Saturday 13 August 2016

"Let’s give it a go": Raising Mui

Beside a sloping jungle airstrip in Papua New Guinea, the Australian pilot of a small light aircraft loaded with vegetables wondered out loud if my rucksack and I would be too heavy for his plane to takeoff. I’d asked to hitch a ride. He scratched his scalp with a baseball cap pushed far back on his head. He looked pensive, then shrugged, then he said: ‘Aye mate… let’s give it a go!’
I clambered onto sacks of sweet-potatoes and taro. The airstrip was hacked from dense jungle. I gazed through the windscreen ahead. Trees to the right of me, trees to the left of me, trees in front of me. Sweet-potatoes dug into my back. The engine raced, I braced on the sacks, we cleared the tree tops both grinning.
Raising Mui has been seat-of-the-pants, too.
First home visit… baths, body creams, howling screams and vegetable curry – first and last curry after changing her nappies! Or the hospital visits and her face masked by blood dried black and her stare not sad just vacant. And in Tina plunged with a cheery smile.
The rattling wheeze of Mui with a chest infection, the chattering teeth of Mui with chills and rigours, the rolled back eyes of Mui unconscious with a blood infection. At Mui’s side at home and in hospital untrained, ill-prepared and fearful, but with determination and commitment, laughter and smiles, we give it a go.
As a family we confront obstacles placed in our path. The strangers with their screams, and their stares, and their pointing and their “I think she’d be better off dead”. The ban from the school bus, the ban from the swimming pool, the ban from the restaurant, the cyberbullying, the suicide thoughts are seat-of-the-pants moments to be dealt with.
Opportunities are grasped when we’re offered them. Flights to America, a trip to Disneyland, to Europe and to Macau. The welcomes, the gifts, the warmth; the famous faces who say “hello”.
Give it a go’s meant embracing the good times with relish. Watching Tina paint pictures with Mui; witnessing Tina build Mui’s confidence to approach people in public when Mui’s instinct had been to be shy. To have Mui dive under our bedcovers eager for mornings of fun. Tina teaching her how to read stories. Me helping her speak with more clarity when her lips were for years stretched too wide. Her vocabulary had everyone purring as she learnt English with giant strides. The tingle of pride at her first solo bicycle ride: ‘I’m doing it Daddy, I’m riding!’ The frivolous jollity of shopping trips, of hikes in the mountains, of barbecues on carefree days in the sun.
Days that flash by yet are seared into the mind: I watch my train as it arrives in the station. At a window Mui kneels on her seat. When she sees me she waves like a maniac. Her eyes shout out loudly, “It’s DADDY!” The doors swish wide and she’s first from her carriage. On the platform she’s in the Olympics and her finish line will be my embrace. Her hair flies about as she’s running and she leaps for my arms in her haste. Cheerfully and loud she shouts: ‘DADDY!’ and I’m feeling incredibly proud.
There’s no shame to admit that we’re humble, but I’m proud that we “give it a go”.

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