Fall. Even if you don’t live where the leaves change and the air gets crisp and you have the sudden, overwhelming urge to make applesauce, you still notice it by the relative calm that settles over your neighborhood as moms wave good-bye to big yellow school buses.
Not so in the Uriay tribe of Papua New Guinea. When literacy classes start, it’s a loud, raucous ride that you basically have to fight your way through — especially if you’re a mom.
Komnawe tried to nurse her fidgety baby and focus on the syllable cards the teacher was holding up.
Think! What sound does that make again? Oh, I can’t remember …
A piercing shriek from behind her interrupted the class. But that was one sound Komnawe did know. Daken, her mischievous 4-year-old, had bitten his little sister again.
Now the startled baby pulled away and began to cry as well. As Komnawe tried to tend and shush her two little daughters, Daken ran off with her primer — again.
The tribal man who was reading aloud picked up where he left off — only reading louder now to accommodate the unhappy children.
In the Uriay culture of Papua New Guinea, women are in charge of the kids. So if Komnawe, a quiet, hardworking mother of six, wants to learn to read, the children have to go with her. But to make the task even harder, child discipline of any kind is highly frowned upon.
One mom had lightly smacked her daughter’s legs to let her know to stop hitting her — and the whole class got upset about it. So the Uriay children only need to cry long and loud enough to get whatever they want.
Patient Komnawe now tried to write from dictation while her toddler climbed all over her back and the baby grabbed at her pencil, ate her eraser, and pulled on the paper.
Daken returned with her limp, dirty primer and began to entertain himself by throwing erasers. The baby started howling again as one meant for his older brother thumped her on the head instead.
Above the din, Komnawe heard her name being called.
“Komnawe! It’s your turn to read!” the teacher shouted over the commotion.
The distracted mother stood up and then noticed a “gift” her diaper-less toddler had left earlier on the classroom floor. She excused herself to shovel it into the nearby bushes.
Now as she stood and read aloud to the class, the baby chose that opportunity to also leave mom a “gift” of the wet variety — down the front of Komnawe’s dress.
She saw the younger tribal lady sitting next to her smile briefly — with pleasure. She was the new second wife of Komnawe’s husband.
Oh, I can’t let her learn to read before I do! Then our husband will think I am even dumber than he already says I am!
The class for that day was finally over, with everyone sharing either hoarseness or headaches. But they would continue tomorrow — interruptions and all.
Moms like Komnawe would eventually learn to read. Second or more wives would learn to read. Husbands, grandparents, chiefs, witchdoctors and children would all learn to read.
And then God’s Word would be able to make a difference in their hearts and lives — and that would change their literacy classes.