The last couple of months in PNG were very hectic and intense with work, and on top of that I had to move out of my ‘Castle at the Sea’ and settle in a little cottage at the Madang Lodge.
As you might have read in my last blog, which was in February (apologies for such a long time!), I had my house occupied with Dolly’s (the cat) offspring. On one afternoon Dolly gave birth to 4 cute kittens. Unfortunately one didn’t survive, so I give the little one a proper burial by tossing it in the sea in front of the house, since that is the burial place for all the dead animals on our compound (once we had a rat trapped on our glue covered card board, which Roland (the son of our neighbours) took care of by killing it with a little twig, scraping it off the card board, and threw it in the ocean. He returned with the rat fur-bits-sticking-to-the-remaining-glue covered card board and said: you can use it again!). Anyway Dolly had decided that my bed room was the best place to have her nursery, so all of a sudden my bed room was housed with 4 cats. By that time I was already living by myself in that big house, because Charlye had left in December 2009, and Jolanda in January of this year. Staying by myself in that house was not the safest thing to do, but I didn’t want to give up this place, because I have this feeling that this will be the nicest, biggest and most comfortable house I will ever life in. VSO was concerned about me, because usually it is not their policy to have one of their female employees/volunteers to life in a house by herself, which I totally understand. Particularly when there is no proper security. Other opportunities were suggested by VSO, but I tried to extend my stay in this house as long as possible. I was aware that I would get something less comfortable in return. But the sleepless nights also started to return. I moved to Charlye’s bedroom, so I would have a better view on the front gate. Especially during the black outs and the rain storms I would wake up immediately. It was if an internal body-alarm would go off telling me to be aware. I know this sounds stupid and naïve, because who would give up his/her personal safety just to stay in a house? Well I did.
Late February Erin moved in with me, because she stayed in the IMR (Institute of Medical Research) transition house at Kina Beach. It is already in the name ‘transition’, so not a nice place to stay in for longer period. Since we already hung out almost every day, I suggested her moving in with me. We entertained ourselves with the kittens, which we already named Lilly, Rufus (after the characters in Gossip Girl, I realized weeks later!) and Claude (Eddy and Lisa adopted and named him) and by watching Gossip Girl!
Somewhere in the second week of March I was told to move out of the Coronation Drive house, and move into one of the cottages in The Lodge. Since the Coronation Drive house already served as a social meeting place, I decided to throw one final party to commemorate the good times and parties we had in the house. Evidently it had to be a karaoke night! Gerald lent us his karaoke machine and Lachlan provided the sound speakers. Erin and I did some rehearsal in the afternoon which amused the neighbours in the back tremendously. Have you ever tried Beyonce’s ‘Crazy in Love’? Well, Erin and I are experienced in this one now!
Besides from all the social events we had during the week , and the boating trips in the weekends, I obviously had to work as well.
NDRAC did very well in those last few months. We managed to get more recognition on national disability level: NDRAC designed (with help from the DWU Press) some catchy and striking posters which we distributed among NGOs, hospitals, schools and government departments to raise awareness on disability rights issues on a national level; at last NDRAC established a provincial steering committee with among others representatives from the Provincial Department for Community Development, the Madang Provincial AIDS committee (to start raising awareness on the apparent link between disability and HIV & AIDS), PWDs and other small NGOs; NDRAC effectively collaborated with Save the Children in PNG which resulted in the inclusion of youth with disabilities in the Save’s activities in the centre, and even more important: their Youth Outreach volunteers applied their knowledge on disability in the field with their peers; NDRAC advocated for the inclusion of disability within the revised strategic plan of the National AIDS Council Secretariat (NACS).
Even though disability is not yet considered a priority issue by the NACS, the task force certainly acknowledged that NDRAC caused several discussions in their meetings whether disability should be seen as a priority (such as youth, sex workers, prisoners, etc) or not. At least NDRAC has started national discussions on the relation between HIV & AIDS and disability. Another huge accomplishment is the revision of NDRAC’s strategic plan from the past 3 years, and with funding made available by the Department for Community Development and NGO PRO , NDRAC was able to organize a strategic planning workshop with the participation of relevant stakeholders such as Save the Children, the Provincial AIDS Committee, Creative Self Help Centre, PWDs and women’s organisation. Several occasions NDRAC was asked by (inter)national NGOs to participate in their events and/or activities.
We were, and still are, very pleased with this acknowledgement. Personally I am quite relieved knowing that I have left NDRAC behind with capable, professional and motivated staff. Ian and Robert are both very committed and capable young men who will definitely bring NDRAC to another level. It was with great sadness when I announced my final month, week and day. Prior to my departure, the two guys had organized a ‘Go Pinis’ PNG style! Together with the staff of the Creative Self Help Centre they had arranged for a big “Bung Kai”. As always there was too much food, and I was told to eat more. Usually the Papua New Guineans don’t have any problems with finishing any amount of food (they will pile up mountains of food on their plate, even though if there are still more people waiting in line for a plate of food as well. The theory behind this behavior: you will never know when the next meal will come; therefore you have to pile up as much as you can eat!) but this time they had under estimated themselves. Mrs. Genaia had prepared loads of food, so everyone could bring some food back home. I was showered with gifts, nice words of appreciation and on top of that a beautiful song performed by Desmond on his guitar. It set everyone with tears, including me. I can’t describe how it felt to receive those nice and warm words of appreciation, and having the privilege working with all these people. What a wonderful surprise this was.
In April my parents finally decided to visit me in Madang. They put off their visit for a very long time, due to all the negative publicity about PNG. They combined PNG with some travelling through Australia. It was wonderful to see them again, and to show them around in Madang. I belief they had a great time as well. Dianne Cassell was so sweet to give them a fabulous hotel room with sea view for a reduced rate. They thought they were in paradise! Brioni offered me her car to drive my parents around, since my car could only fit two people in the front and one (or more) in the bed of the car, and I couldn’t see one of them being driven around like that! I took them to some beautiful spots around Madang like Malolo Plantation, Nobanob which offered a great view over Madang and the surrounding islands, Jais Aben and obviously the DWU and the NDRAC office.
On Sunday we were invited by the Cassell’s to come along on the boat to the beach house. Unfortunately we experienced the worse weather on sea ever! Mike pulled out the raincoats so we could cover ourselves for the rough sea. The sun came out somewhere in the afternoon which was nice enough to have a swim and a drink in the water.
In the weekends we regularly were invited by Rich and Jenn to come along on their boat. Either during the day to do some snorkeling near Pig Island or Magic Passage and some pick nicking on the boat, or sometimes at night to have a swim in the phosphorescence. The latter was really spectacular! You have to imagine you swim in a sea lit by stars. The phosphorescence is a kind of algae which light up when disturbed. We would dive into the water while others would watch you with goggles: it looked like if you were a comet in the universe. I think that the phosphorescence nights are the most memorable ones of my time in PNG.
So on the Saturdays we were on the water on both Rich and Jenn’s boat (and Pascal’s) or Jan Messersmith, and on Sundays we were often invited by Mike and Di Cassell or Trevor and Karen to come along on their boat to the beach house. In the mornings we were all still cooking and baking to provide something for the lunch table. At one point it became a sort of a competition with who will bring what to the beach house. Since I had moved into the Logde, Fiona became my neighbour. On Sunday mornings we were always waiting for the call for the official invitation to the beach house. Even though we knew were invited it was still appropriate to wait for the official call. Many Sundays we were anticipating those invitations and we would shout at each other from our ports to ask if the other had received ‘the’ phone call yet!
Even though I had to get used to the smaller and hotter house in the Lodge, I still had a fabulous time there. This had mainly to do with the people living on the compound. Fiona was my direct neighbour and Veronica (who was already my neighbour in Kina Beach) also moved into the Lodge due to security issues at Kina Beach.
Badrish and Nilam were my neigbhours at the other side and regularly I could smell the delicious Indian dishes prepared by Nilam coming through my louvres. After Brioni moved into one of the bigger apartments in the Lodge, we regularly had cocktail nights at her place at Friday night. Lisa and Eddie were the masters in working out cocktail recipes, and therefore our favourite one became the famous Lemon Drop. Mmm…nothing tasted better than a cocktail on a Friday night to celebrate the weekend.
There was still one more thing I wished to do before I would leave PNG, and that was a helicopter ride with one of the pilots of Helinuigini.
Charlye and Jolanda already had their ride somewhere last year while I was away in Papua (Indonesia) with my sister. You can imagine I was rather disappointed that something that spectacular had happened while I was away! With my final departure date coming closer, I also gave up this last wish. However one afternoon Genevieve (a Canadian VSO volunteer who replaced Jolanda in the Physio Department at the DWU) asked me if I already had my flight in one of the helicopters. When I replied I didn’t, she asked if I wanted to come along the following morning since she was asked by one of the engineers.
Obviously I accepted this invitation and the ride was awesome! The pilot played a bit with the helicopter by making those loops as if you were in a roller coaster. That was fantastic!
Besides from all the Go Pinis parties, farewell lunches and drinks I also had to say goodbye to one of my dearest friends: Nissan. If it wasn’t for this car, Jolanda and I wouldn’t have felt this sense of freedom in Madang. This car took us anywhere. And not just us, also many others benefitted from Nissan. I remember when we bought the car two years ago that many of our friends were making those comments why we would by a single cab pickup which would only fit two people in the front. Our answer was very clear: because we are with the two of us! The rest can fit in the back. And so that happened regularly. How often didn’t we drive around in Madang to drop off and pick up people. Or even with events like National Disability Day or World Blind and White Cane Day that the Nissan was packed with PWDs, volunteers or with instruments of the Bougainville Bamboo Band! Even though it is just something material, but the car has given us so much freedom in a place which is not secure and safe. Every time potential threats of gangs or hold ups were announced, we were told to step on the accelerator when an event like that would occur. We were definitely prepared, but I wonder if Nissan was up for it… Luckily we have never found ourselves (although not with Nissan) in those ugly situations. But yeah, I had to say goodbye to this good friend. Fortunately Nissan found a good home with some people from Bil Bil village who were so thrilled with their purchase (which must have cost their life savings) that they regularly came to my office to drop off some fruit and vegetables. We agreed that they could pick up the car in the weekend before my departure. On the day of the handing over of keys and car, I gave the Nissan a good wash. Since I did this on the parking lot of the Lodge, I received some help from one of the security guards who did an excellent job.
After the thorough washing of the car, I thought: why haven’t I done this before; the car looks amazing! When Paul and his wife from Bil Bil came to pick up the car, they gave me a final present; a Madang bilum.
Again a gesture which was truly unexpected and highly appreciated. The same happened when I went to the market for the very last time. Many market people already knew about my Go Pinis and wished me farewell. One lady in particular, who I always bought my onions from, gave me a spectacular cas cas bilum (made out of possum wool). These people are so genuine and so sweet, it is truly heartwarming. And this is one of those aspects of PNG which I will always treasure: the sincerity and generosity of the people.
That day was really special and emotional. First I had to say goodbye to Nissan, then to Madang and the market,
and finally I had to prepare myself for my own Go Pinis party. Evidently this had to be done in style and in a true Madang tradition: a karaoke! We decided the theme would be World Cup since this event had just started
Everyone was expected to dress up in the colours of his/her favourite country playing in the World Cup. Lachlan offered to organize it in his place which was super.
His house is the perfect party house (besides from our Castle at the Sea) so I accepted immediately. The Karaoke was set up in the garage, and whoever wanted to watch foot ball could sit inside. The Netherlands was playing Japan, so we had few Dutch supporters (I was the only one with the Dutch nationality, but Heather and Nick supported us for once!) and one for Japan. Eddy decided that they could use little support, hehe. The party was grand, the people were great and the songs were terrific. The best of all was that I was given a serenade by Rich, Eddy and Gerard on the melody of Jolene by Dolly Parton, since I always request that with the karaoke but the system never offers it..)!
I realize that many of my blogs are full with stories about social events. I guess these social gatherings and events are very important for the foreigners living there. We needed those moments to vent and get rid of the daily tension and frustration. Sure my blogs are in general a compilation of those positive events, but you must not forget that life in a country such as PNG can be very draining. Particularly females experience a continuous tension and possible threat that something bad might happen. Even though Papua New Guineans are in general such sweet, genuine and open people, there are still a few who spoil it for the rest and they are dangerous. Because of them life in PNG can be a risk. Almost on a daily basis we would hear bad experiences from friends (of friends of friends), colleagues or neighbours. Almost every day the newspapers were full with stories on murder, rape and hold-ups. Maybe I didn’t mention that in my blogs, because that is reality and you learn to live with that. Meeting with friends, throwing dinner parties or cocktail nights is essential to escape this reality, because honestly it gets to you even though you don’t want that.
Besides from all these stories and experiences I look back on a unforgettable and memorable time which I didn’t want to miss for the world. My work with NDRAC and the disability sector was fascinating and appreciative. Due to my experience with this development issue, I have gained more interest in disability and if the opportunity allows it I would like to continue in lobbying and advocating for this issue. Even though I have left PNG almost two months ago, it has not left me. Everyday I think about PNG. I compare everything and everyone with PNG. Many people I meet have never heard of PNG and mistake it for the Indonesian province and start speaking Bahasa to me. Besides from being an advocator for PWDs I have also become an advocator for PNG! And I can’t say it often enough, but I honestly think that PNG is deprived from foreign aid through programmes by international NGOs. While travelling through Indonesia and Laos I have observed the conditions and situation of these countries and my conclusion is that PNG is still worse off. Both countries are more developed in education, infrastructure en health than PNG, but there is also still a big presence of international organizations. Why is that? I am convinced that foreign aid is still very much needed, but I also belief that other countries deserve it as much as well.
Anyway, this is just an opinion of one individual. Besides I often question myself if foreign aid as it is currently been implemented, is effective at all. But I belief there are plenty of weblogs already covering this issue.
For me, my PNG experience is officially closed. My travels in South East Asia have certainly helped me to reflect on the last 2,5 years, and to slowly get adjusted to the pace of the Western world. I will fly home on the 22nd of August, and I look forward to go back and to start with new adventures, either in The Netherlands or abroad.
I realize this has become another very long blog, so I admire your perseverance to reach the end of it! Thanks to those who have showed great interest and support over the months/years. I hope I have given you a fair (expat) perspective on PNG and its and that you have enjoyed reading it.