By Mary Eugenia
I was not yet born when the Bougainville conflict began in 1989. When the Panguna mine shut down, my dad who was working there came back to Buin and married my mother. Like the rest of the young men during that time, he joined the Bougainville Revolutionary Army. I am the first born in a family of five. I was born on 23 October 1991 at Turiboiru Health Centre in Buin. On my 25th birthday dad texted me and said happy birthday at around 6 am. I was surprised and happy because it was the first time he said that. When I replied and thanked him, he told me that he was working in the hospital on a night shift when he saw the time and the date. This reminded him of the time I was born. He told me that as soon as he witnessed my birth, he crossed over to Balalae Island in the Solomons on a BRA mission.
When the mission was completed, he celebrated my birth with the other soldiers on the boat at around 6 am. Many BRA soldiers used to cross the treacherous PNG and the Solomon Islands border despite enemy patrol boats. That was the only route to the outside world after the blockade.
In 1993, dad decided to go to school when I was just two years old. He foresaw that if the crisis ends and he is unemployed, his family would suffer. Making such a decision was very tough because he would be leaving his wife and kid on a war raging Island. But he had to make the sacrifice for our future. He made a house for us before he left. During that time, my mother was expecting my second born brother Louise. Dad later told us that he didn’t know if his second born child was a boy or a girl. He longed for months to hear the news. When it finally got to him, he was really overjoyed.
During holidays, he used to risk his life by travelling home just to see us; and life was hard for my mother because she was raising the two of us on her own. Soon after my third born sister Alberta was born in 1995 dad came and took us. We woke up one early morning and followed a bush track down to Kangu Beach where we met dad’s cousin. Uncle Robert was also travelling with his family. We stayed there for a few days. As soon as a cargo ship came, we all got on and went to Buka. We moved to Bei community school up in the mountains of small Buka where Uncle Robert was to teach. Dad left us there and went back to school. At that time, he was already in University of Papua New Guinea’s Medical Faculty. We stayed in Bei for a while and Uncle Robert looked after us as his own children. At that time he had two kids.
When my fourth brother Albert was born in 1997, we moved to Tekokni Primary School in Tinputz, to stay with mum’s elder sister who was a teacher there. The school employed mum as their typist. She took secretarial training at Arawa Technical School before the crisis so the job was not new to her. Life was good but the burden increased because our number increased to four. To reduce my mother’s burden, dad came and took Louise and I to Port Moresby. We stayed with him in the school’s married quarters. But there was no one to stay with us during the day. So dad used to lock us inside before he went for classes. Before he left, he used to give us strict orders not to open the door while he is away. But as soon as he is out of sight, Louise would somehow open the door and we would go outside. We would play with the other kids till afternoon. The food we usually ate was my dad’s ration from the mess. From the amount of food we get from the school mess nbowadays; it shows that he went without food most of the time because of us. In one occasion we went and stayed with some relatives but they didn’t treat us well so dad had to take us back. We used to sleep on thogbe floor in the living room. At night when we are asleep they would purposely sweep the floor, making us breathe dust.
Life was challenging. But we survived the hardships for one year and went home in 1998 when the cease fire was issued. When we were all settled, dad went back to school and finished his degree. He finally graduated in 2003 when my last born brother Liberius was four years old.
My three brothers are all grown ups now but with behavior problems. Sometimes they get drunk; destroy everything in the house and threaten our mother. Louise was put by dad in to prison twice for doping. He did that in the hope of disciplining him. In one occasion we visited him in prison; and as we were about to leave, dad shook hands with him. In that instant I saw the hurt in dad’s eyes which saddened me so much that I nearly cried so I had to look away. I couldn’t bear to see him behind bars because he was my favorite among the three. Therefore that was the only time I visited him.
Sometimes I wonder why my brothers are like that because we have everything. Many people blame my dad because he was not with us while we were growing up. But he sacrificed everything for us so that we would have a bright future. If he had not acted on impulse, we would be like the rest of the kids whose parents are jobless and are struggling with everyday life. I think it is just post crisis behavior which is observed in almost all kids born during the crisis and were surrounded by the conflict when growing up.
Dad regrets for not taking us out of Bougainville throughout the conflict but there is no turning back now. Sometimes I feel sorry for him when the boys disobey him; especially Louise. Occasionally I would hide and cry when I hear criticisms towards my brothers. My heart cries out for Louise every day, hoping that one day he’ll change and have a normal life.
As for me, I have not been the good daughter that my dad wanted me to be. I also have disobedience problems which might be different from my brothers, but can be put in the same category. Despite my dad’s advices I disobeyed him a lot of times and ended up getting married without completing school. He was so saddened when I did that because he believed in me and used to say that I am the first born and I need to lead the flock. If I do well in school, then my siblings wouldn’t hesitate to follow my footsteps. But I failed him and I was so saddened by what I did because I never wanted to hurt him also. He didn’t give up on me though.
After my son was born he took the responsibility to send me back to school. I must admit that everything that he predicted; most of which I thought were wrong; all came true and I feel ashamed sometimes; especially when he supports me in everything. He looks after my son, pays my school fees and sends pocket money every fortnight. He also pays for my plane tickets to travel home every semester break to see my son and husband during my second year of Bachelor of Science majoring in Biology in 2017. During that time, Louise has been upgrading his grade 12 marks, while Alberta has been a draftswoman working in an Ausaid company in Buin. Liberius has been doing his grade 11 at Hutjena Secondary School while Albert has been staying at home after discontinuing in grade 10. Despite the negative comments we get from outside, I still hope that one day everything will change because through God everything is possible. And I think the change is already dawning because dad said that the boys are doing fine.
Just recently we greeted him happy fifty first birthday and his only reply was, “I am already getting old so you guys better pull your socks up because before you know it, I might be gone”.
Many Bougainville youths are in similar situations even though they are the future leaders. True peace and harmony in Bougainville will not be achieved unless these youths are set straight. It is not easy, but through prayer and patience by each family it is possible. I have been presenting my petitions to God; hoping that someday, true peace and happiness with contentment will be tasted in my family. And I hope that this happens before our parents move on to the next life; because we haven’t been showing them the appreciation they deserve.