The improbable geometry of you & me
Can anyone shed light on this Papua prospecting medallion?

Be strong always, I was told


An entry in the 2015 Rivers Award
for Writing on Peace & Harmony

Over my son’s nine years, a urologist repaired the male defect with which he was born – and I have kept my vow that I made on that labour bed 10 years ago. These days, I don’t think of the hurt I went through, I only feel overwhelming joy at the sight of my handsome 10-year old son, who is also a very close friend. The end result of being strong brought peace and when peace dwelt, harmony came gliding in too…..

AT 4 am it happened.

I heaved myself from the flat mattress, in that bleak little room that I had lived in for four months.  It was sudden and I was shocked and scared, as I was going to be a first time mum too and I heard my heart strings doing wobbly tunes. I quickly grabbed my cell phone from the little night table and called the ambulance.

When the ambulance arrived, I briskly walked out the door with the baby bag in one hand and my overnight duffel bag in the other.  The ambulance attendee helped me and told me to sit on a hard metal chair. He asked me how my labour pains were going and to his surprise, I told him that I did not feel any pain at all. He looked at me in a funny way and I started to panic.

When we arrived at the hospital, the attendee helped carried my bags to the reception and gave the receptionist a brief report he had written about my situation. Then a sister came and led me to a bed right into the labour room where all sorts of women were birthing.

I was frightened.

A doctor came and did a thorough check on me, poking here and there, embarrassing me, but all the right things they did to women who were in the process of labour.

‘You say, when did the water broke?’ the doctor and the overly concerned sister in charge stood on each side of the labour bed and asked me.

‘Yes at 4am sharp,’ I said in a small voice.

They then listened to my baby’s heart and told me that baby was okay, but if I didn’t feel any labour pains after an hour, they would have to induce me to bring the baby out.

I lay on the hard bed and heard women screaming and yelling in the process of giving birth. It was like being in a torture house. The sounds the women made were of total torment, but when a high pitched cry sounded, the next words I heard were of love and pleasure. 

There was one woman who continued her screaming from pain, to sorrow and then to complete affliction. The nurses and midwives couldn’t calm her, as she cried and screamed. ‘Why you have to die after I took good care of you for nine months and now 10 hours of continuous torment and pains you gave me, but you are not breathingggg…... Why do you have to leave meeee……..’ The poor woman screamed and wept.

I was petrified and didn’t know whose hand to hold.

The woman next to my bed was threatened with a twig by a midwife, because she was not following instructions and was making birthing difficult. I moved my eyes towards the half opened curtains that separated me from the other beds and had a shock when I saw a woman without any cover displaying a huge stomach as she lay on the birthing bench.

I was horrified.  

I stood up and started walking as the sister in charge had suggested. I looked around the ward and saw women from all works of life suffering in the name of labour for the sake of a life inside them.

I am a woman too, I thought, and I have suffered and I will suffer again tonight, if my time comes.  I must be strong like I have been for the last nine months.

I kept walking around the corridor and memories started flooding into my mind.


He and I taught together at this new school that I went to teach at and we became quite close.

The result?

I was now expecting and he was already taken.

I couldn’t teach at the city school anymore because of continuous harassment, shame, brokenness and other thoughts of being bashed up on the street and my unborn child condemned prompted me to move to insolation.

Wrong choice, really.

So with two other female teachers, we left for the mountains of Goilala to Garima Primary School. I was broke and pregnant and didn’t know what to do. The school was only accessible by small planes, through Fane, a Catholic Mission Station.

I told none of my family, as I was sort of running away.

I looked through the small plane window and saw mountains, jungles, rivers and isolation. We landed in Fane and had to trudged on for close to ten hours, climbing and more climbing until we reached Garima, at the peak of another mountain.

Then reality struck me. How am I supposed to give birth here? There was not even an aid post nearby. The only one was at Fane.


There were no gardens for teachers and most of the time we were hungry. As my baby kept growing, I did not want to eat the everyday staple food like bananas and greens cooked in water with no flavour at all.  I longed for my own island food, flavoured with garden herbs and creamed in coconut milk.

I was always hungry.

The cold of the mountains was unbearable; the food was uneatable and I was so lonely and missed my dear mother and my beautiful home in Bougainville.

I became sadder every day. On weekends, I sat on the edge of the cliff and stared at the serene untouchable landscape of valleys and high peaked mountains. I would sit there for hours and hours, just staring at the untouched beauty.

But my mind was troubled and sad. 

I struggled to like the food and truly I hated the cold.   One morning it was raining and I felt very cold and pulled the blanket right up to my chin and folded my legs up to my bulging stomach and tried so hard to keep warm. Then I felt cold freezing water rained down on my blanket and cascaded onto my face.

The roof had given way.

I started crying like a child and ran out of the shack we were living in and went into the thatched kitchen and locked the bamboo door by sliding a hard wood across it. Then I built a fire and cried the whole day.

I didn’t go to teach.

I was sad, but most of all I was angry.

Why am I hiding here when I should have just gone home and taught in one of the schools in my village? Why am I so far from my family? Am I the first one to be pregnant out of wedlock?

Damn these religious ethics!

I remembered sitting there in that long Goilala traditional house and digging the ashes with a stick, tears pouring out of my eyes.

I remembered, as fugitives, our mother surrounded us with her strength. I remembered the advice she whispered during those dark nights when we lay on our ‘karuka’ mats.   

I was five months pregnant and I was worried sick.

Never in my wildest dreams had I imagined giving birth in an isolated village accessible only by small plane. I was having nightmares about it, imagining if I died in childbirth I would be buried here in this strange land, with my stillborn child laid across my bosom.  

If my child was alive, maybe he would be mistreated. And my poor mother would be heartbroken if the news reached her somehow.

I decided to leave and go back to the city.

I told my friends and, with some students, they accompanied me back to Fane. We climbed down and up steep mountains and after hours of trudging finally arrived. My legs ached and my back was stiff and about to break. We spent the night with some teachers at the primary school in Fane.

The next day I got on a small plane and went back to the city.

I arrived at Jacksons International airport with my outdated clothes and isolation inspired ways. I quickened my pace and as I walked past a glass wall. I couldn’t believe what I saw.

I had grown ugly with unkempt wild hair, baggy clothes and a bulging belly.

I got on a PMV to Boroko and walked into a food bar to buy take-away when a woman I knew came over to me.

‘Oh my goodness, what happened to you?’ she asked loudly, looking posh and prim in her bank teller’s uniform.

‘What happened to me?’ I asked confused.

‘I mean, I didn’t recognise you. You look aged and worn out,’ she told me flatly in an uncaring sort of way.

Suddenly, tears started pouring down my eyes and I ran out of the food bar to the back of the post office and sobbed uncontrollably.  I felt hurt and embarrassed.

That evening I went to a small motel and stayed there for the night.  

Next day, my dearest friend Paula came and picked me up. I stayed with her while she drove me around to look for a job. I landed an excellent job as an enrichment teacher at one of the posh private schools and also found a comfortable flat in a safe area of the city.

I presented myself at the hospital, registered my name and went there for regular check-ups.

My stomach grew in size and at night I tossed and turned because my back ached. I cried myself to sleep most nights and woke up with swollen red eyes.

As my baby started to kick and move around, I felt comforted that I was carrying a little human that I would call my very own.

As I moved into my final month, I became heavier and lonelier. I went shopping for baby clothes every weekend and bought only blue clothes because I really wanted a son.  Perhaps that was because of the betrayal and anger that was rooted in my head.


‘Hey, how are you doing?’ the sister in charge called out to me and I looked towards her confused.

‘I beg your pardon?’ I asked as I was lost in thought and didn’t hear her.

‘Do you feel any pain?’ she asked me.

‘Yes, very bad on my lower back and around my hips,’ I answered.

‘Oh, that’s a good sign,’ she said and smiled.

I kept walking around until it was 7 am and then I felt my insides doing weird things.

I crawled towards the labour bed and a midwife came quickly to my side and helped me.

When the nurse delivered my son I felt an overwhelming surge of fulfilment and commitment rushing through my tired body.

The nurse lifted my son to my bosom and I saw how beautiful he was. His skin was soft and he was quite long and big. I couldn’t believe it. I was thrilled.

Then the nurse told me that there was a problem.

I looked down and saw that she was right. My son was born with a male defect.

I vowed there on that bed in the labour room that I would do everything I could to make that defect right and that I knew then that it was a challenge for me to sort out my life and make it into something better.

When the doctor came he confirmed that my son was born with a male defect known as hypospadias, a male condition where the urethra opens on the underside of the penis instead of at its tip.

‘It is nothing these days. There are doctors, who fix this problem,’ he consoled me seeing my swollen red eyes.

My dear friend Paula came and visited me and I didn’t tell her what my son was born with.

I will sort this out myself, I vowed.

I brought my son home to our little flat and took care of him with an unselfish love that melted my heart and made me smile every day.

I took him to his first doctor when he was three months old and the doctor gave me a lead to an excellent paediatrician in Lae .When my son was five months old, I moved to Lae and found a job there so my son would be closer to the children’s doctor.  

I looked up hypospadias on the internet and read about it. I was truly surprised to find out about the many other problems that children are born with and how modern doctors are helping them.

The wonderful Christian paediatrician in Lae organised for us to meet Professor Dewan from Australia. The professor repaired my son in four stages over nine years.

There are no words to express the gratitude I feel towards Professor Dewan. His friendship to us is treasured preciously.

These days, well, I have a Cheshire cat smile and these great stories that I tell my son about the long trip I took to the mountains of Central Province.

Strength, commitment and love were modelled by my mother when she kept us together as we struggled in the jungle during the civil war in Bougainville.

‘Heartaches, brokenness and shame are emotions,’ she used to tell me.

‘Your heart is the reservoir of experiences. Experiences are lessons to have more strength to tackle heartaches that come your way,’ she advised. 

Be strong,’ I was told by my mother, ‘this is one tough world we live in.’


Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

Peter Kranz

This is a wonderful and poignant story Marlene. It is brave of you to write with such honesty, and a testament to your skill as a writer.

I think it was Wordsworth who said great poetry (and writing) comes from powerful emotions recollected in tranquillity.

I pray you will have tranquillity in the years to come.

`Robin Lillicrapp

Well done, Marlene. Should be inspiring and encouraging to many.

Verify your Comment

Previewing your Comment

This is only a preview. Your comment has not yet been posted.

Your comment could not be posted. Error type:
Your comment has been saved. Comments are moderated and will not appear until approved by the author. Post another comment

The letters and numbers you entered did not match the image. Please try again.

As a final step before posting your comment, enter the letters and numbers you see in the image below. This prevents automated programs from posting comments.

Having trouble reading this image? View an alternate.


Post a comment

Comments are moderated, and will not appear until the author has approved them.

Your Information

(Name and email address are required. Email address will not be displayed with the comment.)