool.  It was surrunded by green grass. Once, we turned up to swim to find the pool closed because two dolphins were swimming in it. They were waiting for their flight to SeaWorld in Australia!

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A special on-effect of this trip was showing the photos to my parents and having their memories jogged and new stories shared. It turns out that the island with the sandy beach we visited for snorkelling (above right), we used to sail out to for picnics. My husband and sons were very good, happy to listen to me rattle on with my stories. Mind you, they were in a lovely resort having a good winter-break so it was win-win really!  We sailed, sea-kyacked, snorkeled  and The Lad went diving. I also got a LOT of reading done 

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If you’re interested in village photos, hand made pottery, market pictures and wildlife, I have them up on my Facebook page.

Do you have any strong childhood memories around the age of 4-7? I’d love to hear them!

Book News! Fiona Lowe’s Weddings is out in the USA and Australia…an anthology of 4 of my previously-published novels. For US readers, Picture Perfect Wedding is out in paperback in August and availabe from Harlequin.