Friday, 23 September 2011

A Lesson in Justice?

Above:Warrior, Goroka Show, pic by Anthony Jones, VSO; Right, Matilda and Uncle at her place

]My lessons on what makes a culture tick continue apace. Each time, it’s as if something that really annoyed or horrified me has changed shape, and I suddenly glimpse ways that are quite the equal of anything I’ve known. My eyes change a bit, and nothing will ever look the same again.

This week Joe was beaten up. Some drunks (Spakman) were terrorising the market in Kundiawa. The market is a place where women come to sell produce from their gardens - fresh broccoli, peas in their pods bound prettily with grass, carrots small and large, and, of course, kaukau, the sweet potato which is still the staple diet of most people in the Highlands. The women are     quiet and friendly and seem grateful for what they can sell me, but they are never pushy, never loud or aggressive salespersons.

Anyway, something had riled the men, some not so young. I think it was to do with thwarted political ambition, not having won the recent by-election in the town. So they got drunk and took out their feelings on the town that had rejected them. They kicked and threw the market womens’ produce. And Joe was there.

Joe tried to reason with the men - these were innocent women trying to make a living; why take your anger and frustration out on them, etc, etc? So they beat Joe up. Matilda, his partner, had to get him to hospital. He wasn’t really badly injured, but Joe is a large, strong man, and it had taken some serious intent to knock him out. It was serious. Later, the drunks came outside the SETA office, on the road. Some came into the compound of the Education Division, and for some moments we wondered if our offices would also come under attack. I, as resident VSO and high profile ‘whiteman’, was locked into the office with my female colleagues. I felt a bit embarrassed, as well as more than a bit relieved, believe me. In the end,  the drunks went outside the gates, and they were locked out, and things cooled down. Willie, a local Youth Worker, walked me down home later.

Now, my reaction to this is fury and frustration. I’m angry that Joe got beaten, angry that the women who are so poor were victimised, and angry that the police not only didn’t show up, but also didn’t even answer the telephone when we rang them - the Police HQ is not more than a 10 minute walk away. I’m not quite sure what the police do do in Kundiawa, but keeping the peace isn’t in it.

So what would happen in the UK? Arrests? Lengthy court cases? Fines paid to the state? Jail sentences? Would justice have been served? Maybe, sometimes.

So, the next day, Matilda took time off work and went to the wantoks of the perpetrators. By late in the afternoon she phoned me to come to the back compound of the Education Division. There, Joe and Matilda and myself and other SETA folks and wantoks met with a number of the young and older men who either had had something to do with the violence, or who were related to them. The mediation had already taken place; this was the public show of bel kol, of cooling the emotions and making peace. So there were speeches, and the Bigman who had knocked Joe out made his apologies, and there was angift of money to Joe, and I was introduced as an example of what SETA is doing for PNG, etc etc. In short, this ins’t one clan against another; it’s something for the future of us all. Handshakes all round.

Now, of course, a lot of this was show. The formality of an English court is also show, I guess, and certainly I expect humans to make excuses when they see that not making them will cause even more trouble. But what impressed me about the whole process was that really it was based on finding answers. People have to live together, and fighting causes damage and wastes lives and generally is no answer. This was mediation in the best sense, and I actually believe that it brought the disappointed politician closer to Matilda and Joe and the clan, but also SETA and the Education Division. It’s as if, here where democracy really doesn’t exist yet, the people are making it up, and though the results may seem bizarre and even childish to us sometimes, the fact is they are doing, at present, at least as good a job as we are. Yes, we are experimenting with Restorative Justice, and may those experiments go far. but mostly, what I see of English Justice seems to demonize wrong-doers. Yes, I heard David Cameron spitting acid nonsense and making things worse, about the riots, before I left.

I wonder if the thing that we get so wrong in Britain is that we really do not know how to deal with anger and frustration. Nice people just don’t express those emotions, do they? And yet every one of us has anger and frustration to deal with. We suppress. We repress. We deny.

I can’t say I like the way those emotions are taken out on the innocent, here. But at least, when mistakes are made, the traditions of restoring justice can still be used. As the country develops, may those traditions grow and develop, and not be lost. And maybe this can bring something back to Britain - as usual, so-called civilisation has much to learn from people we call primitive.

Monday, 19 September 2011

Pasin Jelus and Development (Personal or International)

Yesterday I held a somewhat belated housewarming party. All my VSO Colleagues from Kundiawa were here, and most of my Simbu English Teachers’ Association colleagues as well. We had a great time -  I made a pasta bake, which was a new experience to most Nationals, and others brought chicken and salad and pineapple, and even some ‘Lamington’ cake from our local PNG-French entrepreneur’s bakery (Gerard owns about 85% of the business real estate in Kundiawa.) And the SP (South Pacific Brewery lager beer) flowed freely, and, I’m pleased to say, moderately.

We toasted the wedding of Andrew and Kim in Canada, we told tales of who we are and where we’ve been, and it was great to see the mutual respect and friendship. When Dee and I were here in 06-07, we so often felt we were whistling in the wind (is that the phrase - oh, never mind!), so much did what we said or did not seem to have any effect. But, in fact, though the frustrations for volunteers are still daunting, I’m amazed at the differences I can see among teachers. Or maybe it’s my perception that has changed, I really don’t know. But last week I attended the end of a workshop on facilitation skills led by Bill Oliver. The participants were from both Primary and Secondary schools, teachers, deputies, and Headteachers. And the final presentations/facilitations they led! So interesting, and so person-centred. Little of the ‘stand in front of class and rabbit’ style I was so used to. Even the young PE Teacher had us running up to him, with two seconds to take in what was on a piece of paper and go back to our team, to see who could get a form filled in first. Laughter, embarrassment, and a chance for the unlikely ones to shine in the exercise!

And how about the SETA side? Matilda and I talked generally in August 2008 about establishing a self-sustaining business, publishing and resource creation. She has outdone even my wildest words and encouragement at that time. The book that she and I edited, and that I got Simbu teachers to write, is now inm every Grade 9 classroom in the country. OK, AusAID put ther money up, but it was Matilda who went and sold what we had created to the National Department of Education and AusAID, etc. Now we’re working on a business plan to consolidate the business and make it a fully self-sustaining entity.

Now, there’s an amount of resentment in the province about SETA. Teachers resent not being a part of it. English Teachers who said they’d create such and such a unit for one of our texts, and who failed to deliver the goods when they said they would, are now saying (I quote one), “I think there must be something wrong with Matilda.” Now, there is something in Tok Pisin called pasin jelus. It means ‘jealous behaviour’, but it means a lot more - the whole attitude which tears down something which someone else has created if you can’t get some share of it, however undeserved. It has been borne in on me recently that this is not something confined to PNG. It runs through Britain as well, though in a different way. I recall D.H. Lawrence commenting on a relative he visited in 1925, after he was an established, even notorious writer. Something to the effect that to her, sixpence was precisely sixpence, and god help anyone who stuck their head up to say some things mattered more. Oppression by the oppressed, we could say.

So, I am delighted to have come here initially as a VSO volunteer. A VSO initiative led to this success; should it now leave it to wither, or grow wrongly because those core teachers who made SETA do not have the financial and planning skills to take it to the next level? And I am delighted to see Susan Dua become the accountant for SETA now. She has the financial savvy, the honesty, and the vision needed. She understands both the Melanesian Way and the ways of International Business, and seems to know when to bend her plans one way or the other, creating a coherent system with respect for her people as well as the transparency without which I won’t be a part of SETA.


So, I’m walking a fine line, but the bridge seems solid enough, at least at present. With which, and a photo of me on such a bridge, non-metaphorical this time, over Wara Simbu, I’ll close!

Saturday, 10 September 2011

Weddings, Pigs, and Dreams

Sat. 10 Sept., 2011

Seems to be a day when I’m thinking about weddings. My nephew Andrew Cameron is marrying Kim Brooks next weekend in Canada. Last weekend I went with other VSOs to a Brideprice Exchange Celebration at the village of Onkalai, near Gumine in Simbu Province. I know little about the couple in Onkalai, but the contrast in the ceremonies could hardly be greater. And, to add a bit of spice to all that, one of the Bigmen of the groom’s clan has been suspended by the Schools Inspector for marrying one of his students at Boromil High School. Since he’s someone I know well - he has been a central and vocal if not productive member of the Simbu English Teachers’ Association from its beginning - I find myself looking at the cultural clashes and differences. I’ll try to explain what I mean:

                                              Margaret and her Onkalai wantok women
Supposedly, marriage in Western Society is based on monogamous values. As far as I know, bigamy is still a crime in Britain, and adultery is as worthy of headlines as it is common. In most Papuan Tribes, Polygamy was possible. (Some, mostly Coastal and Island Tribes were matricentral, but even there, I think polygamy was normal.)

These days, the breakdown of traditional ways affects both the West, and traditional culture here. Sex seems to have become a spectator sport in the West, but what D.H.Lawrence would have referred to as the deep and central blood connection between man and woman seems even more distan to us than it was in his day - part perhaps, of our disconnection from ourselves. In Papua New Guinea, not long ago, the National Head of the Police published a full page newspaper statement outlining what he expected from his officers - lack of corruption, a public sense of duty, and definitely only one wife. (He didn’t address the fact that police officers here might be more conscientious if they were paid!) But it seems clear that traditional polygamy has been replaced by opportunistic use of women. Traditionally, only a Bigman could support several wives; now multiple wives are common, but many find themselves unsupported. Although, in this country, casual sex is not really recognised - have an affair, and you are considered, by the woman’s ‘brothers’, to be married - it is, of course, common. Talk to any of the AIDS groups!

So, all this is going through my head, while at the same time I’m thousands of miles away from my dear wife, and missing her like hell. But the deep, blood connection is there for us, I’m so grateful, and it connects us across even this distance.

Kim and Andrew will have their community of friends and family (minus us, unfortunately) around them for a weekend at Camp Pinecrest, in Torrence, Muskoka, in the beauties of Northern Ontario. There will be canoeing and, no doubt, other sports. There will be a campfire, perhaps, and the chill September night in Northern Canada will warn of the long winter to come. I don’t know what religious ceremony, if any, will take place, but looking at their website, I get a strong sense of spiritual connection being celebrated. And my spirit will certainly be there.

The brideprice celebrations featured mostly negotiations about how many pigs should be given to the bride’s clan, how many should be killed and cooked and eaten that day to celebrate the marriage, and how much money should be given for the bride. In the end we watched three pigs being bludgeoned to death with a large club - I won’t go into that! But, of course, the big thing from a Western view was that the bride, though she had chosen her husband freely herself, does not belong to herself. She belongs to the clan. In a way, theoretically, the groom belongs to his clan. And the whole ceremony was not about the individual love, but about exchange in order to keep peace between these neighbouring groups. When we walked from the bride’s clan to the boundary of the groom’s, we had to wait, and call. Then a man began what sounded like loud pained moaning, and a woman started crying - members of the groom’s clan. Finally we were allowed in, and sat for the negotiations and pig-killing. These are not primitive people; they are highly intelligent, some are well-educated. Matilda Dimo, who is my close colleague and who has achieved the selling,printing, and distribution of 26000 Grade 9 textbooks all over this country, is a major member of the bride’s clan. A Senior Inspector of Police from Mt. Hagen is a member of the groom’s clan, and spent a long and very thought-provoking time explaining the brideprice negotiations to us. No, this is as civilised as any Christian or Muslim or Buddhist ceremony; it’s just that, from an outsider’s point of view, it’s easy to see the ironies. Then again, our human nature means that ironies have to exist!

                                               Matilda views the Waghi River from her place
I think back to mediaeval and renaissance Christian theologians; they might have spoken in terms of the earthly and the angelic sides of our nature; I think about the Buddhists who might speak of our owning, but then transcending our desire for earthly things; and I think about the thing I keep learning by being in this incredibly beautiful and complex country, with its 1000 tribes and its myriad cultural ways: we narrow our conception of what it means to be human at our cost.  No one religious or cultural template can do justice to our flesh or our life force, our spirits or our energy, or call it what you will. To try to do without religious metaphors is to deny the way that symbolic thinking lifts and carries us  in a way that could be described as “forward”, or “inward”, or “towards integrated being”. What ever one calls it, I think again about how human beings - indeed, apparently, all animals - have to dream. We cannot live without our inner spirit guiding us forward or inward or towards integration of our being and our potential.

So, to my wantoks Kim and Andrew I wish above all that they continue to explore their dream together, in the most natural and universally human way. And to the young couple here, I wish the same. In Canada the Cult of Conspicuous Consumerism may thus be transcended, and more meaningful spiritual being achieved. And here, “development” may come to mean so much more than “Adopting Western Ways”. Mind you, I’d feel good if the pigs had an easier time, but then again, at least they spend what life they have roaming free, cared for by human “mamas”. And Western pig-rearing? - let’s not even go there...!

Friday, 2 September 2011

Ian’s Blog from PNG - Here in Kundiawa

Well, here I am at the end of my first working week in Kundiawa. It’s been a strange and disorienting process, meeting new and old friends and colleagues, trying to work out how to get online, settling into my huge house (three bedrooms, no less!) and trying to decide where I’ve put my things - I get up in the morning, waking an hour before sunrise at 6a.m., and forget where I’ve put my phone charger or the bag of laundry I was going to do, etc.

The scenery is even more stunning than I remember, the mountains green and powerful, clouds floating half way up, trees reaching right over the peaks, which must be over 2000m. Even here, at 1500 m., the air is thin and I puff a bit climbing up the hill on the way to the Education Division in the morning. The mornings are cool, maybe 16 or 18C. Midday the sun is intense, but the heat here isn’t often above 25C. Unlike Madang, last week, where 30 or 35C is normal.

I’ve spent most of the week working in the Simbu English Teachers’ Association office. I can even close the door to my own little office, and it says “Editor in Chief” on the door! Since AusAID has paid for our Grade 9 textbook to be distributed to all High Schools in the country, SETA has been able to build a modern office at the back of the Education Division buildings, and equip it with modern computing equipment.

I’m here half time worrking for SETA to edit the Grade 10 text, which is all but completely written, and half time for the VSO programme Strongim Tisa, Strongim Sumatin (Strong Teacher, Strong Student). So for the latter I’m a member of a team of five volunteers from Britain, and we’re meeting groups of subject teachers from all over the province, looking at what they nbeed in the way of teaching resources, ways in which they can improve classroom practice. And one member of the team, Bill Oliver, is specifically working with Headteachers and Principals on management issues - schools lose control of staff and students, and have precious little ability to manage their budgets. In addition, local politicians who have not been elected are taking revenge by cutting water supplies to schools, etc. So managing community relationships is vital - today the Schools Inspector, Mr Pinaga, has had to suspend two high schools which are in remote areas and are not able to continue teaching for such reasons.

It’s a country of enormous contrasts. On the one hand, it is rich with natural resources, rich in intelligent human resources; on the other it faces such huge problems - no roads, or roads broken by earth tremours and washouts and other disasters (the road to Gembog, half way up Mt. Wilhelm, our tallest mountain at 4800metres, was blocked yesterday, following rains, when a massive boulder crashed down a cliff and landed on the clay road. Peter Dua, of the Works Dept., shook his head: “I had to turn back,” he said. “I’ll try to get a jack hammer up there tomorrow.” So imagine being on the other side of the blockage, at Mt. Wilhelm High School. Food for the students would have to be transported by 4WD bush vehicle up to the boulder, carried by hand around the rock, and then reloaded onto a truck on the other side.

Well, I’m fortunate. I don’t have to solve that. Today I met the Provincial Administrator, and many other  officials. They are very proud that it is Simbu Province that is leading the country in producing high quality and truly Papuan learning materials. I contrast their enthusiasm with the cynicism and over bureaucratic politicking of Britain. Well, Britain has trained its youth well: Greed is Right. The riots showed what we have been taught by public officials and the media, and above all, by business. And we dare to talk about the corruption in a country like PNG! (Mind you, the PEA for Education today told me that corruption in PNG makes him literally sick. He thinks that officials like one Mr. Wotoro from East Sepik, who stole millions of Kina from schools budgets in his province, and bought some airplanes from Holland to start a new airline here, should literally be shot! Well, he is at least in jail, without bail, at present. I guess what’s different here is that his corruption is visible. In Britain, unless there’s an Expenses Scandal or something, most of our corruption is hidden. Anyway, working with some idealistic and honest people here seems a good thing to be doing!

Tomorrow I’m being taken to a village wedding - one of Matilda’s wantoks. That will make a nice break from the keyboard!

OK, prens bilong mi, mi gat bikpela ammamas long raitim yu. My dear friends, I’m happy to write you. I look forward to receiving emails if you would like to write: try my two addresses; one usually works: