Tuesday, 23 April 2013

The ‘Real’ Papua New Guinea

There are times in anyone’s life when the actions of others have a profound impact. Life in Papua New Guinea has already put this into sharp focus for me in seeing the contracts between those dedicate their lives to helping others and those whose actions cast a poor shadow on their communities. It’s only two weeks since I left home and yet already the country has changed how I see things. It is truly one of the most beautiful places on God’s earth and only this lunchtime I sat in the boat club watching eagles soaring over the bay. Over lunch we discussed recent very negative events and how unrepresentative they are of the ‘real PNG’ at the same time being aware of the high gates and security staff that keep our homes, workplaces and leisure venues separate from the ‘real PNG’.

This weekend we had a fantastic opportunity to see the natural beauty of this country. We flew from Madang in a six seat Cessna Mission Plane to Kanabea in the Gulf Province. The flight took just over an hour and gave us a fantastic view of the South Pacific, tree covered mountains and valleys. 

Dotted along the hillside were the round, bush material houses that house whole families, often in one room. As we approached Kanebea I have to confess to a moment of alarm when I saw the tiny grass strip that was our runway but landing there was one of the most exciting moments of my life so far (for exciting read totally terrifying).  

We were then met by a reception committee of small boys with bows and arrows and some very elderly people. The local greeting ‘Aour Wei’ seemed to cover all the important niceties and a lot of smiles were exchanged.  

The mission at Kanabea is run by two priests who walk for up to half a day in different directions to offer mass to local communities and two days walk to other communities and three Sisters, one of whom was 74, who ran a school, a kitchen and supported a hospital. One of the sisters regularly walks for a whole day to other schools to support a literacy programme. They have devoted their entire life to helping others, despite the challenges of a remote location. We heard stories of how cattle were brought in as calves on planes, sedated and bound up, and the co pilot given a shot gun just in case the animal came round mid flight. We also heard of more serous matters , airlifting a badly burned child to Australia and bringing in Mosquito nets.

We made the walk to market ourselves, with our heavy duty walking boots, hats and water bottles, accompanied by sprightly locals in bare feet who helped us over the waterfalls. It took us well over an hour to trek up the hill but the market at the top was well worth the climb, not just for the sugar cane, bwai, pineapples and bananas but also the welcome we received from the locals who greeted us like old friends.

 Its seems a cliché to say how happy these people were despite their lack of possessions but their willingness to welcome us was humbling. These are people who have a hospital that covers communities up to three days walk away and increasing numbers of people with TB. Now Malaria has reached this high up because night time temperatures have increased. They do not have a regular doctor, the hospital , which is woefully under resourced has two local nurses and doctors only when the Mission plans can fly in volunteers for a short time to perform operations. I thought back to the conversation I had the night before with the two grumpy mining executives who complained about how tough life was despite their excellent pay and I wondered how they would react to life in Kanabea.

The mission had power for three hours per night, so we had a wonderful evening of fellowship and all the jobs that required electricity were undertaken. Just before the lights went out at 9:30 we were getting ready for bed when my colleague screamed, out of her bathroom bag came a cockroach, then another, and each time she put in her hand to get her toothbrush, she screamed and another cockroach jumped out. We were frantically trying to shift all the cockroaches before the lights went out and we had to sleep with cockroaches in the darkness. I went to bed with all my clothes on and by fleece zipped us to keep cockroaches at bay.

We were rewarded for our slightly sleepless night by the most awesome sunrise I have ever witnessed. As we watched the sun come up over the mountains and the pale peach and gold sky turn into a fiery glow I thought back to the super trees in Singapore.

 Whilst there were impressive they are nothing compared to the daily light show of a sunrise like this. In recent days I have often thought of the vast wealth on display in Singapore, the towering Marina Sands hotel and the Gardens by the Bay and I wonder how come we can build these structures that are a poor imitations of the wonders of our natural world yet struggle so much to find any resources for a Mission hospital in the mountains. Personally my favourite part of Singapore was the Orchids in the Botanical Gardens (No – not the PNG Consul VISA office funnily enough).

Now I’m back in Madang, inside Madang Lodge with our wonderful, friendly hotel staff who would do anything for us, our local security guards that even drive us places to keep us safe, and our nightly view of the ocean whilst we are well fed by our local chef. I’ve been here a week and I have grown to love this place, the hustle and bustle of the market, the bright colours of the local food and the wonderful local language. I have been welcomed into a family home in Rempi and spent time counting with local children and yesterday jumped into the sea at Machine Gun point with the locals. I was sad to hear of the events in Hagen and Kar Kar but please don’t anyone think this representative of the people of Papua New Guinea. The real people here are friendly, genuine and only too happy to share their food, bwai and stories with you even those who haven’t got that much to share. In return I think its would be great if we could keep sharing with them. 

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