The PNG Letters.jpg, 14kB

Papua New Guinea: Time to say goodbye.

By the time you are reading this we should be relaxing on the Queensland coast, or just about to. There is only two days left, and a mountain of work still to do ( Fr Kees & the computer are almost incompatible)! I’ve really wanted to put more down on paper, but time is running so quickly and the mountain is not getting any smaller… I’d love to mention Deacon Clement’s ordination, the Fr Peter Secondary School staff farewell, the Good Shepherd College staff farewell, Nathanael’s prize giving ceremony, but time and space… Needless to say, all the farewells are getting more teary as time goes on, but some things we will definitely not miss! But that is life in PNG: something is always happening, either good or bad.

Big Fish in Little Ponds
There has been some discussion, heated at times, between various Fr Peter Secondary School staff about whether Jesse needs to sit year 12 again in Australia. All the boys have performed well at school, not only surpassing previous ranking but also the grade. There may not be a true test or indication of how well they really have done; when they land back in an Australian school, judging by last year’s efforts, they will have a period of settling in again. But in the end, it won’t be what comes out of their heads that will prove them, but the fruit that has developed. And this fruit is much sweeter than any award or prize.

What did we expect from the PNG education system? We knew that all the boys would be sliding up one year, but what did that really mean? We didn’t know before we came that the Fatima schools are considered some of the best in the country. Competition is tough in the education system here: you either perform, pull the strings of a wantok or exit the educational system forever.

What we didn’t expect was the time it took for the boys to settle down into their new environment; we knew they would have to adjust, it was the length of time that we didn’t expect. Combined with the culture shock was the boys’ natural ages and stages. Nathanael was the quickest to adjust, and he topped his school last year. The other boys, as well as adjusting, had to develop and grow into a different study style, which has generated greater scholastic maturity. Jesse was beginning to hit his straps at the end of last year, and has been flying full steam ahead all this year. Keren turned the corner somewhere in term 2 this year, and has made consistently increasing steps since then.

Nathanael has had a disappointing year. Not that it was his fault, he has been very patient, but year 7 is not considered very important. It is not one of the culling years where the number of students is drastically reduced. Teachers often just don’t turn up to class.

Click to EnlargeKeren finished the year at full steam, and like the runner closing in on the leader and the finishing tape: if the race had been a few metres longer a different person would have won. Not that winning is the most important goal, the race is where the excitement and enjoyment are: the running has changed and matured Keren as a person and a student. He finished the year with a 1st in Religious Education and 2nds in English and Science. We have no idea of Keren’s SC results as it is marked on a provincial level.

Click to EnlargeJesse was dux of the year, with daylight second. He came 1st in every subject except Physical Development, where he came 2nd (which is quite strange for someone who is more than 30cm taller than all the other students!) The prizes were spread around so that everyone got a mention (i.e. the 2nd places got the prizes), which I thought was an excellent idea! Jesse supposedly topped all of PNG in Physics and English (which is no mean feat considering that that includes all of the international schools as well)! Teachers are not really meant to carry that information out of the HSC marking hall, but they were all very excited.

So, was it just the effect of a smaller pond? That simple answer belies the fact of all the hard work they put in, the extra study and effort. The pond is smaller, but no less vicious, no less competitive; all the boys had to learn to cope with the changes and achieve in a different system. They have all done really well, I feel so proud of them!

Dogs amongst the Sheep

There are no schools for raskols, and therefore no graduants. The skills are learnt along the way, and if you fail too many times I guess you give up&

"I’m just popping into the staff house to get some scones."

Sandi is engrossed in her embroidery, and replies without looking up, "OK. Good idea!"

Our front door is big and heavy, made of solid ply overlain with tongue and grove. I turn the handle and pull the door toward me. It really is lovely to feel such a weight swing easily on its hinges. KP is waiting to come inside, sitting patiently on the doormat. She has the most delightful method of knocking: she claws the doormat, which lifts up and drops on the floor with each paddle, making a knock–knock sound. I am sure she knows and understands what she is doing.

"You want to come in, eh?" She brushes past my legs on the way in, affectionately smearing the scent glands on her cheek across my feet. It’s so wonderful to be owned by your cat.

The door closes with a gentle thud, and I head off to the staff house to get some scones for the morning. The night is not totally dark, but clouds are obscuring many of the stars, replacing the inky blackness with a dark grey smudge.

As I reach the corner of the staff house, only about 10 paces from our verandah, I get a feeling, rather than know sensorially, that there is someone behind me. When I turn around I see Gabriel & Thomas standing in the shadows between the buildings with one of the students who is still here because of a tribal fight. I turn and walk toward them, asking, " Yutripela wokim wanim?"

It’s quite odd for the security to be so close to the house, they usually respect our privacy. I guess there must be something happening, and they’re a little embarrassed because they’re hanging back a little. After a short pregnant pause they start walking into the light toward me and I realise that I don’t actually know who they are at all.

We get a lot of hawkers here, and I’m a little confused why someone would be selling fruit and vegetables or cane baskets so late at night? Suddenly they start moving quickly, they spread out, surrounding me. They don’t have friendly faces, a little nervous, or maybe fearful, but certainly not the faces of someone trying to instill confidence in a customer for a sale.

One fellow, wearing a black NSWRL beanie, lifts a home made gun up to aim it at my head. It is a crude contraption made of galvanised water pipe, wooden butt and elastic bands. At this point it is only about 24" away from my face! Another of the fellows, moving in little jumps, gets behind me and starts waving his 30" bush knife at me, saying, "Get up there!" meaning my front porch and pointing toward it with his knife.

It takes me a little while to realise what is going on. I must be looking at them blankly, they keep urging me to go back to the porch. The fellow with the bush knife is jumping up and down, the fellow with the gun is standing stock-still a wild look in his eyes. They are not very old, two younger ones and another slightly older. I’m a little concerned the jumping fellow is going to poke me with his bush knife, so I start walking back to my house, the three raskols close behind, circling, herding me like sheep dogs. For one crazy instant I feel like bleating like a sheep, but thankfully I’m able to resist the urge.

"You’re crazy," I say. I should have said long long which is Tok Pisin for crazy, but my heart was racing and I wasn’t really thinking very clearly.

I step up onto the porch, but before I know what has happened, I am on the inside of the door locking it, telling Sandi to make sure the other windows and doors are locked too, and the raskols are on the outside!

I run to the phone to page all the other extensions, but I can’t remember what the code is. I know the "*" is part of it, my mouth is working overtime into the receiver but no one can hear me. "There are raskols on the property." I punch buttons wildly knowing that I’m not acting coherently but unable to do much about it. "There are raskols on the property. They have a gun!"

I suddenly realise that the code is "*0", and then I repeat myself again. Sandi races around the house closing windows. Not entirely satisfied, I page John. My heart is pounding out a wild rhythm. John answers and says he’s on his way. I page Kees. Kees seems a little unbelieving, and grudgingly says OK, though it could have been just annoyance.

They can’t still be on our porch, but I’m not keen to open the door and look (it’s amazing what looking down the barrel of a gun can do to your decisiveness), so I switch all the lights off and as there are no shadows, I know they’re gone.

Knock knock: my heart skips a beat! It must be John. John is carrying his bush knife. I repeat my story to him, and he races off to sound his alarm (a siren hooked up to his house power, and sounding for all the world like a police car!). The College security finally turns up, as well as the two students and a few wantoks of John’s. I end up repeating my story over and over until it doesn’t seem real any more. No one has much to say. We are all standing around in a little huddle at the scene of the crime. There is nothing to say and less to do now: they would have long gone; but John insists that he won’t be going to sleep tonight. We finally break up, all going our separate ways, our own thoughts running though our heads.

Sandi and I sit for a long time trying to let the adrenaline work its way out of our systems. It’s hard to believe it’s really happened, that I actually stared down the barrel of a gun with a finger on the trigger. And I have no memory of rushing into the house – one minute I was on the outside and the next I was on the inside (maybe Philip was praying for me?). The inevitable post mortem, the wondering and what if's and Sandi’s description of the fellow’s shocked face as the door slammed in his face were shared over a cup of coffee. And finally our bed, in full view of the dark hill at the back of the College: the haunt of raskols and demons, the waiting place for all the raskols waiting in line to steal from the College.

The next day I asked Kees if he thought we should report it to the police. He said that if I thought it was serious enough, then I should. I looked at him in disbelief, "You don’t think a gun is serious?"

"You were the only person who saw these three people&" Was that a slight hint of disbelief I could sense?

We keep our door locked at night now – whether we are home or not – conscious that they were probably preparing to attack our house while we were inside relaxing as a family. On my way out I often can’t help a quick glance back into the shadows&

Anyone want to buy a pump?

We have five water pumps here at the College. Each is connected to a rainwater tank that collects water from various roofs. I did make a proposal to simplify the rainwater system down to one single pump, which would minimise risk as well. All too late though&

John came to see me one morning to say that two of our pumps had disappeared during the night. I knew it would happen, and I was working towards other proposals, but the contractors seemed to lose interest in making money.

John eventually found someone of slightly disreputable character who owed him a favour and was willing to volunteer some information to settle the debt. John is a bloodhound when it comes to retrieving stolen property, and he gets very excited when he gets close. This day he was heading off to see the names he had been given, sure of a successful trip, sure he was close.

I saw him in the afternoon slightly crestfallen. When he had questioned the fellows he was looking for, they said, "You’ll have to describe the pumps. We have more than twenty here!" John didn’t have a clear description so came home to do a drawing.

20 stolen pumps waiting for a home: can you believe it? But it is the fashionable item at the moment. Once you have a tin roof and power, a water pump is the next thing you need.

So John has hit a slight snag: no one is willing to give pumps back on the off-chance that the owner has turned up. You have to be sure first!

Dogs, Take Two; Sheep, Take Three.
John Ding had come home from a village gathering having drunk a little too much, and brought some wantoks. Anna and the three children knocked on our door, les tru about all the spakman. A little scared, but more angry. We had started watching Pelican Brief, so we all settled down together&

Arnold outside the laundry… on a happier day!Little Arnold was getting more and more restless, needing to go to sleep, but not feeling comfortable enough in strange surroundings. Anna, weary of the struggle, said she’d just pop her children back to their own beds. Joanna still wanted to finish the movie, and Anna planned to come back too I think.

Anna opened our front door, and ushered her two little children out. Both Bernadette and Arnold had heavy eyes and were only just awake. Sort of on automatic pilot, stumbling along, as only children can do. Anna was just closing the door again when we heard her yell out, " Raskol! Raskol!"

Anna grabbed Arnold and rushed back inside, " Busnaip i kutim mi!"

I don’t remember jumping up and rushing outside. I do remember Anna’s face as I pushed her inside, then I saw Bernadette standing frozen on the front step. I grabbed her and pulled her inside, locking and bolting the door behind me.

Anna has a wild look in her eyes, and is gesturing toward the phone. I remember the page all command first go this time (practice does make perfect!).

BANG! A slightly metallic explosion, that sounded like a gun shot. It feels like my insides have just contracted into a very small ball.

"Get down!" I shout. Everyone crouches or sits down below sill height. Sandi crawls around the windows, closing them again while I try to alert the rest of the College.

Anna is babbling a mixture of tokples and Tok Pisin. Impossible to understand, though the words "bushknife" and "kutim mi" are clear and frightening. Little Arnold is wide eyed, but Bernadette is close to tears.

First try was John, up in his house on extension 19. I hear the phone ring once, then impatiently I intercom instead, "John there are raskols outside my house again. They have a gun and have fired it!"

John answers the phone, I’m not exactly sure how he did it, but I could hear my own voice echoing in his little room. But John wasn’t talking. I give up, and try Fr Matthew, anxious to contact someone. Matthew isn’t there, one of his friends who is staying there answers. I don’t get much satisfaction from him and just tell him there are rascals with a gun on the property.

I’m starting to feel frantic, unable to get hold of anyone. I try John again. What ever he has done to the phone remains in place because I can hear my voice again intercomming in his little room. Then I hear John stumble into the room, knocking a piece of furniture over and pick up the phone and slur, " Gudnait."

He sounds very drunk. John is our main source of help in times like this and I’m exasperated. "Shit!"

John giggles on the other end of the phone, "He said shit." Obviously, there are other people in his room all having fun at my exasperation. I strangle the thought of complaining about John to his wife, as satisfying as that would be, it wouldn’t help their situation.

I try Fr Kees, first in his room and then in the staff house when there is no answer.

BANG! A slightly different sound, a bit further away. It sounds like it was on the other side of the staff house, everyone instinctively crouches down on the floor again. Valerian shouts from inside the staff house and I wonder where the shot actually was, then Kees picks up the phone. "There are raskols outside my house again. They have fired their gun!"

"Yes we just heard it." I tell him to stay inside and be careful.

If the shot was on the other side of the staff house, then they are probably on their way out… I turn our lights off and look out the windows for any signs of the raskols, but everything looks quiet. That shot must have been a parting gesture. I carefully open the door and turn the verandah light off, and while I am standing there, Matthew wanders up the drive, "What’s happening?" he says, as if we were all lying on a beach in the sun.

"The raskols are back, and they been shooting their gun." Matthew makes some disparaging comments about the security, which don’t seem to be around anywhere – again.

At the sound of our voices Kees and Valerian come out, Sandi pokes her head out of the door and asks if I want the verandah light on. I’m not sure I do. Soon everyone is standing outside in the light of our verandah light, no talking but I’m sure much thinking. Anna spies John walking in the darkness and starts shouting at him, "Yu nogut man tru! Yu drink na spak, bringim plenti spakman long haus bilong yumi, na sampela raskol i laik kutim mi!" [Anna was upset that John was not there to protect her.] John stays in the shadows and slinks, or staggers, away, not to be seen until the morning.

Kees is deep in thought, and not sharing them at all. An investigation of the laundry reveals that all the blankets and pillowcases have disappeared, and the washing machine half removed, lying on its side, dirty foot prints all over the wet floor. They were obviously interrupted. Soon everyone wanders away and the quietness and aloneness of a PNG night floods our world again.

We all retreat back inside; Anna and the children are too afraid to go back to their house, so they sleep on our floor. Sandi makes everyone a hot chocolate before we go to bed. I pray, not very well in Tok Pisin, for our peace, and we all go to bed.

The inevitable post mortem on the bed with Sandi: I’m sure that they were wanting to steal something from the laundry two weeks ago when I surprised them. Was the washing machine what they really wanted? Interesting: first some pumps were stolen, then later someone tries for a washing machine. Are they connected? When electricity comes to a village it does not satisfy needs, it creates them: the awful catch 22 of developing nations

News travels fast. When I wander up to John’s house in the morning, 8 of Anna’s wantoks are there, discussing the problem. Not exactly looking for a fight, but not far from it. They are demanding compensation from our security (for not being there to see the raskols so that they could go and obtain vengeance), and are close to demanding compensation from the College for not sacking the security before now. They are not being reasonable, it’s their culture they say, as if that makes it right. I take a deep breath and summon all my courage, and tell them that I don’t care for their talk. "Some of your traditions are not good. They do not have a good effect, they injure the community rather than building it." It was me who went outside to pull Anna and the kids back inside, and they have not even said thank you. The community needs to expose the wrong. Their fight is with three men who want to steal from the College, not their whole line. I tell them that attacking another line (as in a tribal fight) does nothing to help the people with the wrong thinking. They are unconvinced, traditions run very deep. They smile at my calls to holy decisions and wander away, content to let this episode slide with the threat of large compensation claims on the College if it happens again. Threats. That’s the last thing I need.

The following day, both security men come and apologise for not being here when most needed. There are always good reasons – and that is the most difficult managerial problem. Bernadette is still scared of tudak 3 days later, and last night I had a dream of people standing in between our house and the staff house that woke me up with a start.

External Exam Results
Fish food in the pond&

The school has just received the grade 10 & grade 12 results from the external exams (School Certificate & Higher School Certificate). They have to type up the certificates themselves. This is being done now by the school’s secretaries.

Keren topped Fr. Peter Secondary School’s certificate exams with 4 Distinctions (a distinction represents a top 5% in PNG). He was the only student to get four (many got three distinctions and a credit though).

Jesse topped the school as well, straight A’s. As we knew he topped PNG in physics and came 4th in the country in maths (one question which he completely stuffed up costing him the only 7 marks he lost). Such is the fragility of exams.

Although not external results, we endured Nathanael’s 6-hour graduation/prize giving to witness "our little boy" receive 1st prizes in English, Science and Agriculture: a great effort! We were actually invited guests – seated on the stage – and I was asked to hand out the Grade 8 prizes.

The Aftermath
John had been talking to the Police about our three pumps and was getting close enough to go with them and bring someone in. Last Sunday he also made an announcement in Church down at Fatima about the state of local law and order – hansapim managa, stilim blanket, praitim meri na stilim pump.

Six youths came running through our main gate and accosted me on route to my office. The leader mumbled something about John Ding telling them to come and see the Rector, and then gave me a hand written note. The letter said they were from the Komblo tribe and that they were very concerned about the Year 2000, they were not sure what was going to happen after New Year, so they wanted to celebrate and needed K200 to keep them off drugs.

The smell of alcohol was very strong, so I asked him if they’d been drinking. He said only a little bit. In truth, they were all quite drunk. I said they should go and see Fr Kees, as he handles all those sorts of things. It was not just a deferral to higher authority, Kees actually prefers to deal with such things. I was sorry I had in the end.

The next thing I saw was Kees escorting these fellows, almost physically, off the property. They talked for an extra 30 minutes at the front gate, their arguments getting quite heated and abusive at times. In the end, it came down to them wanting compensation because John Ding had said in public that the Komblo had stolen our pumps. This was not the case, and it would be debatable if the story actually grew and metamorphosed to include the Komblo accusation or they decided to take offence. I assumed that it was grasped as an opportunity to make some quick beer money.

John Ding came home on his little Honda 185cc at this point and Kees retreated to his house. Kees was not physically harmed, but the stress of having an intoxicated band of youths surrounding you and shouting at you is considerable. What Kees didn’t see, was while they were arguing with him – keeping him occupied – one of their group, who had become disgruntled with the lack of profit from the negotiations, decided to steal Fr Bart's expensive mountain bike from inside the garage (when we checked later, the padlock was simply forced and the bike taken off its wall hooks). John saw the bike and realised instantly it was Bart's; he dashed back to get the ute and raced off to the market to retrieve the bike.

Joseph, the catechist from Kala, went with John. He drove into the midst of the crowd, scattering people everywhere and nearly running the bike thief over as he attempted to ride away. John grabbed the bike but the fellow wouldn’t let go, which resulted in a tug of war, which would have been quite comical in different circumstances. John and Joseph were surrounded by people and suffered blows to legs, stomaches and face. Some hit the car with bush knives, John said it was a close thing that the windscreen wasn’t smashed.

John aimed a powerful kick at the fellow’s leg; he fell over and let go of the bike, which John quickly put onto the tray of the ute. The bike thief pulled out his bush knife and advanced toward John. Incredibly, John stood stock still, and said that he didn’t have a knife or any other weapon, his arms outstretched in the universal sign of weaponlessness. He could come and cut him if he wanted, but the thief didn’t want to. John jumped into the car, put the hazard lights on, and burnt rubber back to the College.

We, back at the College, were completely aghast; it was all happening too quickly. John was only gone for ten minutes and then he was back with the bike (which we hid behind two locked doors). We were standing in the courtyard discussing the problem when the road to Fatima was filled with screaming and shouting. Women and children ran and shouted frantically, men walked and used hand signals: they were coming to bagarup the College. Anna, who is still feeling disturbed from the other night, raced the kids into our house again. Doors were locked and windows closed, the air got increasingly more tense as we waited; not sure if they were coming through the forest over the hill, or down the road.

As we waited, the sound of fighting erupted from the market, yodelling and the singsong that they use when they are dancing (in more peaceful times). News drifted down, carried by those escaping, that the Sekaka were fighting the Komblo. Joseph, the catechist from Kala, is a Sekaka; so is Michael Nolie our handyman.

The sound was awesome—terrifying—chilling our hearts; Anna sat worrying on the front porch of Staff House B, her children running around with nervous smiles on their faces. John locked the front gate. I prayed. I bound the work of Satan and the hoard of evil spirits that influence the hearts of men, inflame their passions to kill, steal and destroy. We sat listening to the terrible sound, I tried to comfort Anna, who was looking particularly pale (even with her brown skin): "our angels encircle us," Jisas, em i winman; and the sound of fighting died down remarkably quickly. I asked Anna if that was it now. She said, "No, they’re just resting." I tried to assure her that Jesus would finish the fight, but she had seen too many, and those memories bruised her faith.

In due course the fighting started again. John and Joseph wandered back up to the market again – an act that was incredibly brave or incredibly stupid; an act that we, from our culture, had no means to assess. Sandi and I wandered up to the little rise behind John’s house that overlooks the market. The Hoop Pines obscure the view, but it was the right direction. We prayed. Such prayer does have a scriptural precedent, which was a little encouraging; but the strength for the prayer, the backbone to the faith came from somewhere else. Somewhere deeper than knowledge or wisdom, somewhere deeper than the emotions, somewhere in the realms of the unction of the Spirit. When I thought about what we were doing, my mind wavered at its enormity and the somewhat absurdity of what we were attempting; and also at our minuteness. So I focused on the leading from within. The fire that was burning its way out from the inner communion of my spirit and the Spirit of Love; through my thoughts, through my beliefs, through my emotions and into faith-filled words.

Surely Satan had wrecked enough havoc? Surely God in His mercy would have compassion on these people? Surely someone would stand in the gap, and believe God had the power and the motivation to act? Sandi and I stood on that little rise and prayed, and we watched the awesome Power and Grace of God manifest itself upon our poisoned humanity.

The fighting didn’t stop immediately; like a fire, when once burning passions are quenched they can reignite very easily, until all heat is dissipated. As I explained to Nathanael later, Faith is the substance of things not seen; sometimes your faith can waiver at the sights or sounds of a situation that is resisting prayer. We must learn to look at the deeper reality, the reality that rests with God, and not focus on the superficialities, which will change as a result of the prayer.

After it had been quite for quite a while, Sandi and I walked down to talk with Anna, who had come out, and was talking to all the other local wives (who also probably had husbands fighting in the market). There was much joking, and playing with toddlers, but the questioning of passers by was very serious, "Have you seen John?" We hadn’t seen him for quite some time, and I for one, felt concerned for his safety.

So what actually happened? The Komblos, after John came and retrieved the bike, erupted into anger at the College. They also threatened to close the market (which is common ground, well as common as you get in PNG); at this the Sekaka said, "You are not our king!" and defended their claim and rights forcefully – chasing the Komblo away, up into the bush. Not very many injuries: some bloodied heads from thrown stones was about the worst.

That night we were still concerned about possible retribution, though the local advice was split between: 1) You must look out good tonight, and 2) You will be alright, the drunk Komblo will sleep and in the morning they will not be angry. Thomas our security came, asking for the night off because he was too scared. Thankfully John didn’t give it to him; they sat around the fire all night.

The morning was peaceful, but the afternoon revealed another reality. At 3PM I was working in my office, trying to finish the computer accounting of student loaned items. Anna called me on the extension to say that John’s line, incensed that his ground and his person was attacked, had stormed up the Komblo road to seek vengeance. Payback. Anna is scared again that the fight will drift down the hill to the College, but more specifically, her house; so she was warning everyone. I can’t hear anything, the Komblo asples is too far away, so I lock my door and keep working and pray that Jesus and His angels will protect these people, and us.

A little later, in the midst of data entry, a violent storm – rain slanting toward the horizontal, thundering on the metal roof which drowns out all other sound, wind blowing the rain in through the closed louvres – and the power is cut. I turn the computer off, shutting off the beeping warning of the UPS, and watch the storm out the office window.

It’s like the wrath of God. I can feel it too – the deep sadness at what man can do to bagarup his own society erupting into anger. So I sit, cocooned in my office, waiting for the power to return, waiting for the anger to dissipate and the tears to dry&

John Ding was given K70 and a pig compensation. Fr. Kees got K10. I got nothing. The pumps and the blankets are still missing, and I think our security was drunk last night – so things have regained some sort of normality.

Everyone says the problem has ended. The other tribes have decided to defend their rights to missionary aid. If something happens again, big trouble – a real tribal fight – will settle the issue. I hope and pray that the Komblo leaders are able to discipline their young men. A tribal fight would be close to the worst possible outcome for everyone involved.

Toksave I have known and loved&
I saw the following toksave in the Police station:


Customers enquiring for sub of lost licence will not be served until the registry office has the films in stock.

Thank you. OIC.