Tuesday, March 03, 2009

A song for Jan Scharlach and Busu High School

The late Jan Scharlach (right) with huband Jim (left) and Busu head boy John Singas after graduation in 1983.
The author (seated) with fellow Busu High School graduates in 1983.

Left to right are Bosi Sayama,Ali Yapi, Edward Misob,John Cates, Malum Nalu and Ire Zuhuc (front) posing for a last shot at Busu High School in 1983.

Busu High School Class of '83

Last Sunday, while I was in The National office preparing my work programme for the week, I happened to check my GMail and received the sad news from my ex Busu High School teacher Jim Scharlach in Canada.
Jim sent me a couple of lines to let me know of the death of his wife Jan last weekend.
It was quite distressing for me, as the Scharlachs were good friends of me and so many other students who passed through Busu High School, Lae, in 1981, 1982 and 1983.
I was at lost for words, and the memories of the good old days of Busu, where I did Grades 7 to 10 from 1980 to 1983, came rushing to mind as I stared blankly at my computer screen.
There were great teachers in those days such as the Scharlachs, British headmaster and history buff Nigel Stanley, his fellow Briton maths/science teacher Roger Dallimore (who went to great lengths to teach us how to play chess), inimitable Filipino practical skills teacher Tony Socan (who taught us how to build houses and so many other things), and several other expatriates and nationals.
There was a sizeable expatriate community in Lae in those days, and around Busu, a sizeable missionary community at the Martin Luther Seminary and Lutheran Church headquarters at Ampo.
There were few if any potholes in Lae in those early days of independence, crime and settlement-related problems were unheard of, we neither smoked marijuana nor indulged in homebrew (apart from the occasional cigarette or bottle of beer out of teenage curiosity), didn’t engage in cult-related activities in school, or carried knives and homemade guns to fight against other schools.
There was respect for all, especially our teachers, something that is very much lacking these days, and I wondered how Lae and Papua New Guinea could deteriorate so fast in just one generation.
“I wanted to let you know that Jan passed away last night,” Jim wrote.
“She had been fighting cancer for many years.
“She is now in a better place.”
Jan, Jim and their three wonderful young children were in Lae in 1981, 1982 and 1983 and they played an important role in shaping so many students of Busu, many of whom now hold senior positions in both government and private sectors.
Jan was a great teacher who has had a great influence on my life, particularly in reading, writing and literature.
She imparted in me a love of poetry, the classics of literature, Shakespeare and writing and these have been with me all my life after leaving Busu in 1983.
Those who were at Busu in 1981, 1982 and 1983 will remember the great Jim Scharlach, our sports master extraordinaire and maths/science teacher who coached the school on to greater heights in basketball, volleyball, softball, athletics, rugby league and soccer against our rivals such as Bugandi, Bumayong, Lae High and Lae International.
Sports rivalry between Lae high schools in those days was intense, and under Jim’s coaching, Busu brought down traditional powerhouses such as Bugandi from their lofty pedestals.
National representatives such as champion high jumper Michael Elisha, basketballers Hilda Roy, Bob Aaron and Casey Stafford, and towering Kumul rugby league forward Kera Ngaffin – to name a few - were all protégés of Jim.
Jan was our English teacher and her literature lessons were unforgettable.
Last November, 25 years after leaving Grade 10 at Busu, I was pleasantly surprised to receive an email from one Jim Scharlach in Canada – whom I had not heard from all these years - apparently after he had read my blog so many times and was wondering if I was indeed the same ‘Malum Nalu of Busu’.
“Good day Sir,” he wrote.
“Was wondering if you were the Malum Nalu who attended Busu High School in the 80’s?
“I have enjoyed your articles.
“Thanks for your time.”
Since then, we have been corresponding, and I shared with Jim the tragic loss of my wife last Easter and he told me that Jan had been fighting cancer for the last six years.
“It has been a tough go, but she is surviving,” he wrote.
“The kids are doing well and as a group have given me five grandchildren.
“I am still teaching and enjoying it.
“I think back to our time at Busu and am so thankful to have been able to experience that.
“It was great to have been able to work with students who wanted to be there and worked so hard.
“I had always planned to return but conditions back here made it so difficult.”
Last Christmas, the Scharlach family sent me an email with their Christmas greetings, in which Jim poignantly told of a Christmas in Lae so many years ago at the Burns Philip store.
The Burns Philp store, which over the years became Best Buy, was burned to the ground just before Christmas last year.
Jim was quite saddened at the burning of the old Burns Philp store and the ongoing violence and law and order problems in Lae and throughout Papua New Guinea.
“I remember taking my kids to Burns Philp (Lae) to see Santa Claus,” he wrote.
“They were very apprehensive until Santa called each of them by name.
“Thanks to Santa, Simeon (a Busu Grade 10 student in 1981), my kids had an opportunity to meet their real Santa.
“I continue to enjoy reading your blog but am saddened by the violence that continues to be prevalent in your major cities.
“It is so sad that a few people – rascals and a few politicians – have given a beautiful country with the majority of people being great caring people such a negative image.
My cousin Peter Sayama, who went to school at the same time at Busu (under the name Bossi Sayama), was also saddened to hear of the death of Jan.
“The likes of you, Jan, and of course our principal at that time, Nigel Stanley, have no doubt shaped the lives of those of us who have come in contact with you all that taught us at Busu,” he said in an email to Jim.
“I can vividly remember Jan and her imposing figure in classroom: the way she reads a novel that can captivate our attention in class that we get so disappointed when the bell sounds for the end of English period and we have to wait for another time for her to continue.”


  1. Anonymous2:49 PM

    God bless her heart and may rest in PEACE.

    Malum, I like this article.

    Mathew Yakai

  2. Thank you Mathew.

    Jan, like an angel, did touch the hearts of so many of us at Busu.