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Dreams of my childhood: To fly like a bird

Lumi airportEMMANUEL SOLWAI MAMBEI

WHEN I was about eight, nine and ten years old in the early 1990s, mum taught at Lumi Community School.

The school catered to children of public servants at Lumi station and children from villages surrounding the station.

Back then, Lumi was a fully-fledged district of West Sepik Province. It is now just a sub district, Aitape being the headquarters of the restructured Aitape-Lumi District.

So it was that our home was right at the station, the centrepiece of which was the Lumi airstrip. The airstrip ran right through the middle of Lumi station, with houses on either side.

The district administration offices were some two kilometres away, but most business was conducted at the station: the market was there, the stores, the public servants’ houses, the Catholic Mission station, community school, police station and rural lock-up. That was Lumi station. The airstrip commanded the centre of attention.

To understand the importance of the airstrip, one must understand the geography of Lumi.

It is located right in the middle of West Sepik Province, along the Torricelli Mountains, which run from the north western boundary of Lumi right through parts of Nuku, to Yangoru in the East Sepik Province. Typical of mountainous regions, there is high rainfall, and the associated problems.

Access to the outside world is limited to the Sepik Highway that links Lumi to Nuku, Drekekir, Maprik and Wewak, and the airstrip.

Travelling the highway is a back-breaking experience. The poor road conditions usually mean that a journey to Wewak, that would usually take eight hours, takes two days or, if lucky, one day.

There are vehicles laden with cargo bound for Lumi stuck on the road for weeks, waiting for another vehicle to tow them out.

The easier way in and out of Lumi was by aeroplane. Hence the significance of the airstrip.

The arrival of an aeroplane was always a big occasion. Those from outlying villages visiting the station and residents of the station would gather at the airstrip to see who was coming and going.

And so, wherever I was, if I heard the drone of the aeroplane approaching, I would run as fast as my little legs could carry me to the area where the aeroplane would come to a stop and passengers would disembark.

I would stand with the citizens of Lumi to see who the plane brought. Back then, Lumi was serviced mostly by Sandaun Air Services and Mission Aviation Fellowship and there was usually a flight every day except Sundays.

Standing there, my eyes would be glued to every action of the pilot. As the plane taxied to a halt, the pilot would reach up and touch a few buttons and the engine would come to a stop.

He would then be the first to come out, opening the passenger door so all the passengers would disembark. And then it would be time to go, and he would go through the same motions, and take the plane to one end of the runway, then race it along the runway until we thought it would crash if it raced further. Then it would lift off and fly away.

I was fascinated by the aeroplane and wondered how the pilot could fly such a heavy machine. Remember that this was before the advent of the internet. Whatever I knew came from books we had and what I could gather from my parents.

I wanted to be like that pilot and fly that plane. And I bet half the children standing with me and watching had the same thoughts.

I never had the chance to pursue my dream. No opportunities came my way, there was no pathway I could follow. I became aware of the Air Niugini recruitment scheme when it was too late. By then I had set my mind on becoming a lawyer.

I would not have told this story had I not read the Post Courier last Friday.

I read an article on Kerenga Kua MP entering into an agreement with Air Niugini to create a pathway for two aspiring students each year from Sinasine-Yongumul to enter a cadetship with Air Niugini to become pilots. My heart yearned.

I wished I’d had such opportunity when i had that dream.

As I pen this, as I think of my dream, I know deep in my heart that there is another Lumi boy or girl, just like me all those years ago, standing at the Lumi airstrip wondering how the plane could fly, and wondering if he or she could one day fly a plane like that.

How I wish my member of parliament would have the foresight of Kerenga Kua to create a pathway for a Lumi child, where none existed for me in my time.

Comments

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Godfrey Sim

Great story! I also stood at the Lumi Airstrip as an eight, nine, and ten year old back in the 60's! Mostly it was to actually get on the plane to go to school on the coast.

Leaving my home in the Lumi District was always a cultural wrench I struggled with. But the airstrip at Lumi has been and still is the doorway to my home and family in the Torricellis.

MAF started flying in there from Wewak in 1952 and still does 62 years later. There are many airstrips that remain the only access local people have to basic services.

I hope they can get the help needed to stay open, and I hope that small plane operators also get the support they need to serve these communities.

Missionary kid, now a "hap lapun".

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