Des Hansen: Des Hansen’s CommUNITY News no. 1

Des Hansen with student at Sacred Heart College
Duty teacher didn’t front to get the boys up for work parade. Had a funny feeling that would happen. So my intention of getting up early to prepare some lessons dissipated! 8 o’clock briefing for staff… A couple of staff late again – and not by a few minutes. Another frustration which so often throws everything out for the day.

Just as I’m off to period one I get the message that I’m to drive the ute down to the airstrip to pick up supplies from the charter. How did I manage to get that job too? Of course the ute is totally clapped out – it whines like a Collingwood supporter – and there is no key for it, because the key is lost. Though according to the locals it is somewhere… well of course it’s bloody somewhere! That word is possibly the most overused word in Tapini – everything is SOMEWHERE. It drives me crazy when I hear it, but I find that I’m beginning to use it myself, which is frightening (I’m also tending to get around barefooted, I sniffle constantly, and even have taken to picking my nose when talking to people! – just joking about the latter… My skin remains the same colour though).

Anyway, back to the ute. Driving up the airstrip to the station (admin HQ), is treacherous at the best of times. Huge potholes, ravines and sticky red clay. Despite all the weird noises, I negotiate a path and arrive. I’m there till 12 o’clock loading and unloading. One tyre becomes very flat when there is weight on the back, so I decide to drive down the actual airstrip for safety reasons, hoping not to stall. I go for the ignition, and there is nothing there (I forgot to tell you, no key means I have to use a screwdriver to start the motor). I have the screwdriver but alas, nothing at all. Well, we get the bonnet open and not to my surprise the connection lead to the battery terminal has fallen apart. A student holds it with his hands as I screwdriver the ignition again. The machine roars into life. We have to leave the 44 gallon drum of diesel behind… no room. It will be there for later on. Back to school and unload, completely uneventful.

I am also tending to get around barefooted… My skin remains the same colour though.

Des with two students on the library steps
A group of boys volunteer to help us roll the drum of diesel from the station, almost a kilometre, after I manage to get the last 5 minutes of my year 10 English class. I walk up to the station and await my helpers and, you guessed it, they didn’t arrive. So one of the security guards and I proceed to roll the diesel… the first part of 250 metres is downhill and it’s just a matter of keeping things straight. It’s the other 250 metres up hill which is the poser for the two of us. We must have looked quite a sight – a white man rolling a drum. The greatest hoots were from the students at the edge of the airstrip, the same students who told me they would help. (They love to sit and watch. Rarely do they get in and help – they’d rather observe, laugh, and tell you how you should be doing it). So the school-day is almost half over. But don’t go away, there’s more.

Back at school and I receive the message that I have to go up to the station to ring Fr Brian on the satellite phone in 15 minutes. (We did have phones at the school, but they blew up in June 2008 and we are still waiting for that connection with the world around us. Why I learnt how to send e-mails has got me beat. Deep down I can live without phones. I’ve always found them extremely aggravating and disruptive.) So I trudge up the hill again, this time to Sister’s house, as she sells the telikard (Telecom, the offending provider by the way.) I make my purchase and await my turn to use the phone – no privacy naturally. All and sundry crowd around to eavesdrop. Finally manage to make contact with Father. I barely hear him as a screaming baby virtually drowns out everything. Was expecting big news, but Father was just making contact. So, I’m a little poorer financially and missed out on my opportunity to have lunch. I trundle back for my last two classes of the day.

The work hours are amazing – I find I’m putting in up to 80 hours a week…

Des, with fellow Palms volunteer Tony Bozicevic
Have organised a staff versus student game of soccer – a pleasant break from the rat bag of a day I’ve had so far. It was a good game, apart from one player who is the most selfish I’ve seen as he tries to kick all his wonder goals. Pleased to say he ended up with none, but it wasn’t from a lack of trying! No time to sit down and eat tea, as a stream of new students arrive and I have to tend their registration. The work hours are really amazing – I find I’m putting in up to 80 hours a week a lot of the time.

It’s not as depressing as it may read. Actually, every second day is like this – certainly a bagful of incidents and they all seem to be different. Pity I’m too old to write a book!

Term one will be over by the time this gets to you – a very interesting term (as indeed is every day here!) About half of the 256 students went home – 120 or so still to care for. Of course all the staff go (as they’re entitled to), but it leaves you very short-staffed back here at base. My new pair of shoes will have to wait, and will try to give myself a haircut – one becomes very clever. The wet has been much wetter than normal, and the mud is both smelly and an eyesore. We just can’t get any rain free days.

Life in Aussie clicks over, no doubt – must admit I don’t miss the rat-race (although Foster never fitted into that category).

Regards to all,

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You cannot shake hands with a clenched fist. - Indira Gandhi