An older adventuress, bowing down to the Goddess of Travel, I offer you through photographs and words what is like the world in Papua New Guinea but not the world. I invite you to explore encounters in Papua New Guinea. Plants grow, insects thrive, fish swim and people multiply.
This world is flat, framed and high contrast. Like the patterns of the billums, colours fight each other for attention making it impossible to identify features in the glaring sun. Eighteen months amongst brown eyes has left me unsteady, with limited depth of field, and many images slightly out of focus showing you what a Canadian is able to see.
As a ‘meri bilong longwe ples’, (woman belonging to a longway place) the camera is handheld and I am wobbly as we proceed through the stories of this world. PNG is economically, physically, and spiritually declining with the increase of population, unemployment, disease, and crime. Failing state or merely disorganized country? It is a country with minerals, oil, fertile soil, forests and fishes. People do not starve here (well, not many). Most of the land is traditionally owned and farmed by the women.
And there is a wantok system; people in your tribe are obliged to help you out and vice versa. However this is frequently exploited and abused. The country’s strength and weakness. People become successful and then all their wantoks turn up expecting handouts. Your wantok will get you out of jail as well as put a roof over your head in times of hardship. Your land feeds your people but how do you extract minerals? A Gordian knot of country size.
This is not a travelogue filled with positive images of island paradise, however they are there. Over the 18 months the novelty of diving 28 degree Celsius warm water grew repetitive. As I looked closer the prints of the women’s meri blouses became stained with beetlenut spit and the limited opportunities came to the foreground.
Your mission should you accept it is to spend two years as a volunteer working with Divine Word University. Who would do this without faith or at least idealism? In this, and many cases in PNG volunteering is synonymous with missionary work. In villages community services such as school, hospital and church are in one "bus haus”.
For many of the non-believers are placed in positions having to pretend religious belief. After all, if you are a doctor and someone dies it could be the ‘heathen’ doctor’s fault. For some it is an opportunity to proselytise. The west’s separation between church and state is artificial here. But come to think of it, maybe it is a façade in the US as well, with God giving the military directives.