Published: September 3rd 2005December 14th 2003 PNG - News #6 Impressions of work & garden
Crown of Thorns
You can get an idea of the size of the Crown of Thorns from the divers hand.
‘Our impressions of human life are picked up one by one by one, and remain for most of us loose and disorganized."
Northrop Frye*, Educated Imagination p. 63-64
I am searching for things that will suddenly coordinate and bring into focus a great many impressions. So far I only scratch the surface of the life in Papua New Guinea (PNG).
My job for example. Attending the opening of an AusAid funded project for the Lutheran School of Nursing (LSON) included a singsing where two hundred people were drummed into the new building. LSON is an affiliated institution of the Catholic Divine Word University.(DWU) (Missionary work here is as much of the landscape as the banana trees and supposed to be just as nourishing)
Because of the affiliation, DWU now endorses the LSON programs through the Academic Quality Assurance Division - which is me. We are graduating a deceased nursing student who was recently murdered in a tribal payback. And we have just approved the second midwifery program in the country. Childbirth and infant mortality are unbelievably high and in some villages even if the child survives it is still buried with mother.
There are certain things I am getting used to. For example the ink from the opening program came off in my sweating hand and dress. Only the information on program’s front cover remained, the wrong month typed clearly. The program followed what you might typically expect, except when the nursing students sang "He’s My Brother". They dramatized a sick man almost drunk with pain being carried by the male nurse- "he’s not heavy, he’s my brother" It had sweet and sentimental message!
This morning I got back from a week in Wewak, attending the graduation of Primary Teachers in a newly amalgamated Teachers' College. The water and electricity throughout the town are off as much as they are on. On the day before graduation, from 6am to 7am there was an “honesty parade”, this involved two male students traveling through the campus one carrying a big cardboard box and the other announcing “honesty parade’ every 4 minutes. The intention was for students to return anything they might have borrowed during the year.
The graduation included another singsing, this time with Sepik people drumming, dancing, and singing. The ceremony lasted four and a half hours, first two hours were in the church with the Bishop preaching against alcohol, drugs, sex without marriage. There were also comments against the West legalizing homosexuality. "It’s not on!" he claims in his Australian accent. We are talking Catholic sermon including the waving of his finger while wearing his purple hat. The second two hours were spent sweating from the heat and watching one hundred and thirty young men and women walking across the stage wearing the green robes that I brought from Madang. VIPs made political speeches, etc. Many pictures were taken. The last half hour was refreshments- white bread and butter with some cold water until we ran out of cups. Poverty sucks! In the last week I have almost, but not quite, gotten my change purse snatched twice.
Last night, graduation night, I returned back to the Wewak Teacher’s College grounds with Karin my friend from the Netherlands. I had dinner at her family’s house and tried to return at about 11pm. The gates were locked. I had to shimmy under the gate to get back to my guesthouse. I left at 4:30 am this morning along with the graduating students so it was crucial to get back. On the early morning still dark drive I accidentally set off my personal alarm. Piecing my eardrums I could not find the pin to stop it. In defeat I threw it out the window. I was not a popular passenger.
At the airport I was ready to upchuck from the smell and state of the women’s washroom.** A couple of the male students didn’t follow the bishop’s warnings and were drunk. Air Niugini wouldn’t let them travel.
Meanwhile in the corals there is an outbreak of the Crown of Thorns starfish. They live on polyps, destroying the coral reef and leaving bleached coral skeleton behind. And there is a new tuna fish factory on the water in Wewak. The community is hoping it doesn’t attract a lot of sharks!
For all you surfers, the waves are great in Wewak however I do not recommend the food.
* If you don’t know who Northrop Frye is, you better find out.
** This could be one of the top ten worst airports in the world. I am glad that I had previous experience of the San Juan airport in Puerto Rico, the St. Maartens airport in the Carribean, the Bella Coola and the Sandspit airports in BC.
More next week. Sulphur gardens
December 14th, 2003
Had to ask the Coastwatchers Restaurant to turn off the Christmas music at our full moon /goodbye Julie dinner. During the meal of peppered warm chicken salad with fresh head lettuce, almonds and bananas we watched the moon rise through the palm trees over the concrete memorial lighthouse viewing Astrolobe Bay. Valia and I drove Julie (the returning Australian) and Elizabeth (the New Zealand grandmother librarian volunteer) home and went swimming at the resort. It is the only time in the last week that I have felt refreshed. Not to complain too much, however it has been too hot for words.
I burnt my arms on last Sunday’s cycle ride to a local community garden. Even though I was wearing 45SPF sunscreen, my sweat washed away the protection. It was a magnificent ride to a sulfur pond, locally called smelly water for a very good reason. Colourless turtles, eels and fish live below in the shallow water that has a white film on its bottom. Above ground, colour explodes from the cobalt blue butterflies, vivid greens, dioxazine violet, bright yellows and cadmium red leaves, orange seedpods, pale purple retracting plants and of course magnificent flowers. There were two precarious bamboo bridges and a limestone cave.
I relished the outing because I am beginning to feel claustrophobic. Working and living on the same compound. No rain and today the eviction of the Madang squatters is scheduled to begin. There is an atmosphere of some tension- even if people support the initiative, there is the fear of violence and/or property damage. There is apprehension of the actions of the imported police force sent here to enforce the eviction. A group is staying on campus. They drive off about 9pm each night equipped with their shotguns.
We have been warned to stay close to home. Luckily we have a Masters of Education Leadership program going on this weekend. I attended a class on Papua New Guinea Educational Leadership taught by a woman from Manus Island, PNG who lives in Brisbane. She recently completed her Ph.D. thesis studying the effects of an educational AusAid programs in PNG. Her conclusion is that PNG needs to get past aid. The themes were colonization, globalization and the whole western take over. It made me think about the part that "development" is taking- and therefore me. Is development just another form of missionary work?