BY JOE BIGIGLEN YAMOG
IT WAS FRIDAY 28 JULY 2006, and the sun was shining in its magnificent glory over the savannah grasslands of the Markham Valley.
There was a cool breeze blowing to complement the beautiful morning sunshine, the mulberry tree branches were swaying as the steady Wawin breeze blew and the perrywinkle flowers bloomed beautifully.
This place, somewhere in the middle of the Markham valley, was home away from home for many students. Here strangers became friends for a lifetime after two memorable years.
So it was a beautiful day as usual in Wawin National High School (Wanaths) with everyone up at 6 am because Friday was the ‘Golden Day’ - with the weekend commencing right after period six at 1:50 pm.
Joseph, a Grade 12 student, had been up since 5:30 because this day was a special day - his 20th birthday. But an unusual birthday - away from home, away from family and in boarding school.
Joseph had a quick shower at 6 and was getting ready for breakfast when his friends rushed into Room 232 and gave him bear hug after bear hug to wish him a happy birthday.
The atmosphere was exciting as the bond of brotherhood among the male students was firm and everyone was now planning to gear up in their gentleman dress to prepare for class - a tradition in Wanaths as a way of celebrating a special day for any student.
At 7 Joseph was dressed up in his finest suit with a Sepik neck tie. With his school books in his folder, he went down for morning registration and class. After the brief roll check and words from the patron in Room 5, Period 1 commenced with the English class.
It was during Period 2 during Economics that Joseph noticed a white LandCruiser driving into the school gate and towards the administration block. He excitedly recognised that the vehicle was his elder brother’s company car. He’d promised to take him out for the weekend to celebrate his birthday. Joseph could hardly wait for class to be over before he quickly packed his books and walked towards the car park.
To his surprise, it wasn’t his elder brother in the driver’s seat but a co-worker with some of his childhood friends who met his eyes with smiling faces and called him over.
Joseph was certain that celebrations were imminent because his friends were here to pick him up so they could travel down to Lae together and get some drinks and enjoy themselves along the Okuk Highway to Yonki township to celebrate his 20th birthday.
Joseph was so carried away about how this special day would unfold that at first he did not notice his sister in-law and a female family friend exiting the administration block and walking towards them.
They greeted him with warm smiles and his in-law told him they would go to his dormitory to gather some of his clothes for the weekend.
The trip to Lae was very quiet and his friends did not mention anything about his birthday celebrations as Joseph had expected them to do. Their expressions showed something was preoccupying their minds.
Joseph grew suspicious, but he was not even given the slightest chance to ask because every time he tried they would bring up another issue or ignore his question completely.
As the LandCruiser climbed the steep Kassam Pass, Joseph’s in-law suddenly broke the silence. With tears flowing freely from her eyes she said, “Joseph I’m sorry, your Dad passed away on Wednesday 26 July and that is why we came and excused you from school so we could all go together and bury him in his homeland in East Sepik.”
Joseph could not believe his ears, his heart sank as tears spilled down his cheeks; he was lost and too confused for words, and all he could do was cry freely as the LandCruiser rolled on.
His keen desire for a fun filled birthday celebration with his family and friends was the opposite of what he now experienced; it was in fact to be a sorrowful gathering.
Joseph’s heart broke as he muttered over and over, “Why oh why do I have to receive this sad news on my special day, Why oh why this unexpected birthday present?”
Joe Bigiglen Yamog (26) was born in the Kainantu district of the Eastern Highlands of mixed East Sepik and Oro parentage. He is in his final year of study in the Department of Communications for Development Studies at the PNG University of Technology in Lae