The Choate kids got a day off school today to tromp over to the primary school graduation on the other end of our island. This school serves eight villages in the West Russells, and we really wanted to go and support the students. For many, sixth grade is as far as they will go in school.
Even though the walk is only a couple of miles, we knew it would take us just under an hour, so we left the house around nine o'clock. We carried three backpacks filled with first aid supplies, water, and snacks, as well as a woven mat to sit on during the festivities. The kids (who all chose to go barefooted) sang Christmas carols all the way and paused now and then to look at God's beautiful creation all around us. Some orange lichen caught my eye as did a bunch of hermit crabs (kokovan) enjoying a breakfast of old coconut.
Sometimes the path wound through beautiful coconut groves, sometimes the path was so covered with ferns that we could only follow the path with our feet, not our eyes. At one point, we found a freshly fallen tree across the path and wished we had our bush knives in hand.
We got rain just before dawn this morning (a big thanks to all of you who have been praying for a good balance of rain and sun!), so the path was very slick. Several of us slipped and fell along the way, so we arrived muddy and very sweaty right at ten o'clock, starting time.
However, our neighbors were enjoying their break after morning prayer and fed us tea and ring cake. Our family split up and found the appropriate groups - Aaron hung out with the "big men" in the special shelter built for them, I went and found Kiko and her sister Delight, and the kids sat on our mat and played cards with the other kids. Olivia found one of the plants that responds to touch by closing up its leaves. When we were in Papua New Guinea in 2008, we were told that these plants were planted by the Japanese during WWII so they would know if somebody had recently walked by.
A little before noon, the graduation ceremony finally began.
As a "big man", Aaron gave a short speech encouraging the graduates to be a blessing, just as Abraham was blessed to be a blessing. When each of the fourteen graduates had received their diplomas, we took a short break while the ladies prepared lunch. Each village had a small table where they gathered to load their banana leaf dishes with food. Our family was asked to join the "big men", so the kids and I loaded our plates and ate on our mat while Aaron stayed in the crowded small shelter and ate with the men. I moved over to eat with Kiko and her family. Kiko's niece, Julet, has two of the cutest kids ever. Jude and his little sister, Selina, who was named after Kiko's mom who died while we were on furlough. Selina is still scared of me, but I'm working on making a friend out of her!
We finally began our walk back to Marulaon around three o'clock. Katherine and Olivia needed a pit stop before we left, so we stopped at one of the most beautiful bathrooms in the world. We finally arrived hot, a little sunburned, sweaty, and thirsty around four o'clock, so grateful for the chance to spend time with our neighbors.