Colin McDermott: Colin McDermott’s CommUNITY News no. 2

Colin's Maths class
Planting by And

Come every Sunday in Australia, no matter where we lived we would always hear a mechanical roar. That roar usually belonged to a hefty lawnmower as it purred along an evenly layed field of green grass (or in some cases, a frustrated owner roaring at their infernal machine to start). In PNG I can still hear the grass being mowed, just this time it is done by 500 girls as they march, machetes in hand, across Mercy school’s never ending open grass.

Mowing a lawn by hand is not an easy task. To do so, one starts with a sharpish machete in one hand, raise it above one’s head (without hitting the person behind them) and whisk it down to devour the grass beneath. When the students do it, it’s like they are waving a magic wand that just melts the grass it touches. When the ex-pat teacher [Colin] gives it a go, it’s like watching the hippos in Fantasia. Very funny to see, though potentially a danger to life and limb.

When the students cut grass, it’s like they are waving a magic wand that just melts the grass.

Mowing the lawn, PNG style
Hence, knowing the labour involved I was very surprised by an offer from my grade 11 maths class: Sir, we are going to mow your lawn today, after work parade. The entire class had talked about it in depth and everyone had agreed to spend their free time chopping down my grass. Naturally I was quite taken aback, but the entire class of 40 students had decided that they were going to do this for Mr McDermott and I could not argue with them.

So after doing 2 hours of work parade, my lawn was surrounded by students as they chopped my grass. They whisked their semi-blunt machetes across my harvest of wheat grass. Soon all the grass started to vanish beneath my eyes (actually it did not vanish but instead was heaped up in large piles in front of my lawn to be burnt). It took them two to three hours to cut it all down. I was impressed (remember that there were forty of them).

After the grass cutting, some of the girls planted flowers and one batch were digging a large hole. I looked to see what they were doing and after a few minuted they came and gave me a fresh coconut to plant. They explained they wanted me to plant something by my own and. I pointed to my hand with a quizzical look. Yes, by your and. Oh, by my hand! No, your and and I came to learn that the Pidgin word for hand was ‘and’.

By planting something, there will always be something to show you were there.

Colin and students plant a tree 'by and'
So I bent down on and and knee, positioning a coconut in place to be planted. It will be the first thing I have planted in PNG to grow (I hope). One of the students explained the tradition of planting something. If you plant something then you are leaving your mark on the land. So by planting something there will always be something to show you were there. So I slowly covered my first seedlings with my ands, patting the ground gently.

I guess I might just make a mark after all.
Colin McDermott.

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Don't listen to the World Bank. Listen to the people on the ground. They have all the solutions in the world. - Bunker Roy