An Australian volunteer who was doing whatever volunteers do in PNG.
I was there for 2 years until Dec 2005 .. I hope I made the most of it.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Campus Life: Part 3 - The Main Gate

Slowing unravelling like that old jumper grandma gave you, the blurred edges of my PNG university are coming into focus. The coffee shop became clear in Part One, the library was dissected in Part Two and now Part Three revels the hidden truth behind that essential element of any campus.

The Main Gate

Spike topped gates, barrels, speed humps, boom gates, signs telling you "slow down" and then "stop here", guards in brown jumpsuits or navy and sky blue uniforms, barbed wire - is this the Berlin Wall or a university?

Entering or exiting the campus can feel like Berlin circa 1970. Checkpoint Charlie revived. At night, after a few drinks in town, my poro with the car will turn off his headlights and switch on the interior light, the guards will peer at us, slowly wander over and open the high metal gate, you drive in and then the boom gate slowly rises and a "PASS THROU!" is yelled - shades of cold war shenanigans.

During the day the process is no less complex, especially if you happen to be in a university vehicle. A complicated procedure involving pass out forms with signatures, mileage, destination, ETAs and the like, needs to be handed over to security at which point a peering inspection will take place before the obligatory "Pass through" and horizontal directing arm are given.

Non uni vehicles don't get away easily either. Power hungry guards love nothing better to have a go at anyone they don't recognise. Friends visiting have complained about over zealous tactics on numerous occasions. Boom gate stays level. Tap, tap on the window. Explanation required. Serious studying. What is this, Fort Knox?

Getting in on foot can be just as difficult. Returning from town on the bus, doesn't cause me many issues - white skin and recognition helps me here - but locals can be in for concerted interrogation if provoked. Students without ID cards are kicked away, which doesn't help out departmental students when starting, they are external and need to enter to be able to get a card.

Sometimes though there is a just cause for all their carry-on. Riots at the gate are not such an unusual occurrence. Just last week there was a commotion caused by students drinking over the road and stirring up trouble with locals who chased them back to the main gate. The students managed to get in but the pissed off locals got locked out. A few rocks and heated words were hurled over the divide.

It is obvious that the guards take their job with as much importance as they deem it worthy. They have their benefits like no other of the guards on campus have. There is of course the little hut complete with the essential kettle. They get to play with boom gate raising and lowering. There are strict rules to enforce. Protocol to adhere to. People to scrutinise. Cars to inspect. Sayings to yell. Directions to give. Batons to twirl - it really is guard heaven.

Benefits for the users though seem a little on the sparse side. A bank of broken telephones in huts is nearby and this seems to be about it. Though of course the facility does give you one very important ability - it allows you to get out of here.