When I get asked, “what brought you to PNG?” I often say “a clerical error.” I am certain I actually applied for a post in Ghana. When I was first told the placement would be in PNG I remember asking “what bit of Africa is that?” Not long after I arrived in PNG I heard a saying that explains why people come to PNG: They are either mercenaries, missionaries or just plain mental (or misfit for the politically correct). It’s difficult to say which of those categories I fit into. The people in my church think I’m a missionary, but I might be more of a mercenary than people think.
It’s a long story: I began my career in the early
1990’s working as an Archaeologist and Museum Educator. I was privileged to
work for the British School at Rome based in rural Italy working on the
interpretation of a Post Roman excavation. Literacy levels amongst the village
population were low. Working in the local community on the exhibition design I
learned a great deal about education, poverty and communication. I also learned
how to explain difficult things such as why we were digging up the graves of
their ancestors. Since then my career has been shaped by three things: a
fascination with dead people, a desire to communicate heritage and a need to
have people pay attention to me. This is how I got into education.
I learned how to develop primary school resources
when I was the curator of a small Egyptian collection. I became something of an
expert on reminiscence and oral history is when I curated a collection of
artefacts from the World War II. I learned to be a story teller and even
dressed up as a Tudor housewife to show children how life was lived in Tudor
Southampton. I accidently became a literacy tutor whilst researching more effective
ways to write museum texts. When I went to work in the Royal Naval Museum
I told people that my mission was to broaden access to the population that
lived on the doorstep of the dockyard, and whose family heritage lay in with
those ships. In reality I liked working with the Enigma machine and I was
fascinated by the dead people from the Mary Rose. There is a
lot more of a career in education I could mention but that’s all boring and
doesn’t help with the point.
What is important is why after five years of
successfully working in education policy and research and another four years
leading a successful learning provider I suddenly gave it all up and went to
the other side of the world to earn very little money.
I’d grown tired of the attention and there was no
opportunity to do the things I loved. When I got the chance to live in a
country with over 800 tribes, some of which had not had contact with the modern
world until 1938, I jumped at the chance. I’ve been lucky enough to go out to
sea in an outrigger canoe and a dug out. I’ve watched how stone axes are made
and been taught to fire a bow and arrow made in the same tradition of a
thousand years ago. I’ve been privileged to witness a cane swallowing ceremony
and attended a fire dance. I have seen archaeology first hand and filled my
home with weapons, masks and paintings from all over this amazing country.
This year I haven’t even started to explore the rest of this land but as
soon as I have some money I will be on my travels. I need to see the Sepik
river and I long to hear the oral histories and traditions of the different
provinces. This country has awesome and diverse funerary traditions and
I’d like to find out more about them.
So that’s why I’m in Papua New Guinea. I’m
an aid worker so my job definitely fits the missionary category; my motivations
are personal so I’m a bit of a mercenary. Why do I live in Port Moresby?
Because I’m mental.