Wednesday, August 24, 2011

A visit to Paradise High School

                                         The motivation to write

Principal Safak Deliismail and students of Paradise High School enjoying the talk given by Russell Soaba during the National Book Week festivities.
Storyboard felt deeply honoured to be invited by Paradise High School to their National Book Week festivities Wednesday 10th August. The atmosphere felt at the school could easily be likened to an established writers’ seminar if not a session at a P.E.N. international congress. It was the good questions asked of a writer by the students there that made storyboard feel that way. In a way, the whole afternoon became a “success story” for the school itself.

The first question asked, was: “What motivated you to write and become a success story?”

The answer provided by storyboard was standard enough. It was the same sort of answer any successful writer would give the world over.
The thing that motivated storyboard to write, came the reply then, was that in all his lifetime he had been nothing but a failure. It was that sense of failure that motivated him to write. Even today he has not abandoned the idea of seeing himself as such. And so he must write: not so much to publish and sell as to satisfy a certain curiosity deep within us that gives us the signal that we are not doing enough. But the greatest challenge to all this comes to us when we see what failure means face to face. It is that moment of realization that compels us to go on writing. And we will go on doing this forever.

The second question called for clarification on the notion that storyboard was a “failure”. “Sir, if you regard yourself as a failure, how is it that you are famous, here and overseas?”

To which the response was that storyboard never won any major literary prizes for all that he had written in his lifetime. If there were any reward at all for his work, these came in the form of fellowships and interns that enabled him to pursue his writing career at certain private schools around New England area of the United States when he was in his thirties; and at certain universities as a Writer-in-Residence.
“How old were you when you first published?”


A wow swept through the head of the crowd.

The Principal of the school, Mr. Safak Deliismail, asked if there were any organizations or establishments in place to honour the country’s writers with awards and prizes. Storyboard answered that there were none in PNG, and those elsewhere had their own programs and policy guidelines to follow. “But that should not deter us from writing,” he continued, “from being writers and artists, which is what we are. So then, if we keep on writing, the chances are that we might reach that anticipated hour of success in our art, in our craft, which, if understood and appreciated well enough, will surely raise the whole world to its feet with salutation and cheers.”

Another question, possibly from the Grade 10 section of the crowd, had something to do with storyboard’s favourite myth or legend. What was it? The cassowary story, came the reply. The cassowary story? Where is it from? From the East and West Sepik Provinces, said storyboard. There was a huge round of applause. The student asking the question was from the East Sepik.

“And sir,” asked another, what is your usual reaction when someone says that he or she likes your books very much? I’m talking about Wanpis and Maiba here.”
“I get worried,” replied storyboard. “If my books are described as likeable, or enjoyable, then I begin questioning my own worth as a writer. And this in turn leads me to realize that all good writing is subject to objective literary criticism. It is good criticism that determines the true value of a book. That calls for quality as well. I tell this to my students of literature at the University of Papua New Guinea. And I am telling you this now: your best reader is not the one who says, “I like your books,” but the one who says, “Your books intrigue me.”

“How many books have you written, sir?”

“Just four: two novels, and two volumes of poetry. But now we come to the “success” part of our meeting this afternoon. This should ease your minds a little. Reason why I am well known is that this small number of books is proof enough that I am a very good writer. There is your success story.”

At this point we all realized that time was running out on us. Ms Bronya Kaine, conducting that afternoon’s book week session, announced that there was time for one more question.
The question was: “How long did it take you to write Wanpis?”

“Ten years,” came the reply.

Whistles of disbelief, perhaps; a little of fidgeting here and there. This can’t possibly be the right answer?

“All writing is art, scribbled in a diary that we keep visiting over and over. It starts at an earlier age, such as where you are now. And then we grow up with our writing. Let Mum, when cleaning house, store those diaries in a secure place. Keep on creating those diaries now until you reach your twenties. At that point, come back to all that you have written, arrange and re-arrange them, and there you will see that you have written a novel.”

The applause received then was resounding – an almost standing ovation.
Then the principal rose and thanked his school for choosing to share that Wednesday afternoon with a writer. He pointed out that writers were a special group of people; that you rarely saw them in public places, except at book fairs signing autographs; and that what they thought and wrote was useful advice to people of all walks of life, from ordinary people up to statesmen and leaders of countries.

The faculty of Paradise High School consists of Papua New Guinean and Turkish teachers or patrons and mentors. A student there finds himself or herself in a prestigious position of being a member of an international community of scholars, writers and artists. As he looked around, storyboard was mindful of the fact that the 2006 Nobel Laureate in Literature was Turkish, an important reflection on the academic potential of this new school.
And as he sat down to autograph the school’s copy of Maiba, at the kind request of the principal, he could sense that there was and there is no greater reward, no greater prize, for the writer than to see his books placed in the libraries of those young people so eager to know what writing is all about, such as the student who asked: “How old were you when you first published?”

Friday, August 5, 2011

SBKMC Comp ‘11

Some of the Mooters in the SBKMCC 2011
By Nou Vada 
I spent the whole week preparing for Round 5 of the Sir Buri Kidu Moot Court Competition. The nerves and the stress of preparing written submissions and then oral submissions had gotten to me by the middle of the week. But this is what I had signed up for, and I couldn’t complain and wish for everything to go away; I thought ex nudo pacto non oritur action; and that as such the stress is a part of the consideration in the agreement. I laughed at the thought. Such is true about all things in life, and the Sir Buri Kidu Moot Court Competition is no exception.

So what is the Sir Buri Kidu Moot Court Competition? It is a yearlong Competition where registered UPNG Law students from second year to fourth year go against each other in mock courtroom battles. Students form firms of two to four members and get them registered. 
This year, the competition was revived after a one year hiatus. Twenty firms registered as soon as notices for the inception of the Competition were put up; among the ranks was my own team, CR Legal.
The first round kicked off midway through first semester. All twenty teams were pitched one against another. The moot problem given for the first Round was one on defamation; it was an appeal case where the appellant, one Kepas Bigmaus, Member of Parliament was appealing against the decision of the court of first instance which found the respondent, Ruts National Nius Korporesen not liable for allegedly damaging Hon. Bigmaus’s good name and reputation pursuant to the Defamation Act 1962 over a news report and a corresponding editorial about allegations concerning the Appellant’s conduct at a Hotel. In Round 2, teams dealt with a case concerning property law where the plaintiff, one Jenny James was claiming that the defendant’s bank had unfairly settled the mortgaged house she had defaulted payments on. 
In the third round all teams were informed that eliminations would begin. For the third round, the case was in the area of Family law, where the appellant, an expatriate was appealing against the decision of the Court of first instance, in awarding the custody of his daughter to her Papua New Guinean mother, the respondent. Every team had, for every round, gone against another, either as plaintiff against defendant or as appellant against respondent. After the third round the bottom four teams were sent packing. 
The remaining 16 went to battle in Round 4, where the case at hand was a tricky one. It was about a highway robbery. The trickiness of it was in the course of action that was taken; the victim of the robbery took the Village Leader of the village next to the area where the robbery happened to Court, claiming that the village leader could’ve prevented such a robbery as the culprits were from that village. The case, which was an appeal, dealt with one of the most complex areas of Law in Papua New Guinea – the Underlying Law. The Underlying Law is a branch of the laws of Papua New Guinea that is to be developed chiefly by the Courts. Ideally and in a nutshell it is to use the customary law of the Peoples of Papua New Guinea and the common law of England, as well as case law from similar jurisdictions as Papua new Guinea to develop a dynamic body of laws that is uniquely Papua New Guinean; an integral part of what the Late Bernard Narakobi often referred to as the Melanesian Jurisprudence. Round 4’s case required the Moot teams who were appealing for the victim to invoke the custom of Papua New Guinea, successfully plead it and justify its use with the help of real PNG cases, and then convince the court to modify the Tort law of Negligence which is a product of the Common Law of England, to create a kind of composite law that descends from both PNG custom and English law, that would find the village leader liable for a civil wrong based on customary duty of care. We joked that it was a House of Lords meets Haus Tambaran scenario.
This week, only twelve teams remain. Behind the scenes a lot of meticulous planning is involved in keeping the competition running. The Competition is co-ordinated by the Moot Court Committee. Consisting of Academic staff from the School of Law and a dedicated team of students, the Committee oversees co-ordinating of teams and ensures teams get their problems and hand back in the written submissions on time. The Committee then makes sure that the Moot Judges, practicing lawyers who volunteer their time and skill to preside over each session in a Round arrive at the venue and get properly briefed. The committee organizes logistics and refreshments for each round and also co-ordinates the Judges Associates’, mostly law freshmen, who assist the Judge during sessions.
In Round 5, the case in question is a criminal matter and the remaining twelve teams will either represent the Appellants or the State, which is the respondent.
 The Moot Court has many benefits to those who’ve signed up for it. It builds confidence and gives an opportunity to practically engage the concepts, processes and rules that students study every day. As one of the Moot Judges once put it to me, “It’s not about winning or losing the case, it’s about how well and how efficiently you can assist the court in finding Justice because that’s what it’s really all about, finding Justice; the stress of the profession”.
I thought about this ‘stress of the profession’ in contrast to this stress I was going through preparing to represent the State in this imaginary case. A flurry of different feelings came; silliness, pride, happiness, satisfaction, fatigue, and then silliness again.

Monday, August 1, 2011

UPNG 2011 and Wanpis

By Nou Vada
This week I scheduled an interview with Laken Lepatu, the charismatic Vice-President of the Student Representative Council at the University of Papua New Guinea. My questions to him were about the Student Allowance system that has been proposed by the Government, and why he thought it was necessary. Of course on campus a popular petition has been in circulation seeking signatures from registered UPNG students to petition Parliament to have the system passed in its November seating. 

“If the Government is really serious about obtaining the 54000 university graduates a year as it envisions in the Medium Term Vision 2010-2015, it must invest in its students”. Lepatu continued, “Students are state assets. The government must completely subsidize all the school fees for tertiary students for the year 2012 and onwards. The fortnightly student allowance of K13.00 must be re-introduced to help these students; these future leaders of the country augment whatever little rations they can afford with whatever little their wantoks assist them with”. The revelations are nothing new and have been stated and restated countless times by countless student leaders, nevertheless, the truth and more so the urgency in these statements do not diminish.
Laken described the scenario unapologetically, “It is necessary to have this thing in place. Many of us here on Campus come from the villages and it is very hard to support ourselves.”

The model student that Lepatu describes is as it happens, the protagonist in Wanpis, who starts out his humble journey in All Saints’, a boarding school in Oro Province. He has a step-sister in his village in Milne Bay and a mother, both of whom he leaves away from for 9 years as he attends two boarding schools in succession. After his last year of school he returns to find his mother has died, and his half-sister, a frail woman at just nineteen, fearful of the future. The protagonist never knows his father. And this is one of the silent, maybe subliminal themes that the story addresses. Only at the end of the book does the question of who the protagonist’s father is sneaks up on the reader. The result is a beautiful distortion of emotions that rush to you almost as an onslaught of loud, topical afterthoughts.

The 176 page book has 3 lengthy sections. Each can almost be read as a stand-alone short story. The section titles are Lusman, Split-yolk Nostalgia and Wanpis. These three almost short stories come together to form a novel that is philosophical and poetic and yet so honest-to-God. The protagonist’s rigid approach to an admirer of his, Sheila Jivi La, who is to later become his wife, is as comical as it is apprehensively helpless. Characters like Just-Call-Me-Joe (J.C.M Joe or Joseph Bikman) and Sophie, the white expatriate student who reviles her expatriate status and her whiteness are what could be regarded as unrounded characters – that is, characters not fully formed and developed, but in the attitude of the book, the reader is expected to leave bona-fide literary analysis at the door, that this is Papua New Guinea where you expect the unexpected, in the people and in their stories.

Just-Call-Me-Joe becomes a student politician, an undergrad revolutionary, one of the leaders of the Nationalist Black Power Student Movement, but at the end all he wants, all he ever really longs for, with all his revolutionary philosophies and his firebrand leadership is fame and fortune. Soaba presents UPNG as it was in the 1970s when Wanpis was written and as one who studies there right now will acknowledge, not much has changed. There are still student forums held at the Forum Square and there are maverick student leaders, maybe without (maybe with) the ambition distorted intents of Just-Call-Me-Joe. 

I met up with Laken fresh off a meeting with the Government. He was very local about the hardships that ordinary students face on campus. He told me about the 8% increase in tuition fees and the 21% increase in Board and Lodging fees that the students had to pay for this academic year and he stressed the fear that the school fee would indeed increase again next year. I asked why the SRC of UPNG was targeting the Government and not the UPNG Council. 

“The University Council pointed fingers at the Government.” 

According to Lepatu, it was the former Finance Minister and current Works Minister Hon. Peter O’Neill’s encouraging statements that prompted the SRC to act, not in civil disobedience, but in support of such an initiative hinted by the Minister on the 19th May edition of this newspaper where he was quoted as saying “Our economy is growing at 8% and we need quality human resource to put this economic growth into reality... I see no reason why, with such money, we cannot give back fortnightly allowances and subsidize school fees for students in tertiary institutions”.

After meeting with Laken, I stood around the Forum Square for awhile. This small arena has been the sight of many a powerful student rally. In Wanpis, the protagonist after walking back to school from Hohola where he falls from the door of a moving PMV, and arrives to find a student rally in progress at Forum Square. The protagonist of course is a freshman and finds the atmosphere tense. The tense atmosphere of student rallies at the Forum Square, with all its now-or-never sentiments and emotional flare is a uniquely UPNG experience.
Wanpis, in its first two chapters deals with UPNG and the hope and despair it can represent. These two chapters deal with the philosophical musings of someone who has come to University as an elite, a lusman still, but an elite. Wanpis deals with the UPNG experience of broadening one’s mind, engaging in drunken philosophical arguments with friends, fighting in the name of your race and ethnicity, on campus romance and the contemplation of leaving school – things all students at UPNG go through. At the heart of all this is the concept of the Lusman, someone who is on transit to somewhere, someone who is looking for his identity and the meaning of life, who has left his village beyond the hills of Port Moresby and has come to create a destiny and recreate a context for his past. The Lusman as presented in Wanpis is so much more than a mere description a student; it a body of philosophy that the regular UPNG student thinks, experiences and derives himself from and it is that thing a former UPNG student in the workforce misses and reminisces over; a split-yolk nostalgia of some sort. 

The Lusman of Wanpis is the student Laken Lepatu and like-minded student leaders have in mind to be the beneficiaries of these proposals the SRC is pushing for.