Thursday, October 28, 2010

The ever desolate yet vibrant Waigani Campus


 If W.B. Yeats ever visited the Waigani Campus he would most certainly exclaim, “That is no country for old men.” And he would probably continue musing:

… The young
in one another's arms, birds in the trees
- Those dying generations - ….
Caught in that sensual music all neglect
Monuments of unageing intellect.

The campus is indeed as desolate as Yeats describes that homage to Byzantium. It must be, at this time of the year. The exams have come and gone. And there are no more students left, apparently, to be seen around.

But its sudden moment of rousing awakening into the bustle and humdrum of academia is equally captivating. Things just happen as suddenly as they vanish. Posters with promises of easier access to education and protection for children, women and youth abound. There is sign of life after all. Who’s suddenly here, one asks in wonder. “The UN workers along with their PNG co-workers.” The whole place becomes abuzz with movement, with speeches being made, traditional dances being performed, and oh, yes, over in one corner, perhaps the Main Lecture Theatre, there is seen and heard the Governor of NCD and his colleague, Lady Carol Kidu. And then, of course, in the midst of packing up to leave for its respective destinations throughout the country the student population renders its support through the PA system with the announcement, “This is your last chance to know what the millennium development goals are for your village. Come and gather as much information as you can before you leave.”

In that short period of time a child from next door Waigani Primary school gathers sufficient information on literacy to enhance better performance in classes next year. Another from Pom Nats gets all that is rich and tantalizing just so as to become a member of this campus within a year or two. And yet another, looking somewhat groomed and dignified in posture, because this is the alma mater most talked about, knows that bringing an employer to the Waigani Campus at this time of the year is, as always, the appropriate thing to do.

Amid all that buzz and excitement is felt the poetic desolation of the place once all over again. Even in the speeches made by dignitaries visiting the campus at this time, there is a call for improvement in virtually all the areas that the academia might have neglected over the year. But that burnt out feeling of having so much left undone during the year becomes as much a concern for the campus community as the nation itself. Papua New Guineans must now begin checking their attitude department, not just their intellectual posture is what the Dean of the School of Humanities and Social Sciences is saying. She could be right. The buildings all around look as sad as ever, each wanting a reasonable looking “face lift”, and this desolate look of abandon becomes a kind of punctuation mark to that remark. But who is there who cares enough to attend to the needs of even the most rundown building on campus. Each building cries out for help.

Of course, when all this is over, and when the student population has left the campus, there will be a few contractors called in to do bits and pieces here and there. But whether our very attitude to what each building represents changes at all depends on what we have to treasure as good in terms of maintenance. The painter plays an important role in this. If a campus looks good then all that splendour in appearance is in turn attributed to the type of dedicated work the painter has done. Most classrooms have white boards that when written on refuse to be wiped clean. Is it the white board marker or the surface of the white board itself? Still the ink does not rub off, and you are using the correct marker, mind you, because our painter forgot to apply the necessary gloss over it. The urge to rush up to the accounts and collect that pay cheque before each Christmas and New Year break comes rather too quickly for our painter to look over the shoulders at the work done. Poor, old Waigani campus! Even the poet feels like guffawing instead of weeping.
And then it all happens. The forum area – once the arena of great oratories of those colonial and neo-colonial times past gone – bursts into life. A crowd gathers: there is much cheering and clapping, much hushed up awe in admiration, as a lone dancer moves in to do a solo with the tamure.

In a moment she becomes one with her art and the crowd that surrounds her.

O sages standing in God's holy fire…
Come from the holy fire, perne in a gyre,
And be the singing-masters of my soul.

Little wonder therefore that that place is described, often with authority, as the premier University of the Pacific Region.