Friday, September 24, 2010

What it means to be family in PNG.

Celebration, Initiation and Farewell

It was our last day in Tanhum and I decided to give the market excursion a miss in favour of my yoga and meditation group as today I also needed to make time to fulfil my promise to the children, that we would learn something new. The idea had been born by Isaac’s (age 9) insatiable appetite for reading. Without having any books of his own in Tanhum he had discovered the one I was reading; THE MINDMAP Book, Radiant Thinking by Tony Buzan. I figured the best way to help him understand the concept of mind-mapping would be if we shared one of the exercises and of course his siblings were not about to miss out on the opportunity of playing with paper, coloured pencils and felt tips!

At first I explained, as best I could to a group of 7 – 11 yr olds, what we were doing and then we began to create our own mind maps, or so I thought until I very soon realised that the way they had been taught to learn was by re-creating the same information in the same way that it was given to them. Instead of creating their own mind-map they were recreating their interpretation of mine, exactly the process of learning that mind mapping was designed to undo. Through the use of colour, symbols, drawing and writing mind mapping is a tool that encourages us to think outside the square, to step beyond linear thinking and access and utilise more of our brain’s capacity and creativity. To assemble and refine ideas by separating thinking and writing according to Tony Buzan, “allows us to be more creative and more efficient when interpreting our ideas into words”.

Wondering how I might go about helping the children to change their programming I decided that they would probably have much more fun if we changed our lesson into one based on Origami, creating shapes from paper. The situation reminded me of an experience Niki shared with me when she was Ops Manager on Lahir. She said that whenever she or any of her staff were teaching a new operator she or they had to make sure they got it exactly right first time as if they didn’t 9 times out of 10 the trainee operator would continue to make the same mistake over and over again. I cannot think of a more obvious example of imprinting or blue-printing that supports why we must “walk our talk”, the days of “do what I say and not what I do” are over! If we want to teach the next generation; love, compassion, honour, respect, equality, gratitude, joy then best we “practice what we preach” as they seem to learn far more from what we do than what we say.

Aisha, Niki and Nick returned from the market a little disappointed with the lack of produce available. We were evidently expecting somewhere between 50 and 100 people to feed this evening and Kelly’s pig was not going to be enough on its own. Stephen and his friends were taking care of the butchery dept while Mama, Papa and a few Aunties took charge of rest of the food preparations. By mid morning a number of different delicacies from palm nuts to doughnuts began to appear and although everyone was browsing from the table the intake managed to stay above the off-take.

As the day evolved and to my delight I found myself responsible for children’s entertainment, which certainly made a refreshing change to the old theme of “you will always find me in the kitchen at parties”. This meant completing our origami class and cleaning up the mess, preparing a salad for lunch, playing frisbee in the mud and rain and an afternoon off while the children congregated at Louisa’s house to practise their song and dance for their evening performance.

As the kitchen was under control, I decided to take myself off for my last walk through the Copra Plantation. The week had flown by and I had learnt a little more about myself and a little about life as a Bougainville National living on Buka Island. It was hard to imagine that malaria remained the major killer of a population that lived predominantly in rural areas on less than $1.00 a day on an Island so close to so called ‘Western Civilisation’. Especially when, PNG have such a wealth of natural resources that are currently being extracted by predominantly foreign mining companies.

Two of the girls met me on the road as I was returning just before sunset. I thought this was a little odd and figured that something must be up and when I returned to the house I found out what . . . I, as one of the distinguished guests for the evening, was late for what I had not realised was to be my own initiation ceremony! Oopps . . . a thousand apologies, time for a quick pee and a glass of water before I raced upstairs to get my Merry Blouse on and get back down in time for opening speeches and to be presented with my shell money; necklaces made of coral from the Solomon Islands. It was an honour that I had neither expected nor anticipated and felt very privileged to receive.

As the guests of honour Niki and I were invited along with the chief and elder gentlemen to lead the way to the table that was laden with fish, pork fruit and every possible starch you can imagine. The ladies were next followed by the children and by the time I came back to see if there was any fish left there was hardly a scrap remaining. Yet, seeing that I was looking for more one of the ladies took the remaining fish from her plate and placed it on mine. I wanted to refuse her offer but realised to do so would not be good manners so gracefully accepted.

That is one of the distinct differences I noticed about living with Aisha and Nick’s family compared with life in middle world western society and that is the feeling of being seen and heard without the use of words. People always knew where I was and what I needed without having to ask. There was an awareness beyond self where communication took place on many levels. That doesn’t mean that there was no village gossip as that remained as the main form of media in the rural areas, it was more like the 6th sense was still very much present and utilised.

Once the feasting was over there was time for the children, led by aunty, to share their music and songs. Then, the man who had introduced himself to me as Nelson Mandela did a little shape-shifting to become (according to him) Slim Dusty, and on guitar and vocals led the ladies on to the dance floor beneath the southern starts, a perfect way to end our visit to Tanhum. And as it seems, by the number of Orbs in my photo of the moon rising we had plenty of company from other realms to support the occasion.

Niki and Papa had made the most of the reamaing home brew that our visitors had not consumed leaving them a little worse for wear the following morning. This left the children and I with the wise choice of entertaining ourselves elsewhere and on that note an outing to the beach accompanied by Uncle seemed like a great idea. I have never needed an excuse to swim and our venture down to the beach also revealed a few more WWII stories and sites of importance. These included the caves where Uncle, as a child, took shelter during air raids and underground caches that were used to bury weapons and ammunitions.

We were back at the house in time for a late lunch after which I suggested we make a plan to leave by 3pm so that I could stand true to my offer of preparing supper for everyone on our return. And the best news of all was that as Aisha and Nick supported their extended family in the village that they would take care of cleaning the house. This is when Niki began to explain to me the one-talk system that society in the islands throughout PNG is predominantly based upon and, according to some, is what restricts the evolution of the culture as it attempts to integrate certain western values.

According to Niki, family are able to ask other family members for, ‘within reason’, anything they need or want and if you as a family member are able to fulfil that request then you are expected to do so. Niki explained that a certain amount of filtering does go on and as a queen in her particular clan Aisha and her mother fulfill this role. Therefore if anyone in the family asked Niki for anything she would first have to check in with Aisha before she went ahead and purchased it.

After a week at the village and a long drive home, children were tired and adults were relaxed although in some ways I felt they were perhaps also a little reluctant to come back to town living. Babies needed bathing, beds needed to be made and I had a dinner to cook, a large pot of beans and vegetables in a coconut curry. I always knew when people appreciated my creations as there were always many words of gratitude, compliments and requests for recipes. As a result I also knew when I was exploring foreign territory and our last night was one of these moments. Coconuts although used for drinking and eating were seldom used as part of the ingredients of a cooked meal and I soon realised why as I observed those who had dedicated much of their life to chewing betel experienced a little difficulty chewing the grated coconut. The flavour however was approved and I am sure with exclusion of the raw coconut the recipe will be revisited in Aisha and Nick’s kitchen on Buka.

On our last morning in Buka Town Nicole, Issac & Isaleen Aisha and Nick’s three eldest children, took us on a shopping trip to the local market for fresh fruit and souvieners. As Buka is not yet a major tourist destination it was quite surprising how expensive woven baskets and handicrafts were. When discussing this with Aisha and Niki they explained that inflation on the Island had been about 300% in the last 5 yrs and continued to rise. An example of this was the bus fare from main town Buka to Tanhum which now cost Kina 20, the equivalent of almost AUD 10.00, not cheap when held next to the average income of $1.00 per day.

It is a time of change in Buka and perhaps also Bougainville and greater PNG and what is encouraging is that Aisha and Nick, having decided that six children are enough, are ready and willing to fulfil their roles as leaders within their community and make conscious choices that better serve their island as a whole. We also had an opportunity to discuss the earth changes that are beginning to take place, information that was at the time new to them yet perhaps not to uncle, the story teller of the family, who carries many of the old stories.

I suggested uncle might like to do a little of his own research into any stories that people may still recall from the last turning over of time on our earth so that they may better prepare themselves for the one that is coming. It also made me wonder if the vision I had had the day before we flew from Cairns to PNG of a volcano erupting had anything to do with the one that erupted in Indonesia the day before we left these beautiful tropical Islands that sit on the rim of the Pacific Tectonic Plate???

Time to head to the airport and uncle arrived in his truck to do the honours, after all how else could you get 18 adults and children to the airport and back without it costing an arm and a leg in taxi fares of hire vehicles? There were many hugs, tears, and invitations to come back as we said our goodbyes and exchanged last minute gifts of gratitude. I am glad that I brought a Ponamu (NZ Jade/Greenstone) to gift to Aisha, Nick and family and they appreciated it from the cultural aspect of the meaning that it carried, that one day they too would travel to the land of my birth.

Due to torrential rain in Far North Queensland our return flight from Port Moresby to Cairns was delayed. This meant a few hours wait at Port Moresby International that was made all the more comfortable by Niki’s QANTAS platinum card which allowed us access to the executive lounge. Here, ‘coincidently’ we ended up sharing space with four men who were on their way back to Australia having just visited Lahir Island and the very mine where Niki used to be operations manager. This was my opportunity to see Niki in work mode as she rolled up her sleeves, cracked open a beer and began to talk shop with the boys.

It was interesting to listen to the conversation and learn a little about Niki’s world. It was also interesting listening to the silence that descended when, after sitting quietly for the first half an hour or so, I was asked what I did. I figured it best to speak my truth so introduced my line of work as conservation which effectively I guess it is, only now on a more planetary scale. I spoke a little of where I had been and what I did now and answered a few curious questions before the conversation reverted to mining and I found a common interested with the mine doctor. Eventually our gathering dispersed as everyone got called away by their mobile offices and I found a quiet space in the corner under a story board to begin recording my journey to PNG, a journey that I would like to thank Niki, Aisha, Nick’s and their extended family for making possible.

1 comment:

  1. This is family. Thanks for sharing your experiences. This makes PNG a tourist destination for many. You can enjoy the mountains, the waters as well as the culture. Tawali Dive Resort is a place you need to visit once you're landed on PNG.